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Thursday 26 February 2015

Drivin' on a Prayer

When our mother, Mary Pretty, received her license, she achieved an independence she had not known since Dad's death. She was free to come and go at her leisure, not having to rely on others for a ride. Mom was delighted with her new freedom.

           Mom, 1987

Several years after she had her license, she moved into my brother's lovely basement apartment. The house bordered a green belt at the back yard in Southlands, Newfoundland. The apartment had two bedrooms and large windows, so it was bright and comfortable. Mom was very happy there.

The driveway was on the same side of the house as the six steps that led to her apartment door. A few feet from the end of the driveway, the land dropped off so that the windows in the apartment were well above ground. Mom was nervous stopping at the end of the driveway because the land sloped down to the back yard. However, the houses were not as close to each other as they often are in many subdivisions.

Shortly after she moved into her apartment, Mom arrived home one day and did not stop as she came to the end of the driveway. She went down over the bank and eventually stopped in the back yard. Somehow, she steered between the houses and stopped without hurting herself or damaging the car or the houses.

Frank got a call at work to come home as soon as he could, though it was not an emergency. When he arrived home, Frank could not believe what he saw; Mom's car was so far down in the back yard. It looked like it took work to get the car down there.

After checking to see that she was alright, he asked, "How did you get down here, Mudder?"

"I don't know, b'y. Pressed on the gas, I s'pose," was the reply. Apparently it did not
take much work after all.

Frank asked, "What were you thinking as you went over the bank?"

"I was praying, out loud, the whole way down," she said. Prayer helped Mom through many an adventure.

She was heard to say, "Sacred Heart of Jesus," on more than one occasion. It was one of her invocations that day as well.

Curious, Frank asked, "What did you do when you finally stopped in the back yard?"

"I got out, closed the door, looked around and came in the house," said Mom.

How were they going to get the car out of the yard? It could not come out the way it went down there. Luckily, the area did not have fenced yards and the ground was level. Frank, with the neighbours' permission, drove the car across their back yards and onto the road.

Everyone laughed about it as did Mom, eventually. She continued to be nervous pulling into the driveway but did not have any further such rides.

Not there anyway.

Tuesday 24 February 2015


She loved to laugh, had funny sayings and liked to try new things. The middle child, between two boys, Mary O'Brien wanted to try whatever the boys did. Whatever Ned and France did she was 'head and arse into it.' That is how she described it at least. 

                   Mary from Green Gables

Eventually she married Samuel Pretty and they grew their family in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. My brother, Frank, and I grew up in a neighbourhood were people worked hard, children were carefree and you knew everyone.

After Dad died in 1986, it took Mom two years to recover. In that time she took driving lessons and passed her test on the third try. Having that license gave Mom independence and she participated in many activities at her local church, Mary Queen of the World. The camaraderie of the people in the various groups and the religious experience were important to her state of mind and physical well being. Mom had a purpose again and a group of like-minded people with whom to share those interests. The days were often filled with preparation and many evenings filled with activities. These things plus her family filled her life.

                Royal Mother and Daughter

In those years after Dad's death she still missed him but after a time, the grief was in the background of her life as she busied herself with the life she carved out. Mom always had a laugh at everything she did and genuinely enjoyed everything, especially helping others. Her family saw the fun, adventurous woman as well.

                    Biker Mary and Pat

An example of her attitude involved my brother Frank and their home in Southlands. Mom lived in the apartment of Frank's house, and Frank put a vegetable patch in the back yard for Mom to tend. She loved growing potatoes in that little patch. Every spring Frank and Mom dug the soil in preparation for the growing season. 

           Retrieving the Ball

Late one spring the two were digging in the garden and Frank had his back to Mom. When he looked around she was face up on the ground.

Thinking she had collapsed, Frank ran over to Mom, who was laughing by this time.

"What are ya doin' Mudder?"

"I don't know, b'y. I tripped," was her reply. The two laughed as Frank helped her up. She told the story  many times.

The pictures show the essence of our mother, a spirited person.

Sunday 22 February 2015


Do you remember when a small child you loved had a unique way of saying a particular word? For me, the latest such word is Dylvie, the name our youngest granddaughter calls her sister, Sylvie.

      Sylvie, Dylvie to her sister

 It makes me want to kiss Caitlin every time she says it. 

                       Caitlin and Nanny

Then over the last few months, Caitlin said, "Sylvie," occasionally but reverted back to Dylvie, as if that version was easier on her tongue. However you knew the day was coming when the cute little voice lost the word forever.

Today was the day. Caitlin said, "Sylvie," every time she spoke to or about her sister. Now my heart must let go of baby Caitlin and embrace the little girl that she is becoming. 

                         Baby Caitlin

I hate saying goodbye to the baby but the little girl is pretty special too. 


I am learning to embrace the great adventures and experiences at every stage of my grandchildren's lives. 

        Playing Sleepover

Wonderful adventures await!

Thursday 19 February 2015

Winter 2015 in Prince Edward Island

The snow is piled high this year but these snow banks developed the last three weeks. 

                          Buried door

Prior to that time, we could see the grass in the front and back yards. Now it looks like the grass is many months away though there is but a month of winter left on the calendar.

The thirty hour blizzard this past weekend, with the air feeling like -30 degrees Celsius, dumped most of this snow. 


We could not see anything in our neighbourhood most of that time. The wind gusted to one hundred and twenty kilometers an hour and slammed into the house. It was difficult to sleep upstairs; on occasion it sounded like the roof was lifting. It was a restless night.

During the height of the storm, we saw shingles on the patio. We lost shingles last year as well. With wind over one hundred kilometers an hour, off they go. We were lucky not to have the rain which Nova Scotia had at that time.

Sylvia, my mother-in-law lives nearby in a garden apartment. 

Her windows and patio door are covered in snow and are inaccessible. 

She lives in a snow fort, though a cozy, comfortable one.

Meanwhile the clean-up continues. Until yesterday morning there was one lane cut through the snow on our street and clearing the snow around the house is a work in progress. 

Plows struggle with the heavy white stuff. 

Our patio was packed with tons of snow which could cause the deck to collapse. 

     Snow pile from patio
Our latest effort to clean a path to the patio brought back memories of Buchans, Newfoundland. There the snow drifted during bitterly cold temperatures making every shovelful a huge effort. This latest blizzard created those same snow conditions here.

 Every shovelful is a fight and the height of the banks make the job doubly hard. 

One of the good things about this past week is the fact that we did not lose electricity during this blizzard. 

We were warm and comfortable and continue to be. Furthermore, this too will melt...but not too quickly. We hope. 

Tuesday 17 February 2015

The New Arrival

The pictures show a gorgeous little boy, much loved by everyone on both sides of his family, the Burtons and the Mercers. 

                       Nick and Stephen

His parents were Jean and Carl Mercer.

              Carl and Jean

On the Mercer side, Stephen was the second grandchild to live in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. His older cousin was my husband, Rick.

                Rick, Sylvia and Stephen

Prior to Stephen's birth, eight year old Rick was the only grandchild on both sides of his family who lived in the mill town. He enjoyed every minute with both sets of grandparents, the Mercers and the Smiths. However, he had a special relationship with his grandfather Ern Smith. Rick's main concern when Stephen was born was whether Pop Smith would be Stephen's Pop as well. 

       Grandfather Mercer, Stephen and Carl

Meanwhile Stephen, in all his cuteness, took his place in the family with a special relationship with his Aunt Sylvia. He called her "Auntnie" and never wanted to go home when he visited her.

                      Stephen and Sylvia

The families lived near each other and spent lots of time together. These photos from old slides give a glimpse of the times and relationships. Cute and lucky little boy!

          Carl and Stephen


Sunday 15 February 2015

Baby Shoes

It is so exciting to watch a baby take her first steps. When the child starts to crawl, then stand, you know the big moment will soon occur. Around this time, a parent's thoughts often turn to shoes.

Almost two years ago my mother-in-law, Sylvia, moved to Prince Edward Island. While clearing out the attic of her home, we found baby shoes which belonged to my husband, Rick. Often baby shoes are bronzed but not these leather shoes. 

             Rick's Baby Shoes

Over sixty years old now, they are brittle and fragile, and though they still retain their shape, the colour is questionable. One day they will disintegrate into a pile of dust, but for now they conjure up images of tentative first steps.

Our granddaughter, Caitlin, almost two years old, is well past the tentative first steps. However, footwear of any kind, all of which she calls 'shoz', is a fascination for her.

      Caitlin's Slipper Shoz

Whether boots, shoes or slippers, she takes them off and puts them on numerous times, exchanging one pair for another and repeating the process. 

       Caitlin's Boot Shoz

If Caitlin gets new shoes or slippers, she stares at them as she walks. The footwear, often on the wrong feet, causes tripping accidents but she just picks herself up and toddles off again.

The first thing Caitlin does at our house is look for her slippers in the cupboard. If she does not wear them, she carries them around under her arm, all while holding her cup.

She recently discovered her mother's dress shoes and loves wearing or carrying them around the house.

     Mommy's Fancy Shoz

We have two granddaughters. Can you imagine the shoe drama in their future?

Thursday 12 February 2015

Ern and the Late Night Visitors

He sits at the table asleep again, his hands under his head as he dozes. Ern's breathing is uneasy, the emphysema making it difficult to sleep lying down. He always has his naps at the table after meals and in the evening.

It is the early 1960s and this man, Ern Smith, my husband's grandfather, has a Fix It Shop in the basement of his home on West Avenue in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. There he sharpens skates, makes keys, works on locks. He charges little, sometimes working all day on a lock and making only fifty cents. 

On this late Sunday night, as Ern dozes, the youngest daughter, Marie, is awake and her mother, Bessie, is already in bed. There is a knock at the door and when Marie answers, two Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers are on the step. She is startled as they say, "May we speak to Mr. Smith, please." 

           Marie Smith

As she wakes her father, Marie thinks that some family member has been seriously hurt. Ern, half asleep says, "Wat do dey want? Tell 'em ta come in."

Marie is anxious when she goes back to the door to relay the message but the officers refuse to enter.

At the door, Ern has a discussion with the officers which Marie cannot hear. When he comes from the door, he takes his cap and pipe which go everywhere with him, and heads out of the house without saying a word. Marie watches as her father takes the officers around to the basement door and into the shop.

         Ern Smith with his Pipe

After ten minutes the two officers leave and her father returns to the kitchen. He looks at Marie and says, "Don't ever repeat dis, but those two fools handcuffed themselves together and broke the key in the lock."

As he walks back to the table, Ern looks at Marie and says, "An' don't tell yer mudder. She'll have it on jam crocks."

Thank you to Jeff Smith for the picture of the sign, (which I edited), and Aunt Marie Smith for the recollection.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Twackin' Around

If you have never been twackin', you do not know what you are missing. Now mind you, this is the old Newfoundland version of the word, not any modern connotation. I first heard this term many years ago from our family friend, Madeline Connors.

            Madeline Connors

Madeline and her family lived nearby in Mount Pearl where I grew up. She was a nurse who eventually stopped working to raise her five children, three boys and two girls. Our families were very close and after all of her children were in school, she and my mother twacked around.

Twacking, often pronounced with the g silent, is shopping for no particular purpose. It involves going to the stores and looking around, sometimes purchasing something, or not. It is just a relaxing look around, sometimes with a friend. Occasionally a great bargain appears as well and you purchase something totally unexpected. Besides, if you are lucky there is time for a meal together. Mom and Madeline really enjoyed the meal during their twacking adventures. 

Sadly Madeline died at the age of forty-three from stomach cancer. She was a wonderful woman, a great nurse and mother, a good friend. 

Now Sylvia, my mother-in-law and I twack every month or so. Our time together goes with lunch as well. Today is the day and Madeline is on my mind. 

Rest in peace, dear heart.

Sunday 8 February 2015

The Newfie Bullet

The print is beautiful, colourful even with the huge black piece of steel depicted in the centre. It shows motion along the coastline, the train with engine five ninety-three at the front. 

           Engine 593

The sky is in sharp contrast to the tan as well as red plants in the foreground. The detail of the engine itself is exceptional. For my brother Frank and me, who each have the same print and picture, they represent a long family history of life in and around the railway. 

       Lloyd Pretty '95

This print, work of Newfoundland artist Lloyd Pretty, has a family connection as well.

       Print:  The Newfie Bullet by Lloyd Pretty

Check out Lloyd Pretty's work here.

The railway played a huge part in my grandfather's life and that of his four brothers all of whom worked with the Newfoundland Railway. The young men, Albert, Harry, Fred, Samuel, Cyril Pretty did various jobs with the railway, from firemen, conductors, engineers and dispatchers. Then my father, Sam, and his brother, Tom, worked with the railway as well. Between my father and his father alone, they had over eighty years of service.

        Samuel Pretty

Lloyd Pretty is a distant cousin. His ancestor, Eli Pretty, and my great great grandfather Samuel Pretty were brothers, both sons of Joseph Pretty of Dildo, Newfoundland. Lloyd's work of art is meaningful to our family for its railway connection but also for the engine depicted in the piece. 

When Canadian National announced the end of the passenger rail service in Newfoundland, my grandfather, a retired engineer, decided to take the last ride across the province, during the summer of 1969. Our family accompanied Pop.

We had taken the cross island trip before, crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence to North Sydney at that time as well. This time, however, would be the last trans-island trip for the passenger train service, the Newfie Bullet, as she was called. We looked forward to the ride but not the event.

My grandfather knew so many people on that last trip. Many other old railroaders did the same trip with their families as well. They shared stories over rum and coke or a beer as the sound of the wheels kept the rhythm for them, urging them to finish before the trip was over.

The meals on the train were always delicious, nothing fancy but good, tasty food. I remember chicken and fish especially. The dining room had lovely linens, and heavy dishes. We always looked forward to eating there.

The bunks for sleeping were basic but clean. The sound and motion were unique so that by the time you grew accustomed to them, it was soon morning. The continuous click of the wheels, the swaying around turns or slowing up grades, then speeding downward, made for an interesting experience. We loved it.

When we arrived in Port aux Basques, we stayed in a hotel overnight and took the train back the next day. This journey back to St. John's drew crowds at every station, people coming out to see the end of an era. 

We stopped at a park in Pasadena where an old engine was on display. People disembarked and took pictures and there was Pop front and center, the old engineer of engine five ninety-three, the same one in Lloyd Pretty's print.

That journey was the end of a family saga too. Not one to discuss feelings, Pop merely said something like, "That's it b'y. It's finished," when we arrived in St. John's.

That engine is immortalized in Lloyd's work and it symbolizes the long history of the Newfie Bullet as well as our family history. And there on the wall is Sam Pretty, with the old engine again. I like to imagine he is happy to be there.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Adventures with Bully Beef

During the Great Depression in Newfoundland, Ern Smith, Rick's grandfather, performed a variety of tasks as he worked as a Relief Officer. These jobs may have been in addition to his relief work, or part of that job. One of the things he did was inspect stores, eating establishments, and the food they sold. In the days prior to modern refrigeration, packaging and handling of food, it often spoiled. Someone had to insure that spoiled goods did not make it to the unsuspecting consumers.

At this time, Ern worked very closely with police as well. Confiscating products from merchants was not a popular move. Besides, hungry people were upset to see food being destroyed. Ern often needed support on the job.

On one occasion, he discovered a case of bully beef, cooked corned beef in cans, in which every can was blown. The meat was spoiled and the case had to be destroyed. Ern knew he needed help getting rid of the poisonous food.

He walked into the police office on his way home from ABC Grocery with the case of beef. Bob Burt was on duty. 

"Mornin', Bob."

"How ya gettin' on, Ern? Wad's goin' on taday?"

"Just been to ABC 'n' found a case o' bully beef dat spoiled. Got ta get rid o' it, ya know, Bob."

"Yes b'y. I knows. Bringin' it ta da dump, ar' we?"

"Na b'y. Ya know we can't do dat. Too temptin' fur da people who scavenge dere even if we took da labels off da cans. People'd get sick for sure."

"Could bury 'em I s'pose," suggested Bob.

"Na, dat's risky too, b'y. Someone could dig 'em up." Ern paused for a moment, then added, "But maybe we could take 'em out in da bay an' dump 'em overboard. Wa' da ya tink?"

"Alright, b'y. Nice afternoon fur a row out da bay. See ya at one," said Bob.

"OK, Bob. Meet ya down on da wharf. Meanwhile, can I leave this stuff here rather den cart it home, 'n' you bring it ta da warf?"

"Alright b'y."

Promptly at one o'clock, Ern met Bob at the wharf where the skiff was tied up. The boat served various functions and was used recently to retrieve a body from the bay. Ern noticed that Bob had his hunting rifle in the boat. Seeing Ern eye the rifle, Bob said, "Taut I'd bring 'er in case we spotted a few bull birds. I'm sick o' salt fish 'n' hard tack."

Ern figured it would make the trip worthwhile, giving one type of bully back to the sea and taking home another. "Good idea," he said to Bob, already tasting the delicious gravy and pastry Bessie would make with the birds.

The two rowed for all they were worth and after thirty minutes were far enough off shore so as not to attract too much attention. Ern opened the case of twelve and quickly dumped them overboard, anxious to go birding.

As he turned to put the box in the stern of the boat, he heard Bob say, "Oh-oh."

When Ern looked around, he saw it too. There were the cans of bully beef floating around, bobbing with the tide. The air in the cans created little buoys out of the spoiled beef.

"Dere all goin' ta float in on da tide," said Ern. "We can't have dat."

"Might as well have a bit o' target practice," said Bob. He reached for the rifle and methodically picked off six of the floaters. Then he passed the rifle to Ern. Not as skilled with the rifle as Bob, it took Ern nine shots to get his six cans.

As they watched the last of the former buoys sink into the depths, they knew the chance of fresh birds for supper sank with it. They had used all of the ammunition on the wrong bull. They rowed home in silence, each lamenting the loss of a great supper.

Important note:

This story is based on a true story from the life of Ern Smith. Thank you to Aunt Marie Smith for the recollection. The store and the Bob character are fictitious.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

The Mill in Our History

Four generations of men in our family worked at the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Mill in Newfoundland. It started with the construction of the mill and my husband's great grandfather, James Smith, who left his home in Old Shop, Trinity Bay to work in Corner Brook in 1923.

                        James Smith, carpenter

Ernest (Ern) Smith, James's son, worked at the paper-making process in the early days of the mill beginning in 1925. He worked there until an industrial accident made it impossible for him to continue. 

                       Ern Smith

Then Ern's son, Melvin, worked at the mill after he served on the cargo vessel, the Corner Brook, for a number of years. The vessel delivered newsprint to markets in the United States. At the mill, Melvin worked in the steam plant, and eventually became foreman there. 

            Melvin Smith

Rick, my husband worked in the paper mill for one summer during the years he attended university. He learned a valuable lesson; he did not want to work at the mill for the rest of his life.

        Bowater's Mill Showing Log Booms

The mill was an important part of the history of the Smith family, providing a livelihood for decades beginning in the 1920s, and again in the 1950s until Melvin's retirement thirty-five years later.

    Rick and Sylvia Smith, Bowater's Mill, 1960

However, this mill had a huge impact on Ern Smith's life in another way as well. The industrial accident which took the life of one of his co-workers so affected Ern that he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder which was undiagnosed and misunderstood at the time. Ern witnessed the man's death. His daughter, Marie, tells the stories her mother, Bessie, told her. Ern had trouble sleeping or woke covered in sweat, had nightmares, flashbacks and could not concentrate. He could not return to work at that mill.

There was an insurance policy on Ern's life while he worked at the mill but, as far as we know, nothing to help when he could not return to work there after he witnessed the horrible death of his co-worker. His family struggled financially until he started to work as a relief officer in the town during the Depression. That job was not easy either, seeing people in his community starving or sick.

  Life Insurance Policy

In addition, the pipes in the mill were covered with asbestos. When there was a problem, the plumbers beat the asbestos off the pipes to work on them. Obviously the asbestos fibers went into the air and Melvin was constantly around them. Today when asbestos is removed from older buildings, the workers are well protected with masks and protective clothing. How many mill workers, especially plumbers, died from lung cancer, as did Melvin?

               Kruger Paper Mill 2013

The mill has been a major source of employment for ninety years in Corner Brook. Our family is one of the many Newfoundland families whose history was linked to and shaped by the production of paper.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Sixth Generation

She sits there in the old rocking chair, reading to the little one. The three year old reader, Sylvie, is not exactly reading the book. She is telling a story to her almost two year old sister, Caitlin, under the guise of reading. The pictures help with the narrative.

    Sylvie reading to Caitlin

The old rocking chair was owned originally by their great great great grandmother, Mary Hearn. They are the latest to rock there, following the women in their mother's line, starting in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, now in Prince Edward Island.

The chair wraps its arm around all who sit there, for six generations now. And...the future looks bright!