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Thursday 30 April 2015


Such a great surprise this past week! My niece, Samantha came for a surprise visit.

It is so wonderful to see her, spend some time relaxing, shopping, sharing a family meal which we rarely get the opportunity to do. 

So many people have large families. Eight of us at the table this past Sunday is a crowd for us. Like my husband and daughter, my niece is an only child as well. 

My brother, Frank is her father. Her mother, Michele is from a large family so Samantha has many other cousins. However, she is our daughter Claire's only cousin.

It was also great to see our grand-babies getting to know their cousin on their mother's side.

It brought back memories of Samantha at their age, as she wrapped herself around Claire. It will not be too long before our girls do the same to Samantha. Some of the best things in life repeat through the generations.

 Time with family
 is exhausting

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Fossil of Information

It is a little book, more than fifty years old, and a source of information. In the not too distant past, when you needed a word explained or a similar word, you used such a book. In the not too distant future however, generations to come will "google" the word dictionary.

When we were growing up, my brother, Frank, and I used this little Webster Dictionary which proclaimed itself to be "self pronouncing." It contained eighty-five thousand words. I remember carrying that little book around in my pencil case because it was easy to lose otherwise. We found it among our mother's things after she died. 

    Webster Dictionary

Today we carry dictionaries with us all the time in our phones and tablets. There is no excuse for improper word usage any more. Everything is so easy to verify. Phone and tablet cases have replaced pencil cases as holders. Some devices today are not much bigger than this little dictionary and have the potential to supply us with unlimited information compared to the limited content of the little book.

Imagine the words which are in common usage today that did not exist fifty years ago, words like emoticon, blog, transvestite, ginormous. Then consider the expansion of meaning for already common words like gay, high, wasted, hammered. Our little dictionary is long since obsolete.

What form will information take fifty years from now? By that time, our little dictionary will be a fossil. 

Sunday 26 April 2015


He calls himself my favourite student and in some ways he may be right. His name is Melvin and he comes from Buchans Junction, Newfoundland. He is the oldest in his family and an avid woodsman. Melvin traveled on the bus to school and stayed in school for lunch every day. I had to do the same during my childhood so I always had an affinity for the bus students.

Melvin was quiet, perceptive, versed in outdoor life as was his father. He loved the woods and everything involved with it. Having grown up with a love of nature as well, I understood Melvin's love of outdoor life. He respected the environment and understood nature. This appealed to my love of science, especially biology. I think Melvin and I understood each other somehow.

I came to know Melvin during lunch times at school and he was in my class as well. He had so much potential. Anyone who respected and understood nature as he did was capable of doing well in life. I learned from him too. One Saturday, several other students and I went into the woods with Melvin. He showed us the animal traps set in the woods around his community, how and where to set them, how often to check them. He knew the species of trees and talked about the beavers and their dam. He could easily start a camp fire and survive in the woods if needed.

He finished school and left the Junction. We kept in touch for a time but eventually lost contact. Then several years ago, we made contact again. He used his ability, did well, married and had a son. He still hunts, fishes and periodically pans for gold in Alaska. After selling a business, life is less hectic and he and his wife travel every year.

There was/is a connection between Melvin and I, and in that sense he was one of my favourite students. This is for you, my friend!

Thursday 23 April 2015

Knee Length

For the last year I have suffered periodically with a painful right knee which I hurt doing exercise. Physiotherapy helps during those painful bouts. Between those times, I can do very light exercise but if I am not careful, I re-injure it. I need a more permanent fix. Meanwhile I am suffering through a painful bout now, having overdone it on the the treadmill again.

As anyone with knee or hip problems knows, getting in and out of a vehicle is very difficult. Entrance and exit can be excruciatingly painful and it reduces the number of times one is willing to suffer the pain. Not only do you reduce the number of outings in your vehicle, you also invent ways to cope, especially if you are driving.  

Recently I drove to my latest physiotherapy appointment. When I parked the car in the limited space available, it was a major, painful effort to get out of the vehicle. Our car has unintended, self-closing doors and that day the door insisted on slamming into the good leg which was planted in a puddle of water. I attempted to lift the bad leg out of the car but to no avail. The anticipation of the pain almost precluded the effort. I was frustrated and ready to swear verbally which I was already doing mentally. Meanwhile the door had hit the other leg several times by now as I continued to push it open.

In addition, the effort to lift the bad leg meant that I hit the horn somehow which alerted others in the area. Several attempts and several horn blasts later, I decided to lie in sideways across the passenger seat, keep my good leg out the door, and with some painful effort, ease the bad leg out as well. Of course the self-closing door hit both legs then. It took about five minutes to maneuver out of the vehicle.

At the end of the physiotherapy session, I mentioned to the therapist how painful it was to enter and exit the car. He looked at me and said casually, "Put the seat back."

Tuesday 21 April 2015

The Wonder of Siblings

Watching our two granddaughters has given us a whole new appreciation of siblings. We three in our family have but one sibling among us, my brother, Frank. We have little experience of the sibling dynamic and are thoroughly enjoying the antics of the little girls who now share our bloodline.

The manipulation of the other to get your own way,

the discovery of the other as a playmate and to share experiences.

The shared giggles.

The mimicry,

the sharing of meals 

or having a swig. 

The rough times 

and the good times while learning to share.

The competition for attention and the iPad.

And they are only two and four years old so more glorious discoveries await.

Sunday 19 April 2015

The Promise of April

The month of April in the Northern Hemisphere always has such promise. Maybe it is the end of the snow and the anticipation of the warmth to come. The strength of the sun, more hours of daylight, the return of the vacationing birds, and diminishing snow banks all make for a hopeful time. This has not always been the case for our family however. April was the month when my brother, Frank and I lost our parents, with twenty-two years between their deaths.

When our father died, Mom, Dad and Frank lived in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. Dad died of cancer, which was undiagnosed until it was too late. Treatments gave him a few extra months to say goodbye and his expected death was an end to suffering.

                   Dad, Claire and Mom

Rick, Claire and I spent Easter with them that year. We returned home and Dad died two days later. Our daughter, Claire was five at the time, and had seen Dad in bed, barely able to speak, tossing and turning, swollen. She did not understand what was happening.

When Dad died, we returned to St. John's for the funeral and Claire accompanied us to the church service but not the funeral home. We talked to her about Poppy having died, and what that meant. Claire was very quiet but observant of the events.

On our return home, Claire was different. She cried when we left for work, clinging to us as we left the house. This was so unlike Claire.

Soon we realized that Claire feared she would never see us again if she left us as well. She feared our deaths too. I talked with her about Poppy's sickness, what he was like when he was sick and that her father and I were not sick like Poppy. Claire was satisfied with that reassurance.
Twenty-two years later, Claire and Ben were married, living in England and home for a visit. My mother, living with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, died suddenly as Claire and I held her. Claire's training as a nurse helped both Mom and me that day. The little girl who was so fearful after Poppy's passing was a rock dealing with her grandmother's death.

Yes, April has such promise.

Mom and Dad... Often in our thoughts and always in our hearts.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Jinkers And Other Things

Recently I was reminded of the word 'jinker' as it is used in Newfoundland. I have not heard the word in years so it brought a smile. People are referred to as jinkers when they appear to bring bad luck. For example, a person entering a room where people are playing cards might be told, "You're the real jinker," if the cards seem to move out of one's favour with the person's arrival.

Then there's Rick's grandfather, Ern Smith, who had a fix it shop in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. He worked as a locksmith and often spent hours picking a lock. Sometimes he kicked at the air as he walked out of the shop and up the stairs. In his frustration with a particular lock, he would say,  "Get out! Get out!"

When queried about the action, Ern said, "I'm kicking the devil out of the shop."

Apparently the devil likes to frustrate locksmiths.

                             Ern Smith

Finally, Ern did not earn enough as a locksmith and expanded his business to survive financially. He also upholstered furniture, which paid better than the time-consuming and less lucrative locksmithing. In addition, Ern invested in a saw file, and also sharpened skates for the community. He sang as he worked on the saws, enjoying the work immensely.

Strains of the traditional Newfoundland folksong She's Like The Swallow could be heard coming from the basement any time Ern worked on a saw. After his death, his daughter, Marie, swears that she heard her father filing and singing in the basement. She smiled and left him to it.

Thank you to Aunt Marie Smith for sharing the memories of her father. Thank you to Jeff Smith for the picture of the sign.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Hair Line of Generations

We often take pride in our hair and it is one of the traits which may attract us to another person. Hair was an attraction for my husband Rick and I. He loved my long brown hair and I was attracted to his blond locks. 

Before long the attraction went beyond the hair but Rick still mentions how much he loved my long hair. His hair, still blond, is mixed with gray that is all but imperceptible. 

Other family members have hair stories as well. Rick's grandfather, Ern Smith, was balding and lamenting the loss of hair on the top of his head. To cover the bald spot, Ern grew some of his remaining hair to comb over the top. This meant that in a good nor' east gale, Ern's hair flew high. However, that was the least of his problems. One day, while bent to light his pipe, Ern caught his comb-over on fire and was lucky not to have burned himself. The comb-over disappeared after that incident.

Meanwhile, our granddaughters, Sylvie and Caitlin, have their own hair stories. The oldest, Sylvie, was almost bald for the first eighteen months of her life. 

Sylvie was too busy to spare the time and nutrition to grow hair. When her hair did grow, she sprouted beautiful curly locks like her paternal grandmother.

Meanwhile, Caitlin had a full head of hair at birth and a beautiful gray streak, like her Great Great Aunt, Marie Smith, Ern's youngest daughter. 

Caitlin's hair is also curly.

I wonder if the blond hair attraction gene passed to our girls?

Sunday 12 April 2015

The Dog, The Baby and The Grandmother

A few months after our first granddaughter was born, we had occasion to have our granddog, Georgie, visiting at the same time as the baby. 

Our granddaughter, Sylvie was a pleasant child, who interacted with people and her environment almost from birth. I loved singing, reading stories and poems to her. She was and is a source of joy in our lives.

Georgie was the top dog in the family until Sylvie came along. She often visited our house and stayed with us when her family was on vacation. Rick and I loved Georgie and spent quality time with her, grooming, walking, playing; all the things a dog loves to do. Every time we visited her home, she wanted to leave with us.

During this particular visit, Sylvie shared our attention with Georgie who treated Sylvie like her puppy. I sat on the stairs playing with Sylvie. Georgie, not be ignored, moved to the stairs and sat behind me. 

Straddling the steps, 

she was wrapped around my neck like a living, golden boa.

Georgie reached over my shoulder, trying to lick Sylvie. 

Periodically, she was successful.

It was one of the funniest experiences of my life and the pictures tell the tale.



Thursday 9 April 2015

Age Is Honourable

The stories about him live on in our family history seventy-five years after his death. My mother, Mary, loved her grandfather, Edward O'Brien, very much and kept his memory alive through these stories. One came from the times Granda Brien accompanied his family when they visited the neighbours to listen to a radio in Maddox Cove, Newfoundland.

         Edward O'Brien 

One evening in particular stood out in Mom's memory. Everyone gathered, as usual, to listen to The Adventures of the Irene B. Mellon. This musical program, written by Jack Withers, told the story of a fictional schooner and her adventures around the world. The entire community looked forward to her adventures.

During the 1930s, times were tough. Rarely did the gathering share any food because people did not have anything extra to share. However, this night the hostess had an orange which was quite rare indeed. She saved it for the occasion to share with her guests. 

The woman sectioned the fruit, and started with my great grandfather O'Brien, saying, "Age is honourable," as she passed the plate of orange sections to Granda first.

Granda took the plate and said, "Tank ya, moy dear," and proceeded to eat the whole orange. The others looked on with watering mouths as Granda ate the entire orange. Not a word was said.

When his family told him what he had done, Granda was embarrassed. "Why didn'a ya say someting. I was delighted tinkin' twas all moine. An' twas some good too."

Needless to say, food never appeared during the radio broadcasts ever again.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

A Practical Man

He was a man who lived off the land and sea; he took life at face value. My grandfather, Gus O'Brien, worked in the fields, plowing, growing vegetables, mowing, cutting wood, tending animals, maintaining his house, barn, sheds, cellar, fishing and all it entailed. Granda worked hard his whole life to put food on the table and provide for his family. 

             Gus O'Brien

During fishing season, he woke at four a.m. and had a quick breakfast before he headed to sea for the first time that day. Getting home by nine o'clock, he had his second breakfast before he started his daily routine of endless jobs. Granda did not have a lazy bone in his body.

One beautiful sunny day, Granda was home from fishing, out in the yard on his way to the meadow with the scythe, ready to mow hay. Two middle-aged women came through the gate into the yard and approached him. They were dressed as if to work in an office. They were going door-to-door and Granda greeted them.

"Goo' marnin'," said Granda. "Gran' day."

"Yes, sir. It is a beautiful day. Good morning to you," said one of the women. 

"Monnie is in da house if ya wants ta talk ta her," said Granda. My grandmother's name was Monica but she was called Monnie by her family.

"No sir. We can talk to you. The message is for everyone," replied the same woman.

"Wha' message is dat?"

The woman took a pamphlet out of her purse and offered it to Granda. He reached for it and noticed the title on the cover. It said Awake.

"Moy dear. I don't need dis. Oim awake since four dis marnin'," was Granda's reply.

The women both replied , "OK, sir. Have a good day," as they walked out of the yard.

Sunday 5 April 2015

A Child's Feelings

The first summer I attended the University of Ottawa, my husband, Rick and my daughter, Claire, stayed home in Newfoundland. Claire was just three years old and she and Rick spent some time with Rick's parents in Corner Brook. I spoke with them often but the pay phone made it difficult to get in touch with me as often as they would have liked. We talked with Claire about where I was and when I was coming home, but she was too young to understand the timeline or circumstances involved.

On the return trip home, I flew into Gander and Rick and Claire were at the airport. It was so good to be home and on the drive to Buchans, I sat in the back seat next to Claire.

It was a beautiful summer day in early August and Claire wore a little summer outfit. She was so cute, sitting in her car seat, talking as we drove the two hours to home. 

We were almost home, on the straight stretch before the last hill into Buchans. Claire started hitting me and she was very upset. Rick, driving the car, said, "Claire, mommy's been away and now she's back and you're hitting her. That's not very nice."

Understanding what was going on, I reassured Rick that everything was alright. I said,"Claire, you missed Mommy, didn't you?" She did not reply.

Later Rick and I talked about the incident and I talked to Claire about where I had been and how I was back now. For the next month, Claire needed to be reassured that I was there, so everything she needed, I had to do or get for her.

For example, we visited Mount Pearl to see my parents later that month, and Claire would not let anyone else open the door for her. My father did not understand why Claire did not let him open the door when he was there eith her. Rather Mommy had to come from another part of the house to help her. Dad, whose mother died when he was a teenager, could understand why Claire was upset when I explained it to him.

Gradually, over that first month I was home, Claire's insecurity and anger subsided and she settled into life as it had been prior to my absence. The next summer, Rick and Claire came to Ottawa with me and we rented an apartment. It was a better solution for our daughter.

Young children let us know how they feel if we but listen and observe. Then we can help them deal with the stressful events in their lives as they learn what they are feeling and that the feelings are normal. It is amazing what you can learn from a three year old.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Brotherly Love

This is a day to celebrate my brother, Frank Pretty; his birthday is this weekend. I found some pictures of the early years we shared on Sunrise Avenue in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, where we grew up in a loving family surrounded by friends, many of whom became like family.

   Baby Brother Francis(Frank)

Despite his own ear problem for the first three years of his life and our parents' illness throughout our lives, we had a happy childhood. 

        Brother and Sister

 Skating at Steady Waters

                Mom in her Later Years

Our Mom, Mary, was at home, looking after everyone and Dad, Sam, worked and passed his pay check over to Mom. 

          First Communion

We did not have a lot but we had enough and we knew how our parents felt about us.

             Dad and Frank

Mom and Dad encouraged both of us to do what we enjoyed and provided us with as many opportunities as they could afford. 

          Music Lessons from an Early Age

My brother was a good student and excelled as an athlete. 

     Hockey Player Frank

           Basketballer Frank

I did not have an athletic bone in my body but did well academically. Because of Mom and Dad, Frank and I knew that when we finished school we would further our education and our parents did everything they could to facilitate that end. Frank went to trades college and I went to university. Each of us was celebrated in our family and had our own way to shine.

        Childhood Friends

    Childhood Friends

 Mom and Dad were exceptional parents and they raised a wonderful son.

             Trophy Winner

Frank is a devoted, funny, loving man who I am proud to call my brother. Happy birthday! You deserve the best!