Most Popular Post

Thursday 28 January 2021

Whisper goodbye

This is the story of one of those life moments, one that stays with you the rest of your life. I wrote this piece five years ago and every now and then, I am drawn back to it. It reaffirms for me what is important in my life and recently it’s been foremost in my mind.

That summer everything changed. Dad was sick. He had no energy and slept a great deal. This was different for him. At fifty-nine, since his retirement a few years previously, Dad had kept busy. Numerous tests and doctors had not explained the change.

During this same period, my grandmother O'Brien, Nan, had vascular dementia, living in and out of the world which included her family. By February, after Dad's last cancer treatment when doctors could not do any more for him, Nan was more often in her own world than in ours.

At that point in my life, I was married with one child, a daughter. In my teaching career I was principal of a small all grade school where I taught as well. My husband worked in the same school.

In February, I had a few days with my parents during which time Mom and I took Dad to see Nan. We spent every Sunday with Mom's family when my brother and I were growing up. That day, on the way to Maddox Cove, Newfoundland, to see my grandmother, I realized this would be the last time I’d see Nan with both of my parents.

My father had a great relationship with both of his in-laws, though my grandfather was long gone by this time. Dad's mother died when he was fourteen; he respected my grandmother O'Brien and thought of her as a mother figure though he always called her Missus. They never had harsh words and Dad helped Mom's family any way he could. There was mutual respect between my father and Mom's parents.

When we arrived in Maddox Cove, Nan was in her usual place on the daybed by the stove. She did not know me when I entered with my parents. I sat next to Nan with Dad on my right. 

Nan looked like she had for the last few years except her hair was greying at the temples now. She was thinner as well but her face was still smooth with few wrinkles. She looked younger than her eighty-five years. Her hair was lovely, kept that way by my mother who could have been a hairdresser. 

After I spoke to Nan for a few minutes, she recognized my voice, though not my adult appearance. Then, pointing to Dad, she said, "Who's that?"

"It's me, Missus. Sam," Dad replied. After all the treatment, Dad looked nothing like himself. He'd had radiation on his brain where the cancer had migrated, lost his hair and taken steroids which left his body swollen. If Nan had all her faculties she would have had difficulty recognizing Dad.

"Noooo, that's not Sam," Nan said.

"Yes... it is, Nan. He's... been sick," I said, choking back the tears.

"Noooo, that's not Sam. That's an old man," insisted my grandmother.

"Yes, Missus. It's me," Dad was able to say but then fell silent.

Sat there that day between these two people, I grew up. Neither of them was anything like the person I knew and loved. Yet, here they were, in essence the same, but each fading in his and her own way. Sat there, realizing the loss already, what was to come, the finality that was on the horizon, the days which would never be again, I shed the last vestiges of innocence. Being married, having a child, working, had not matured me the way this moment had.

As I drove back to my childhood home, I felt drained. In many ways, a girl had driven her parents to visit her grandmother one last time; a woman drove them home. I had a few months to assimilate what I had learned. Dad lived two months, Nan less than a year.

That day, in part, made me who I am today. It is woven into my being and as real now as it was then, a coming of age, guided by two loved ones whispering goodbye.

Monday 25 January 2021


We’re tired, tired of the isolation, the precautions, the fear. We see the news every day showing parts of Canada faring poorly against this virus. The news makes us sad. That’s how my husband and I feel here in Prince Edward Island and we live in a place without Covid hospitalizations and deaths.

Following a shortened lockdown, we had Christmas in our little bubble with our daughter and the grandchildren. Some members of our family, living elsewhere in the country, though closely supported by family, haven’t been in their company since March. We are fortunate to live on Prince Edward Island and we know it. 

What is it like for people living alone? Many are on their own and have been for a long time now. Normal channels of social interaction are gone. Reading some of the blogs I enjoy gives me a glimpse of how people on their own are managing. It’s not easy. 

While there aren’t any stories of the previous pandemic circulating in our families, we have glimpses of some health issues affecting society and our families before us though. When I started school in 1959, school started later in the autumn because of the polio virus. At the time, I knew the name but little of what it was about except for images of people in iron lungs on tv and in newspapers. I know someone who acquired polio from a package sent into her northern community for Christmas. She was away from her family for years, receiving treatment as a young child into adolescence. Vaccine saved lives and people from disabilities. 

Going back further in time, people with tuberculosis went into sanitariums. Many died. My grandfather lost both parents and five siblings to TB when he was a young child. What was it like for families to wonder who would come down with that disease, or parents dying of the disease and leaving young families? Such tragedies were common.

My husband’s grandfather was a welfare officer on the west coast of Newfoundland in the 1930s. If someone in a family had diphtheria, the family went into quarantine for a period of time. Grandfather Smith put the quarantine notice on the door of the home and provided the family’s needs, such as groceries. My father lost his younger brother to diphtheria. Sometimes several children in a family died. 

Today, it is easy to complain about whatever our experience is because it is what’s real to us. However, we only have to look around us today and back in our own lifetimes and those of our parents and grandparents to see how fortunate we are. We have the knowledge of science to help us deal with the reality of this virus, a way to keep ourselves safe and now, a vaccine which was developed quickly. We need people to take the vaccine so we can live Covid free.

This current pandemic experience has highlighted how much we have to rely on one another for survival. My survival depends on my own actions, those of others around me, the community at large and vice versa. We need everyone to take the situation seriously and do their part in keeping themselves and consequently others, safe. That’s life in general though, isn’t it? Now our interdependence is magnified.  

Of course we are tired but also determined to live through this, healthy fear in tact and protocols in place. It looks like it will be summer before our age group will be vaccinated on PEI.  However, when the day arrives and we can all leave our bubbles safely again without Covid precautions, I hope we have heightened awareness of our interdependence as a people and are better for it. 

Monday 18 January 2021


Looking out the bedroom window as I closed the blinds, it looked like it was snowing. I watched the street light for a minute. Peculiar. Not snow but fog, an unusual visitor on a still night in winter. 

The next morning, everything but the air was white. A thick layer of radiation or hoar frost covered the branches and trees, created by nature’s paintbrush as the air cooled and deposited the water vapour in crystalline form on the twigs and branches. It left an impressive canvas.

After breakfast, we dressed quickly for a walk in the frigid air since the sun was already warming the east facing branches. The boardwalk was our destination of choice but we stopped along the way on a street with giant senior trees, 

so pretty in this frost.

Many along the boardwalk had cameras and one could understand why. The frost hung in the air as we looked out to the lighthouse. 

Along the trail, the trees and grasses were frosty, 

creating a magical though nippy cold atmosphere. 

Everyone we met remarked how beautiful it was to walk in those conditions.

As is typical this winter, it looked like the sun wouldn’t last long as the blue grey clouds spread over the scene. 

However it lifted our spirits to experience the phenomenon with so many others in the setting we know and love.

Thursday 14 January 2021

With the boy

When my husband and I have an opportunity for time alone with either of our three grandchildren, we are delighted. Our daughter went to have the second Covid injection in Charlottetown recently, so we had our grandson for a few hours while the girls were in school. Yippee!

Hide and seek is always on the agenda when the little guy visits. When we bought our home, our daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild and we noticed how the circle around the main floor would be perfect for a child to run around. It’s great for adults too though. There are interesting corners and closets in which to hide and pop out from. We enjoy our home with the children.

With our grandson, the toys come out, some used by his mother many years ago, others given to us by a neighbour when her children outgrew them. A farm, a tea set, a tractor and animals, all make an appearance. Two toy solders his grandfather had as a child often march around. Books and games have their turn. The three year old also enjoys puzzles now. Then while we prepared lunch he played alone which he also enjoys.

After lunch it was time for camping. Blankets, chairs and pillows make a tent for him and me as we pretend to roast marshmallows, have tea, play with the tractor and go to sleep. We repeated the five minute long day numerous times. A monster of his imagination outside the tent kept us inside where we were safe. Every night ended with a song and, “I love you,” from each of us. 

We finished the day with a hug and he left laughing and happy. We were too.

Friday 8 January 2021

I see them

I see them every day. Often there are faces with names, small children, teenagers, young men and women, families, seniors. Most did not survive.

The Auschwitz Memorial @AuschwitzMuseum on Twitter posts information every day about the atrocities suffered at that concentration camp during World War 2. The names, often with photos, give me pause. I acknowledge each one, to remember them. They had families, parents, siblings, grandparents and lived like others of the time, like my daughter today, working, raising kids.

Mothers and children never survived the selection. People were separated into two lines when they arrived at the camp, one for the gas chamber immediately, the other for the camp. Young and old always went to the gas chambers.

Sometimes their occupations are listed. Poets, farmers, doctors, blacksmiths, priests, every occupation you can imagine. If they survived the selection, some died within a few months, or were executed by a firing squad. Others lived a bit longer. Some organized escape plans and were caught and murdered. A few actually escaped. 

Every now and then, one is listed as a survivor of the camp. I always wonder how this person survived while so many died who had survived the selection.

They were predominantly Jews, over a million of them, also artists, educators, communists, Romas, homosexuals and mentally and physically handicapped. 

I want to remember what happened. I want to be reminded every day that they lived but tragically, were deemed unworthy of life by people who were unopposed by others. People stood by and many did nothing as the children, students, adults, parents and grandparents were robbed of their possessions and murdered at the hands of monsters.

It started with talk about what was wrong with other people and why they weren’t wanted in Germany. This need people feel to purge our societies of anyone judged to be different is a common sentiment throughout human history. What is wrong with us?

The events of this past week in the United States highlight for me how close any country could be to a repeat of such atrocities. As Canadians, we need to look in our own backyards. There is a fascist/white supremacist element here. A group in the Canadian military was exposed recently and the Proud Boys founder was a Canadian.

Last year, a candidate for the leadership of one of the political parties in the country had the slogan, “Take Back Canada.” One could legitimately ask, “Back from whom?” This slogan raised eyebrows and voices across the country. People spoke up!

Canada’s history with indigenous people of this land is shameful. We took their children and sent them to residential schools. Many children died. For those who survived, the results of the abuse they suffered in the schools is felt generations later. We have begun to acknowledge our treatment of the Indigenous people and teach our children about this history. It is a beginning.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been active in Canada as well and treatment of Black Canadians by police here can be shameful and deadly. We have much to answer for and repair in Canadian society.

I see them every day.

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Island speak

Newfoundlanders are known for our unique words and speech. We even have our own dictionary. A recent two minute video done by TSN, highlights some of the uniques sayings of Newfoundlanders, and can be seen 


The two young men featured are Newfoundland members of Canada’s team at the World Junior Hockey championships this year. They were defeated by the U. S. Team last night.

Having lived on Prince Edward Island for a few years now, my husband and I have grown accustomed to PEI speak too. Some islanders don’t recognize their own originality of terms or phrases, so I wrote a poem to help. As a woman of both islands I love

              Island speak

You know you’re on the island 

If corners have a name.

Like Read’s or Cook’s or Kenny’s,

All islanders know the same.

While “How are ya?” is common, 

I’ve often heard it said.

Just add an s and it becomes

“How are yas?” instead.

Anywheres and nowheres

And somewheres, so yas see-

Islanders they like an s

Added easily.

Then there are directions,

Like out west to go away,

Or up west to go to Tignish

And down east to Broughton Bay.

It is just a fresh day

When the wind is blowing high

And the cold enough to freeze yas

As yas learn that yas can fly.

Everything is worst here,

For comparisons of two.

So as for a crowd yas say

He is worst than you, ah...yas.

And when yas leave the island

By ferry or by car

Acrosst is where yas going cause

Yas don’t have to go far.

With love, Marie.

Monday 4 January 2021

Tea parties

Our granddaughters wanted a tea party. We hadn’t had one with them in a while so one day early in December, when their mother was working, my grandson and I made muffins for a tea party.

When the girls came from school we were ready. The table was set with the good China and the children picked their favourite cups, all of which were my mother’s. Mom would have loved to see her great grandchildren using these cups.

We talked as we drank herbal pomegranate tea and ate the chocolate chip muffins. The youngest, at three, didn’t have as long an attention span as the girls but he lasted 45 minutes. I told them about my mother, Mary, and about her use of these same cups.

The girls recalled their experience of High Tea at a hotel on one of their trips to London when they visited their grandparents in England. The children have travelled a great deal and enjoy experiences in the places they visit. I shared some of the experiences their grandfather and I have had on the trips we’ve taken. 

Over Christmas, we had a second tea party and enjoyed a selection of the cookies we baked for Christmas. Ours had been frozen in an effort to prevent my husband and me from eating them. However, we haven’t found a cookie which can’t be eaten frozen, much to our chagrin, though 95% of them had survived. We shared them with our neighbours too.

The children enjoyed the tea party and ate all of the cookies called Moose Farts. So much for high brow conversation over tea when you can have a few giggles over Moose Farts just to keep it real.

The recipe for Moose Farts is