My mother was born on September 4, 1935, to Elizabeth Slaney and Andrew Whiffin as one of a twin, into a family which would grow to include seven children. Her siblings were Carmel, Kathleen, Elizabeth, Patrick, Andrew and Joseph(the youngest).
Andy, my mother’s twin, lived next door to us on Midland Road which later became called Midland Row, in Pasadena, on the west coast of Newfoundland, Canada. He did not marry so he spent hours visiting his twin sister and tormenting all his nieces and nephews. From time to time my mother would banish him because of something he did or said to one of us, but for the most part he was a favorite uncle. He loved to laugh and his belly grew rounder prior to his death (from an aneurysm), and it would shake when he pulled one over our eyes. We didn’t always agree that he was all that funny, but he had a good time trying to bug us.
I don’t know much about my mother’s early life except that there were a lot of people in a small house. She quit school in grade nine and regretted it to her dying day. She babysat children, her brother Joe and Stewart Foote, two of the ones I know about and have seen photos of. She loved children and it was evident when she married my father Albert Finlay and had nine of her own.
(Above Mom is with Stuart Foote, who lived across the road; Below Mom is with Joe)
Prior to her marriage she contracted tubercullosis and was weakened for many years. She didn’t talk about that time in her life very much. She did tell me that she met Mr. Frank Poirier in the sanitorium. He would come to the house for me to help him with his cheque stubs, when he wanted to know what percentage of a raise he got or something else to do with Math.
According to one of her best friends Elizabeth Whelan, Mom dated my father for nearly two years before she married him. Dad often told the story about the hungry men in the camp where he was cutting wood to make a living. They had no cook, so they were surprised and charmed when he brought Mom in as the camp cook. The men enjoyed her cooking. At least they never complained, Dad said.
Being the firstborn, I remember how hard my mother worked to keep us fed, clothed and prepared for school. She had nine children in approximately eleven years, so that was a lot of people in one house, and a lot of mouths to feed. Mom doted on Dad and she did everything for him, from getting him a cup of tea to putting his meals on the table first, as he was the breadwinner and she had to make sure he was well fed.
She loved music and often there was a Charlie Pride or Glenn Campbell album on the record player and she’d sing along. We scrubbed the tiled floors to Harry Hibbs and the Carter Family. Dolly Parton didn’t get a break in our house! Her ‘Coat of Many Colors’ was a favorite!
No one had much back in the 50s or 60s, so we didn’t feel poor. We eventually got a tv and then we thought we were rich. Dad would buy old jalopies, cars that were in running condition but often would break down or need some work. So we would go for Sunday drives to the park or to visit our relatives in Irishtown or Deer Lake, or friends of Dad’s in Corner Brook or Cormack. We felt that we didn’t have much, but we survived just like the people who lived around us.
Because I was the oldest I got to go to Corner Brook with Mom often to help her carry her packages, as she tired out easily and needed help. We would go to the Seven Seas Restaurant for a hot turkey sandwich and coke. The sandwich cost a dollar back then. I vividly recall one incident when I went with Mom to Broadway to get clothes for all the children for school. Mom picked up so much clothes that she didn’t realize she had three dresses under her arm. We were walking down towards the Millbrook Mall when I remember asking her what she had under her arm. You can imagine her surprise when she saw the three dresses! Back we had to walk up the hill with her panting all the way, to return the dresses to the store and pay for them! The store manager was so amazed by her honesty that he gave her the dresses for free.
Mom was sick from an early age. The valves in her heart were weak and I remember when she went away for her first operation, to the Toronto General Hospital for open heart surgery. She came back looking like a skeleton with her teeth missing. I was just happy that she came back, that she didn’t die, as we had been told that we would have to go in an orphanage if she died. Years later she had a pig’s valve put in her heart, but her heart was still weak.
Education was important to my mother and so when she was able to do so, she did upgrading and boy, was she ever proud when she got her grade ten equivalency! We were all so proud of her, too. She attended all happenings at the school when we were getting awards and prizes. She encouraged all of us to do our best. When she had the money she’d get a subscription of Humpty Dumpty, a children’s magazine for us. She even encouraged us to read comic books! She was a good role model because she loved to read whatever she could get her hands on.
We were very happy to return home to visit with her when our children were born, back in the 70s and 80s. There was always lots of good grub for all of us as Mom had a passion for cooking and baking. She collected recipes and wasn’t afraid to try a new recipe. Her baked goods were my favorite, as these were mostly the ones I remember as a child, the strawberry tarts, lemon squares and bread puddings. Her homemade bread was to die for! There was never a complaint from Dad. Or anyone else for that matter! After all the children were grown up, she got a job as cook at the Hi Way Diner and she was very proud to work there. Often she would come home with restaurant slips with new recipes written on both sides of them.
Mom had many other interests but knitting was one that stands out in my memory. She loved to knit and in her last years she knit over sixty Fair Isle sweaters for other people. She also knit for our family. I have a photo somewhere of my burgundy sweater. I loved it so much that I wore it on a family photo that was taken to be framed. Whenever someone would come to see her and say “You knit a sweater for me”, Mom would ask to see the sweater and then she would tell the person who he/she was.
Prior to her death she learned how to crochet as well, and I’m sure if she was still living today she’d be making quilts and scrapbooks as she loved to take many photographs! Too bad one of our babysitters let the younger chldren cut many of them up. I can’t imagine the look on Mom’s face when she saw all her coveted photos destroyed. (I was not there at the time!)
It’s only now when I look at these remaining photos of my mother that I realize that she was a fashionable dresser, too! I’m thinking that these pictures were probably taken on a Sunday when it was the custom for people to wear their best clothes. I know she always liked to look her best, and with the limited funds she had, she did a good job!
My mother welcomed many friends to her home, and those who were strangers soon became friends. She shared her food and laughter with them. Uncle Billy Connors was invited to live with us, after his wife died. He thought the world of her, as she treated him like her best friend, after Dad, of course! Billy took her everywhere and even encouraged her to get her driver’s license later in life. He also taught me to drive. When he bought his last car, he gave the old one to my mother.
It’s too bad my mother is not here today for there are so many places I would love to take her, so many recipes I would love to share with her, and so many people who would have loved to have her in their lives. At the age of 48, after surgery to repair a leaky pig’s valve, she passed away. Dr. Kevin Melvin, her specialist, said that her heart was very weak and it could not withstand any more trauma. Sadly she left behind many sorrowful souls, whose loss was felt for many years.
When I think of my mother to this day, I always remember the times she was laughing or baking. She tried to see the humorous side of things, and I guess at the end of the day when she was tired out from caring for nine children and a husband, she liked to relax and listen to some stories from family and friends. She enjoyed her visits to St. Shotts, and the year she spent there when my father tried his hand at fishing, and thought the St. Shotts people were some of the best people in the world. She liked to act silly occasionally and let her hair hang down. And isn’t that what makes life so wonderful? To be yourself and to enjoy life with those you love the most.
Mom, you will always be remembered and loved in our hearts and souls!
- Joan Rivers’ Mother’s Day Advice: Seven Essential (and Humorous) Things to Remember (eonline.com)
- That Time Cover: ‘Are you Mom Enough?’ (attachedmummy.wordpress.com)
- Happy Mother’s Day: Thank You Mom (VIDEO) (blippitt.com)
- What Moms Really Want For Mother’s Day (fox8.com)
- Mother’s Day is Dad’s Day too! (aloma2day.wordpress.com)
- Plant a Flower, Honor a Mother (5minutesformom.com)
- Hug Your Mom Tight For Me – NYPOST.com (onetosix.wordpress.com)