Proud of her fam­ily

Car­bon­ear res­i­dent re­flects on a life lived for her chil­dren


A Car­bon­ear woman in her twi­light years talks about rais­ing a large fam­ily, and the chal­lenges along the way.

All you have to do to bring tears to Mar­garet Mer­ri­gan’s eyes is men­tion her brood of chil­dren.

The Car­bon­ear mother, grand­mother and great-grand­mother looks in­tently at a fam­ily photo. A tear glis­tens in the corner of her eye. She raises a hand and brushes it away.

“I en­joyed rais­ing my chil­dren,” she said in an in­ter­view with The Com­pass last week.

The tears she sheds be­speak hap­pi­ness, not sor­row.

“ Thank God, my chil­dren never gave me any trou­ble,” she said.

Then, with a smile, she added, “ Well, just the rou­tine, you know. They prob­a­bly got into a scat­tered fight or some­thing like that. But they never gave any­one any prob­lems.”

The 81-year-old is in a pen­sive mood, ready to talk about the ups and downs of a life lived en­tirely for the ben­e­fit of her chil­dren. Noth­ing else mat­tered but to suc­cess­fully raise them and en­cour­age them in their per­sonal pur­suits in life. In this, she suc­ceeded ad­mirably.

Mar­garet Hurley was born on Bell Is­land in 1929. A year later, the fam­ily moved to the Con­cep­tion Bay com­mu­nity of Kingston. Af­ter a few years, they went back to Bell Is­land, where Mr. Hurley worked in the mines. When he re­tired, all hands re­turned to Kingston.

Mar­garet was in Grade 9 when she left school.

“ I should have stayed in school,” she ad­mit­ted in ret­ro­spect. How­ever, her par­ents, not un­like oth­ers in those days, didn’t en­cour­age fe­males to get an ed­u­ca­tion. Get mar­ried, yes. “But there was no such thing as girls go­ing to work, like they do now,” Mar­garet said.

At 15, she went to Car­bon­ear as a do­mes­tic. She did house­work, hooked mats and painted lofts, among other tasks.

Later that year, she made a trip to In­dian Har­bour, on the Labrador, and cooked for her fish­er­man brother.

A year of do­mes­tic work on Bell Is­land fol­lowed, af­ter which she went to Petty Har­bour, her sec­ond and fi­nal sum­mer in Labrador. She spent her 18th birth­day on the S.S. Kyle, a well-known coastal boat that is now a fix­ture in Har­bour Grace.

At 20, Mar­garet mar­ried Wil­liam (Bill) Mer­ri­gan of Car­bon­ear. A to­tal of 12 chil­dren were born to the cou­ple. Two died young; 10 are still liv­ing. Coin­ci­den­tally, Mar­garet’s par­ents also had 10 chil­dren.

When he was well, Bill worked as a car­pen­ter. How­ever, as a tu­ber­cu­lo­sis suf­ferer, he had only about 20 per cent of one lung.

“ That af­fected him,” Mar­garet said. “At that time, he was given six weeks to live. But he lived 48 years longer than the doc­tor had told him he was go­ing to live!”

To say that times were tough is an un­der­state­ment.

To­day, Mar­garet Mer­ri­gan lives in­de­pen­dently in her own house. She feels well phys­i­cally.

Still, her chil­dren are al­ways on her mind. “ I love my chil­dren,” she said.

One Sun­day re­cently, she had 16 of her chil­dren and their off­spring in for Jigg’s Din­ner. And what comes af­ter the meal? “ I lis­ten to them telling sto­ries, about places they went and what they did when they were grow­ing up,” she an­swered. “It brings back a lot of mem­o­ries.” The tear tap is turned on again. “ It makes me lonely some­times,” she said.

Mar­garet is well-known in her town and ac­tive in her church. In fact, some 300 peo­ple at­tended her 80th birth­day party.

Brenda Dean of Op­tions Hair Stu­dio in Car­bon­ear knows the se­nior lady well.

“ When we started out, I was her hair­dresser,” Dean said. “But then we be­came very close friends.

“ She’s like ev­ery­body’s Nan. She leaves a very pos­i­tive, last­ing im­pres­sion on any­body and ev­ery­body she meets.”

Mar­garet her­self is mod­est and unas­sum­ing. There are as­pects of her life she doesn’t even men­tion, un­less asked. Dean re­vealed some of those things.

“ She’s al­ways telling jokes,” Dean said. “Any­body and ev­ery­body who knows her will tell you the same thing. She likes to en­ter­tain, make ev­ery­body around her in a good mood, no mat­ter the sit­u­a­tion.” But it doesn’t stop there. “As a young girl, she used to do a lot of danc­ing,” Dean con­tin­ued. “Even at the very young age of 81, she still loves to dance.” Mar­garet es­pe­cially loves the square dance.

“I keep telling her, ‘Don’t ever act your age be­cause you most cer­tainly don’t show it,’ “ said Dean.

Mar­garet her­self has her own take on Dean’s state­ment. “ I don’t try to hide my age,” she said. “Lots of peo­ple say I don’t look my age, but I don’t know if they’re telling me the truth or not. It’s nice to hear, though.”

Mar­garet has a mod­icum of ad­vice to of­fer read­ers.

“ The only thing I can say is trou­ble and hard work don’t kill any­body!”

As one who ex­pe­ri­enced both in her long life, Mar­garet Mer­ri­gan has earned the right to make that state­ment.

“ While Bill was out of work, he did a lot of set­ting and sell­ing veg­eta­bles,” Mar­garet ex­plained. “ That’s how he made a liv­ing.”

De­pen­dence on govern­ment as­sis­tance be­came a ne­ces­sity.

“ We had no other choice,” Mar­garet said. “I would tell my chil­dren, ‘ Your fa­ther is sick, not lazy.’ You were reared hard and hon­est.”

At all times and un­der all cir­cum­stances, her chil­dren were her pri­mary con­cern. “ They are the ones I lived for,” she said.

Her great­est fear was that some­thing dread­ful would hap­pen to them be­fore they grew up. She didn’t want her chil­dren to make the same mis­take as she did by leav­ing school early.

Which is why she did all within her power to en­cour­age them to achieve, to ob­tain an ed­u­ca­tion, to have their own pro­fes­sions, en­sur­ing gain­ful em­ploy­ment.

Her 10 chil­dren dis­tin­guished them­selves as teach­ers ( three), a hair­dresser, sheet metal work­ers ( two), an of­fice worker, an elec­tri­cian, a roofer and a con­struc­tion su­per­vi­sor.

“It made me so proud when they made some­thing of them­selves,” she beamed.

Mar­garet Mer­ri­gan pos­ing for a pic­ture af­ter be­ing ser­viced by her hair­dresser, Brenda Dean, owner/op­er­a­tor of Op­tions Hair Studeo, Car­bon­ear.

The Mer­ri­gan fam­ily in 1976, from left: Helen, An­thony, An­gela, Bill, Sadie, John, Cather­ine, Mar­garet, Frank, Bill, Jim and Mike. The fam­ily is pos­ing on the oc­ca­sion of Cather­ine’s mar­riage.

Mar­garet Mer­ri­gan spent her eigh­teenth birth­day aboard the S. S. Kyle. Re­cently she asked her grand­daugh­ter, Siob­han Mer­ri­gan, to paint her a pic­ture of the coastal ves­sel.

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