Quite a surprise for Martha Keeping’s 90th birthday

Paul Herridge
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Martha Keeping’s 90th birthday at the Oceanview Manor in Garnish July 5 turned out to be quite the surprise party.

Martha Keeping received a surprise visitor all the way from England for her 90th birthday party at the Oceanview Manor in Garnish July 5. Mrs. Keeping had never met her brother John’s daughter, Susan Smales, until then. Pictured with the pair, who are at the far left, are (from left) nieces Judy Foote and Jean Rose, sons Ronald, Esrom and Lyman Keeping, and another niece Mary Rodgers. Paul Herridge Photo

She spent the afternoon surrounded by family and friends but one in particular stood out. Unknown to Mrs. Keeping, visiting all the way from Kent in the United Kingdom was her niece, Susan Smales, whom she had never met.

Many people have heard of Newfoundland war brides who married American and British servicemen during World War II, and moved away with their husbands – rarely to return – once the conflict ended in 1945.

It was a little different for John May, Mrs. Smales’ father, who was 18 when he and his older brother, Esrom, left now resettled Point Rosie to sign up for the war effort.

While Esrom was taken prisoner of war and never survived, John did, but decided to stay in England. He thought there would be more opportunities for him in London.

Eventually, he married and raised two daughters, Mrs. Smales and her sister, Elizabeth.

As a small child, Mrs. Smales said she was incredibly curious about her father’s homeland thousands of miles on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, though he would rarely talk about it himself.

“It was all quite exotic, in my mind. I’ve long wanted to come, but never thought that I would make it here.”

The opportunity arose through another of Mrs. Keeping’s nieces, well-known politician Judy Foote. She invited Mrs. Smales and her sister, who unfortunately was unable to make the trek, and helped arrange the trip.

Mrs. Foote’s mother, Sabina, who was Mrs. Keeping’s sister, died when she was just three-years-old. Eventually, the families lost touch with one another, until Mrs. Foote sought to reconnect with her mother’s side when she was older.

“I started to reach out to my mother’s family, which included my Uncle John, whom I discovered lived in England.”

Mrs. Foote had a couple opportunities over the years to meet her uncle and his family on trips to the United Kingdom before he passed away, some 11-years-ago, and she kept in touch with Mrs. Smales.

“I guess I was looking for some sense of who my mother was. When your mother dies when you’re three-years-old, you really have no memory. So I was reaching out to whoever could tell me what my mother was like.”

Mrs. Keeping, who remains in good health, was thrilled to meet her niece.

Likewise for Mrs. Smales, who acknowledged the trip to see her father’s roots had been quite emotional and the reception she received wonderful.

“When you’re all those thousands of miles away, you could just be like a name on a piece of paper or something.”

Mrs. Foote said seeing her aunt meet her cousin for the first time warmed her heart.

“It was a dream I’ve had for a longtime, in wanting to reconnect Uncle John’s family with his Newfoundland family, and it happened today.

“(Aunt Martha) said to me, ‘This made the day so special.”

pherridge@southerngazette.ca

Geographic location: United Kingdom, Newfoundland, England Kent London Atlantic Ocean

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