Mama and Me
When I was a little girl, I thought there was nobody more wonderful and special than my mother who we fondly called "Mama". Of course, I suppose children feel that way about their mothers and why wouldn't they? Parents are the whole world of a little child. As infants, toddlers and young children, we ultimately rely on our parents to fulfill our every need. My parents, especially Mama, were no different.
Growing up in a French-Canadian ethnic neighborhood was the best. Why? Because we grew up with all of our aunts, uncles, cousins and especially our grandparents. Our parish church was in our neighborhood as were all businesses owned by French-Candians that allowed our migrant grandparents to take care of business in their customary language which was French. So whether they went grocery shopping, were in need of pharmacy or other services, attending church (which was most important to them), they could conduct business in comfortably in their mother tongue with which they had spoken since childhood in Canada. I remember Dubrule Pharmacy that included a soda fountain. We enjoyed many ice cream cones in the summer and ice cream sundaes on Sunday afternoons. Each ethnic neigborhood had its own grocery stores, fish markets, fruit stores etc. These neighborhoods were great microcosms of the larger world but best of all we felt safe. Our doors were never locked and nobody was a stranger to us.
When hiring nuns to teach in our parish school of Ste Anne, they had to be bilingual speaking personnel who would teach their children and grandchildren not only English but French as well. I always believed we were pretty fortunate to grow up in that kind of situation with our heritage always at the forefront of their minds for our own sakes though as children we didn't realize just how fortunate we were.
From "baby room" (called kindergarten today) through 8th grade we were taught in two languages. No, we did not have a French "period" or "class" in those days. Rather we had a half day of English and a half day of French. During French classes we were taught the catechism, church history, french grammar, spelling and literature. During English classes, we were taught the usual classes of reading, grammar, spelling writing, and arithmetic. Of course, classes did not begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 2:00 p.m. as they usually do today. We were in school from 7:45 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. until the schedule was changed to 3:00 p.m. half way through elementary school.
To their credit, les Soeurs du Bon-Pasteur de Québec/Sisters of the Good Shepherd, whose mother house was in Quebec on rue Lachevrotière, did a great job preparing the children of the parish for high school as well as for their future. How fortunate we were to be fluent in both French and English. As a child I spoke French before I spoke English and I do suppose that was because my Mémère and Pépère (grandmother and grandfather) lived next door for a while and Mémère Lévesque used to baby sit me quite a bit. Wherever we went in our neighborhood we could converse in French at anytime. Of course, like all young American children, we had a tendency to speak in English more than French even encouraged by our parents to do so so we would grow up as true Americans.
Thanks to them, we have grown up as true Americans but today we long for those days when there was someone with whom we could speak in the tongue of our grandparents and forebears.
I digress.. growing up with Maman was both interesting and fun for us as children. Just about every summer Sunday the extended family would go to Canobie Lake for a family picnic. Most of us had no automobiles so we would all take the bus that we could board at the corner of our street and head out for the day. Most often we would go to 6:00 a.m. Mass and be on the 7:15 a.m. bus so we could get the picnic tables closest to the lake while at other times we would arrive early enough to reserve the kiosk so we would be in the shade if it was going to be a very hot day. Everything depended on how fast the bus could get us there. Sometimes it would have a hard time making the hill close to Canobie. Buses were not what they are today!
At the end of the day, our extended family would take the last bus home at 10:00 p.m. and sing all the way home. It was great fun for us kids!
In those days going to Canobie Lake was free admission and it was still a pretty rustic forest full of big pine trees. We would tie our bottles of drinks together and lower them into the lake to keep them cool. There were no coolers then.
There were a few amusement rides and a few food booths and life was simple. Today it is quite expensive at Canobie because there are mega rides available. I'd take the good old days anytime.
Of course, as great as Mama was in getting us ready for the day and sending us off on the bus with my brother and sister so we would arrive with the rest of the family, she always came later. I don't remember her ever being ready to leave when it was time to go. But that was part of who she was. Her main purpose was to get us ready so we could have a fun day from beginning to end. She would usually arrive at the Lake a couple of hours later with my Mémère who would usually go to 8:00 a.m. Mass.
Once in a while we would spend a Sunday at Salisbury Beach. That was more unusual though. Canobie was only a half hour from home in those days whereas Salisbury was an hour by bus. Today you can get to Canobie in 10-15 minutes by car and Salisbury in 35-40 minutes depending on traffic.
Wherever we went Mama made sure we had a good time. She loved to laugh, tease and have fun. She always put in on the "dobbie horses" aka carousel. At certain times of the day or evening you could try to "catch" a "gold" ring as the dobbies passed a certain area. If you could grab onto one you got a free ride. I didn't get one often because I loved the dobbie horses that went up and down - the ones closest to the edge of the carousel did not move. Often parents would stand there to grab a ring for their child to get a free ride. I just loved the dobbie horses so much that I used to fantasize owning my own horse some day.
Now at Canobie Lake there was a "fortune teller". My mother and aunts would go have their fortunes told. You know it was taboo in those days but they did it for fun and didn't believe a word the fortune teller would say. One day when they were done having their fortunes told, my father told us that his mother used to be a fortune teller. Everybody laughed and thought he was joking. I never knew my grandmother Odille because she died at age 42 when my father was just a young boy. Let me tell you though that as I plodded through our family history, one day I went to the public library to look through City Directories and lo and behold my grandmother was listed as a "clairvoyant" aka fortune teller. So my father was right. I sure wish I'd known her! Not because she claimed to be a clairvoyant but rather because she did what she must to help support a large family. I see her as having been a very strong woman doing what she must to help her family survive. They were very poor and when she died there was no money for a grave. She is buried with in a grave belonging to friends of the family.
So that is also how I always perceived my Mama to be: a very strong woman from who I learned much about surviving the ups and downs of every day life and hanging in there when things were difficult.
As Mama grew older and more frail I realized that my perception of how strong a person she was might not be entirely true or correct - I wondered whether or not I was mistaken. As she shared some of her fears and concerns in her aging years, I realized more and more that she imparted to me the strengths she would have wanted for herself in the up and down years of her life: however, no matter what she thought of and for herself, she had a greater and deeper strength than she ever imagined.
I am the last of six children. Three children died at young ages. My two oldest siblings, Rita and Emile died one month apart at ages 3 and 4. A year later my sister Claudia was born, three years later my brother Albert, two years later my brother Alphee who died the age of 9 months. Five years later I was born.
One time I remember my father telling me that when their children passed away, Mama would just sit in a rocker with their toys rocking back and forth. They had died of whooping cough which was untreatable back then. When I was under a two years old I contracted scarlet fever. Quarantined to the hospital during that illness when I returned home my Mama patiently taught me once again to walk as I had been so decimated from the illness that I could not walk and was not talking much for an 18 month old.
There was never a day that passed when she did not tell us how much she loved us no matter how old we were and no matter how ill she was at the end of her life. Today I do the same with our daughters and now our grandson.
So in spite of the lack of strength she thought lacking, Mama was a much stronger woman than she believed herself to be and I attribute so much of who I am because of who she was in my life.
Mother's Day is this Sunday. In Mother's Days past, I used to love to sing all of the Mother's Day songs that we were taught at school or that we would hear on the radio. On Mother's Day morning I would sing them one after the other for my mother. Mother's Day was a very special day to honor Mama in a special way.
Mama I love you and think of you every day.
Here is a recent photo of your great grandson Theo.