One Child Born In This World To Carry On*

By Rhea Côté Robbins, July 16, 1993

      I sit on my porch rocking, thinking.  Writing. 
      Happy Birthday, dad.  You'd be 77 today.  My Chantel was his exchange child.  He died on her birthday.  "One child born in this world to carry on, to carry on*" I sing.  I sing Blood, Sweat and Tears and I think of dad.  One is born to carry on.
      I may be aunt Connie's exchange child since I'm named after her.  I send her what I write and she loves it.  I am a hero to my bunch.  They are so grateful.  She tries to understand what it is I do with the writing. 
      I need the big, warm blanket of my family tucked up underneath my chin in order for me to feel on center.  I'm so used to the bump and jostle jiggling at my elbow, the interruptions, that I don't know how else to communicate without it.  I visited upstate New York for the first time and Edna Paquette, also.  I took a 622 mile ride, round-trip and stayed less than twenty-four hours.  She told me the week-end with her would be devoted to me.  Her writing is becoming more and more famous everyday.  I wonder at myself and what I'm doing driving around on Rt. 2 going toward a famous author's house.  Invited or not--who the hell do I think I am?
      She was nothing but gracious and I am grateful for what she did for me.  I cannot explain it, but I needed to be home.  I almost cried at the borderline.  I'm obviously searching for something.
      For me, I am aware of my stain of working class.  Working class happenings, family concerns, outlook on life, expressions of who we are, home-spun philosophies, tendencies, floors so clean you can eat off them or dirt-in-the-barn, not the house farmer's wife, farmer--herself, mill-workers, unsophisticated, unapologetic.  Working class, ethnic, in and about yankee-shit-don't-smell, sideboard of living. 
      Wandering around in a foreign environment--I'm in the country, I'm riding around in the woods in a pick-up truck on dirt roads with a famous woman author in jeans and a silk shirt, baseball cap and sunglasses.  "Tough as me" this one could be called.  It is a study in back-to-the-land hard living.  She does it in order not to be swallowed by the resin-coated book jacket of a writer's life.  To keep from being smothered.  Or snuffed? 
      The museum and tomb quality of preserving life on paper is like putting a firefly in a jar.  I observe it as a life which can crush the juice right out of you.  Instead of a pick-up truck on a dirt road, me, I need my blankie of turmoil.  I need to feel connected to my people.
      My critique of Edna upon the return of my short stay--her difference from me is her developed sense of aesthetics.  The artists I have met live as she.  Or rather, the expression of who they are in their homes are of the artist.  The artist at home.  In my imitation of it, I make a poor attempt at it all. 
      She says she likes to fish.  As a woman alone, accompanied by Larry, she goes up-country to fish.  Visiting up-country is something else besides living there.  Living there requires you dig your toes in, hardiness, hale in the blood.  I know, I lived there for seven years at seventy below sometimes.   Because I lived up north and tended fires, I realize I can be a firemaker as my maman was before me.  "Pyro," we'd call her.  She'd burn the dead leaves all day long at camp.  She'd get there and say, "I'll just start  a little fire to get rid of some of these leaves and twigs and shit."  Then she'd tend fire all day.  Red-faced, hot and sweaty.  In between the meals.  The coals would smolder all night and she'd start all over on Sunday.  "Just a little fire," she'd say to no one in particular.
      I need hard living to let me know I am alive.  Just like Edna.  I am uncomfortable when I stray from the working class decor.  The world may very well spin on its axis, but we know which class of people that is responsible for firing the machinery which turns the cogs of the axis.  God's little folk.
      In New York I felt lonely and separated from my usual run-on life, crush me at odd moments.  No one was more surprised than me to experience the homesickness I felt in New York.  I'm not sophisticated; I am a study in commonness.  I am feeling it more and more.  Timothy, my brother, was right and right.  How to resolve the gap between my desire to write and the writer's world of tea cups and long-stemmed champagne glasses will be a juggling act.
      I admire Edna's courage.  I must have run from the challenge of change.  I think I got scared by the rare environment of deafening silence which I alone would be responsible to fill.  Maybe I fool myself and I don't want to write at all because of the sacrifice of giving up the clutter of living.
      To me, the common existence is so full of microbes I don't want to go anywhere else to write about their germs or fungus.  I like the ones I'm steeped in.  I don't want the sterility of artists' white walls, but I have tasted their coolness and so I go there as a concession.  I used to have bright color on the wall, but the red-headed, Lake's kid made that obvious to me.  She and her husband rented our Madawaska house.  I was downstairs and she took her family on a tour of the house commenting on my "French" color choices on the wall.  That was the last time I ever chose bright colors for my walls.  By one remark, the wall color scheme, my expression of beauty, was beat out of me.  I'm not sure I could stand color the way I unconsciously lived or chose to live with color back then.  After art training in college, rubbing elbows with the art bunch, I crave white walls.  Even my kids complain.
      The decor of the French heritage woman's home is eclectic.  Mostly utilitarian--or family pictures.  Art from Woolworth's or K-Mart, Home Interiors.  Motel room imitating.  Knitted crafts.  "Holy Cow Are You Eating Again!" alphabet soup felt on the refrigerator door.  Scissored soda bottles mobiles blowing in the wind.  Affordable elegance.  Imitation hummels.  Some cut glass, some silver, some mincing about linen.  But not too mincing.  The delicacies are in the crocheting.  The dollies, quilts, rugs of pure wool, la lain, which he tore into strips for her to braid.  And the dresses, dresses, dresses. 

      Edna is rejecting New York and coming home to Maine and I'm not sure why.  I don't think she may be any happier in Maine.  Being a creator isolates you, anyway.  But she does invite the woodcutter who delivers her firewood in for a beer--an imported beer.  A choice, premium beer.  My brother drinks Bud and she thinks she and he would get along because they both go North to fish.  As long as she didn't talk too much, maybe.  But she has to talk to the folk or les mougis sophisticates would gobble her up.  She has to work at being common.  Even though she comes from common.  So, I half-believe her stance of commonness. 
      I tell my friend Marie that Edna is fancy.  Marie disagrees.  I'm more right.  I am not a fancy woman.  To some, I would be, but I don't talk about hamburg patties as burger bundles, either.  Fancy women I have come to know probably have acquired tastes for fancy spices.  For me, nutmeg in the tortière is getting pretty wild.  I don't make bread with a modern sensibility; I make bread as a weekly chore and I do mean chore.  It gets to be just so.
      I live my maman's and my mémère's lives.  Mes parents m'tienné ma face au terre.  My parents kept my face to the ground on these things as long as they could.  I am an old time cook, canner, seamstress and suck-up.  I am afraid my daughter, Chantel, is in danger of becoming a yup.  It's a good thing we made her pile wood, pick tomatoes and strawberries when she was a girl.  Laid some foundation.  She drives a standard, too.  No one is interested in helpless women around here. 
      In some cases, I consider myself spleeny because I never picked up a sick chicken in the barn and smash its head against the cement foundation as my maman did.  Mark the sheet with a line, and if it was the fifth, a slant through the previous four to mark the chicken's death.  Throw them on a pile with the other sick, now dead, chickens.  When I complained she said, "It needs to die.  It will make the others sick.  Besides, you know how they will peck it to death if I don't kill it.  I'm putting the poor thing out of its misery."  Selective death.  She was god.  She chose who would live or die.  Her killing was humane.  They made me pluck chickens.  I complained again.  I could do a better job today.  I was an embarrassment to them with my squeamishness.  I avoided science because of the chickens.  I braved cancer because of the chickens.  I, too, was plucked.  My prosthesis sits on the page opposite.  It gets hot wearing that thing in the summer.  Removable body parts.  I love it.  I'm learning to live with that silly-putty titty. 
      I guess I want the poison--disconnectedness from deeper purpose or meaning--to stay away from my heart.  I want my sickening, to a degree, sentimentality.  Nature's smile as opposed to nature's backhand.  The idea without a feeling attached to it nauseates me.
      For some reason my visit to New York and Edna pencilled me in darker; made my edges more strong.  The artists I've known laid some foundation for that, but she pointed it out without saying a word.  I was taken by her design in her home, but I know now it is not me or mine.  I am too low class or working class.  Her dirt is not dirty like my reeking piles and piles of unholy, unblessed dirt.  In her environment, toilet seats are art forms.  Woods, textures, feathers, cloth, batik, curtains to the right, furniture, paintings, books--lives are blue and blessed.  This eclectic represents a prevailing wind foreign aesthetics.  Acquired tastes.  Adopted philosophies as opposed to imposed philosophies or passed-on philosophies.  She'd be pissed to hear me say that.  She calls me a "good, little catholic girl."  That pisses me off.
      Where the hell do I begin to find the thing that I am looking for?  I ride to Newport on the highway, and I get off at Rt. 2 to New Hampshire and other routes on to New York.  I enter New York by crossing on a bridge over a river.  At dinner, certainly not supper, in a restaurant with no sign, Pease Porridge Hot, $99 worth of eating, just this shy of $100, I remark to the other writer and his wife who we met up with, "I'm in search for my rivers."  He tells me the on-the-road book, experience--Kerouac style--is common.  Searching for home or a place that's comfy to light down on.  The home or place you choose is a fit, but an irregular fit--a poor fit.  Or, you make a home, home, settle in and then the kids have ownership, but they sense your unsettledness and so they roam.
      Driving down the highway, I look for actual, physical signs of the French presence on yankee dirt.  I find few brave outward signs.  Edna hands me a phone book.  She misunderstood.  I meant passing along that ribbon of highway where is the challenge of visible, out there in your face expression of living French?  I saw one purple house for sale.  Probably it all went the way of the color on my walls--shamed to white.  Color, I am going to insist, be in some different places than only on the canvas dans notre Christe des, Christe des célébrations. 
      The Franco-French-Acadian-Québécois-North-American disappearing act.  And with that the French women's invisibility along with a people who do not like to be seen.  Or heard.  Outside of their groupings.  Which sometimes is as small as their families. 
      I revolt at the thought or phrase of regional writer.  I don't want to go anywhere else to tell their story.  I haven't yet looked at what fascinates me.  Place names.  Toponyme.  Toponomy.  Things I learn which keep me vital or on my toes, apprised, informed, made aware of, current, flirted with, sexually aroused in French; likewise seducing, unaware.  Sometimes aware.  The attractions, flirtations will not go away. 
      I went French folk hunting or fishing.  Didn't see or catch much.  Or did I?  What could make it all more obvious?  That reminds me of the women, me, waiting on shore for the fishermen to return.  Edna played music for me.  All kinds of music.   I still had to go home.  I was shy.  She criticized Franco-Americans shut-down body language.  In the face of non-acceptance and ridicule--yes. 
      Disappearing Act Two.  I tell her I see performed on stage a French play, translated.  Words are there, but the body language is missing.  She tells me she is looking for underground humor.  I'm excavating a whole submerged culture--an Atlantis of Francos.  A people apart, drowned in a sea of unfamiliar water.  Some other continent of being has a better toe-hold on the tectonic plates of life. 
      The signage on the road is missing.  A few are there, but certainly not enough.  The road I traveled to New York was a panorama of common expression.  Not studied, self-conscious living, but unself-conscious flower beds, green, algeaded ponds where cows cooled off, farms, out-buildings, crumbling sheds--walls melted, roofs like whipped cream and cherry discarded.  Yard sales.  Pig roasts, B-B-Q's, parades anticipated, American flags, front porches.  I felt like Connie Kaurault On The Road.
      The author we met for dinner admits that the great Franco-American novel has not been written yet.  The dinner was strained.  The visit was strained.  At odd moments I felt Edna and I connected, but our differences clashed.  I think she rejected my middle classisms and I reject what I feel is high classing it up.  If we could meet at the French place maybe?  She feels far away sometimes in her experiences; I feel narrow compared.  Only, I don't want to negate my life anymore.  It is what it is; I am what I am.  I am not socially literate in some areas of prescribed behaviors.  I'm a country woman with a few nicks of society on me.  I'm complicated, but not in a fashionable, marketable way.
       So what angle of the firefly-on-the-loose do I tell of the Franco-American story?  The Invisibiles.  The Quiet Presence.  Assuming quiet is as it says it is.  Or is quiet a kind of loudness?  Arms at your side self-hugging.  Color into white tragedy.  Patchwork a reflection of the work of God?  And I've got work to do; I can't sit on this porch and naize all day. 

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*Blood, Sweat & Tears 
Song written by Lara Nero
You may have been told this already and just not changed it yet but, the song  "And When I Die" *Blood, Sweat & Tears--was actually written by Lara Nero
If you didn't already know that you might like to visit bio here:
You may be surprised at some of the songs you've heard that she wrote.
[good to learn this. merci.]

AND WHEN I DIE, as sung by Bs&T

I'm not scared of dying,
And I don't really care.
If it's peace you find in dying,
Well then let the time be near.
If it's peace you find in dying,
And if dying time is here, 
Just bundle up my coffin
'Cause it's cold way down there.
I hear that its cold way down their.
Yeah, crazy cold way down their.


And when I die, and when I'm gone,
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on,
to carry on.

Now troubles are many, they're as deep as a well.
I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell.
Swear there ain't no heaven and I pray there ain't no hell,
But I'll never know by living, only my dying will tell.
Yes only my dying will tell.
Yeah, only my dying will tell.


Give me my freedom for as long as I be.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally.
Oh I want to go naturally.

Here I go,
Hey Hey!
Here comes the devil,
Right Behind.
Look out children,
Here he comes!
Here he comes! Hey...

Don't want to go by the devil.
Don't want to go by demon.
Don't want to go by Satan,
Don't want to die uneasy.
Just let me go naturally.

and when I die,
When I'm dead, dead and gone,
There'll be one child born in our world to carry on,
To carry on.
Yeah, yeah