|Interview With Franco-American
Woman: Nancy Lamontagne
By Deborah Achey
After interviewing Nancy Hebert Lamontagne
on Thursday, November 18, 1999, it was easy to see that much of Nancy's
determination and perseverance could be attributed to her Franco-American
background. She was especially proud of her French heritage and wasted
no time in sharing some wonderful stories with me, about what it meant
to be a Franco-American girl growing up in Waterville, Maine.
Nancy was one of three children born
to Joseph Gerard and Alice Lacroix Hebert. She was the middle child
with one older brother and a younger sister. They resided on King
Street and later moved upstreet to Summer Street, living in Frenchville,
in the plains of Waterville. It was an all French neighborhood where
people gathered religiously every Sunday after Mass to play fiddles and
sing French songs. Nancy remarked, "It was quite the neighborhood.
The Catholic church was a very big influence on my life as a child. Movies
were never rated like they are today, G, PG, or R, so the church used to
for us instead. The church used to post
a list of approved movies and if we wanted to see a particular movie and
it was not approved, we could not go. There was no question about
that. That's an example of how strong an influence the church was
in our lives."
Both of Nancy's grandparents came from
Canada and migrated to the Eagle Lake and Fort Kent area. She speaks
lovingly of her grandparents, but holds a special place in her heart for
her Memere Hebert and says that her grandmother tried to preserve the French
culture at home by insisting that the grandchildren learn French.
"Memere Hebert refused to speake English to us because she wanted us kids
to learn French. So we learned how
to say things in French when we were with
her. She would do the dishes with us and teach us the words for plate,
cup, spoon, and expected us to memorize the French words. It was
her way of keeping the French culture alive," remembered Nancy. Later
Nancy discovered that her Memere Hebert did indeed speak English, but had
refrained from doing so around the children.
Nancy's parents were both very young
when they died. Her father, Joseph Hebert, was electrocuted at the
tender age of 31. Nancy was only seven years old at the time of his death.
Nine years later, Nancy's mother died due to complications from surgery.
So at the age of 16, Nancy and her sister went to live with each of their
godparents, in different homes while Nancy's brother joined the Marines.
Once again the Catholic Church had
influenced Nancy's life. "That's when
you could see the impact and influence the church had in our family because
there was no question about where we would live after my mother died,"
Shortly after her mother's death, Nancy
married. She had dropped out of high school at eighteen and was employed
at an egg farm where she picked eggs. From there she went to work
for the Maine Poultry Service where she worked with other women who were
also mostly Franco-American. They debeaked and vaccinated chickens.
"With no high school diploma, it was a job. Now that I look back
at it, I know that I married at such a young age so that I could have my
own home and reestablish the family unit. My sister moved in with
us after I got married," Nancy reiterated. Nancy gave birth to a
son, but filed for divorce due to incompatibility shortly after, and received
an annulment from the Catholic Church four years after being married.
Nancy's Memere greatly supported her divorce because she realized that
Nancy had only married so that she and her sister could once again remain
in a home together.
Nancy proudly recalled her Aunt Annette
Hebert Poulin being named "Franco-Woman of the Year," at the Franco-American
Festival sponsored by the Calumet Club in Augusta, Maine a few years ago.
Yet Nancy modestly shared some pretty amazing facts about herself.
After her divorce Nancy was employed
as a dietary aide at what used to be the Waterville Osteopathic Hospital,
now Inland Hospital, in Waterville, Maine. She worked various jobs
in the dietary department and was interested in completing her high school
education so that she could go on to college. She needed a degree
to become a dietary supervisor, but it was then that she met her second
husband, a Canadian who was working as a carpenter in Waterville.
Clermond Lamontagne was the oldest of fifteen children and believed that
a woman's place was in the home, yet after three years of marriage and
two miscarriages, Nancy was allowed to continue her education, return to
high school, and received her high school diploma in 1976. She modestly
admitted that she was named valedictorian of her class. With that
kind of success, Nancy was spurred on to continue.
She graduated from the University of
Maine at Augusta with an Associate's Degree in Social Services in 1988.
Nancy didn't stop there because she later received her Bachelor's Degree
in Education at the University of Maine at Farmington in 1990. Nancy's
spirit was unshakeable even when her husband and best friend had an affair
before she finished her education. Clermond Lamontagne simply agreed
to a divorce and left Nancy and her son with the home that she had maintained
all those years, even before she had married him. By this time Nancy had
also taken a foster son into her home.
Throughout all of her trials and tribulations,
Nancy insists that her faith was what brought her through everything. She
actually came full circle in her life because if her mother had not died,
Nancy would have become a teacher earlier on. "I had an aunt who
was a nun and a teacher and that's what I wanted to be when I grew up,
so I guess you could say I accomplished my goals because I am now an Associate
of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Winslow, Maine
and I am also a teacher," Nancy added.
When asked about specific memories concerning
her Franco-American heritage, Nancy talked about huge family gatherings
on Christmas Eve after midnight mass and says, "When Memere was alive,
all 55 grandchildren and great-grandchildren used to get together on Christmas
Eve and celebrate the holiday as a family. Today our numbers have
dwindled, but we still maintain that family unit, even though it's much
Nancy is presently employed at Forest
Hills School in Jackman, Maine, approaching her tenure. She is involved
with Junior High and High School Youth Ministry functions, and also lectors
at church. She proudly derives her strength from the religious aspect
of growing up as a Franco-American and attributes her strong sense of family
and values to that upbringing so deeply imbedded. "My faith got me
through emotionally," remarked Nancy.
At 51 years of age, Nancy has lived
a lifetime of experiences that has produced an individual who can weather
all the hardships life has to offer and yet she continues to have an incredible
sense of humor. I am fortunate enough to know Nancy on a personal
basis as well. She is the first one to tell a joke and is not bothered
by jokes about her particular nationality, yet sometimes is offended when
these jokes portray Franco-Americans as being stupid. Nancy blushed
when I reported that my assignment was to find the unsung heroine in her
and I commented that I couldn't have had a better subject.
Achieving her educational goals served as a great inspiration to me, as
I am on that same journey myself. Without Franco-American women like
Nancy Lamontagne, the French culture might not have persevered. It
was with great respect and privilege that I interviewed such a woman to
honor her accomplishments and her womanhood by putting this down on paper.