|Interview with Mrs. Lee-Nadeau
By Susan Gagnon James
Upon meeting Mrs. Single for the first time,
I was struck by her poise and grace and beauty. The 86 year old author,
of Annette: Story of A Pioneer Woman, now widowed, lives
in the elegant and spacious living quarters at Southgate, a retirement
facility, that has all one would want, including a theater, swimming pool,
chapel, bowling alley, gym, elegant dining facilities and library, in Shrewsbury,
Massachusetts for the past ten years. The facility is divided within
three segments, and was not surprised to learn that Mrs. Single was living
in the "independent" living quarters.
Independence comes naturally to the Franco-American
author. Born in Bangor, Maine of parents born in St. Francis, Maine,
who later moved to Patten, then to Hampden Highlands were she spent much
of her youth. She also lived in Bangor, where she attended public
schools and Gilman College. The youngest of nine children, Mrs. Single
is the last sibling left in her family. Her Mama was of Irish descent,
with a distinct "brogue", soft-spoken and highly religious. She was
obviously dearly loved and adored by her youngest daughter.
Hampden Highlands had one of those one
room schoolhouses were nine grades (no kindergarten) were taught by one
teacher. The school population dropped to so few students that the
children were taught two grades at once so that the school could be closed
and students bused to other areas. Mrs. Single recalls that she ended
in high school in Bangor two years younger than the other pupils did.
She considered herself a tomboy in her
youth and liked to be outside with physical activity, working on the farms,
and playing baseball, rather than the more ladylike endeavors her mother
tried to teach her. One is not surprised, with her strong gait, and
determined steps; she has not lost her zest and is still active today.
One can see that, in her sparkling eyes, wide smile, and warm gentleness,
that she assumed that others were surrounded by goodness, like hers.
She recalls the incident, 70 years ago,
when she wanted to be a clerk in Freeses Department Store in Bangor, selling
dresses. When the young man who interviewed her said, "We can't hire
you as a clerk. We use only English, Irish or Scots, as our customers.
But maybe they could use you in the office." Mrs. Single doesn't
contribute this job turn down to Heavenly intervention, but she does have
a sort of belief that she just might have a guardian angel. Even
though she didn't get the job as clerk, she felt the gentleman had a kind
manner in refusing her that position, then offering her an alternate one
in the office. Well, that had she been a clerk, she would have never
sought out her intended life in New York City.
During the depression times things were
quite difficult in Maine, as elsewhere. After she graduated from
school she use to go from store to store and ask for work, sometimes they
would give her a day's work. A printing shop that occasionally gave
her work setting type offered her Sunday afternoon, (after church) a job
cleaning type. It was a dirty job, with muriatic acid that would
blacken her hands, but she would get paid two dollars, which was a day's
pay then. By the time she got the black scrubbed off her hands, it
was Sunday again!
When she was 18 years old, she decided
to go to New York where she had a cousin living. With her mother's
blessing she headed for New York in a bus, over the weekend when the fare
cost less. Her cousin Wilfred Oaks and his wife Ottalie, met her.
These kind people showed her around the city and the intricacies of the
New York Subway (five cents and introduced her to an employment agency,
where she was interviewed one day, hired the next day, and never without
a job since. She loved the city. She could go to night school
free, and she did, studying literature and writing. Her education
at Gilman College prepared her for office work and the agency sent her
to the Journal of Commerce where she was interviewed by an attractive young
man. Her face brightens with the remembrance of the encounter.. She
took the job at the Journal of Commerce and married the attractive young
man seven years later.
A German born immigrant, he was a brilliant
reporter, and had a radio program as well. Mrs. Single led me over
to a wall, with wonderful photos of her and her husband, Erwin, as well
as, photographs of him and Presidents Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson.
There were also many invitations from presidential inaugurations and other
prestigious political events. It was apparent the amount of pride
she took in her husband's accomplishments, as well as her admiration, deep
respect and love for him.
At age 14 her husband started his newspaper
career as a copy boy at the New York Staats-Zeitung, a German language
publication. He continued his education by attending night school.
After 25 years he returned to the Staats-Zeitung - as owner. "While
with the Journal of Commerce, he took another job, that of theater reviewer,
allowing us to review every theater opening, opera and concert performance.
It was an incredible cultural experience. While he was driving home
from these affairs, he would dictate to me his review, which I would type
up so he could take them to his office the next morning," she explained.
When he bought the Staats-Zeitung she did
some writing, mostly book review articles relating to the history of America
and doing research on German immigration in this country.
When asked how she took to writing, Mrs.
Single replied that she cared for her husband when he was ill for 12 years.
"I didn't know what I was going to do with the rest of my life."
She expressed regret that her life had been so busy with her husband's
career and bringing up their two children, she rarely came home to Maine.
She kept in touch by sending family members Christmas cards and occasional
letters. She began recalling stories that her mother had told her,
and remembered an especially naughty ancestress. As a catharsis,
she began looking up the history of her family and area where she came
I remembered in my night school studies
a professor said that often times a character would take over the story.
That's what this fictional Annette did, becoming quite different from the
naughty woman my mother told me about."
It is quite apparent that Mrs. Single lived
an active life enjoyed to the hilt with the love of husband and children,
who have had much success in their chosen fields. She continues to
be active in her home in Shrewsbury. I suspect that Annette's character
was not only developed from the fine qualities of her mother's character,
but from Mrs. Single as well. Her kindness, humility and cultivated
mannerisms, one immediately felt at ease with her quiet presence. She has
given much to the Franco-American population, a history rich in detail
of a brave and courageous pioneer woman working within the Native American
culture with high ethics and strong determination and respect. The
novel clearly depicts a period in French history that many have not had
the opportunity to explore. In her seventies, Mrs. Single soul searching
efforts of her past, has given us all a gift, a story that reflects much
of our rich cultural heritage, preserving for generations to come.
Many would believe in angels, after meeting Mrs. Lee Nadeau-Single.