By Ann Marie Staples, Rochester,
Attached is a little story that really happened.
I wrote it down to give to my parents for their 49th anniversary next month.
The more mature e-zine readers may get a chuckle. Kids [today] wouldn't
believe it.--July 2000
Hank Lemieux gripped the edge of the
maroon vinyl seat as Raoul demonstrated his new Chrysler’s smooth cornering
ability through the narrow, bumpy streets of Rochester. The tiny
New Hampshire city had definitely sprung up to accommodate the cloth and
shoe manufacturing boom of the late 19th century and was hardly designed
for cruising in a showroom-fresh, 1950 convertible.
Since the end of the war, Raoul had saved
to buy this car and a cute fixer-upper of a single-family house on ethnically
blurring Richardson. The house needed help, but the lawn was ready
for a few tomato plants, and the single maple tree looked mature enough
to tap. He was pretty sure he could build a chicken coop before some
wiseguy figured out how to enforce the zoning laws.
This Sunday, though, as they nearly uprooted
a few protruding mailboxes, Raoul was on a quest for a nice girl to team
up with and kind of hoped that Hank’s suggestion would pan out. He
“kind of hoped” because it had been fun shopping, but at 33 and losing
hair fast, he was running out of time. Hank had once worked with
Hervé Dutilly at the Gonic mill and remembered him talking about
his daughter, that snappy blonde who worked in the carding room.
Glancing in the rear view mirror, Raoul
angled the left side of his wide-brimmed fedora to better match the jaunty
mood that this morning’s short whiskey bracer had left him in and headed
north on Wakefield Street to be introduced. The talk was that this
girl wasn’t somebody you wanted to be casual with and realizing the odds
of striking up a conversation with her in public were about a zillion to
one, Hank and Raoul had quickly planned this excursion.
A formal introduction was nothing but a
matter of pride and principal, since as a native of this small town, Doris
knew perfectly well who everybody was, including our friend Raoul.
But, if she wanted a game, he’d make one up guessing that if this chick’s
attitudes were as fancy as her wardrobe, she might be worth the effort.
This morning, since neither had awakened
with a headache, the fellows were in good shape to scout for a new girl
for Raoul. Their cruise in the convertible was to kill time and turn
a few heads before the 11:00 o’clock mass au Saint-Rosaire -- which was
rapidly metamorphosing into Holy Rosary Church.
In those days, the Eleven-O’Clock was attended
by men of the world who weren’t too put-off by appearing unworthy of approaching
the communion rail, having failed to fast since midnight, and often not
quite remembering whether or not they were actually in the state of grace.
Folks who attended this Mass generally threw themselves before God’s divine
mercy and generous judgment.
Raoul had come up with the idea of offering
Doris a lift to the Eleven-O’Clock, if she hadn’t gone earlier. He’d
tell her that he was just on his way there now, but had stopped for Hank
to pay his respects to her dad. Knowing full well that any proper
lady who wanted to fully participate in the sacraments would have gone
to a much earlier service, he eagerly awaited her refusal.
His little plan would showcase his most
honorable intentions and get his spit-polished shoe well inside the door.
He knew that if he invited her, for instance, to go dancing at Salisbury
Beach, she’d assume he was only interested in good times and good looks.
But, how could she ever fault him for wanting to worship the Creator?
Besides, he figured he could just keep pecking away week after week until
she gave in because church was his constant, whereas any other outing would
have to be planned from scratch again. And what with working overtime,
it could take forever to get anywhere.
Where his American pals might have found
Raoul’s thought processes irreverent on this Sunday morning as he employed
the holy sacraments in pursuit of a babe, Doris would find not only acceptable,
but quite exciting. Why, in church, she could get a good look at
him, see how he behaves, and all. It beat getting her hair smoked
up, or drinks spilled all over her shoes in a nightclub. Plus, she
sure didn’t have to worry about him trying to make a pass ten feet from
the sanctuary. Raoul’s confidence in his plan was pretty solid right
So, standing at the Dutilly front door
at 10:15, Hank knocked firmly -- but not urgently -- and met the patriarch
himself. Hank explained they’d been driving around and thought Mr.
Dutilly might like to meet Raoul.
In the Dutilly household, like in Raoul’s,
folks reserved their linguistic labors for speaking English only in public.
With a booming “Ben! Entrez! Entrez les gars!” Hervé knew the rest
of the day wouldn’t be boring. Fairly well empowered by his own post-sacramental
shot of Canadian Club, Hervé showed the boys to the formal parlor
without tripping, despite walking with his nose at a much higher altitude
He’d taken about two seconds to figure
out what Hank and Raoul really had in mind and didn’t even try to control
his inflated ego at the idea of fellows coming up with schemes to get his
daughter’s attention. And she was indeed a treasure.
Hervé was prone to putting on airs.
His family was noble, once upon a time, and when he started acting it out,
it was tough arguing the point even though everybody knew the whole family’d
had to pool their mill salaries to make it to this jazzy address.
His put-on haughtiness was Hervé’s
way of letting the boys know that at another point in history, he’d have
been a very big shot and quite likely, their lord, and his daughter would
have been out of their reach. With an eye-blink out of sinc, Raoul
wiped away the idea that she might be pretty much out of their league as
things stood anyway.
Hervé positioned himself in one
of the two upholstered chairs opposite a brocade divan where he motioned
the two visitors should settle. Each camp, that way, guarded itself
behind the walnut coffee table separating the divan and chairs.
Raoul examined this table neatly arranged
with ashtrays and magazines for clues on what these Dutilly’s were thinking
about. When he glimpsed a National Geographic wedged between this
month’s and last month’s issues of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, Raoul was
glad he’d decided to follow-up on Hank’s hunch. Doris was working
at keeping the best of the old world and teaching herself about the new.
Raoul spurred a lively philosophical discussion
about the future of the mills in the area, recounting the recountable tales
of his adventures in the seven mills he’d exploited
-- and had been exploited in -- in Lawrence.
Exhibiting marked restraint, he refrained from predicting the demise of
the local textile industry. Hervé was just a few years short
of retirement, and Raoul didn’t want a heart attack ruining his project,
especially after having made such progress today.
When after a calculated delay, the Treasure
finally entered. Her elegant walk was rehearsed but authenticated
by the suit she’d picked up in Boston on one of her shopping trips.
Disciplined, resourceful girls like Doris avoided impulse buying, preferring
to stash away a little every week to splurge on a train ticket and serious
shopping in the city with girlfriends.
Today was the soft pink linen with matching
kidskin pumps. Around four weeks’ worth of stinking up her work clothes
on the 3rd floor of that dank brick building had wound up in that one outfit.
And, it sure looked worth the sacrifice.
Doris -- at 28-and-a-half -- was no dope.
She was quite aware that this little fellow in a well-tailored suit was
about to wage a serious campaign. She’d seen him around -- he was
pretty hard to miss -- quite the ham, confident, witty and always involved
in some project or other. The 101st Airborne had opened up whole
new worlds for him. He had Irish pals, Italian pals, even pals of
color. The bunch of them hurled ethnic epithets at one another, laughing
at themselves, accepting that all were in the same American pot trying
frantically to melt, and no one’s plight warranted more consideration than
that of the others’. They gave each other job leads and had started
making connections far, far outside the mills.
Yes, those scant three years of grammar
school back in Raoul’s Canadian farming town certainly had been stretched
to reach some remarkable goals. He’d learned to invest in real estate.
He learned all there was about weaving cloth by day, and, by night, he
sang cowboy tunes on local radio, accompanying himself on a used guitar.
“Hey, how d’you know you can’t do these things if you don’t take a shot?”
But, today’s new endeavor would begin his
most ambitious project yet, that, when accomplished, would make him a bonafide
suburban family man.
You’d think there’d have been a bounty
of suitable young Franco-American women in town, but most of them had wed
before the war. Others had chosen the convent and the girls who’d
never left Québec would have to learn to adapt to the American lifestyle,
and that would take too long. Doris already met all his criteria
She had status in the area and relationships
with its people. She’d been schooled in both French and English --
not too much so as to develop immoral values, and not too little to remain
a bumpkin and just enough to become a cracker-jack homemaker. She’d
grown up totally American while keeping firm ties with family in Canada.
She’d even accompanied her younger sister
to the convent, briefly -- quite briefly, until Soeur Supérieure
implored with Mr. Dutilly to “ple-e-e-ase” take Doris back. She had
a steady job, lived comfortably, but smart, -- was in fact quite a package
for a fellow still in cultural transition.
This morning, as Raoul and Hank’s philosophical
discussion melted to chatter, mingling topics like weaving techniques,
Chet Atkins, and the Confession schedule. Doris found it difficult
to contain her laughter. Yet, she had to give this dark little Raoul
points for the sheer audacity of working his way into her home. Of
course, she had to demonstrate pure disinterest, as would any proper lady
of the time, but her tight-lipped smile gave her away. Doris was
a lousy liar.
While he sputtered nonsense, Raoul freed
up the valuable part of his brain to study Doris more closely. Her
green eyes and sharply arched eyebrows lent her a feline quality, so he
made a mental note of thinking up an appropriate nickname. He wasn’t
too crazy about Doris. She was much too exotic for such a sturdy
After 15 minutes of gracious attention,
she stood -- her crisp linen miraculously unwrinkled -- giving the boys
their cue to get on with their Sunday worship, which she had no doubt was
genuine. Proposing to call on her to attend a service with him in
the near future, Raoul was victorious in not being forbidden to try again.
So, off went Hank and Raoul in their crisply
pressed worsteds and muffled smirks to make their presence known at the
Eleven-O’Clock. In the sweltering humidity of the New England mill
town church, Raoul chose a pew near the front like a commander heading
up the battalion, confident he’d win the war and invigorated by his latest
Within hours following Raoul’s 15-minute
visit, great quantities of coffee were poured all about town over the subject
of Doris’ new suitor. And by Monday morning, every factory in Rochester,
and Dover, too, buzzed with the rumor that St. Doris-the-Independent might
have met her match.
She had. Perhaps she was softened
from reading all those Faith Baldwin romance novels on the train.
Or perhaps, she was bored with being New England’s most-show-stealing bridesmaid.
Then again, perhaps, being no dope, she knew this wouldn’t be a mistake.
Whatever the reason, the boys’ game seemed
to have pleased her, because two Sundays later, Dot would, in fact, don
a pale aqua designer ensemble fit for an MGM production with a slim skirt
whose walking slit was practically made for genuflection. She would,
in fact, walk down the main aisle beside Raoul in two-and-a-half-inch heals
to attend High Mass at 9. And she’d stick with him for a formal --
well, kitchen-formal --breakfast buffet at his family’s home afterwards.
But, of course, this outing was only the
beginning. Before fancy dinners and days at the beach, there would
have to come Lenten devotions, holy days, Saturday afternoon confession,
and ever so much more. But, since the High Mass at 9 would be their
first in-public sizing-up ceremony, Doris considered reminding Raoul that
he, too, was being closely scrutinized.
Even though he’d frown so deeply that his
eyebrows would knit into a straight line, he’d pass the flexibility exam
with high honors. On their first church-date, Doris would bring along
her 12-year-old cousin -- the pimply one who sang along with the car radio
and really thought she sounded like Patti Page.