Interview with Hazel Michaud Bossie
By Julia Michaud Kunz
Walk into a home on a cold day where the warmth of the home and the smell of fresh homemade bread envelopes and welcomes you. I am not talking about todayís breadmaking machines but the kind of bread made by hand with loving care. Experienced loving hands that process each stage with love for those she cherishes. Once youthful hands that guided and encouraged her loved ones same as she now does her breads. Hands that has toiled through much hardship and pain but also remembers tender moments of caressing her children that she loved and cared for so much. These memories are all kneaded into the dough with hopes that each loaf will be perfect and good. Hopeful that it will make those she loves happy. Hopeful they know she has given all the love she can to help make their lives good. With all these feelings that she has not spoken but is feeling, she welcomes her daughter who has just arrived for an afternoon visit.
This particular day after the meal is finished and we are drinking our tea, I mention to my Mother of the interview I would like to do. Her reaction is ìMe!î First moment of reaction is I am honored but I have nothing important to say about me. Then a new look comes over her face and her eyes tell me I donít know if Iím comfortable with this. So I tell her I would like to take this opportunity to have this story written about her so my children know about their grandmotherís life. Her face softens and I then reassure her that I will read what I write before I pass it into the professor and we can remove any information she would prefer. She feels better about that and I discuss how we will proceed. For my mother I have chosen to not notify her in advance about this interview. I felt she would be more apt to personally share her feelings and thoughts about her past then if she had time to think about it all and become too self conscious. My mother is a very shy woman so I wanted to make sure she was comfortable about this.
I started the interview with the two of us sitting side by side at the kitchen table with our tea and with me having a pen and paper to write down the information. The atmosphere is the same as always when we visit. The television is in the background with my husband and children in the living room watching it, and mother and daughter in the kitchen catching up on life. It was comfortable I felt for the both of us but there was a new awareness that something new was about to happen.
Their farm consisted of large gardens, hay fields, cows, bulls and chickens. Everyone had to help with the chores. Since she was too young to help she stayed in the house to help her mother with the house chores. She loved to clean and scrub the wooden floors and stairs until the wood was white. And she especially loved to wash dishes. Her mother would compliment what a good worker she was and would sometimes reprimand her older sister for not helping around the home as little Hazel did. But her sister hated housework; she much preferred working in the garden and fields with her Dad. They had two horses named Jessie and Queen for the fieldwork. They also had a goat named Lilly who played hide and seek with the children. She was a favorite pet for the children but she could be dangerous when she butt them with her little horns so that made everyone run about and squeal even more so.
Even though there was much hardship they still
had their moments of fun as all children do. In the winter, their
father would use the planks from wooden barrels and wax the bottom to create
skis for them to sky on a big hill nearby in St. Francis, quite often under
the moonlight. When speaking of these moments her face lights up.
This was a very special time for her. They also had large wooden
sleds for sliding. All the neighborhood children would meet on the
hill and have a good time in the winter.
ìWhat did your father do for work to support all of you, I asked?î She suddenly looked serious and sad. She mentioned they were all very much afraid of their father even her mother was afraid of him he had a bad temper. He was physically abusive to their mother and to a couple of her older brothers. She did not like her father and to this day she has no idea of what he looked like. He died from a heart attack when she was approximately 8 years old. She mentioned she was so afraid of him that on the day of his funeral she did not even dare to look at him in the casket. She never wanted to look at him. She remembered at times when he would be away working as a log driver and return home, their mother would say ìRun my little children your father is coming homeî, for they could hear him coming from the top of the hill, he would be hollering and screaming at them. My mother said she was so afraid that she and her brothers and sisters would go and hide from him. He sometimes would go into town and drink and when he returned he would be frightening. But she wanted to make sure it was understood that ìEven though he had his faults he was a very hard worker.î The work he did was dangerous and hard. She remembers being told he almost drowned once on the river while logging.
ìDid your mother work outside of the home, I asked?î No, she stayed home taking care of the home and the children. She canned food, sheered the sheep for yarn that would be used for wool socks and mittens and sewed clothes for them. She colored the yarn by using a powder form dye that would be mixed with hot boiling water. To help keep the house warm and clean, their mother would get newspapers from St. Francis and wallpaper with the newspaper inside the home. ìWe all liked having the newspaper on the walls, we thought it looked nice.î Once the cat got too close to the lit lamp and the tail caught on fire. Her mother hollered, ìWatch out for the paper!î
How did the family support themself after your father died? We children went in St. Francis to clean house and to do chores for others. The youngest ones picked strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and hazelnuts in the woods and took our pails into town to sell. Her brothers would kill rabbits in the woods and sell that in town. ì I did not like going into town people made fun of us. I was extremely shy because we were so poor and they were better off then us.î We lived in the area nicknamed ìBack Set Lemonî (I donít know the spelling, so going by sound and could not find information on this section of the town.) The real poor people with no education lived in this area near the woods and the townís people did not like us because they well to do and they could read. There were only two stores in St. Francis at the time, Harvey and Jandro; they were approximately 2-3 miles away from our home. Wealthy people from afar sent clothes to the town for the poor and Harvey kept what was good for his family and friends then the rest of us would get the leftovers such as boots with two left feet. One day, when I was 13 years old, my best friend Rita and I went into St. John with a bag to beg for clothes. We returned home with our bag full, carrying it over our shoulder. We walked in the house and placed our full bag on the floor. We felt like we had gold, we were so proud. We were always hungry. Many times we would slice up potatoes and cook them on the big wood cooking stove with salt pork.
I worked all my life. I picked and sold berries, traveled about picking potatoes in the fall for potato farmers, hired myself out for cleaning homes, washed and ironed clothes for others and took care of others children. I never went to school only for a year or two. My mother didnít believe in education. She thought it was foolish so none of us got an education. Later in life some of my brothers and sisters taught themselves but I never did, I always felt nervous and felt I was too dumb to learn. The short amount of time I did attend school I was miserable. Living in the woods, we had to walk very far to school and being so poor we were never clothed well for the cold winters. The lunches we packed for school was made with salt pork, biscuits and butter. My shoes usually were all worn out with big holes and I would have to walk for miles in the snow. The one-room schoolhouse had a wooden stove in the middle of the room. The teacher we had was very strict and I was so afraid of her - but I was afraid of everything - that I didnít do well in school and would get into trouble for not knowing what I was suppose to know. I would cry, seems as though I cried about everything. I always walked with one shoulder up higher then the other and my head tilted to one side I was so shy. It felt like I had a heavy weight on my shoulder. My older sister would kindly tell me ìWalk straight.î I have never felt good about myself because I could not read and write. To this day I am always afraid people will make fun of me or not like me because I am French and I am not educated. Her lack of education and French accent was and always will be the greatest burden she will have to carry through her life.
I mentioned to her about my being discouraged from speaking French as a young girl. She surprised me by saying ìI didnít want you to speak French. I wanted you learn English so you could stand up for yourself and take care of yourself.î This statement made me realize how little I knew about my mother and how I want to spend more time having these special conversations. After writing this paper it has given me time to reflect upon where my motherís journey began and the great struggle she endured to make sure my brother and I would not have to be exposed to the same type of life she had and how she tried to insure a happier life for us.
The interview ended with my pulling out the old accordion and playing the old tunes from yesteryears. She mentions, ìThat was one of your grandfatherís favorite tunes that he played on the accordion.î Both her father and mother played the accordion as she does. As I play these old tunes that were heard through good times and bad times, the music blends it all together with representation of the love we all had for one another and still do. It enveloped and bonded us as we sat in the kitchen as oneness - as family, as if our ancestors were there with us, looking on and standing around us.