|Interview with My Mother
By Joyce Miller, Dallas Texas
Introduction: My mother, Marie Lucie Gravel, was
born September 20, 1917, the second surviving child and first daughter
of Catherine Isabelle Michaud (called Isabelle) of Wallagrass and Jean
Baptiste Gravel (called Jean) of St. Agathe. Isabelle was the youngest
daughter of Catherine Farrell and Magloire (Mac) Michaud. Catherine of
Van Buren was a bright, witty blue-eyed woman of Irish descent. She was
a teacher, and whether she met Mac because she came to Wallagrass to teach
or some other way is lost in time. Catherine married Mac in 1871 when she
was 20 years old. Over the next 21 years, she had 14 children, of whom
12 survived. Isabelle, the last born in 1892, was three years younger than
the next to the last.
Mother, Joyce and Nancy
When she met Jean-Baptiste Gravel, a happy-go-lucky near-do-well with a penchant for storytelling and a great sense of humor, she lost her heart. Despite her familyís oppositionóperhaps because of itóshe wed her storyteller on October 16, 1911. Children soon followed, the first son born in October 1912 and living only a few days.. The first surviving child, a son Joseph Leo, was born in 1913. He was followed by two more sons who did not survive before Marie Lucieís birth in 1917. In total, Isabelle had 16 children of whom 10 survived. Jean-Baptiste earned what he could at odd jobs, at lumbering, at mill work and whatever came to hand. The family was often destitute, and Catherine Michaud repeatedly came to the familyís rescue as recorded in the public records in Fort Kent with deeds to land in exchange for promises of care for her and her husband (Note 3).
The family lived with the Michaud, sometimes in the Michaud home and sometimes in what was called ìthe schoolhouseî (note 4) just down the street until Marie Lucie was four years old. The young Lucie, who was named for her Grandfather Michaud's mother, Lucie Dube, was evidently a cute, vivacious child, the darling of the aunts who were all older than her mother. She was the apple of Tante Oliveís eye (Angelique Olive Michaud, 17 years Isabelleís senior) and played most often with Tante Elizabethís boys, Patrick (ìBabeî) Deprey, and Emme (ìBoyî) Deprey). Tante Olive looked at her one day and said, ìYou are too pretty to be a Lucie; I am calling you Lucille.î And the name stuck. To this day, she dislikes the name Lucie and uses the name Lucille.
In 1921, the Gravel familyóthen comprising four children: two boys (Leo and Alphie) and two girls (Lucie and Helsie)ómoved to Stockholm, Maine, where Jean-Baptiste found steady work at the Standard Box Company. This work ended sometime after 1932, the factory having suffered in the Depression.
Stockholm, Maine, in 1921, was a small, economically poor mill town with a predominantly Swedish population. The population in 1920 was 1,038, up from 715 in 1910. Lumber mills and lumbering provided the primary employment in town.
The town got its first resident priest, Eugene Cremillon, in 1926. The town was definitely a Protestant town and prejudice against the French and Catholics was rampant. On May 6, 1927, there is a bland entry in the published town history: ìKlan cross burned in evening.î That event was very frightening to my mother, who witnessed the cross burning somewhere in a field in front of her house. Until I was in college, she firmly believed that the Klan was a Northern anti-Catholic organization, not realizing that it was feared in the American South as an anti-black organization.
Stockholm did not have a doctor until sometime in the 1920s, and infant mortality throughout that decade was high, every year recording anywhere from 11 to 24 (in 1923) deaths of children under the age of three. According to my mother, her aunt, Beatrice Gravelle was a midwife and the only doctor the family had in Stockholm.
The town grew very slowly during the ë20s. By 1930, its population numbered 1,101. The school population in 1930/31 was: 193 pupils in grades one through six; 23 in grades 7 and 8; and 24 in high school. That same year, there were 112 children enrolled in the Stockholm Baptist Sunday School with an average attendance of 78.
To give an idea of the economy as it would affect a mill workerís family in 1932: Eggs were 20 cents a dozen; wood was $5 a cord; people were paid eight cents a barrel for picking potatoes but paid anywhere from $2.80 to $9 a barrel to buy them; first-class postage was two cents; mill wages were $2.55 a day and the work was seasonalóin other words, you did not necessarily have work every day.
The Gravel family moved into a small, unpainted two-story building that set between the river and the railroad tracks just west of town. On the other side of the tracks from them was a street called Red Row, a street of factory row houses all painted red. The Gravel address was Red Row, even though their house was quite separate from the rest of the factory houses. Here, the remaining nine children were born.
What schooling my mother had was provided by the town of Stockholm. Not a French community, French was not required, and Lucie, a good student, never had the French training that was required by schools in the solidly French communities of the St. John Valley. When the family returned to Wallagrass (Soldier Pond), Marie Lucie resumed school, but quit because the school required her to take French and she was way behind the other students. She was accustomed to doing well in school, not in being behind: in Stockholm, she had completed eighth grade, having been pushed so that she was a full two years ahead of herself. This in spite of the fact that she was often kept home from school to take care of the younger children.
My mother was never proud of being French: she told me many times of the lovely daughter of a theater owner in Fort Kent, about her beautiful blond hair, her lovely clothes, and her nice home. How she wanted to be like that child. I think she equated her poverty and her lack of pretty things with being French and Catholic. When she left home at the age of 15 or 16, she ended up in Portland where she turned her back on her cultural and religious heritage, and she didn't looked back. She never spoke French againóalthough she understood it and was able to converse with people who spoke French while she spoke English. She left the Church and became a Protestant. Her contact with her family, her childhood picturesóall these things she kept to herself and never shared them with her children.
All my life, she told me that her family was, as she says in this interview of her father, "nobody." Imagine my surprise when I was able to trace every branch of this family back to France in the 1650s and 1660s. It is my father's family, the non-French family that she thought was so much more to be valued than hers, that couldn't be traced back to their native countries and couldn't be traced back in many cases before the 19th century.
Because she denied her heritage, hers is a sad story, and illustrates what Matthew Lord said: "To deny who you are is to hate what you are!" Going over this interview again with his article "From Shame to Pride, The Evolution of the Franco-American" in mind has helped me better understand the tragedy of my mother's life. By letting her tell you her story, I hope that we will all better understand the importance of accepting our heritage and being proud of who we are. I know preparing this for the class has helped me do what I set out to do when I started the genealogy: to integrate my mother within the context of her life and her culture.
This interview took place in 1995 after I had read C. Stewart Doty, The First Franco-Americans: New England Life Histories from the Federal Writersí Project. This book stimulated my interest in learning more about my Franco-American past. I talked to my mother about it and taped several of our conversations. The interview rambles, but I do not want to edit it or abridge it lose the flavor of her language and her natural storytelling abilities. Everything in italics are my notes from my own research.
JOYCE: I found a very interesting book when I visited the mills in Lawrence Massachusetts. It is called The First Franco-Americans, and the stories in it are wonderful accounts of life as remembered by people in the 1930s.
LUCILLE: There is a book about Aroostook county. My mother told me about it a long time ago. I lived in Soldier Pond, five miles outside of Fort Kent. My birth certificate says that I was born in Wallagrass.
Did you know that I died when I was a baby? No, I really did! There was a terrible flu epidemic that year, and it killed a lot of people. My aunts and my grandmother and my mother all thought I had died. I was in my cradle, and they pulled the blanket over me, and they were all sitting around crying. I guess I must have decided to join their crying, and that was how they knew I wasnít dead!
I was born in my grandfatherís house, which is in Soldier Pond. The church was in Wallagrass so the certificate says Wallagrass. (This is not true: her birth certificate does say Soldier Pond, Maine; she may have been thinking of her baptismal certificate.)
JOYCE: Was this the grandfather that you told me about, the one that came across the river illegally?
LUCILLE: That was my fatherís father. My grandfather Michaud grew up on a farm. He was a farmer. He married my grandmother who was Irish, and he taught her how to speak French. Half of his family didnít speak English. (Actually, Catherine Farrellís mother, Eulalie Bellfleur, and her grandmother, Julie Dube, were both French women from St. Basile, New Brunswick, who married into the Farrell family of Van Buren. With so many French relatives and living in Van Buren, it is very likely that Catherine grew up speaking French as well as English. For more on the Farrells, see Note 5)
JOYCE: The book says they were very protective of the French language, and even if they spoke English out in public for business reasons, they spoke French at home.
LUCILLE: Thatís right. ( quickly changing the subject and talking with pride) My grandfather was a gentleman farmer. A tall, very good looking, highly respected man. He ran the post office. The place where his house was called Michaud, Maine. (an old map does show this tiny spot as Michaud Maine) My motherís maiden name was Michaud. Her motherís name was Farrell. My grandfather was a very handsome man. My mother looked a lot like him, and you look a lot like her. My mother and father both had blue eyes.
JOYCE: What did your father do? You told me that his father came across the river: where did he come from?
LUCILLE: My father was no one. He came from nowhere. His father died when he was nine years old. And his mother could not speak English, or write her name or anything. And my father and his brother had to support her and whatever children there were...He had 3 sisters that were older. Uncle Emmy and Uncle Joe were younger. They all came from St. Agathe. My father came from St. Agathe.
JOYCE: Who came across the river illegally? (Here, I am referring to a story that I heard from her when I was a teenager and first tried to do my genealogy. She told me then that we could not trace her family because my great grandfather came into the United States illegally by crossing the river in a row boat!)
LUCILLE: Youíve got me. Probably was his father. I canít remember. I think it was his father. His father died when he was 27. He must have been older than that. (Actually, he was 52 years old when he died).
JOYCE: How many children did he have?
LUCILLE: There were eight children: Tante Clarisse, Tante Beatrice, Tante Elise, Oncle Aime, Oncle Joe, I cannot remember them all. My father and his father were lumberjacks, and my father worked in the mill for a long time.
(Changing the subject again) My grandfather Michaud had a large farm. (Mac and Catherine owned lot number 118 per the John Brown survey containing 65.80 acres more or less.) When the mill closed down, and there was no work to be had, my grandparents came to Stockholm on the train, and they told my mother to pack up and come home and live. My grandmother Michaud was blind, my grandfather had trouble with his legs and difficulty walking, so my grandparents needed my mother. So they packed us up, and we went to live with my grandparents. They had a big house. So there was plenty of room.
JOYCE: What do you remember about being very young?
LUCILLE: I was born in Soldier Pond, but we moved from Wallagrass to Stockholm when I was very little. Hereís a funny story: I had a nipple (she means she drank from a bottle) until I was five years old. No one could take it away from me. One of my uncles was at the house one day, and he gave me a bottle with mustard on the nipple. I threw up, and I never touched another nipple in my life! Alphie and Helsie was born in the schoolhouse in Wallagrass. All the other kids were born in Stockholm.
JOYCE: How long did you stay in school?
LUCILLE: Nancy (Nancy is her younger child, my sister) wanted to know when I dropped out of school. I left when I was 14, two years ahead of myself. You get in with a crowd older than you. They donít want you to play with them. Youíre treated like the ìkidî and you canít do anything right. I used to get the lead in the Christmas play, and the others didnít want to be in it because I was the Kid and I was stealing the show. Kids can be so cruel.
JOYCE: What kind of games did you play when you were a child?
LUCILLE: I used to play ball. We had a nice field to play ball in, so the others came to play with us. There was an old mill that they had taken apart next door to where we lived. I remember that there was a great big huge cement thing. On top of it, was a big round circle thing taller than I was. Leo and I used to climb up on that thing. It was probably part of a furnace or something. Inside was hollow. There were rough edges that we could grab. We could climb, and run, and dance, and everything. There were holes every so few feet that we could crawl through. We spent hours playing on that thing.
Someone tore down an old house, and my father got the wood and brought it home. He used it to build a chicken coop. He gave Leo the rest of the lumber, and Leo built playhouses for us. We had a lot of fun in the playhouses, and kids used to come over and play with us. We had a river in back of the house, a railroad across the field in front of the house. We didnít want for anything. The Greens lived next door, and Mr. Green did a lot of whittling, and made us little toys.
JOYCE: Tell me more about your mother and father.
My father was not good enough for my mother, and no one wanted her to marry him. But she was really a spoiled brat, and she always got what she wanted.
Whenever he was around, she only had eyes for him. No one else mattered. She could be working in the kitchen or playing with me, and he would walk in, and it was as though I wasnít there.
My father was cruel. I remember one morning he called me to get up. I was sleeping in the bedroom upstairs and it was really cold. I wanted to stay in bed until the fire warmed up the kitchen. He came up those stairs, yanked me our of bed and threw me down the stairs.
My father was a story teller. He knew more stories, and he would sit in his chair, smoking his corncob pipe, and the stories just came. People used to come over on Saturday night. So many people came that they had to bring their own chairs, but they wouldnít miss his stories.
JOYCE: What kind of stories did he tell?
LUCILLE: Everything. Stories like Cinderella. He knew them all. He couldnít read but he must have had a photographic memory. Once he heard a story it was his. He never forgot it. I loved to listen to those stories.
JOYCE: I know there was a lot of alcohol abuse in the French community. Was there any in your home?
LUCILLE: Oh, my mother would never have stood for it. My father came home just once drunk as could be. He fell on the porch. It was a very cold night. My mother went out, picked up the bottle, emptied it and threw it over the railing. Then she pulled him inside and left him there on the floor. Boy, he never came home drunk again!
I know it sounds awful, but I hated my father. He was cruel to me.
JOYCE: Why did you leave home?
LUCILLE: I used to fight with the other children. Once I had a terrible fight with Leo: he used to tease me something awful, and I had this nice doll with porcelain head, hands and feet. Leo took that doll and flung her hard against the wood pile and she broke. I was so mad. Another time he followed me through the house teasing me. The more I cried, the more he teased. I was in the kitchen and I picked up a knife and I turned around and threw it at him. It just missed him. That scared me so much that I never threw anything at anyone ever again.
Anyway, one day, I had a fight with one of the younger kids. My father and mother were in the kitchen, and I heard my father tell my mother to get rid of me, that I couldnít live there anymore, that I had to leave.
My mother got me a job with her cousinís wife, Emma. Emma needed a baby-sitter and asked my mother if I could do that. I stayed with Emma. For the first time, I had my own things, my own money. I went to the store, and I put this beautiful coat on layaway for the winter. One day, I went home to visit, and I had my purse with me with the money for my final payment in it. When I left, I picked up my purse. When I got to the store, my money was gone. Somebody took it out of my purse while I was at home. So I had no coat for the winter that year.
JOYCE: Where did you learn to sew?
LUCILLE: I taught myself to iron and to sew. My mother made terrible clothes and she never ironed anything neatly, so I taught myself how to do those things so that I could have nice clothes that were not wrinkled.
JOYCE: How did you come to go to Portland? Why did you leave the St. John Valley?
LUCILLE: My mother came over to Emmaís one day and told Emma that she couldnít pay me, that she had to send my money home to my parents.
That evening, Emma told me that I was not going to work for her anymore. I said, ìWhat am I going to do? I donít want to go home.î Emma said, ìWell, youíre not.î She said, ìIíll get you another job, and we wonít tell your mother where you are.î So she got me a job in the National Hotel in Madawaska working in the kitchen as the chefís helper. I helped with dishes and other things. Usually I washed the pots and pans because the waitresses came out and washed the dishes.
I didnít stay there very long. A friend of the woman who owned the hotel came from Biddeford to stay as a guest at the hotel. They knew each other pretty well: I guess they had gone to school together. Somebody in his family had died, and he had come to the funeral. They (he and the hotel owner) sat in the dining room, in the back of the dining room, and they talked for hours. They were still talking when I went to bed. She saw me starting up the stairs, came out, and said, ìThis man wants to talk with you. Could you go sit with him before you go to bed and talk to him?î I couldnít imagine what he wanted. She introduced me to him. He told me that he had a wife and three kids and he needed someone to look after the children. Would I be interested in coming to Biddeford to do that? I told the woman what he had said. She said she knew that was what he wanted. She also said that she didnít think the kitchen was a very good place for me so I ended up going to Biddeford to work for him.
I went to Biddeford with him on the train. We didnít tell my mother where I was. She had decided I wasnít old enough and she could collect my pay. So we decided it was best not to tell her where I was. We didnít. I felt mean and cruel and everything else. I didnít feel right about it. I was about 15 or 16 when I went to Biddeford. I canít remember. It was such a long time ago. I went to Biddeford. I went to work. I stayed there.
The family didnít have much money. He was an insurance man, but they did have a nice home in Saco. They were Catholic, and I went to church every Sunday with them. I took the kids to church. The church wasnít that far from the house. There was a school across the street where the kids went to school. And really all the manís wife needed was someone after school. Since I had more time, I got a job as a waitress in a restaurant in Biddeford. I liked that a lot. I worked there for a year or so.
Next, I went to work in a summer place owned by the Dwyers, and I had my sister, Helsie, come and live with me. They gave Helsie and me a cabin to ourselves. The Dwyers were an old couple that ran a summer place in Wells and spent winters in Florida. When the place closed for the winter, Helsie and I went to Portland.
Helsie and I had saved our money. We didnít spend any money all summer long. We went to Portland, and we stayed in a boarding house. I got a job at The Splendid restaurant as a cashier. That was working nights. I didnít like that. Then I got a job at the Oyster Bar and later at The Mayflower. I liked both of those restaurants.
I met your father when I was working at The Splendid. He came in as a dishwasher. I picked up some dishes, and they were filthy. I went out to the kitchen, and I gave him hell. He started to laugh. I can still see him standing there with his hands on his hips laughing at me.
Helsie didnít go to work in the restaurants; she worked as a motherís helper at a doctorís house. I preferred working in the restaurants because I liked being with people. I liked to talk. I liked to laugh. And I did.
JOYCE: When was Dad a reporter with the Press Herald?
LUCILLE: Oh, before I met him.
JOYCE: Had he left the Press Herald?
LUCILLE: I canít remember what that story was. He had been in Portland awhile but when I met him, he didnít have a job. He didnít stay at The Splendid for more than a few days. But he wasnít just at The Splendid.
I was living in a room in a ministerís house. I had a hot plate, and I used the window for a refrigerator. Anyway, there was a minister renting the room next to me. He used his typewriter at all hours of the night. I used to get so mad. I came out of my room one night to tell him to stop, and there was your father. He was living across the hall from me. Then he disappeared. I didnít hear from him again.
Tilly (a new friend that she met at The Mayflower and who remained one of her best friends until her death in 2000) and I got an apartment, and her folks helped us furnish it. The landlady even gave us a few things to use. Tillyís mother supplied blankets. We bought dime-store dishes. The landlady leant us a table. Tilly worked at The Mayflower for years.
Dad reappeared a year later. I was at the Oyster Bar. In the meantime, I had Carlo on my back. (Carlo Fiore met her at one of the restaurants and took a strong liking to Lucille. She did not like him.) Boy, was he a nuisance? Oh, my god. I couldnít stand him. Iíd come out of work, and Carlo would be waiting for me. And then I met your father again. I hadnít seen him for a long time. He was very good looking. And so I went after him, I guess. Or he went after me.
Anyway, by the time your father reappeared, I was living with Tilly. He must have gone into the Mayflower, and when he saw Tilly, he must have asked her where I was.
He went into the army later that year. That was when he served in the last mounted unit of the Cavalry in Panama.
And I had another boyfriend that I liked. Elwin Bradbury. We had a lot of fun. We were like two crazy kids. We were just friends. We used to go window shopping. We used to go out to eat dinner together every Sunday. We usually went to the Mayflower for dinner. You could get a whole meal for 45 to 55 cents. I had a lot of nice, clean fun.
Then your father decided that he liked me. Every time I turned around, he was under foot. I had to marry him to get away from him! He was in the army, stationed in Vermont. He wrote to me. He came to Portland whenever he could on leave. Thatís why we went to Vermont to get married. Burlington, Vermont. He was in the army in Burlington, Vermont. He was in the army when we got married.
After our wedding, I came back to Portland and kept working until he got out of the army. I lived with Tilly. I still went out every Sunday with Elwin. I didnít tell your father: he was so-o jealous. Elwin and I went window shopping--weíd look at cameras, clothes, compare prices, etc. Elwin was younger than I was. He worked for Swift, and he was the delivery boy that came to the restaurant. That was how I met him. I donít remember that I ever kissed Elwin. He was just a chum. Like being out with another girl. Your father would never have understood that.
Dad went to Mass Radio School after he got out of the army. We lived in Boston on Huntington Avenue. He was there 9 months, and the school got him the job with Pan American. That was fun for me.
And then you came along. There was never a child in the world that was wanted more than you were. I can still see you running down the middle of a very busy street. And me right behind you. And youíd stop, look at me, start laughing, and keep running. Then this nice man stopped his car, and picked you up, and put you in my arms, and said, ìHold onto her.î Thatís why I got the harness. And we built a fence for the yard so you couldnít get out.
After we moved back North, we lived in Greenfield, Massachusetts on Conway Street. Your father went back to Florida, but he didnít stay. It wasnít what it had been so he didnít stay.
It was a happy time -- when we were in Florida. Your father didnít believe that men should carry children around. His office was on the second floor, up a long flight of stairs. And it was very hot, and you were heavy. He walked up ahead of me, and met his boss. His boss looked down the stairs. He didnít say a word. He took you out of my arms and put you in your fatherís arms, and said: ìYou carry her. You donít let your wife carry that child the way she is.î I think your father was embarrassed. I never had to ask him again to carry you. I was barely over a 100 pounds, and you were an armful!
LUCILLE: I bought you the most beautiful strolleróa Tailor Tot. Not everybody had a Tailor Tot. And boy, oh boy, I saved every penny to buy that stroller.
JOYCE: There is a picture Iíd like to have. The one in which Nancy and I are in pajamas and youíre in a dark skirt and white blouse, and weíre sitting on twin beds in a bedroom. The one in which you look so happy.
LUCILLE: I was. I was. I was very, very happy. I had two beautiful children that I loved very much, and I was a very happy Mommy. [silence] Yep. And Daddy took the picture. Iíll have to find it, wonít I.
JOYCE: Tell me more about your brothers and sisters.
LUCILLE: Leo. Lorraine. Johnny. and Gerald. Gerald doesnít read or write. Momma did not send anyone to school if they didnít want to go. Gerald was very shy and he didnít want to go. Alphie couldnít read or write. Leo can. And Helsie learned after she left home. Helsie learned to read and write after she left home. When she was living at that doctorís house, there were two daughters who were in school and I think they taught her to read and write.
JOYCE: Were you the only one in the family that loved to go to school.
LUCILLE: I loved to go to school. My mother kept me home from school all the time. She kept me home to help her with the washing, or to help her with the kids, or if she had to go to the store and somebody had to take care of the kids. She kept me home even though I loved school.
JOYCE: That must have been like a punishment for you.
LUCILLE: It was. It was a big punishment for me. My father couldnít read or write.
JOYCE: What about his father?
LUCILLE: His father. I have absolutely no idea. I know that he was cutting wood, and he cut himself on the knee, and got blood poison and it killed him.
JOYCE: What was his name?
LUCILLE: Pierre. Now his ...I thought he was 28, but I think he was 38 because he had all those kids. He couldnít possibly have been 28.
JOYCE: And your Irish grandmother, what was her first name?
JOYCE: So she really was Irish.
LUCILLE: She was Irish through and through.
JOYCE: Where did she come from?
LUCILLE: She was a school teacher. Her family came from Ireland. I think she was born in Van Buren. (Catherine was the granddaughter of Michael Farrell who immigrated from Ireland and built a successful logging business. His sons, Michael (Catherineís father) and John, were both very successful in Van Buren. Michael had a prosperous general store and John was a major landowner. Both had extensive property holdings according to maps of the time.) I have a picture of my grandmother and her mother and my grandfather and all of my grandmotherís brothers and sisters and in-laws.
JOYCE: What happened to it?
LUCILLE: I have it. Itís probably 15 X 24 inches.
JOYCE: Do you know everyone who is in the picture?
LUCILLE: Alice was my oldest cousin. She was Aunt Lizzieís daughter. She would know who is in the picture. And I know thereís Uncle Eddy. I knew him. I knew Aunt Lally and Uncle George. I canít remember who else but my grandmotherís whole family is in that picture. And my mother took the frameóit was a beautiful frameómy mother took that frame and she had Leo make her a different frame for it and it spoils the picture. And I think Iíve got the frame. I have to check upstairs. And if I have, Iím going to have it repaired and put it back in the frame. But while itís in this wooden thing, it can be copied because it can come out of there with no problem.
JOYCE: When did, letís see, Catherine was married to whom?
LUCILLE: My grandfather. We called him ìMac.î His name was Magloire. I never heard that name before.
JOYCE: Thereís one in the book. Yes! Magloire.
LUCILLE: Yes, thatís it. I had a man in Fort Kent that wanted to trace family background. He didnít get very far with my father. ...He gave up. He got stuck on my grandfather too. Heís the one who told me my grandfatherís name. Mac is a nickname. I had never heard his real name before. That was as far as he could go. I canít understand that. My grandfather had lived there a long time, all of his life, and his family was very important. I knew two of his brothers and it seems to me that I saw his mother once. I might be wrong, but Iím sure I met his mother. My grandfatherís mother. I wasnít very big. (Lucie Emond was born in 1830 and married Macís father, Magloire Michaud, in 1848. They had 10 children, of which Mac was the oldest. I have not found her date of death but if she was born in 1830, she would have been 90 in 1920 when Lucille was three years old.)
JOYCE: Record-keeping wasnít all that great.
LUCILLE: It wasnít. I went to find my birth certificate at the town office in Soldierís Pond for it. The woman showed me the book and my birthday was listed as July 14. I said thatís wrong. ìWell, itís right there,î she said. And I said well I canít help it; somebody made a big boo-boo here because my birthday is September 16th.
LUCILLE: I mean September 20th. I was thinking of yours. And she said that isnít possible. So the next day, we decided to go back, and her husband was there. And we got over there, and she had several little kids and they had those books on the floor playing with them. He came in and said to her in French, what does she want? And she told him in French what I wantedóthey didnít know I understood everything they said, and I didnít tell them. Then he said to me, ìCome on; Iíll go through that book with you.î And the woman told him that I was wrong. I had my own birthday wrong. He decided to help me understand that I was wrong. He put that one book on the table, and he found the mistake. He talked to her, and he told me that they would have that corrected. I was right and he was wrong. They had made a mistake, left someone out, and the lines didnít match. He found the mistake in the original book. She was using the copy with the mistake.
JOYCE: In the house you lived in when your father was at the mill -- what modern conveniences?
LUCILLE: None! No running water. No electricity. No pump. We had a very wonderful spring. I guess you call it a well. We had a spring at my grandfatherís house. In Stockholm, we had a well. Water was running all the time. Everyone in Red Row used to get their drinking water over there.
JOYCE: Red Row?
LUCILLE: Red Row was a street where the Mill had built all these double housesóduplex housesóand they were all painted red. All the houses were painted red, and they called it Red Row. We didnít live on Red Row. We lived on the riverside of Red Row. There was the river, and our house, and Mrs. Greenís house, in all, there were three houses. And the railroad track that went to the mill ran in front of our house. Then there was this playground. And then there were a couple of stranded houses like theyíd started to build a street and they didnít finish. One of my motherís cousins lived in one of those houses. We had some very nice neighbors that lived in one of those houses. There were a couple more down the street from us. And then, there was Red Row.
JOYCE: What color was your house?
LUCILLE: I donít think it had ever, ever seen a coat of paint. [she chuckles] But the walls inside were pretty. My mother liked green.
JOYCE: You always had green...
LUCILLE: I like green. And my mother had painted the kitchen all green. And the living room was wall-papered with a green print. During the winter, we had a wood stove. The house, of course, was not insulated. During the winter months, my parents brought all the beds downstairs, and put them into the living room. There was a door from the living room that went out into the hallway, and there was a door from the living room that went into the kitchen. There was an opening in back of the stove to go through...and so, Leo and Alphie had the bed near the heat. Leo and Alphie were on one wall, and around the corner from it, there was a chimney, and then there was my bed and Helsieís. And then there was another bed that Emile slept in. Louis was born there. Emile had a crib. And Louis had a cradle. And then there was my mother and fatherís bed. It was kind of crowded, but it was clean. We were not cold, and we had plenty to eat.
JOYCE: Did you grow any of your own food?
LUCILLE: Oh yes.
JOYCE: So you had enough room for a garden?
LUCILLE: We had a good-sized garden, where we grew onions, carrots, beets, turnips, . . . we had a cold cellar underneath the house with sand to bury the vegetables in for storage. There was no heat down there but nothing froze in the sand. There was a trap door in the kitchen floor and you went down on a small ladder. We didnít grow potatoes in Stockholm; we got the potatoes from the potato house.
LUCILLE: We also had a cow and chickens, and we always had a dog...and cats. I grew up with dogs and cats. Always. Dogs are good company.
LUCILLE: I took a lot of courses. I did a lot of studying. I liked school and I wanted to be a schoolteacher. But my mother and father had other plans for me. Maybe God did too. I think I would have loved teaching school.
LUCILLE: There isnít much more to tell, is there?
JOYCE: Iím sure there is...thereís a whole lifetime.
LUCILLE: Yes, that is a few years isnít it?
JOYCE: Iíd like to hear about your feelings about some of these things: it must have been scary to leave home, to go off to Biddeford.
LUCILLE: No, because I had a lot of nice people that helped me a lot. First the nice man from Biddeford. And his family turned out to be the nicest people. They had a little boy and two little girls. They were such nice children. He also had one of his nieces living at the house with them. She was from Canada, from across the river at Madawaska. And she was older than I was. She was working at a dentistís office and she was very nice.
Today, Lucille is 83 years old, and suffers from heart disease, emphysema and dementia. The interviews that I had planned were stopped abruptly. I made the mistake of sending the raw transcript to her so she could make corrections where she wanted. Instead, she threw it out and would not talk to me about her family anymore. She was offended by the language and accused me of trying to make her look stupid. She did not understand that we talk differently than we write and a transcript is the raw language of the storyteller. She remained throughout her life so insecure because of her lack of schooling that she was quick to see people as making fun of her.
As you can tell from the language of the interview, she was a storyteller. A very rich and entertaining story teller. This gift came from the father she said she hated.
Notes from the sources: