|Interviews--Franco-American Women's Experiences
By Cindy Burrell
When I learned of this assignment, I immediately thought of interviewing
two women in my community, Dr. Adele Carroll and her secretary, Gloria
Levesque. Dr. Carroll has an ad in the local paper with žIci, nous
parlons francais" spread across one corner of it, like a banner.
Though Dr. Carroll is not my regular physician, I paid her a visit one
day last spring when I was ill. During my visit, I mentioned that
I was a French teacher, and I asked her about the reference to French in
her ad. I ended up spending a good portion of that visit making connections
with Dr. Carroll and her secretary, both Franco-American, and spoke with
them a bit about their heritage.
As a French teacher, I am always trying to make connections for my
students, not just in the world at large, but in their own towns and within
this close-knit community. Many students have French last names,
and though they may not speak French themselves, their Meme or Pepe does.
I have been hoping to get Dr. Carroll and/or her secretary to visit my
classes and speak to my students about their own experiences as Franco-Americans.
This has not happened yet, but I welcomed the opportunity to make further
connections with both women with this interview. I was relatively
confident that both women would be interested in being interviewed.
While on the phone setting up an appointment for an interview, one
of the librarians at my school overheard my conversation. When I
got off the phone, she asked me what the project was that I was working
on. When I explained it to her, she said, žI'm a Franco-American
woman." And of course, with a name like Bernadette Monnette, she
was right! Why hadn't I thought of her? Why did I have my mind
so set on Dr. Carroll?
I think the answer to this lies in the fact that both Dr. Carroll and
her secretary speak French. As the only French teacher, I know that
there are no French speaking staff members in my school. When given
this assignment, I immediately associated Franco-American with the French
language. I should know better. Even from our previous readings,
especially Calico Bush, I know that not all women with Franco-American
heritage speak the language. I had been quick to make a decision
on the interviews without considering all my options. I then tried
to make up for it by interviewing all of the women on staff that I knew
of or could think of that were Franco-American. Here are some of
LaVerne is one of the librarians at Sacopee Valley High School.
I have always felt connected to her, as we share some of the same feelings
about visiting the city of Quebec. She has told me about her annual
trips to Quebec with her husband, and we enjoy talking about our travels
in general. She is soft spoken, but has a bright smile, and it shows
her quiet enthusiasm for a number of topics. Though her last name
was Saucier, I never knew whether that was her maiden name or her husband's
name, until Bernie (Bernadette, the other librarian) told me LaVerne was
also Franco-American. She was thrilled to meet with me to discuss
LaVerne was born in Portland, Maine, the daughter of Romanio Saucier
and Alberta May Fox. Her father, Romanio, was from Fort Kent.
Interestingly enough, both he and his twin brother were given Spanish/Italian
first names, and no middle name. No one in her family is really sure
why that is, but perhaps it was fashionable at the time. Growing
up in Fort Kent to a French-Catholic family, Romanio and his entire family
spoke French. He was a well-educated man, and learned to speak English.
He came to southern Maine to work, and worked in the Civil Conservation
Corp (CCC) camp before the war. He met Alberta, LaVerne's mother,
during this time. Soon they were married, and moved to the Cornish
area. Alberta had grown up in Kezar Falls, and was an Anglo-Saxon
Protestant. Romanio was soon kicked out of the Catholic church for
marrying outside of his faith.
Romanio joined the service, and served in Louisiana before being
shipped out to India during the war. A pregnant Alberta went to Louisiana
to visit him, and sadly, suffered a miscarriage while there. She
was well cared for by a German nurse in the hospital, whose name was LaVerne.
Alberta named her next child after this nurse.
LaVerne, like her father, has no middle name. The spelling of
her first name is so unusual, but she isn't sure why it is spelled that
way, only that her father always insisted that it was spelled La, then
a space, then a capital "V". She didn't like it as she was growing
up, and most people made mistakes spelling it in this fashion anyway.
However, today she has really embraced the name, and tries to make sure
that others spell it correctly. It does look French. LaVerne
is the only child whose name does not come from within the family, and
the only one without a middle name. Her brother, Louis Everett, is
named Louis after her paternal grandfather, and Everett after her maternal
grandfather. Her sister, Carol Anne's middle name comes from her
paternal grandmother, Anne Lagasse.
LaVerne said she was brought up Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and though
Romanio had a French accent when he spoke English and sometimes stumbled
on his words, her family was never really recognized as "French."
They were the only family in the area that seemed to have this connection
to another language or heritage. Alberta didn't want to learn French
and they spoke English at home.
Their family traditions, stated LaVerne, were very "Americanized."
She doesn't recall celebrating any French traditions in their home.
But, rather untraditionally, Romanio did a lot of the cooking.
All the men in the Saucier family cooked, and often prepared the meals.
How interesting! Saucier means "sauce maker" in French. One
wonders how deeply the men in this family felt the connection to their
surname. However, even with Romanio in the kitchen, they didn't have
a lot of French food.
LaVerne does remember having some typically French dishes, such as
blood sausage, fiddleheads, fried salt pork, salt fish and hogs head cheese
while visiting her extended family in Fort Kent. Her grandparents
had had a farm in Frenchville. After the loss of a child, her grandmother
insisted the family move to Fort Kent where they had better access to medical
care. There, they opened a bakery and a shoe store. Her father was
seven years old when he lost his mother to tuberculosis. Though LaVerne's
grandparents had passed away before she had a chance to know them, there
were many other members of the extended family in the Fort Kent area.
LaVerne and her family visited the homes of many relatives. She attended
Catholic mass, and remembers having to wear a hat, or have a swatch of
lace on her head when going to church, as a sign of humility. There
was a strong Catholic influence in the homes of all her relatives, with
crucifixes on the walls, pictures of the heart of Jesus, and even calendars
that had the Catholic holy days marked on them. It was during these
visits that she felt that there was a societal undercurrent that being
Catholic somehow set people apart.
It was in Fort Kent that LaVerne learned more about her French heritage.
LaVerne knows that there are references to the Sauciers in Calais, France,
and she has traced the geneology of her family to the Notre Dame of Paris
diocese in the 1600s. They came to the New World through Nova
Scotia in the early 1600s. Her grandmother had always insisted that
the family was pure "arcadian" or Acadian. The Sauciers escaped the
deportation, assumingly hiding out in the woods/wilderness. It is
not quite clear when the Sauciers settled in Northern Maine, but there
are many Sauciers still in that area, as well as some that ended up in
Music was really important to the family, and LaVerne has always liked
music and took piano lessons. Her father played piano by ear, but
never had formal lessons himself. LaVerne recalls being truly inspired
by her aunt, who lived in New York, and believed very strongly in educating
the children in French traditions. She had a collection of French
music, and LaVerne has fond memories of listening to tunes such as "Frere
Jacques" on her Victrolla. It was often her aunt that took her to
mass, and taught her some French words.
For some reason, LaVerne always felt that the French society
had a higher respect for women than other societies. She is not really
sure why this is so, but perhaps it is because prior to Catholicism, the
French pagans worshipped the Mother of the Earth and had a high regard
for women. This, in turn may have let to the French beliefs that
the traditions of a family are carried through the female relatives, especially
mothers. LaVerne felt respected and honored by her family.
She is very fond of a blanket that she has that was made by her grandmother.
It is a wool blanket, with a stripe at the top and the bottom. It
is considered an heirloom.
LaVerne never really felt different from those around her in
the Cornish/Kezar Falls area, though her family was the only French family
around. Her father said that once, "a lot of French were treated
worse than Indians, and blacks were sometimes treated better (than the
French)", or were a higher rung on the social class ladder than the French.
LaVerne never felt this degredation herself, but she recalls a situation
where her father had to confront this himself. Someone once said
to him, "You foreigners, why don't you go back where you came from?"
Her father, a friendly, easy-going man, replied, "I came from Maine, the
state you live in."
LaVerne feels an incredible connection to her father. She
is aware of her own restlessness, and need to travel from time to time.
She attributes this to her father and her French heritage. She also
has a love for the outdoors, and senses a connection to the earth and nature
in general. Her father always loved the outdoors, and kept flower
and vegetable gardens. From her travels, LaVerne has noticed that
the French always keep lovely gardens, and seem to make their surroundings
beautiful. She also said that she has a need to keep a tan.
She says she "just doesn't feel healthy when my skin is white." She
also feels this attribute comes from her father and from the French.
Certainly, it's not from the Anglo-Saxon in her!
LaVerne never really felt "Franco-American" as she was growing
up, and it is only recently that she has begun to do some research and
reading about her heritage. She was happy to learn of the Franco-American
Women's Institute, and hopes to make further connections.