|Effie O'Neal Peers is a very special Franco-American
By Katie Peers
As I set out to find a Franco American woman to interview, I was racking my brain because none came to mind. I was talking to my friend, and she said that her mom was French and that I could interview her. As I started, it didn't really strike me as overly interesting and then I talked to my grandfather and he really opened my eyes to my own family. So, I started from scratch, and I am so glad that I did because I realized the amazing history that lies within my own family tree.
Although I did not directly speak with the person I interviewed, my great grandmother, I spoke with my grandfather about her and her history. I don't know if this is appropriate, but it meant a lot to me to learn about her and her story really relates well to what we have been reading about and the pioneer women.
Effie O'Neal was born in 1900 in Van Buren, Maine. O'Neal is her father's name, but her mother is where the French originates. Her mother's name was Paradis. I never knew this about her, and I really never knew that I had French ancestry. She married my great grandfather (John Peers) in 1916 and they had eight children, the oldest being my grandfather, Charles Peers. They lived on a potato farm in northern Maine in the small town of Caswell. My grandfather went away to World War I and died in battle in 1930. So, left behind, was Effie Peers with eight little children, a potato farm, and no husband. When I heard this story, I mean I have heard it before, but I was really listening this time, I had more interest this time. After reading about all the pioneer women from our readings, and how much I admired them, it made me proud to know that my great grandmother was just as much of a pioneer as the women we have read about. So, Effie battled through cold winters alone and with the help of my grandfather (who really never had a childhood, he just took on the role as "head of household") , they continued to survive as potato farmers and raise the other children. Surprisingly enough, she never remarried throughout her entire life.
Eventually, time passed and my grandfather was off to World War II. So, the man who has been taking care of things, was off to war, an all too common theme in the life of Effie Peers. And now is the part of the story that I found to be so unbelievable! When the United States took German P.O.W.'s, they sent them to the top of Maine to work as help on the potato farms of Aroostook County. And thinking about all that is going on the world today, it really shocked me to know that it really does happen and that prisoners from Germany were sent all the way to Maine. I feel like the wars I watch on T.V. is so far away from me, but back then, everybody was effected, including my great-grandmother. So, while my great-grandmother had three sons over seas fighting in World War II, their absence was filled by young men, just like hers who were just being soldiers, and were captured. Apparently, these P.O.W.'s really enjoyed working there. They helped with potato harvest mainly and they didn't live at the homestead or anything, but they were workers on my great grandmother's farm. Many of the local farmers had help from these men. It sounds far-fetched I know! But when I heard this story, I had to start over and write my interview piece about this.
My grandfather told me that his mother took comfort and pleasure in having these boys around. I think it was probably because it made her think of her sons, and it was like they weren't gone, although it must have been difficult. They talked about their lives in Germany, and the farmers of Aroostook and these P.O.W.'s apparently enjoyed each other and learned a lot from each other and the entire experience. In 1947, the P.O.W.'s left Aroostook county. AndI guess I love this story because it seems like something that happens to someone else, never to your family. I remember working in potato fields as a child and up through college and it seems so bizarre to me that I was probably working a field that these young German P.O.W.' s had once worked. It's neat to think about.
Although I never met my great-grandmother obviously, I still feel that she was such a strong woman. I think it is very admirable to raise children alone, lose a husband in a war and to have three sons also go away and fear that you will lose them too. All three of her son's returned safely from World War II. The type of life that she lived must have been hard and trying, but I've heard she was a very quiet, laid back person who was full of love. That's a common theme that I have seen among all of the women we have read about. They persevere through the heartache and they get on with life and do it with a certain charm and style about them. That's how I feel about my great-grandfather anyway. And another thing that I admire about her is that as soon as her husband died, she was not out getting married again for the security of a man. She did what she needed to do with the help of her children. She seemed liberated way ahead of her time. From what I understand, she never got over the heartache of losing my great grandfather. Maybe I should write a movie about this:)!!!
I think Effie O'Neal Peers is a very special Franco-American woman and I am glad that I got to look at her life in a different aspect and realize for one, that she is a Franco-American and also that she is such an interesting person and had a very hard life. I really enjoyed learning more about her, and it's sad that I needed an assignment like this to find out this information. I'm glad though, because now I am going to open my eyes to what's around me. Things that we read about are not necessarily more interesting than what lies in front of us, or within us....