|"Well Sarah, you and I are both of French descent."
By Sarah Gahagan
In the beginning I was nervous about the interview and had a hard
time finding someone whom I felt was a woman of French heritage that I
could learn something from. After several weeks I went to my mother
with my dilemma. She looked at me in a strange manner and then simply
answered, "Well Sarah, you and I are both of French descent." I was
astonished. I had never had this conversation with my parents because,
unfortunately I did not feel that I had a sufficient reason to do so.
A few weeks into this course I became curious about my last name and the
Irish background that was attached to it so I went and had a discussion
with my father. It wasn't until my interview dilemma that I discovered
that my mother was a very strong French woman. I sat down with my mother
and told her to start from as far back as she could remember and describe
to me the good, the bad, and the wonderful experiences of her life.
My mother, Amber Gahagan, was born to Irene Cyr and her husband
Douglass in the town of Madawaska. She attended kindergarten in a very
small school there in which she was the only student in her class who spoke
any English. My mother's primary language at the time was English,
as that was what was spoken in her home. However, on her trips to
her Grandparents who lived along the St. John River, on the side of the
US, the language most often used was French. My great-grandparents
knew very little English. This made communication somewhat confusing
and difficult for my mother and her siblings who were being taught English
on a daily basis.
After attending school in Madawaska, my grandparents moved my
mother and her siblings to Caribou where they lived and attended school
for the rest of their teenage years. I asked Amber about incidents
of discrimination in her school, she replied that it was not something
that happened very often as the vast majority of students attending the
schools in Northern Maine were also of French descent. While in middle
school, my mother met Jeffrey Gahagan, a potato farmer's son who would
eventually become my father. Amber spent her middle and high school
years focused strongly on academics. However at the same time she
was battling the hallways of high school, my mother was fighting another
battle at home.
Both of my grandparents had become alcoholics. My mother,
one of the older children, was forced to help to take care of the younger
5 as the older two kids had grown of age and moved in their own directions.
Amber described that after a long day at school, she would come home and
have to feed her brothers and sisters as well as make sure their homework
was complete and that they brushed their teeth before getting into bed.
This is a tremendous amount of pressure on any person, let alone a teenage
girl who was forced out of necessity to take care of herself and her siblings
at such a young age. While catering to the needs of her family, Amber
found the time to become a highly recognized and respected young woman
at Caribou High School. The honor roll was a regular occurrence for
my mother, whose name was also often seen as a member of student council
and the cheerleading squad. No one knew the troubles she faced at
After graduating from high school at the top of her class, my
mother and her long time boyfriend Jeff moved to Augusta where the both
of them were accepted at the University. Amber majored in criminal
justice. Her goal was to finish her undergraduate degree in Augusta
and then apply to law school. During her freshman year at Augusta,
Amber was diagnosed with a rare disorder which required the removal of
one entire ovary and most of her second. She was told that she would
never have children. Amber and Jeff were both devastated.
My mother married at the age of 19 in the year 1974. Two
years later, against all odds, she became pregnant. At this point
in her life my mother had yet to complete her degree, however she decided
that financial stability was a number one priority in her life and school
would have to wait. Amber attended the university and worked as a
waitress at the local Pizza Hut until her seventh month of pregnancy.
After leaving school, she got a second job at the cinema center as a cashier.
Two months later, my brother Eric was born.
As soon as Eric was able to be left in the care of my grandmother,
who had moved to the area after the death of her husband, my mother returned
to her two jobs and then took a third at Dunkin Donuts. My father
was also working two jobs; however Amber felt that it was important for
him to stay in school in order to improve their current status. Life
went on like this until Jeff graduated from college and received a respectable
position at a bank in the Waterville area. Soon after this, Amber
became pregnant for her second and final time. I was born that December
in the year 1981. Several years later, my father received an offer
for a better position at a new bank that was opening in a small town called
Milo. They decided that this would be a good place to raise their
children and they decided to move.
With two children, my mother found herself spending a lot of
time at home. It was at this point that she decided to not only open
and run her own daycare center, but also to become a foster parent.
When I was 5 years old, my mother began taking in children who had no other
place to go. After 20 years of service as a foster parent, my mother
has influenced the lives of more than 15 children. A brother
and sister pair by the name of Rosezanna and AJ touched the heart of my
mother in a very special way. We adopted them officially into our
family in 1986. For years Amber remained in her position as a day
care provider until all four of her children were at an age when they could
begin to take care of themselves. In 1992, Amber decided to go back
My mother enrolled at the University of Maine in the undergraduate
social work program. She completed this in just over two years and
then was immediately accepted into the Masters program at UMO. For
two more years my mother would spend long days at school only to come home
and be bombarded with the trials and tribulations of four children.
After sleepless nights of hard work, Amber graduated from UMO with a MSW.
I remember attending the hooding ceremony and being so proud of her, even
though I had yet to understand the amount of obstacles she faced in her
My mother has always been a very outspoken woman; however in
the year of 1996 she decided to share her thoughts with as many people
as she could reach. Amber ran for state senate in the Piscataquis
county area. It was a family effort, putting up signs, passing out
pins and bumper stickers, waving in parade upon parade. We were all
disappointed on Election Day when she lost to the long standing state senator
from Dexter in the closest race in Maine of that year. However, my
mother kept her head held high and continued on with her life, plotting
her next office attempt (which she says could be soon).
Amber currently works, and has for over 7 years, for a school
system as a Social worker for more than 1000 students. It is the
same school which I attended. I have been asked many times whether
I hated having my mom work at school, and in fact it is the opposite.
I love to hear the students and staff tell me how much they appreciate
my mother and the wisdom and help she offers to everyone. Amber took
the job at the school knowing that it would be a 24/7 position, crisis's
seldom wait for working hours. She is always available to help anyone
in need, whether or not it is during school hours. It was not unusual
for my mother to get phone calls or visits during the evenings from people
who simply needed to hear her voice and reassurance.
I could not be more thankful that I was faced with my interview
dilemma which forced me to seek out assistance from Amber Gahagan; my mother.
She is a French woman who has faced insurmountable obstacles in her years
and has overcome each and every one with her head held high. Amber
was often chose to sacrifice many things in her life to benefit other people,
and she still continues to do this today. I aspire to reach her level
and gain the same level of respect that she has earned from every one she
has met. In my search for an influential and powerful French woman,
I did not have to look far; she had been an impacting my life all along.
I now hope that I can find the powerful French woman in myself.