May 10, 2014

Mama and Me


Mama and Me

When I was a little girl, I thought there was nobody more wonderful and special than my mother who we fondly called "Mama".  Of course, I suppose children feel that way about their mothers and why wouldn't they?  Parents are their whole world.  As infants, toddlers and young children, we ultimately rely on our parents to fulfill our every need.  My parents were no different.. especially Mama

Growing up in a French-Canadian ethnic neighborhood was the best.  Why?  Because we grew up with all of our aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.  Families today do not often have that same kind of connection.

Our parish church was in our neighborhood as were all businesses owned by French-Candians and that allowed our immigrant grandparents to take care of business in their customary language which was French.  So whether they went grocery shopping, were in need of pharmacy or other services, attending church (which was  most important to them), they could conduct business comfortably in their mother tongue with which they had spoken since they had been born in French speaking province of Quebec.  Dubrule Pharmacy was where they had prescriptions filled. As children we loved going to Dubrules because there was a soda fountain.  We enjoyed many ice cream cones in the summer and ice cream sundaes on Sunday afternoons.  Each ethnic neigborhood had its own grocery stores, fish markets, fruit stores etc.  These neighborhoods were great microcosms of the larger world but best of all we felt safe.  Our doors were never locked and nobody was a stranger to us.

When searching for teachers to staff Ste-Anne parish school, the leaders of the parish wanted bilingual teachers to teach the children in both English and French languages.  I believe we were pretty fortunate to grow up in that kind of situation with our heritage always at the forefront of their minds.  Since our great-grandparents and grandparents were the founders and leaders of the parish, had they not insisted on this, a part of who we were as Franco-Americans would have been lost. Admittedly, as children we didn't realize just how fortunate we were.

From "baby room" (called kindergarten today) through 8th grade we were taught in two languages.  No, we did not have a French "period" or "class" in those days.  Rather we had a half day of English and a half day of French.  During French classes we were taught the catechism, church history, French grammar, spelling and literature.  During English classes, we were taught the usual classes of reading, grammar, spelling, writing, and arithmetic.  Of course, classes did not begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 2:00 p.m. as they often do today.  We were in school from 7:45 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. until the schedule was changed to 3:00 p.m. half way through elementary school.

To their credit, les Soeurs du Bon-Pasteur de Québec/Sisters of the Good Shepherd of Quebec who had a provincial house in Maine did a great job.  Some of the nuns/teachers were from Quebec while others were Americans. We had the best of both. How fortunate we were to be fluent in both French and English.  As a child I spoke French before I spoke English and I do suppose that was because my Mémère and Pépère (grandmother and grandfather) lived next door for a while and Mémère Lévesque used to baby sit me quite a bit.  Wherever we went in our neighborhood we could converse in French at anytime.  Of course, like all young American children, we had a tendency to speak in English more than French.  My parents were both both in Massachusetts so speaking in either language was a lark.  My parents wanted us to be well versed in English so we would be true Americans.

Thanks to them, we have grown up as true Americans but today we long for those days when there was someone with whom we could speak in the tongue of our grandparents and forebears.

I digress.. growing up with Maman was both interesting and fun for us as children.  Just about every summer Sunday the extended family would go to Canobie Lake for a family picnic.  Most of us had no automobiles so we would all take the bus that we could board at the corner of our street and head out for the day.  Most often we would go to 6:00 a.m. Mass and be on the 7:15 a.m. bus so we could get the picnic tables closest to the lake while at other times we would arrive just early enough to reserve a kiosk so we would be in the shade if it was going to be a very hot day.  Everything depended on how fast the bus could get us there.  Usually the bus would have a hard time making the hill as we approached the road to Canobie.  Buses were not what they are today!

At the end of the day, our extended family would take the last bus home at 10:00 p.m. and sing all the way home.  It was great fun for us kids and everyone on the bus seemed to enjoy our renditions.

In those days going to Canobie Lake was free admission and it was still a pretty rustic forest full of big pine trees.  We would tie our bottles of drinks together and lower them into the lake to keep them cool.  There were no coolers then.

There were a few amusement rides and a few food booths and life was simple.  Today it is quite expensive at Canobie because there are mega rides available.  I'd take the good old days anytime.

Of course, as great as Mama was in getting us ready for the day and sending us off on the bus with my brother and sister so we would arrive with the rest of the family, she always came later.  I don't remember her ever being ready to leave when it was time to go.  But that was part of who she was.  Her main purpose was to get us ready so we could have a fun day from beginning to end.  She would usually arrive at the Lake a couple of hours later with my Mémère who would usually go to 8:00 a.m. Mass.

Once in a while we would spend a Sunday at Salisbury Beach.  That was more unusual though.  Canobie was only a half hour from home in those days whereas Salisbury was an hour by bus.  Today you can get to Canobie in 10-15 minutes by car and Salisbury in 35-40 minutes depending on traffic.

Wherever we went Mama made sure we had a good time.  She loved to laugh, tease and have fun.  She always put me on the "dobbie horses" aka carousel. At certain times of the day or evening you could try to "catch" a "gold" ring as the dobbies passed a certain area.  If you could grab onto one you got a free ride.  I didn't get one often because I loved the dobbie horses that went up and down - the ones closest to the edge of the carousel did not move.  Often parents would stand there to grab a ring for their child to get a free ride.  I just loved the dobbie horses so much that I used to fantasize owning my own horse some day.

Now at Canobie Lake there was a "fortune teller".  My mother and aunts would go have their fortunes told.  You know it was taboo in those days but they did it for fun and didn't believe a word the fortune teller would say.  One day when they were done having their fortunes told, my father told us that his mother used to be a fortune teller.  Everybody laughed and thought he was joking.  I never knew my grandmother Odille because she died at age 42 when my father was just a young boy.  Let me tell you though that as I plodded through our family history, one day I went to the public library to look through City Directories and lo and behold my grandmother was listed as a "clairvoyant" aka fortune teller.  So my father was right.  I sure wish I'd known her!  Not because she claimed to be a clairvoyant but rather because she did what she must to help support a large family.  I see her as having been a very strong woman doing what needed doing to help her family survive.  They were very poor and when she died there was no money for a grave.  She is buried with in a grave belonging to friends of the family.

So that is also how I always perceived my Mama to be:  a very strong woman from who I learned much about surviving the ups and downs of every day life and hanging in there when things were difficult.

As Mama grew older and more frail I realized that my perception of how strong a person she was might not be entirely true or correct - I wondered whether or not I was mistaken.  As she shared some of her fears and concerns in her aging years, I realized more and more that she imparted to me the strengths she would have wanted for herself in the up and down years of her life:  however, no matter what she thought of and for herself, she had a greater and deeper strength than she ever imagined.

I am the last of six children.  Three children died at young ages.  My two oldest siblings, Rita and Emile died one month apart at ages 3 and 4.  A year later my sister Claudia was born, three years later my brother Albert, two years later my brother Alphee who died the age of 9 months.  Five years later I was born.

One time I remember my father telling me that when their children passed away, Mama would just sit in a rocker with their toys rocking back and forth.  They had died of whooping cough which was untreatable back then.  When I was under a two years old I contracted scarlet fever.  Quarantined to the hospital during that illness when I returned home my Mama patiently taught me once again to walk as I had been so decimated from the illness that I could not walk and was not "talking" much for an 18 month old.

There was never a day that passed when she did not tell us how much she loved us no matter how old we were and no matter how ill she was at the end of her life.  Today I do the same with our daughters and now our grandsons.

So in spite of the lack of strength she thought lacking, Mama was a much stronger woman than she believed herself to be and I attribute so much of who I am because of who she was in my life.

Mama I love you and think of you every day.  He is a photo of your great grandsons Alex and Theo.  Watch over them.




All Rights Reserved
Lucie's Legacy
Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
2011



10 comments:

Randy Seaver said...

A wonderful tribute to your mother, and a "keeper" for your children and grandchildren. Well done.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Thank you Randy!

Lucie

Nancy said...

This was interesting to read and so important that it be written, especially for your descendants. I'm sure they will treasure these memories of your mother and your childhood experiences. It's wonderful that your mother was so special to you. (It is not true for all children.) She sounds like a really great lady. Thanks for sharing your memories with all of us.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Hi Nancy,

Thank you so much for you post.

Yes, my mother was a very special woman. The kind of mother every child should have ;)

Lucie

Barbara Poole said...

Lucie,
I loved getting to know you a bit better. Loved reading about the Canobie Lake Park, we all loved that place. Many of my old friends were French-Canadians, so I could relate to a lot of what you were saying. Still, this was a wonderful piece, with so much heart in it. Thank you.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Hi Barbara,

Thank you for your post. Canobie Lake is a place near and dear to many of us when we were growing up. We didn't have to organize a family reunion for everyone to come together on any given day or place.

Lucie

GeneaDiva said...

Lucie,

What a beautiful tribute to your mother. It sounds like you had a great childhood and what a treasure to pass these stories to your family. Your heritage is very interesting.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Thanks so much for your message. I really appreciate it.

Growing up with my mother was just the best. We were very fortunate.

Best regards,

Lucie

Kelley Mackaig said...

Bonjour Lucie! What an incredible story, you honored your Mama beautifully. I came across your blog this morning while doing some reading about my beloved Acadian History. I'm a direct descendant of Joseph dit Beausoleil Broussard -I can't even begin to tell you how much pride and honor I take in being able to say that. I am so grateful for, and am just in awe over the life-long research you have done about Acadian Culture I have been reading through your blog for over 3 hours now!! I have learned a ton through your historic expertise! I laughed, I cried, and took an enormous amount of pride in the beautiful way you explained Acadia. I've noticed in time and time again - that no matter where a Cajun is from, whether it be from Louisiana, Massachusetts, or even way out here in San Diego California - Cajuns Blood runs deep - 400 years and 4 generations deep! Knowing the experiences that our Ancestors went through which was truly a living hell - how they carried such a deep self-sacrificing love for family, religion, and their unwavering morale's and value's. Things like that are just not seen today, and being a Predecessor of such remarkable culture, just gives me a pride that I can feel deep into my bones. Reading about your sweet memories, got me reminiscing back when I was a young girl spending the summers of my childhood in Southern Louisiana with my Cajun family staying at my very own "Mama's" house. (Mama is what we cousins called our Grandma.) We loved to help her whip up batch of her Shrimp Gumbo, and she always held out all the "hot stuff" just for us kids. Her normal shrimp gumbo that she made for everyone else was one of the meanest recipe's for Gumbo this side of the Mississipp!! She would call us names like "mon mignon", "ma chère" "Bebette", and the one she called me... "Sha". She always said it with such affection - and always made sure that we were well fed - if not over fed. It was as if she just couldn't feed us enough!! One of the things I love so much about our Acadian Culture, is that the connection from one Cajun to another always manages to hit home so sweetly, with so much in common - even if the two have never met, and regardless of the miles in between! They understand each other like they've known each other for years... :) Which reminds me, I wanted to ask you how Massachusetts Acadian's pronounce "Mama" - Is it the same as us Louisianan's? We say "Mo Mo" where the O is long. I must say again, I just truly loved reading throughout your blog, and will be back to read some more as soon as I can!! Merci Beaucoup ~et~ Laissez les bons temps rouler!! :)

Unknown said...

Lucie, we have much in common. I was also raised in the French section of the city. I could only speak French until I started school. The nuns we had were mostly English and Irish. When I would try to talk with my grandmother she would "that's not how you say that'. She was Canadian and my mother was Acadian, but French is French. We also had a drug store that had a soda fountain and many evenings in the summer a bunch of us from the neighborhood would walk down to get an ice cream cone. We had Whalom Park but that was a once a year treat. Many rides and it was expensive for the day. I am an only child so I didn't have siblings to play with so my female cousin who was my age always came with us for that outing. My mother was a hairdresser but stopped doing that after we moved into the house my father built when I was 4 years old. My mother then went to work in a cotton mill on the second shift. I went to my grandmother's house after school until my father got home from the paper mill. Most times we ate supper at her house as she was used to cooking for a large family (10 children). So we have much in common, Lucie. This was an amazing tribute to your moth. Thank you for sharing.