Sunday, March 1, 2009

Memories keep calling .... ....

My grandparents lived on the first floor of a neat triple-decker with wide porches and large back garden.

He was Noe Pierre Valois; she was Medora Bond; I think they were a handsome couple. Both were born in central Massachusetts: he in Worcester, she in Holden but they were raised in Leominster and made their home there. Noe's father owned a meat market; Dora's father was a barber.

The Valois family fancied themselves quite 'above' the Bonds: they came to the US directly from France while the Bonds came from Canada.

My recollection is that Noe was rather dour; Dora on the other hand was extroverted and fun-loving; she loved people, parties and dancing. She loved to laugh. Noe was disabled from mustard gas in the First World War and lived most of his life in and out of hospitals; he was only 58 when he died. Dora was essentially the wage earner as the government did not provide disability compensation for WWI veteran's until the late 1930s.She lived until mid-way through her eighth decade.

Noe & Dora's house on Spruce Street was in a neighborhood called, "French Hill", one of several villages that dotted Leominster. By the way, the town is not pronounced: Lem-stah as in the English market town that is its namesake. It is not pronounced: Leo-min-ster as the uninitiated want to say. No, it is Lem-in-ster.

French Hill was populated by French-Canadians who came seeking work in the comb and shirt factories there. They proved to be hard and steady workers capable of keeping up with 12-hour work days, 6 days a week and able built new lives for themselves and their families.

Their social life, family and work life was centered in neighborhood. More specifically around the church. My grandparents home on Spruce Street was only a short walk to Mechanic Street where St. Cecilia's church, school, convent and rectory stood. It was also walking distance to Cluet & Peobody on Water Street where my grandmother sewed men's shirts for the Arrow Shirt Company. In their house on Spruce Street, they raised three sons, Robert, my father and Norman and Richard. This was also the house that sheltered my mother and I during the war years. And, they were still in that house in 1954 when my grandfather died.

My Memories of their 'parlor' or 'front room' are dim. I don't think I ever sat in there and suppose it was saved for some 'state' occasions but what those might have been eludes me. This room was separated by pocket doors from a sitting room that doubled as an office for my grandfather. Here my memories are more vivid. My grandparents had two "easy" chairs in this sitting room, for reading and watching their floor model TV with its tiny screen. By my grandmother's chair was her crochet bag with the current pattern, yarn and needles. From this barkcloth bag emerged socks, mittens, hats, afgans and scarves with a ferocious regularity. Later, her hands deformed from arthritis, she continued to crochet, saying she could not stop, would not stop crocheting for fear of her hands crippling.

Of paperdolls & losses. On the floor by my grandfather's chair was a mahogany-colored basket. It was always there and held an ever-growing collection of Betsy McCall paperdolls that he meticulouly cut for me from the Sunday paper; I loved him for this and so much more.

I loved Betsy McCall; her pretty clothes and accessories always gave me something new to play with when we visited during the week. Often I wondered what became of that mahogony-colored basket and my paperdoll collection. I was after all only 10 when he died. But I have no recollection of them after his death.

My grandmother did not stay long in that apartment after his death even tho' it had been her home for nearly a quarter century; perhaps she moved in haste. Perhaps her married sons and daughters-in-law who helped her move to a tiny place were unaware of the real value of those paper dolls......of how precious they were to me.

My grandmother's jewels. I was often invited to spend the night with my grandmother while she lived on Spruce Street. I loved snuggling down in her great and cozy bed. I loved waking to the sound of her slippers - her 'chausettes' - glide across the floor while she moved about the kitchen preparing breakfast. She always gave me hot cocoa and a 'folded-over' toasted marshmallow sandwich---for which there was no equal in my life!

Her jewelry box was filled with costume baubles and a few pieces of 'good' jewelry. It never ceased to beguile me and I would ask if I could 'clean' her jewelry box which was my way of asking for stories. She allowed me to empty the contents of the box and told me stories about who gave her those earings or that bracelet, or on what occasion a certain piece was worn. In that box was a lovely saphire ring that she always said would be mine 'some day'. I don't know where my ring got to........or who has it.

Ice cream cones and cotton candy. Their house was three or four doors from the corner on which stood Giguere's Drug Store. In my child's eye, it was a large place, semi-dark, deep, cavernous and always cool . It had a very distinctive smell -- clean but pungent with a hint of chemical. A trip to Giguere's Drug with a nickel to spend was a glorious and grown-up event to purchase a vanilla ice cream cone.

My grandmother's little black book was for recording every expenditure: a nickel for this; a few cents for that. She loved ice cream. And she smoked. The little black book kept on shelf over the stove was meant to note each of these innocent purchases.

I'm not sure whether I remember this or if it was told to me later but this accounting for such small daily purchases was not a task invented by Medora. No. My grandmother would never have dreamed up such a task for herself. Although she was the main wage earner, she handed over her weekly wages to my grandfather. He made all the decisions about what to spend,how much to save. It was he who demanded she account for every penny.

Others have called Noe controlling; I don't know this from personal experience. But I do remember the following story of .......

A 1949 Plymouth of which they were quite proud. They purchased it new for $1300 and it was always kept in pristine cleanliness inside and out. I recall its interior: a 'picky' woolly gray upholstery that was wicked to sit upon on a hot summer's day.

Well, it happened on a particular summer day that my grandfather invited me out for a ride to the nearby amusement park. We were to travel by car, his Plymouth. I remember it so clearly and suspect it was a rare and unusual event as he was unwell most of the time. Perhaps on this day he felt strong and happy and generous. Perhaps he just wanted to offer his first grandchild and only granddaughter a summer treat. Whatever the motivation, when we got to the Park, he offered me a cotton candy.

Cotton candy!

He presented me with the great-gooey-sweetness-on-a-paper-cone. Ahhhhh. I sat in the back seat planning to savor the sensation of sugar melting on my tongue.

What happened next is not clear in details. But I do know that somehow I got cotton candy all over his spotlessly clean picky gray back seat upholsery. Now, I don't recall his words but I do remember his displeasure. His impatience and frustration. Sadly, he probably only had energy for the ride and loved the idea of a treat but was unprepared for the clumsiness of a 6 year old over-excited little girl.

Veteran's Hospitals
My grandfather was not an every-day part of my life. He was wounded in the first world war and spent the remainder of his life disabled from the mustard gas and was often in veteran's hospitals for weeks and months at a time. A typical Sunday for my father, mother, grandmother, brother and I was to visit him in whichever Massachusetts VA hospital he was in at the time. The trip usually involved Sunday dinner in a restaurant. My parents tried diligently to make these trips fun for brother and I by planning to stop at historical sites -- Bunker Hill Monument; Old Ironsides; and other important places.

Then he was gone
The phone ringing. A lot of late night activity in the house. My father sitting on the last step of the stairs leading to the second floor of our house on Vine Street. Head in hands, my father is weeping. It's frightening; I've never seen him cry. I learn my grandfather has died. He was only 58 years old.

I wasn't allowed to say goodbye; I was "protected" from the rituals of death. I don't have a clear last memory of him.


Michelle said...

Why did you stop?

I want to know more!

Pat said...

Additional chapters to follow ..... when I am grasped by the muse, if you know what I mean.

I appreciate your response ..... perhaps it will be a catalyst for other memories to come pouring out .....

It is fun and pleasant when the memories come and words fit so stay tuned.

edward floyd said...

Hi.My name is Edward C. Floyd,my grandmother was Clara Valois she was Noe sister.she was married to my grandfather Charles P. Floyd. Just doing some work on the Valois family.If you want my email is