Parlez Vous?

My parents were both pure laine  Quebecois, literally meaning pure wool Quebec stock. My descendants can be traced to King Louis the Sixteenth of France. My mother until the time of her death still had deeded land from the original seigneurial system of New France, located along the St. Lawrence valley in a jurisdiction called St. Augustine.

My father was born into a wealthy bourgeois family in New Brunswick.  He was born premature and weighed less than two pounds. In those days incubators were not yet invented, so his first few weeks of life was spent in what was called the bread warmer. This was a compartment above a large wood burning stove, a couple of feet above the iron grills.

In his youth his mother died of consumption, now known as tuberculosis. His father was heart broken. He fell into a deep depression. My grandfather was in business with a wealthy industrialist by the name of Irving. In my grandfathers grief, Irving convinced him to sign over power of attorney to him, until he recovered from his lost.

All was lost, as Irving took all the wealth from my grandfather using power of attorney. My grandfather tried to rebuild establishing a brick making factory. However, the clay was not old enough and the bricks were not durable. In a drunken state he crashed his car into the side of a bridge and died.

My father to the best of my recollection was about fourteen years old at the time, he had to work in lumber camps to make a living. Perhaps he exaggerated to me but it sounded like hard work that most of us today would probably perish from. He told me for lunch the cook gave you a loaf of bread, a meat pie, a dozen scrambled eggs and a quart of milk. You dare not come back with any left overs, because it meant you didn't work hard enough.

My parents met during World War II, on a balcony high above the cobble stoned roads of Quebec City. My father was released from duty due to his reluctance to take on a leadership role. At that time there was not enough officers to lead troops into battle. Due to my fathers exceptional intelligence scores he was asked to take a leading role as a colonel. He told his superiors, "I will go to the front line, but I will never command others to do so".

My parents worked hard to raise six children. Within this time frame, stories upon stories could be told, most sad, some charming, some best never told. I still have faint memories of me in diapers and lieder hosen crawling on the basement floor placing a seventy eight record on the turntable of an RCA record player, yes with the big horn, and cranking the chrome bar with a pitch black knurled knob, listening to Ludwig van Beethoven's,  Moonlight Sonata. Some mornings I would awake in my crib, until I was eight, other mornings I would awake to the figure of the dalmatian that was the symbol of RCA.

By this time my parents were worn out, my dad deaf from blasting in the mines away from home, my mother physically and emotionally from sixties teenagers and daughters without a fathers discipline and love. I was left with my brother, born from my sister, adopted by my parents to care for. He later developed schizophrenia, a trait of his paternal father.

Every summer we would take the long trip to Quebec to visit my mom's family. It was a long drive, but we looked forward to restaurant stops and roadside picnics. We rarely got what we wanted, like apple pie or chocolate cake, but we never went hungry. My parents were sure to explain to us what that was like.

My Grandmother was a cheerful soul, and even after seven enthusiastic kisses for my family, her lips were still wet and moist for my rosy cheek. My Grandmother was pregnant twenty two times, sixteen children lived long healthy lives, six were still births. They lived on a farm, all did well for themselves, some are even millionaires today.

Those summers visiting as a child were and still are quite important to me as they put me in touch with a huge extended family full of love and recognition. Everywhere I went in that town, it seemed I was related and a part of the community. People would refer to my Grand Mother as the Queen of St.  Augustine. As a small child it gave me a sense of belonging.

Many years later, living in Toronto, I was maybe sixteen, my sisters were long gone. My older brothers in a world all their own. It was my Grandmothers eighty fifth birthday and a great reunion was arranged. By this time her sixteen offspring with husbands, wives,  children, grandchildren and great grandchildren numbered three hundred and sixty two. 

I personally was excited to visit my cousins who I spent many long lazy days playing crazy eights, wandering the old musty barn, running past the old chicken coop that still smelled like ammonia twenty years after the last hen was chicken dinner.

Sure enough it was a grand occasion, the parking was like Mosport  in Ontario during summer break. All these people were direct descendants of my Grand Mama. I was so proud to be a part of this grand occasion.

Later on that evening I saw outside all my cousins I used to play with when I was a kid visiting them. They were smoking cigarettes drinking beer having a great time. I excitedly joined them. They were unsure of who I was. I explained in my  Ontario learned french language who I was with great excitement. I hoped they would remember the memories we shared, the childhood innocence as we explored my grand parents farm. I was expecting them to jump up and give me a big loving hug as they did when we were children.

The cousin, I was closest to as a young boy, her name was Madeline said , "Ta gueule estie d'tete Caree". Which means, shut up square head. It is a derogatory term for  an English speaking person. I left the area, went back inside, kissed my grandmother for the last time, she always had a cheerful demeanor, went back to my Aunts home, fell asleep and never forgot.

On the license plates of Quebec the moto is, Je me souviens, which means "I remember". This refers to how France turned its back on New France in their time of need. How ironic, we will never learn.

I remember
I remember.

Note: My Grandmother, took up smoking for the first time at eighty years old. She said, with a boisterous laugh, "it can't kill me now, there isn't enough time."

At that time she also started to smoke pot, giggling as she drew another toke, "what are they going to do, throw me in jail ?"  Today I would answer her, "No, no Grandmama, this is Canada not the USA."

Uploaded 11/14/2010
  • 0 Favorites
  • Flag
  • Stumble
  • Pin It