by Denis Ledoux


by Denis Ledoux

Chapter 1

My World Begins

My mother had been on time with her first baby, and she was sure she would birth me on her due date. She and my father were living with his parents—an arrangement not unusual in 1947 when adult children were not necessarily expected to move out of their parents’ homes to live on their own.

Although the house at what was then 49 Farwell Street was not large, the three generations that inhabited it were not cramped. My grandparents’ other children were gone—Rhéa and Armand were married, Lucien was a priest in the Monfortin Congregation and living in a rectory, and Léonard was in the American Merchant Marines—and so the house had an empty second floor where three rooms had been placed at the disposal of my young parents. At each end of this upper floor was a bedroom. My parents occupied one of the upstairs bedrooms, and my brother Bill—only nineteen months—was in the other. In the middle area—perhaps more of a large hallway with a dormer overlooking my Verreault grandparents’ house across Warren Avenue—my mother had made a sort of sitting room, but mostly my parents shared the common space downstairs—the kitchen, the double living room and the dining room. Because of this second-floor arrangement, my parents were luckier than many couples who found themselves lacking privacy, perhaps in a bedroom off the busy tenement kitchen where everyone naturally gathered and everyone could overhear every noise from the adjacent bedroom.

In the afternoon of the Saturday that was January 18, 1947, my mother told my father he had better put the tire chains on the car to drive her to l’Hôpital Générale Ste-Marie. In spite of the snow that was beginning to fall heavily, their second baby would be born that day, she was sure.

My father installed the chains on his father’s 1941 Buick which my pépère had bought on July 21, 1942, my mother’s twenty-first birthday, four-and-a-half years earlier.¹  My parents were not married in 1942 and did not yet have an understanding they would marry—that would come later when my father was in the Army Air Corps. In 1942, however, they were “sweet” on each other.

The thick snow was accumulating on the city streets. My father drove the red Buick a mile and a half towards city center to the Canadien hospital on Sabattus Street. Even in so short a trip, perhaps he looked at my mother with some apprehension. Surely she would be all right! He would have held her arm as she shuffled her way through the accumulating snow to the entrance of the hospital. The unaccustomed weight of her pregnancy would have altered her center of balance and would have made traversing slippery ground problematic. Soon, my mother having been admitted and brought to the pregnancy ward where she was to wait for her contractions to progress, there was nothing for my father to do but to follow the strong admonitions given to fathers at the time to return home and leave my mother with the Gray Nuns and the lay nurses. There was no need, the staff reassured my young father, for him to stay. He would not be permitted, anyway, into the birthing room. Dr. François Méthot would be in soon—if he was not already in the hospital. A gruff man with a pencil mustache, Dr. Méthot had seen my mother during her pregnancy and now he would help deliver her baby.

With tire chains, which my mother had insisted be in place, clanking their sonorous rhythm as they gripped the slippery streets, my father returned to his parents’ house in which he had grown up, and there he awaited news of my birth. By late afternoon, nothing had happened. Both my grandmother and my grandfather would have been home as the mill was closed on a Saturday afternoon. Perhaps my father and my grandfather were reading the newspaper in the front double living rooms, listening to the radio, and reading the Evening Journal—or perhaps they were occupied with Le Messager?² The two men, being bilingual, might have read either or both publications. My grandmother, who did not speak English, was an autodidact who had taught herself to read—but only in French.

As evening approached, perhaps my mémère was preparing supper in the kitchen galley, a little room with cupboards, counters, drawers and a sink, but without a stove and a refrigerator, both of which were in the adjoining room where the family ate. That room was not quite a dedicated dining room nor was it at all what one might call a kitchen. It was the room in which one entered from the side porch, and as such, served as a sort of lobby for the house.

My father sat in the living room, my mother told me years later, waiting for a call from the hospital. In those years after the war, there had been a big push to take birthing out of the home and into the professional arena—the hospital. My mémère Ledoux had had her five children at home, and my mémère Verreault had also birthed ten of her twelve children in her own bed. (Both of her children born at Sainte-Marie General Hospital—René and Paul—had come into the world there, according to my mother, because my grandmother Verreault, having a bit more spare money at the time, had sought a break from the demands of her large family.)

Products themselves of the middle of the twentieth century, my parents submitted to this professionalization of birthing. By the time I came along, children were often born under some drug, certainly anesthesia. I was the second of my mother's children to be born without her experiencing childbirth consciously. Decades later, when my own children were born at home without drugs, my mother shared that while she had had the experience of being pregnant, she had never known birthing. It was something that happened while she was unconscious.

At seven o’clock, I came bawling into the world, and some time later, a call went out to my father. I can imagine the phone ringing—it must has been on a doily set on a small telephone table (yes, telephones were honored with their own little settings) placed perhaps in the living room, but I seem to remember—obviously from when I was older—that it was in the large hallway whose steps led up to my parents’ quarters. My grandparents would have refrained from answering and would have looked at my father.

“Albert,” my grandmother might have said pointing to the phone, curious about what must be a call to announce the new baby.

My father would have gotten up and walked to the phone. Would Lucille have had the girl she wanted? They had a name for a girl—Claire—but they had not agreed on one for a boy—they had wavered between Raymond (her) and Gérald (him).

I can imagine my father uttering short phrases on the phone and smiling. Perhaps he turned to his parents and said, “Un garçon!” Soon, he went with his father to the hospital to see his new son. My grandmother did not go. My brother Bill who was most likely in his crib by that time of day certainly needed an adult around, but across Warren Avenue, there were many adolescent Verreault aunts and uncles who could have stayed with him while my grandmother went. My mother remarked, years later, how strange that neither her mother nor her mother-in-law had come that evening.

As was customary, my mother was hospitalized for the better part of a week. During this time, she roomed with a woman whose husband was a union organizer for mill workers. His name was Denis Leblanc. Since my parents had not agreed on a boy’s name, it occurred to my mother that Denis might be a good compromise. One evening, when my father came after his workday at Bath Iron Works some thirty miles away, she ran the name Denis by him, and he concurred that Denis was a good name. Denis I was to be called,³ but my father did get his Gérald as my middle name.

As with Bill, my mother chose not to breastfeed her new baby. She did not experience nursing, holding her babies to her breast and letting them feed themselves contentedly. Her babies were fed with a bottle that had to be sterilized in a pot on the stove and filled with milk that had been kept cool, then warmed to body temperature—with an occasional, as I can imagine, impatient baby boy wailing in the background. Then, all had to be washed.

“We were told,” I quote my mother from memory, “that there was no difference between breastfeeding and bottle feeding. The doctors and the nurses encouraged women to bottle feed as it was easier for the mother in a number of ways than nursing. Since I was going to return to work at the mill, I chose to bottle feed you as I had done with Bill.”

Finally after a week, she was ready to go home, and I was fetched from the hospital nursery, enveloped in blankets to keep me warm against the late January cold. My father would have gone out to the car to start the heater—a square box affixed to the dashboard from beneath and receiving its power from the electrical system of the car—and then he would have run back into the hospital to help my mother out. Outside, the walkways would have been snow covered, making walking with a baby a challenge.

When, at last, my mother returned to the house at 49 Farwell, Bill rushed toward her, so very happy to see his mother again. The toddler she had seen as just a little boy less than a week earlier now seemed big and bumptious—and dangerous. The fragile newborn she held in her arms had to be protected from her first-born’s over-energetic displays of affection.

My Verreault grandparents were my godparents when I was baptized at Holy Family Church a short while later.⁴ My Ledoux grandparents had been my brother’s.

My mother’s family had moved into the Farwell Street neighborhood during the Great Depression in 1931 when they had taken over a foreclosed home for which the titleholder, the Mechanics Bank, was willing to extend attractive terms to anyone who could pay the interest—with the principle being deferred for a period of time. The house they bought was small, but it had a yard, and it would be theirs one day. That yard would be a source of food—even if minor—for their large family for years to come.

My father's family had moved next door to the Verreaults (but across the intersecting Warren Avenue) in 1936 from a tenement on Bartlett Street. It represented for them, I believe, a certain embourgeoisement, the first home they owned after twenty-four years of marriage. The house had been constructed for them and so they were its first inhabitants. In 1936, of their five children, four were still at home. Only Lucien, who was twenty-two at the time and away in the seminary studying to be a Monfortin priest, did not move in with them. Rhéa, twenty-three, would not marry Maurice Lavigne for another three years. As a girl, she must have had her own room. Did the three boys share the other room—or did one of them sleep in the large hallway with a dormer overlooking the Verreault house? Perhaps this boy was Leonard who was only ten at the time.

As a foreman in the Bates Weave Room #5, my grandfather had “a good job” or, as they said, “une bonne job.” If somebody was to be laid off because of a slack in the economy—or a full-blown depression— it was not the foreman, and so my pépère had worked through the 1930s, never missing a week’s pay. All through these years, my grandfather also brought home a slightly higher salary than that of the operatives who worked the looms under him. Add to this that my grandmother, who worked in the mill herself, contributed regularly to their income.⁵ These factors—and a smaller family—had provided the Ledouxs with a more comfortable life than had been available to my Verreault grandparents.

In 1936, my father had come to that new house as a fourteen year old. That fall, having graduated from the eighth grade at St. Pierre School on Bates Street, he chose to attend Mr. Robert’s Academy, a private school run out of the College Block on Lisbon Street. It focused on business and commercial skills. Where did he get the idea that he was interested in business? No one in his family was in business, and he did not exhibit any entrepreneurial propensities. (At the same age, my uncle Robert Verreault, who did eventually become a businessman, was manufacturing bleach in his family’s cellar and selling it door to door.)

In those days, the municipal bus stopped in front of the Verreault house next door, and so it was easy for my father to get to class downtown. It turned out that neither the business training nor the school itself interested him. After attending for a year, he switched to Lewiston High School, which was then on Central Avenue in what is now the junior high. Unfortunately, the public high school did not please him any more than had Mr. Robert’s Academy, and after only a week, my brother remembers hearing, my father quit to take on a number of low-paying jobs—washing dishes, flipping hamburgers and the like. I can conjure my father concluding how, without much education, his father had done well enough for himself. His parents owned a new house and drove a car and had spare cash. His education had already surpassed the little schooling his father had benefited from in Canada, and he was way beyond what his mother, the autodidact, had received. Why shouldn’t he do as well and possibly better than his parents?

They neither tried to dissuade him from quitting nor stop him. Hadn’t they done well enough without much schooling?

Francophones had had a troubled relationship with education in Canada after the 1760 British Conquest, and this lack of appreciation was to perdure in New England. Neither my aunt Rhéa nor my uncle Armand had finished high school, while my uncle Lucien had done so but that was under different circumstances as he was preparing to be a priest. It was accepted that priests were educated. The English had not, after all, interfered with seminary education after the Conquest.⁶

In the late 1930s, my father went to Connecticut where, according to my mother, he stayed with his mother’s sister Albertine Bilodeau Métayer in New Britain. For a while he worked at a White Tower restaurant. Then his story became typical of what many young men living in the U.S. were experiencing. By 1940, at eighteen, he was working in shipyards in New London, Connecticut, with his cousin Fernand Aubut whom he had convinced to join him. With the prospect of a world war growing in Europe, government shipbuilding contracts proliferated and shipyard jobs were plentiful. The next year, from Connecticut, he and Fernand went to work in a shipyard in northern New Jersey, earning “good money.”

He would travel back home by car with people from Maine or ride the train. During his visits, he would ask Lucille, the girl next door, to go skating or to accompany him to a movie. Over time, when Albert was back in Lewiston, the Ledouxs began inviting her to their family gatherings, and in this way, my mother got to know my father’s family.

My father and Fernand were in northern New Jersey when Pearl Harbor was savagely attacked, and my father told me that after hearing the news in mid-afternoon, soon after it had transpired in what was early morning in Hawaii, he and Fernand understood it was only a matter of time before they would be drafted. In the fall of 1942, he returned to Maine and worked briefly at the New England Shipyard in South Portland. Preemptively, on October 9, aged twenty, my father enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was sent to Fort Keesler in Biloxi, Mississippi, for basic training. Afterwards he learned to be a propeller mechanic. Although he served in the Pacific, he was never in combat.⁷

By 1944, my parents knew my father would be shipped to one of the fronts, but they did not know when or precisely where. Information on the men’s next assignments was kept top secret: “loose lips sink ships” as the warning had it. My parents had been seeing each other, by then, for a number of years and had come to an agreement that they would marry one day. There was no marriage proposal, according to my mother, just an understanding about the next step in the relationship. One day in early August, my father placed a long-distance call to her—in those days one did not simply call but had to “place a call” through an operator. He told her he was slated for a furlough over Labor Day weekend. Since he had no idea if this might be his last stateside furlough, oughtn’t they to marry then? She agreed, and they set a wedding date several weeks in the future—September 4, 1944.

My father was stationed at the Syracuse (NY) Army Air Base, and my mother returned with him on the evening of September 4. The overnight train trip and a few nights in a downtown hotel amounted to their honeymoon. They were not to be together for long because, in six weeks, he was reassigned to a base in Washington State, from which he expected to be sent overseas. It was a worrisome time for my parents who, as was true of so many other couples, did not know if their leave-taking would be the last time they would ever see each other. Many military men were being killed. My mother returned to Lewiston, pregnant, to live at her parents’ where she shared a room with her sisters, Gertrude and Thérèse, as she had before marrying.

My father was sent to Australia and later to the Philippines and Japan. My mother worked for a while on the second shift at the Hill Mill to support herself and help her parents out. After Bill was born on June 4, 1945, my mother continued to live with her family and to work. Her infant son and his crib were now added to the small room in which she slept with my two aunts.

My grandfather Verreault, my mother remembered, was listening to the radio on Tuesday, August 15, 1945, when he heard of Japan’s surrender. Pépère, who was holding Bill in his arms, began doing a little dance. “Your papa will be coming home soon, ‘tit gars,” he repeated joyfully as the “little guy” slept on.

After fourteen months away, my father came home just before Christmas 1945. “We went to the bus station to pick him up,” my mother reminisced, “and he was not on the bus he had written me he would be on. We went home and came back in late afternoon for the next bus from Boston. He was on that one. There was no crowd to welcome him as we sometimes saw on newsreels. It was just us. He and the few other men who were with him met their families, and we went home. That was it.”

How strange it must have been for my father who had lived in barracks and eaten in large mess halls for three years to find himself in a home with little rooms and to be with a wife and a six-month-old son.

My parents took up housekeeping on the second floor of his parents’ house. My mother had lived as a single parent, the lone decision maker—if you factor in that she was hardly alone with the number of siblings who surrounded her. I can therefore imagine my parents’ life together in late 1945 and early 1946 must have been a challenging adjustment. They both had to resume their lives as a couple, and my father had to initiate being a father to a baby. My mother was a careful housekeeper by nature and by the training she had received from her mother. My mémère Verreault was a fastidiously clean and orderly woman who believed in resolving clutter right away before dust could settle on it and in maintaining simplicity. Hers was not a house of bric-a-brac, flowering plants, and tables full of photos set on doilies she had crocheted. That house was my grandmother Ledoux’s, and it was to that house that my mother moved after my father returned from wartime service in December 1945.

My mother thrived on having everything in a designated place, and she believed everything should be in that very place because she was sure that was the best location for it. My mother did not seem to struggle with picking up and putting away, with sweeping and dusting, with spring and fall cleaning. I believe she felt the rightness of this. Her mother-in-law, however, believed in moving on to the next task even before what she had been involved in was finished and certainly before the pieces that she had gathered to undertake the previous task were put away, as my mother would assert, in “their proper place.”

Could we call my mémère a woman ahead of her time to whom we might attribute the 1970s adage that “a clean house is a sign of a life misspent?”

After several weeks of rest over the 1945 holidays, my father commenced employment at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. A company bus traveled the thirty miles from Lewiston, every day, to the plant. The bus picked up passengers along the way until it was packed. One imagines the men sleepy in the morning, yawning, eyes closed, and, in the evening, tired and dirty and being disgorged at drop-off points along the route.

My young father did not particularly enjoy working at BIW, but he stuck to it. I believe that is where my father was still working when I was born in January 1947, a year after he came back from the war. He had a strong ethic of being a "good worker." He and his family—in fact, all of Franco-America—had a word for this: they called a hard, conscientious worker vaillant. A person who was vaillant was not only hard working, but he sought how to do the work even better. He would do the extra task, the task that had not been asked of him but could be inferred from the assignment, but vaillant is not to be confused with ambitious. Most of my people were vaillants at their jobs but not particularly ambitious for themselves.

Vaillance seems to have been a cultural trait grown over the generations of surviving as a conquered people, of men and women eager to prove their worth but not inclined to “rock the boat,” knowing that advancement in the Anglophone hierarchy of Canada was limited.

My uncle Robert Verreault, with whom my father had played as a boy, seems an exception. He was not only as vaillant as his family and friends, but he was ambitious. My uncle had always wanted to be a businessman and, having learned to be a machinist, decided that a machine shop would serve as his vehicle to significant income. After the war, he had rented a garage downtown on Lewiston’s Blake Street, and he had set himself up as a machinist who was growing a business. Following the accepted custom of the time, Robert lived with his parents, sharing a room with his younger brothers, until he married in 1952 at twenty-nine.

My father, on the other hand, when he returned from the war, had taken a job that would help pay the bills, not a job that was focused on success that would accrue to him. Unlike Robert, he did not seem to have had a sense of what he might do to make a promising tomorrow happen. His father could have gotten him employed at the Bates Mill, but my father did not want to be a mill operative as his parents still were, as most of his aunts and uncles were, as his sister Rhéa and her husband Maurice Lavigne were. So, every day, he traveled to Bath, to a job that paid well enough, paid more than did the mills, but which he did not enjoy.

We were now four people in the upstairs rooms. While my grandparents slept on another floor, my inevitable nighttime wailing and howling—and my brother must have joined the ruckus regularly—must have both pierced through the floor and traveled down the stairs—especially as I grew older and my voice strengthened. Both of my grandparents—my grandfather was fifty-seven, and my grandmother, sixty-three—still worked at the sprawling Bates Mill complex downtown on Canal Street, and so they must have had some concern about getting enough sleep.

My grandfather’s foreman position held a certain status in the community. While the mill had created a personnel department some fifteen or twenty years previously, my grandfather still had discretion in hiring temporary workers—and certainly in recommending employment. By this time, my grandmother was a spare hand who would fill in for a sick person or perhaps for a pregnant woman who wanted her job back after her baby was born. Mémère had worked full time earlier, but by the mid-forties, she was not doing so. Her earlier employment in numerous areas of the mill enabled her to replace various operatives.

My pépère Verreault was a plumber at Dulac and Sons, a small heating and plumbing company on Lisbon Street—the main artery in downtown Lewiston. While he had not been laid off during the Depression, he had had to accept a significant drop in income. Dulac and Sons, as the name suggests, was a family-run business, and my grandfather, whose mother was a Dulac, was a nephew and a cousin. With the Depression, all the workers took a cut in salary—including the Dulacs themselves. In 1930 or 1931, my grandfather’s weekly pay shrank from $36 to $25, but the family’s expenses did not shrink. The Verreault side of my family—with seven children in 1930 and 12 by 1939—were hard hit by the Depression—although, as my mother pointed out, they always had enough food due to their large gardens and animals—the pig, who was fed on food scraps, provided meat, and the goat was milked.

While it seemed to have been a normative experience of Francos of my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations to go from living on farms to being working-class people—a proletariat—my own grandfathers had not come from farms. Both of my grandfathers had grown up in cities—my grandfather Verreault in a small city, Thetford Mines, Québec; and my grandfather Ledoux in huge Montréal and medium-sized Fall River, Massachusetts. My great-grandfathers on the Verreault side had had jobs with the asbestos mines in Thetford Mines—one (Eugène Verreault) was a mine foreman, and the other (Odias Lessard), a painter on the maintenance staff of one of the mine companies. (The mines all carried English names—the King, the Robertson and the Smith Mines among others—and they extracted profits from the labor of a Francophone population.) On the Ledoux side, Georges had been a blacksmith first in Montréal and then in Fall River. Subsequently, as I have been told was typical of many blacksmiths in the early twentieth century, he retooled himself into a car mechanic.⁸ My grandmother Ledoux’s parents, Thomas Bilodeau and Aurélie Gagné, had a different—and more typical—work history. They were a farm couple who found themselves working in large, brick textile mills⁹ in Fall River, Massachusetts, by the late 1890s.

I cannot leave my young parents on the second floor of the house at 49 Farwell without sharing a bit more about their community’s relationship to education. My grandparents’ level of education was lower than was normative of their peers in New England. Why was this?

It is generally true the Canadiens of my parents’, and especially of my grandparents’, generation had not esteemed education. In fact, through no choice of her own, my grandmother had never been to school, not even for a single day.¹⁰

As we seek to understand a community, it is enlightening to look into the history it has lived. In our past in Canada, if we go back to 1760, the year of the Conquest, education came to be seen by the Catholic Church as the domain of the English, a way to turn Canadien girls and boys into Protestants. Perhaps rightly so—to an extent. After the Conquest, money¹¹ in Québec¹² spoke English as it continued to do after confederation in 1867. After that political milestone, the Catholic Church fought against the establishment of a provincial department of education, fearing the secularizing dangers of a government-run system—especially one subject to the political influence of Anglophones. What resulted was a hybrid educational system that was religiously based—or, as was said in Canada, “confessional.” In exchange for control of schooling in a Catholic branch of the system, the Church had agreed the taxpayers’ dollars should go to the confessional school of the taxpayers’ designation rather than to school systems according to the numbers of enrollment.Imagine an Anglophone landlord who owned fifty apartments in Montréal. Those apartments were inhabited by Francophone families who may have had on average—for the sake of this calculation—five children each of school age. Now the Anglophone landlord has—again for this hypothetical calculation—three school-age children. This Anglophone landlord decides to direct the tax money paid on fifty apartments, peopled by two-hundred-and-fifty Francophone children, to the English system rather than to the French. It does not take much hard thinking, nor does it strain one’s imagination, to realize that the Anglophone Protestant school of the landlord’s choice would receive a generous education subsidy thanks to Francophone taxpayer money (via rents)—resulting in more and better textbooks, smaller class sizes, better trained teachers, superior equipment of every kind whether musical, scientific, or other. The Francophone Catholic system staffed by religious personnel, on the other hand, would suffer the effects of serious underfunding with resources applied as best as possible to a massively larger population.

The Francophone system was also deficient as it was a primary system with its secondary component seriously limited and the university level almost completely absent.

This was the culture of educational poverty my parents’ people brought with them to Maine. It was the culture that shaped my grandparents’ thinking.¹³ My father, almost certainly not knowing any of these historical details, seeing the economic environment which had afforded my grandfather Ledoux—with the help of my grandmother—a house, a car and savings, was perhaps confident he could achieve the same. But, did he appreciate—or even realize—the textile mills that had been an economic mainstay to my Ledoux grandparents were in decline—as they had been for the previous twenty years? In the next twenty years (fortunately my grandfather was retired by then), the mills would close one after the other, leaving the canals along which they had been built an anachronism in Lewiston as in so many other New England cities where Francos had staked their futures.

As the mills relocated first to the South of the U.S. and then in foreign countries, men, such as my father, were thus destined—even if they did not work in the mills—to hustle for their livelihoods in a downward local economy, and many would live lives of relative poverty. My mother, too, was a relatively uneducated woman. Unlike my father whose parents, she pointed out, could have afforded to keep him in school, she remembered bitterly that when she was sixteen, her parents had preferred the economic relief her small weekly salary had provided the family to her education, which she had abandoned in her junior year at Lewiston High School. They had not encouraged her to persevere for the last year and a half remaining between her and a high school diploma.¹⁴

At the time they were starting their family, my mother told me, my parents promised each other that they would counter the lack of appreciation for education of their own pasts and do their best to support and encourage their children to graduate from high school. This commitment to their children's education even before they had children was an important decision my parents made about shaping the future of their family.¹⁵ One might also say it was an indictment they were making about their pasts.

For both of them, their limited educations would eventually prove to be a source of pain.


[1] My mother thought this to be an interesting and satisfying factoid when she told me about it and so I include it here. Reader, please excuse this indulgence.

[2] Founded in 1881, Le Messager [The Messenger] was one of six French-language newspapers to be published over the span of eighty years in Lewiston.

[3] I have always appreciated that I was named after a union organizer.

[4] The church was then housed in a building to the right of the present church whose basement, that was to house religious services for years, had yet to be built and whose upper church would not be completed until 1959.

[5] My grandmother had always worked—perhaps from the time her family had come down from Saint-Narcisse in the Beauce, Québec, to the Fall River, Massachusetts, area in the late 1890s when she was an adolescent.

[6] This tolerance was built into the Act of Quebec of 1774 which established a civil government under British dominance.

[7] A more complete presentation of my father’s story is to be found in my mother’s memoir We Were Not Spoiled.

[8] According to my father’s cousin, Alma Ledoux Huard, Georges ran a gas station on the road leading into Fall River, Massachusetts—“His garage was the first building in Fall River after you left New Bedford.” He died in 1920, according to my father, from tetanus acquired when he jumped a rusty, barbed-wire fence to escape a bull. I was told he had been berry picking. He was born in 1862 in Ste-Cecile-de-Milton.

[9] The Bilodeaus started in the mills at a time when mill electrification was not common but also not unknown. If their mill was not electrified, oil and gas lamps were strictly limited because the cotton fibers were so flammable. The Bilodeaus would have worked as long as the day provided light. It was only with electrification that the three-shift system was introduced.

[10] Ironically, the Bilodeaus lived on a farm that was next to that of a superintendent of schools for the area, a Monsieur Paget (or Pagé). I never saw the name in writing and so cannot attest to its spelling.

[11] In the Canadien novel Maria Chapelaine (1913) by Louis Hémon, the narrator bemoans, “Among us, strangers have come…they took almost everything! They have gotten almost all the money!”

[12] The English created the province in 1791 by dividing Canada jurisdictionally into Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Québec).

[13] In the years when Franco-Americans were no longer in Québec, much change in education was effected there, but one must keep in mind that, in the mid 1950s, the average level of education was roughly the fourth grade, and as much as a quarter of the population was functionally illiterate. (My Ledoux mémère fit this description.) By the early 1970s, after a dynamic decade of addressing educational deficits, Québec had approached the educational levels of other political territories in North America. By then, too, my siblings and I were surpassing the educational deficits of our backgrounds.

[14] This relatively greater formal education on the female side of a couple was typical as far back as seventeenth-century Canada where more women were able to sign their names to contracts than men were. My Verreault grandparents had not forced my mother to quit school as was the case of so many young Francos, but they had certainly not created a home environment where paying work was to be delayed in favor of education.

[15] Of course, by the time we Ledoux siblings were growing up, much of the world had been transformed. Society required a higher educational level of its citizens, and therefore the school systems had expanded. Compulsory education had been extended to sixteen-year-olds almost everywhere and entry-level job expectations had also grown.