Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Family Treasures

Three family treasures have already been mentioned in earlier posts: the Wilfrid Genealogy Book from 1948, the Brookfield Clothing Award (a gold statue) won by Pepere around 1960, and the 1990 audio recording of Memere and Aunt Jo.  By family members responding to this post, we can create an inventory of other valued family possessions. Two books in my own library were signed by Wilfrid Albert and passed on to me by Sister Rebecca:
The Poems of Longfellow, signed by Wilfrid on July 16. 1959, and
The Reader's Digest of Books by Helen Rex Keller, signed by Wilfrid in 1941.

Here are some additional family heirlooms:

1. A vase given to Memere as a gift from Wilfrid in the 1940's.

2. Painting by Sister Rebecca

3. A boudoir bench to hold dolls from Pauline's youth.

4. These hand carved statues were owned by Wilfrid Albert. Paul Albert provides some information about them:

One was sculpted in Switzerland from a famous school of sculpture and depicts a farmer representing one of his grandfathers. The other was carved in a famous carving school in Quebec and depicts a fisherman representing his other grandfather.
For family history purposes, the two items of most value by far are the Genealogy book of Wilfrid Albert and the audio recording done by Becky in 1990.  Thank goodness we have a librarian in the family who took an early interest to preserve something like the voices of our elders.  What else do we have out there to enrich our family's legacy!?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reunions and Holidays

Besides the traditional Christian holidays, it seems the most special days for the Alberts were the Valle reunions. We would all meet at Valle's Steak House near the turnpike in Westbrook but I don't remember how often we used to gather. These get-togethers were always fun. Besides good food, we got to see all the cousins together in one place, and everyone seemed to be in good moods!
Today it seems we only get together when someone marries or dies with the exception of the Bernie Girls. Sue explains how the Bernie's Girls got formed (sounds almost like a singing group~!):

When Memere was dying--and in that nursing home at the very end, I told her I would make her a premise that I would keep the Albert cousins together---THEN, I backed up a bit after thinking that might be a bit much, so I said, "Well, at least the girl cousins.  We'll meet every now and then and remember how we all grew up together. We'll call ourselves Bernie's Girls."
     She laughed and said, "That'll be fun. I wish I could be there with you."
    I said, "You will be!"
Albert reunions of the far past included summer trips to Limerick to visit Memere's sister, Marie. I retell the story from talking to Pauline: "We used to go have family reunions at the farm with all my mother’s family and all my cousins. They had a big field where all the food was laid out. Some of the guys played ball, and one time somebody threw an egg at Pepere as a joke but it wasn't received as such."
Christmas was a big holiday growing up. It was certainly more materialistic than it was religious for me. This holiday was the busiest time of year for visitors both family and friends. What about Christmas Eve - always fun huh?  Here's an early Albert Christmas Eve story:  Memere and Pepere went to midnight mass. Pauline spoke to Lorraine, “Has Santa Claus come yet?”  She said, “Well, I don't know, let’s go down and peek.”  So they all went downstairs and found all the presents were there. When Memere and Pepere came home, they found the kids playing with all the unwrapped gifts! Pauline remembers getting a doll carriage that year. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sacred Ground

Last summer, Uncle Roland and I met to talk about family history of the Alberts. The topic of Pepere's business came up, I became very interested in the information that he was sharing with me.  That meeting motivated me to want to write a larger piece about "The Men's Shop".  Next time I am in Maine,  I am hoping I can capture Roland's attention again to get a fuller picture and history of this once great family business.
The image below was taken from the 1924-25 edition of the "Directory of Westbrook" (page 204). It lists the clothing businesses operating at that time. Benoit's is the business where Pepere started working as a fourteen year old boy.

I remember when my brothers and sisters used to visit Pepere at the Men's Shop. It was like we were entering sacred ground. Even though we were kids, he'd always greet us like we were VIP's, and was always happy to see us! There was a time I worked in the backroom folding clothes but I hated it just like Pepere did when he first started working at Benoits. Like him, I preferred to be interacting with people.

When I asked some of my students the other day what their earliest memory was, one girl said she remembered ushering as a little girl at her church. She must have viewed going to church as a special place because of the importance her family placed on its role. We viewed the Men's Shop in the same way - a special place where the magic of selling and cultivating customers was going on.
Pepere was president of the Westbrook Chamber of Commerce for a time and around 1960, he received one of the most distinguished recognitions in the clothing industry - the Brookfield Clothing Award. The article shown here came from one of my mother's scrapbooks. The source is most likely the Westbrook American.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Centenarian Memere

Photo collage by Bruce Siulinski.
Thanks to Becky who had Memere and Aunt Jo sit down in 1990, an extended conversation was recorded for posterity. This recording has allowed me to learn a lot about the early histories of both the Alberts and the Gagnons. Bernadette Alexandra Gagnon was born on March 27, 1902 in St. Malo, Quebec, just over the border of Vermont. She became an Albert on February 11, 1924 when she married Auguste Albert. For a perspective of something else happening in the year of Memere's birth: one of the coolest buildings in New York City, the Flatiron, was completed. The picture below is from Ardent Editions Historic Photographs and was photographed by August Loeffler.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Pepere stopped going to school at an early age and started selling clothes before he became an adult. The same is true of Memere...she stopped going to school at age 13 and began working at the mill when she was 15. She later changed jobs working the counter at a women's clothing store right next door to where Pepere was working and the rest is history!

Memere's parents were both born in Quebec but they met in Westbrook. Families like the Gagnon's and St. Pierre's came to Westbrook to work in the mills. Many underage offspring would go to work at these sites and their paychecks would directly support their families-as was the case with Memere. Osias Gagnon, one of Memere's brothers, actually died at the age of 16 from an accident at the mill.

I remember Memere as being sharp and stout. She had a kind of toughness about her. This quality of resiliency must have contributed to her becoming an a centenarian. She always showed intense care and love for her familly - nothing else was more important to her.
By the example of Memere's long life, it seems the longevity gene exists in the Albert blood. How many of you know that Pepere's sister, Antoinette Gallant, lived to 101 also?  So...what contributes to a long life?  Besides genetic predisposition, one's health habits certainly make a difference. What are your thoughts on what factors influence a long life? Please answer the poll on the upper right of the blog. Also, it would be great to hear of your stories and thoughts about Memere.
Pauline, Memere and Roland
100th Birthday Party and Reunion in Portland, ME in 2002.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wilfrid - Brother and Priest

Last summer I visited and joined the Westbrook Historical Society located on the 2nd floor of the American Legion Hall on Dunn Street. I only spent a few hours in the society room but surely there are other family finds I have yet to discover there.  Diane and Byron Dyer helped me search the files for any records from my family lines who lived in Westbrook: Albert and Gagnon. About a month ago, I decided to check out the WHS web site and was amazed to find an early picture of Pepere's brother, Wilfrid. I immediately recognized that Albert face. It was the society's highlighted photo of the month-a graduation picture of the 8th grade class from St. Hyacinth School circa 1918. Check out the photo archives on the Westbrook's Historical Society's web site and you will see other neat pictures from Westbrook's past. The pictures come with explanations on such institutions as the Haskell Silk Mill, the Westbrook Fire Department in the 1800's, a comprehensive look at the Westbrook School buildings and how many of you remember the Star Movie Theater on Main Street!? Feel free to share what you remember about growing up in Westbrook. The archive photos may stir up some memories.
This picture of the class of 1918 is in the photo album ‘Graduations, St. Hyacinth School, 1899 – 1963’ courtesy of Westbrook Historical Society, Westbrook, Maine. Pictured: Wilfrid Albert, Agnés Moreau, Marie-Antoinette Giboin, Léo Fortin, Albanie Carignan, Eva Bergeron.

Back to the Albert family...
did you know that Pepere was named after his uncle (his father's  brother was named Auguste) and that he was the middle child of five kids?  Wilfrid was a couple of years younger than Pepere and became a priest at a young age. He actually married my parents on June 16, 1952. One of the Albert family treasures is a genealogy book, "Genealogy of Joseph-Wilfrid Albert - Priest", written in 1948 by Gabriel Drouin of the Drouin Institute in Montreal. The book is held in the special care of his nephew, Roland Albert, in Westbrook, Maine. On a later date, I will provide a detailed look at this book. What memories either real or told-about do you have of Wilfrid?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beach Memories

Most every Albert family member has distinct beach memories from many Sunday visits to Kinney Shores, Old Orchard Beach in Maine. Vicki described some of her memories when she commented on my last post:   "The slightly damp musty smell of the garage under the house with it's shower, workbench and shelves of pickles. The smell of the petunias over flowing the front window boxes by the stairs. The smell of the salt. Also the gritty feel of the sand as you descended the stairs to the beach". I do not currently have a picture of the beach house but I did find two pictures of Memere and Pepere on the beach shown below. The black and white picture may have been taken before they started their family. Here's a lesson: always date your pictures. Unfortunately, most of the pictures I have already collected for family history are undated.
Memere and Pepere ran a tight ship at the beach. Their primarily traditional roles were clearly defined. Memere took care of the cleaning and cooking and Pepere did the handy work mostly outside and in the cellar.  Who can forget Memere's warm tomato soup on a chilly day by the ocean? Another tight memory is Pepere's stash: a ready supply of bottled sodas in racks stored in the basement much to the delight of his constantly visiting grand kids. It's hard to imagine Memere and Pepere ever spending time alone because they so much loved their extended family.  
What are your beach stories from days gone by at Kinney Shores?  
NOTE:  If you have any pictures taken outside on the lawn from our many Sunday afternoon family get-togethers, please send them to me. Also, I am still looking for any pictures of Pepere's parents.  This blog is a great way to share memories but it's also a way to gather missing pictures. If I get enough pictures related to specific blog posts, I will post a link so they can be viewed from the blog.  Pictures can be sent (preferably in JPG format) directly to my email which is shown on my complete profile. Thanks to Diane for sharing her beach pictures.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Meaning of Grandfathers

Pepere and Family at the beach

Talking about one's grandfather can be a fun exercise. What did Pepere mean to you? To me, he was the kind of person who I greatly admired as the patriarch of the family but I most liked him because he had a down-to-earth quality. I remember he took his work very seriously and always looked and acted professional yet at home on the weekends, he was as casual as the average Joe. I have this image of him walking around the beachhouse in shorts and a tee shirt snacking on peanuts with the Red Sox playing in the background. In both personas (business and personal), the quality I admired the most about him was he'd always make the people around him feel important. He was never self-absorbed. Maybe this one quality most explains why he attained the high level of success and respect that he did. I couldn't end this post without sharing a letter he wrote to me when I was around the age of twelve. I kept it all these years as sort of a testament of his personality and as a great example of how important he made me feel. The scan quality is low so I have translated it below.

Hi Craig,
You must be pretty special for Pepere to write to you because Memere usually does all the writing. But you had  such a good report card that I just had to congratulate you and also to send you $1.00. If you keep on getting good ranks all the time, you will probably be President of the United States when you get out of college. Pepere and Memere are very proud of you - keep up the good work.
PS I'm also enclosing $1.00 for Paula. She had a very good report card too.
-Pepere and Memere

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Auguste 'Gus' Albert (1900-1982)

There has been no figure as respected and loved in my family than my grandfather, affectionately known as "Pepere". He was not only loved by his family but also by the community he created as the owner of a clothing store in Westbrook, Maine. He seems to have been born as a natural business man. Soon after his mother died at the age of eleven, he was knocking on the doors of local businesses on Main Street asking them if they needed any help. His mother's death forged a sense of independence and probably spurned a desire for connections with other people. During these early interactions with local businesses, he must have presented himself in a kind, genuine manner with an intense sociability which certainly carried into his adult life.  He was hired as a child to work as a clerk at Benoits which was a large clothing store at the time.  About ten years later in 1923, he and two other friends opened up their own store called The Men's Shop.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


         Adam and Ouida Siulinski
My name is Craig Adam Siulinski. I am named after my paternal grandfather whose parents emigrated from Poland around 1900. I have a lot of work to do in order to locate the Polish town where Adam’s parents (Albert and Bessie) came from. It will most likely require a visit to upstate New York to search the repositories in the area of Schenectady which is the town where my grandfather grew up. Adam moved to Portland, Maine in the late 20’s and met the woman to be his wife named Ouida Dykeman recently transplanted from New Brunswick, Canada. It was here they raised their family and this is the area I am from. My birthplace was Westbrook, Maine located ten miles from Portland.

Today I live in Oakland, California – a much diversified suburban area of San Francisco. I am lucky enough to live down the street from a great resource for genealogy, the California Genealogical Society. Besides research and education, this organization is invaluable for the networking that occurs with other members. My genealogical research began in 2007 when I attended a monthly genealogy meeting in the complex where my brother lives in Brevard, North Carolina. Thanks to Carl, Ann, Ken and Richard for sparking my initial excitement in genealogy!