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?