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.


Sue Lebel Young said...

When I was young, Memere, in her big overstuffed red leather rocker with antique brass studs, sat with me in the corner of her living room. Spaciousness surrounded us, as we looked out the picture window to the open Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes we sang in French. Usually, we sang the same words in English, repetitively, melodically:

Oh, the pretty baaaaa….be
Oh the pretty baaaaa…
Oh, the pretty baaaaa….be
Oh the pretty baaaaa…

Her foot pushed on the floor to make the rockers go with every other syllable. “OH, the PRETty BAAAAA….be.” Sometimes the chair alone and its rocking provided comfort. While I sat there, lots happened at Memere’s cottage. Having just made her first Holy Communion, Diane arrived one Sunday noon at Memere’s. Diane was wearing lace ankle socks, black patent leather shoes, and the little white lacy dress I had worn the year before. It was delicate and pretty, but grass-stained now from a fall, which resulted in several tan Band-Aids up and down Diane’s leg. Even as Memere, Pauline and Lorraine surrounded her, Diane’s eyes were red. She was crying. I felt for her, too. And I rocked in that rocker at Kinney Shores.

Pepere came home from the hospital once while I was visiting. His usual self, he was laughing, telling jokes, eating Spanish Peanuts. He had undergone some surgery, which I did not understand; something to do with this prostate, I think. I could tell he was my Pepere from his loud voice and his joking. "Keep your plumbing in order", he teased. But he did not look like my Pepere. He was even thinner than his usual wiry self. His color was white. Although Memere was taking care of his every need, I was scared for his health. And I rocked.

Lavinia Grace Gilbert Schwarz said...

I'm in love with these folks.

Susan Lebel Young said...

Explanation of longevity>!?...
Aunt Jo and Memere did not eat much-three meals a day, rarely anything in between. And very regimented in terms of times. Small portions. They did like meat and sweets--usually both at every meal, but very small portions. Funny--- Memere had the same thing for breakfast every day. A cup of black regular coffee. A bowl of Cheerios, with milk, 1/4 of a doughnut and a banana. She would make a doughnut last 4 days.

Roland Albert said...

Mother's longevity was mostly due to her positive attitude towards all the events (good or bad) that she dealt with during her long life.

Brian Siulinski said...

When I was staying with Memere and Pepere, I was playing on the beach by myself one summer day. I happened to get a hold of a book of matches. Since Pepere smoked cigars and Mom and Dad smoked cigarettes, I had watched each of them many times light a match. At that time I knew my time had come to play with fire. I lit a match and burned my fingers. I had no choice but to go into the house and tell Memere. She promptly put butter on my burn. That was the common thing to do in those days, but we all know today this is not good. It actually makes the burn worse. Anyway, needless to say, I vowed never to light a match again. I think that lasted to my teenage years. That is a whole other story; we won’t go there now.

Diane Bell said...

As far as memories of Memere goes, there are so many vague but nice Memories. Having been my only grandmother, she was a good one to have, that's for sure!:) I LOVED spending time at the beach. Some of us would get to spend what I remember to be a week in the summer and I think Nancy and I got to stay together and probably Nedra & I did too. I remember Memere "washing us up" in the bathroom getting us ready for bed. Sometimes she gave us a bath in the tub. Other times, she'd sit us on the closed-lid toilet and fill the sink with hot water and Ivory soap and "SCRUB" from our faces to our toes including arms, hands, legs and for some reason I remember the knees being the dirtiest....she scrubbed so hard it hurt! :) Probably not really, but she was kind of rough I think. Isn't it funny, but I don't have any memories of time spent visiting M&P during the winter. Our parents must have still gone there to visit on Sundays, even in the wintertime? Humm?? I also remember the big chair that Sue talked about, in the corner of the room with the windows on both sides, so you could see down the beach towards OOB and out to the front yard/beach. I mostly have a memory of Nedra sitting in that chair. I do not remember the 1st Holy Communion day that Sue talked about...that was funny about how I must have ruined her communion dress!?! I also have memories of that song that she probably sang at one time or another to all of her grandkids! "Oh the pretty baby"! :) I remember Memere was really a good cook and I loved her Mashed potatoes. I don't know what she did to them but they were the best! Then there was Memere's tomato soup she could make from nothing. I know Missy and Claudia can still make "Memere's soup" - its delicious! I also remember Memere serving Pepere a cantaloupe wedge for breakfast on a small plate. Pepere would "carve" out a spoonful. To this day, almost every time I see cantaloupe in the stores, that memory pops into my head!

Susan Lebel Young said...


“Oh, what a….”

I couldn’t see Zac but I could hear him, slowly, oh so slowly, taking breaths at the natural pauses. Before the Oklahoma stage filled with his classmates, with his opening notes, he sang.

“Oh, what a beautiful mornin’.”

Tears flooded my eyes. I held Memere’s hand. At age ninety-eight, she sat hunched over in her auditorium chair. Determined that she should be able to see and hear. Zac had saved two front row seats for us at the all-school matinee. She was dressed in a linen skirt, -she never wore slacks-matching crocheted sweater with a brown and pink beaded necklace. With that coy little-girl grin of hers, she whispered, “I've waited a long time to see Zac have a lead role. I've always wanted to hear him make music. Even though I can't hear well, I must listen to Zac sing his songs.”

I said, “Memere, I have to warn you. The instant he steps on stage, I cry.”

She looked straight into my eyes, gripped my fingers, and winked at me, “Well, I never cry. I try to be strong. But maybe I’ll cry with you today.”

Out of the dark came his resonant voice and we squeezed each other’s hands. Even in her deafness, she perceived that special sound, “That’s Zac, isn’t it?”

Zac strolled from the blackened rear of the Waynflete theater.

“Oh what a beautiful day.”

Squinting, we could barely recognize his gold plaid cowboy shirt with the red, white and black bandana tied around his neck. The click of his cowboy boots, bought last-minute at Goodwill, kept the beat.

“I’ve got a beautiful feelin’.”

Now Memere and I sat solidly in our seats, weight settled down more comfortably.

“Everything‘s goin’ my way.”

And we both cried!