I was one of those fortunate children to have known well both sets of grandparents. My Ledoux grandparents lived upstairs for most of my growing up while by Verreault grandparents lived 10 miles away. (My children did not know their grandfathers and my grandchildren do not know their grandmothers.)
My grandmother Marie Bilodeau Ledoux was the first to leave us. That was 50 years ago today November 23, 1964.) I published a story in these pages about her birth on the occasion of my grandmother’s 130th birthday.
The following story is drawn from a booklet I wrote in 2001. It tells about le bonhomme Sept-heures who was also the bane of my childhood.
Growing up in the little house at the end of the rang Saint- Noël, helping her mother Aurélie in the lathe-paneled kitchen, Marie absorbed the lessons her mother imparted about how to clean and sew and cook. Every year or so, there was a new baby in the crib that was placed next to the wood stove, every year another child who was made to climb the stairs to sleep upstairs with her and her sisters.
Marie knew that le Bonhomme Sept-Heures (the Seven O’clock Man) snatched children up if they weren’t in bed by seven o’clock. “Endormez-vous,” Aurélie would shout up to her chatting girls in the bedrooms upstairs. “If you don’t le Bonhomme Sept-Heures will find you awake when he makes his rounds.” In the summer, or when the children got older and naturally went to bed later, the Bonhomme Sept-Heures somehow transformed into le Bonhomme Huit-Heures (the Eight-O’clock Man). This French Canadian bogey man ironically was not a Canadien at all! He was an Anglais (an Englishman) who had come into their mythology with the Conquest in 1760.
In Canada, there were few doctors. An itinerant healer, the bone setter, filled the doctor function. In the days before painkillers, the bone setter was naturally associated with the excruciating pain of having a bone set in place.
After the Conquest, the bonesetter was likely to be an Anglais. People called him le Bonhomme Bonesetter. (Bonhomme is an Old French equivalent of the Old English Goodman.) For people who did not speak English, the passage from le Bonhomme Bone-setter to le Bonhomme Sept-Heures was a phonetically easy one. In this land where the Anglais was the bad guy, it was simple enough for one of them to become the bogeymen.
Even with the impending visit of le Bonhomme Sept-Heures did the girls perhaps continue to giggle for a few moments after their mother had shouted up, before their father Thomas, in his turn, warned them from downstairs, “Les filles, it’s time to be quiet. I think I see le Bonhomme Sept-Heures in the yard.”
The girls settled down. Le Bonhomme Sept-Heures in the yard was serious!
This house that was Marie’s first home, the place of her earliest and fondest memories, had been built by her papa in the French Empire style, popular then in Québec, and it faced the yard, with its side to the rang Saint-Noël that led into the village of Saint-Narcisse about a mile and a half away. The house is not big, perhaps 30′ x 30′. (Where the primary barn stood, I don’t know. My guess is that it stood at the end of the entry drive, not far from the house.)
I hope you have enjoyed this little story I shre with you in commemoration of my grandmother.
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