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Starting Out On My Life

The following is an excerpt from We Were not Spoiled by Lucille Ledoux as told to Denis Ledoux.

When I remember the next years of my life, I keep wishing I had stayed in school. I was 16 and I had no preparation to do any work. I was too young to marry, and my parents could not afford to have me stay at home. My mother took care of most of the housework, and my parents needed my salary more than they needed me to help her full-time at housekeeping. My mother had never worked outside the home except for a brief period at the Hôtel Lessard in Thetford, but in Lewiston, I knew many women[1] who worked outside the home. Mrs. Ledoux, across Warren Avenue from us, and her sisters continued to work in the mills. Mr. Ledoux was foreman of Weave Room #5. In those days, when you wanted a job you went to a foreman and asked him to hire you when he had an opening. In that way, Mr. Ledoux had hired many members of his wife’s family.

At the time, there were jobs as substitute workers in the shoe shops and the mills. You could go to the office and ask if they needed someone to fill a function the next day or for that week. Perhaps someone was out sick or perhaps an order had fallen behind schedule and the company needed extra help. In the shoe shops, these jobs usually involved piece work, and the shoe shops which were operated around piece work were the best places for high school dropouts like me to get hired as a temporary.

I went from job to job. During this time I would hand my pay over to my parents and they would let me have some spending money. Robert did the same thing. It was just the way it was. But, Marcel somehow got out of this. He always found reasons to keep the money he had earned. We used to call him the chien doré, the golden dog (the pet dog).

I was regularly employed as a substitute at Cushman Shoe in Auburn. The shoe shop was in a brick building on Court Street where Denny’s Restaurant is now. Several mornings a week, instead of going to school, I now took the bus at the stop in front of 47 Farwell, went down Warren Avenue, drove through the downtown, crossed the Androscoggin, and rode up Court Street until the bus reached the shoe shop. There I would file out with the many other workers who had boarded the bus along the way. The work did not require any specific training which is why I got it. You could start one day and, in a very short time, you would be doing the work as well as someone who had been there a long time. I did not enjoy working at Cushman Shoe but I continued to do piece work both at the shoe shops and in the textile mills as it was available.

On those days when I did not get work, I stayed home and helped my mother with the housework and with childcare. (Today I think: I should have been at the high school earning my high school diploma.) My mother was pregnant in 1937. We had seen her pregnant so many times that we did not think much of it. She continued to do housework for all of us. In the mornings, when Robert and I left for work, she had our lunches bagged and waiting. Before leaving, we did not make our beds—it was something she said she would do. She gave birth to her eleventh child, Roger, on December 11, 1937. My mother was so busy that she appreciated help with the children. Now there was another brother to take care of. Whenever I was not working, I was often minding Richard and Roger as I gave my mother a hand with the housework. I was like a mother to them.

 


[1] Of course, I had also known the Franco-American women who had taught me in high school, but they had not been role models for me. They were in some other category that I didn’t seem to belong in.

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