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A Maine Franco Memoir: My Sister Gertrude Almost Gets Spoiled

An excerpt from We Were not Spoiled by Lucille Ledoux as told to Denis Ledoux.

While our family was already large by today’s standards—there were already 6 kids, it was to grow even larger. In the spring of 1929, my mother was pregnant again and she made arrangements to have the baby in the hospital for the first time. I don’t know if she had some extra money or what, but René was born at St. Mary’s Hospital on June 24—Saint-Jean-Batiste [1]Day. In the next months, she developed mastitis. She believed she had contracted it when she went to the icebox[2] in the shed and caught “cold to my breast.” When Réné was born, my mother had had three children in thirty months—and had the four older children in 43 months. She was only 31, but her pregnancies and her hard work had drained her completely and she did not have the reserves to bounce back easily from the mastitis. It became so serious she could not do the housework. Her doctor ordered her to bed for a complete rest and warned her, as I was to learn later, not to become pregnant until her health recovered fully. My parents were forced to use their meager income to hire Yvette Couture, a 14-year-old who had lived above us on Shawmut Street, to do house chores and some cooking.

Some of our Verreault aunts—at the time, a number of them were single: Irène, Anaïse, Florianne, Annette, and Claire-Hélène—came down from Thetford Mines, Québec, on the train to help out. For a while, they washed and cooked and cleaned, and then they took Gertrude back with them to Thetford. At the house on rue Smith, these ma tantes doted on their four-year-old niece and gave her whatever she wanted. Back in Lewiston, my convalescing mother had one less pre-school child to take care of.

Had she known that, in Thetford, Gertrude got to stay up late and did not have to go to bed until the aunts did, that Gertrude got to choose what she wanted for her meals, and that Gertrude was the princess of the household, my mother might have been concerned. I can also imagine that Gertrude was also doted on by the other side of the family, the Lessards, who would have wanted this Franco-American granddaughter and niece to visit with them, too. When, after several months, my mother’s health improved, a very changed Gertrude came back home to Maine.

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Of course, she had gotten out of the habit of being one of seven children and had enjoyed being an “only child.” Why couldn’t she have a special dish for supper, she insisted once back home. Why did she have to go to bed so soon? When she did not get what she wanted, she cried. My parents were put out with the aunts and insisted they would never let a child go away like that again. After a while, of course, my parents got Gertrude to settle back into our family’s habits.

 


[1] The national patron saint of Francophone Canadian Catholics.

[2] Ice was delivered several times a week and we kept perishable food in an icebox in the shed. If there were electric refrigerators at the time, we certainly didn’t have one!

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