DL: May 5 marks the anniversary of my mother’s death in 2015 so it is fitting today to commemorate her memory by running an excerpt from her memoir, We Were Not Spoiled. This excerpt is typical in many ways of a Franco-American girl of her generation.
In the fall of 1929, Robert joined me at school, and because he was born in February, he was two years behind me. I entered the first year of third grade. St. Peter’s School had this practice of having all the children repeat the third grade so there was first-year third grade and second-year third grade. I suppose the curriculum must have been different but the name was the same: third grade. Up until the fourth grade, both the boys and the girls attended class together and then they were separated. In those first years, we were taught by lay teachers—young Franco-American girls with not much training. Discipline tended to be strong as we were a fairly large group of students by today’s standards.
In the fourth grade, the girls were taught by the Dominican nuns, and the boys went to a separate part of the building where they were with the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. The schoolyards were also separated with the boys on one side and the girls on the other. My future husband, Albert, was in the grade behind me, but I don’t remember him from then.
Mr. Dionne—my friend Jeannine’s father—worked at the Manufacturer’s Savings Bank. The work he did was so different from my father’s. My father would come home all dirty and need to clean up while Mr. Dionne returned home, across the street, in a clean suit. Most of the men my father knew were men who got their hands very dirty when they went to work so that made Mr. Dionne seem different to me. There were five or six kids in the Dionne family. While I enjoyed playing with Jeannine, I remember that the family was not friendly. Perhaps it was that Mrs. Dionne had a heart problem and was sickly and so had to be careful of extra noise and movement, but I’m not sure of that. I do remember she was never present when we played in the yard.
My friends and I play in the yard
Juliette Lepage and Jeannine Dionne and I played school in the large Dionne yard. We made Robert and Marcel and Gert and the Lepage and Dionne younger brothers and sisters be “students.” We would line them up according to height and make them file around the “classroom” and “school yard.” Gert and Marcel were pretty much little kids and they kept getting away. We devised “clappers” like those the Dominican nuns and the lay women had so that we could signal the kids to be quiet or to move on to another activity. Our teachers would take their wood clappers and hit the sides together to make a crisp signal that the children obeyed. The trouble was, of course, that none of the little kids listened to us.
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I probably organized these games as a way of fulfilling my babysitting duties that, even as a little girl, I was made to do. Franco-American girls were expected to help with the younger children.
An accident that could have been serious
Once, as I was taking care of Normand who was in a carriage, I was trying to play with my friends when the carriage brakes let go. I ran after the carriage and caught it so nothing happened, but my mother scolded me when she found out. Perhaps this sort of accident happened many times because there was always more babysitting to do while my mother was busy and I wanted to play. My attention must have often been divided. This Franco-American girl wanted to play.
No smile on my face
Dr. Morin would say that my mother had not put a smile on my face when she carried me, but I think it was because, as the oldest, I was made to be a too-serious child.
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