Listening to Parmelie Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

Uncovering The Ladies’ Stories is a lot like taking an early morning beach walk after a high tide. You know lots of other people stepped here before, maybe even hours before, but the seawash of highwater scoured the shore leaving all as discovery. That’s the magic of sleuthing this intertidal zone of personal history off that great ocean of human engagement.

I am reading an old (Spring, 2009) Je Me Souviens (published by the AFGS in Woonsocket RI) as part of this ghost year, this year of listening to the ladies and what stories they want to tell, when I come across Louis Poulin alias Spooner by Al Spooner. I’m in a mode now where I want to read everyone’s stories because something in all of them will connect me to them. It’s like a gluttony for tales that is unsatisfiable. Then, I need to write about this experience, or I’m like a cranky addict in need of a fix.

Spooner is a name that captures my attention because it’s a name associated with Gate 40 of the Quabbin Reservoir in Petersham MA. They are part of the story I tell in Rock & Write workshops. At the ghost of the hillside homesite of “my” Spooners (Ed and Lulu) spreads a rectangular patch beneath slim tree trunks. In late spring, the patch is a bed of abundant blue periwinkle flowers. This spot always draws me to reflect on what it meant to the people of the Swift River Valley to lose their homes to make way for Boston’s water, and what it meant to be on the receiving end of a grand-scale upheaval in the service of the more politically powerful.

I want to see whether Al Spooner’s Louis is connected to the Petersham Spooners. Instead, I find that he is tangentially connected to me.

There in the 4th paragraph Al tells us that he’s looking in the parish registers of St. Simon in St. Hyacinthe county in Quebec. Hmm, that’s interesting. After years of searching for my mother’s paternal grandmother Parmelie Ledoux, I found her family in St. Liboire and St. Simon. Parmelie is, I suspect, one of the ladies yammering in my head.

A few pages later, Al lists the parents and siblings of Louis. Another hmm. Louis’s mother is Seraphine/Agathe Gauthier, which is a name also in my mother’s line, also in St. Hyacinthe, and not so far removed in time. Genevieve Gauthier is Parmelie Ledoux’s great-grandmother.

Louis’s eldest sister is named Marie Delina/Adeline, which is the name of my mother’s mother (who came from Fall River)– with that same quirky equation of Delina with Adeline. Louis’s youngest sister is named Marie Parmelie: Parmelie Poulin, born Jan. 29, 1859 in St. Simon.

My Parmelie was born circa June 30, 1864 and christened at St. Simon. What’s up with the name Parmelie? What was happening in the culture or the families there that this name is selected at this time period? I know it’s only two, but after years of searching for Parmelie’s lines, and a lifetime of being fascinated with that name, the lens of my attention focuses here.

Then comes a kicker: Marie Parmelie Poulin married Magloire Morel, widower of Arzelie or Aurelie Ledoux, on Nov. 25, 1895 in St. Hyacinthe. My Parmelie Ledoux had an aunt named Arzelie Ledoux, (b. 1853) who married Louis Plante Feb. 5, 1877 in St. Simon (St. Hyacinthe). Did Parmelie’s aunt marry a second time to Magloire Morel?

My Parmelie also had an aunt Phelanise Benoit who married Jean-Baptitste Poulin on June 30, 1863 at St. Simon, and an aunt Mary Benoit who married Leon Poulin on Feb. 2, 1864 at St. Simon. And further down the line, my mother’s Uncle Teddy (her father’s only living sibling and Parmelie’s son) married Mary Ann Poulin sometime in the early 20th century. So…the Poulin, Benoit, and Ledoux families are co-mingled in St. Hyacinthe. Where’s Parmelie going with this?

A quick check to Wikipedia for Louis Poulin turns up a…holy cow…Louis Poulin (b. 1785, d. 1849) who represented Saint-Hyacinthe in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada from 1832 to 1834.

He married Marie-Angelique Benoit dit Livernois. If I go up a few generations on the genealogy chart, there’s the dit Livernois/Nivernois in Parmelie’s Benoit line.

Looks like the legislative assembly was dissolved on March 27, 1838 after a rebellion in Canada. Holy cow, part 2…this looks an awful lot like Massachusetts rebellion that led to to formation of the U.S., except that the British overlords won in Canada. Parmelie’s paternal grandparents would have been making babies during this rebellion. Her maternal grandparents were getting married during it. Guess life goes on no matter what else is happening.

Holy cow, part 3…that means that Parmelie’s parents (Ursule Benoit and Levi Ledoux) were children when Surratt was hiding out in their farming community to escape from his part in Lincoln’s assassination.

Parmelie seems to want to say something about war and religion and politics. Maybe, it’s that while destructive events happen all around you, life still asserts itself. Maybe it’s something else, maybe something more.

As with Marie Vigneau and an Acadian story, I am listening.

Resources:

http://www.afgs.org/

American French Geneaological Society

http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-central/quabbin-reservoir.html

Quabin Reservoir

http://www.amazon.com/Historic-Quabbin-Hikes-J-Greene/dp/1884132014)

J. R. Greene’s Historic Quabbin Hikes

http://www.nosorigines.qc.ca/

Canadian genealogy

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Patates Saturday, Aug 31 2013 

For today’s potato blog, we can thank [or curse (: ] the inspiration from my writer pal Aine Greaney. Apparently, not all the ladies are in my head.

Aine wrote a thoughtful post on her blog (http://writerwithadayjob.com/) about the hard-working people we should remember on Labor Day, including her da, who dug a lot of potatoes, and Seamus Heaney, a Noble Laureate poet who wrote about pens and potatoes. (Just look at her blog.)

Which got me thinking about Acadians and potatoes.

In 2010, brother Glenn and I visited Le Pays de la Sagouine (http://www.sagouine.com/) in Bouctouche, New Brunswick. I’d been looking online for something ancestral when up popped Viola Leger’s name and an advert that “for the first time” she would perform La Sagouine by Antonine Maillet in English. Whatever that force is that compels us to do things without our conscious awareness, it took over and I said “I’m going.”

Ms. Leger (http://www.nfb.ca/film/viola_leger_together) was born in Fitchburg MA, about 25 miles from where I live. Perhaps that had something to do with the front and center dinner-theatre table seating we had. Perhaps that was just Acadian hospitality. We were grateful and enthralled. So…

We spent the following day on the Isle of Fleas (where Le Pays is housed), and, though not fluent enough in French to understand all that was said, we had enough language memory to follow the antics of the musicians and actors.

Which brings me back to potatoes. Glenn and I talked about this, so we both think it’s true. There’s a Cajun/Acadian song called “Lâche pas la patate,” which translate literally as “don’t drop the potato.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg61Z4XHrwk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HhOOuYJpu8

One of the performers at Le Pays sang a slant version. We’re fairly sure he said “lâche ma patate” and that the verses were colorful. From what I remember, the song took him around the world dropping potatoes, or whatever they were a stand in for.  Maybe someday we’ll go back and find out.

In the meantime, Lâche pas la patate – don’t give up — seems a pretty good maxim as many of us face the vagaries of the changing workplace.

Aine’s da didn’t, and neither did our Acadian forebears.

Vive la patate! Ne la lache pas.

Paddling My Own Canoe Monday, Aug 19 2013 

At this summer’s writer’s retreat at Craigville (Cape Cod), my distant cousin George Comeaux wanted to know why the blog went dormant. (He’s such a Southern Gentleman. My Northern friends would have just asked “why aren’t you writing?”)

Was I not following ancestor Anne Pastourel as she climbed into a canoe with her infant daughter and headed west from Montreal to the newly built Fort de Troit? What about our Comeau(x)s in Acadie — do we know how the Grand Derangement separated our branches?  And what about Anne’s mysterious mother Marie Leclerc from France, the one I thought to write a novel about, the one I imagined had a crazy mother who made her run through a 17th century forest outside of Paris proper to practice her escape and hide skills? Were are these people?

Still in my head.

During the year I wrote “dailies” (thoughts about where the stories might take me), took research notes, and read histories of French, Acadian, and French Canadian 17th and 18th century people and places. I abandoned the idea of a John Jakes-like set of novels in favor of a Stones and Stories series. “The ladies” as I call the seven women who are emerging as the kernels of these tales stopped “talking” to me last November. I, apparently, had stopped listening to the way they want these stories told. It took this writer’s week for the chatter to resume.

One night, in our own version of the “swig and gab” that a Cape Cod Times reporter claimed was a highlight of the Obamas vacation on Martha’s Vineyard that same week, our pal Judy Mac identified books more akin to what “the ladies” seem to want: Roots (Alex Haley) and Black Beauty (Anna Sewall). Both stories immerse the reader in the lives of the characters and have elite-recorded historical events happening around them. Characters are minimally influencing, but maybe majorly influenced by, world events. Their lives, lives that were silenced but for the spotlights these authors shone, mattered most.

That seems to be what “the ladies” want. As soon as I “got it,” the struggle ended. With that little nudge from Cousin George, the dormancy of this blog ended.

Welcome to my “little canoe.” Join me if you like on this journey to discover the lives and stories of some people who no longer wish to remain silent. Some of that they reveal may even be true.