Tag Archives: Family

Je me souviens – I Remember


It’s almost Thanksgiving again. For me, there is always a tinge of sadness that surrounds that day of giving thanks because my only sibling, my dearest friend, my brother Raymond died the week before Thanksgiving in 1962. It’s been 47 years and I miss him still, as I do my parents and grandparents. They are all gone now and I am the memory keeper.

I love to cook. I come by it naturally since both my grandmother and my mother were known for their cooking skills, I collect cookbooks, preferably old, but among my favorites are those that have been passed down to me through my family. I have several written in French and dating back to the 1800’s. They were among the few things my great-grandmother brought with her when, as a young widow, she emigrated from France with her teenaged daughter and two sons. It was either a very brave thing to do or an act of desperation – I’ll never know which.

Tonight, I was looking though one of the old books for a recipe that was a family tradition during the holidays, Beignets de Carnavals. In the old books, the cooks always made notes and added their own recipies on the blank pages provided for that purpose. What I noticed tonight is that this book had three generations of recipies added in the handwriting of my great-grand, my grand, and my mom. There is a common thread to their handwriting as well as to their words and I can hear their voices with English and French mixing together. I hear the laughter of women in the kitchen, sharing stories and gossiping. I yearn to be with them but I can only observe and I can only remember. 

I am the memory keeper.

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A Temporary Life


Growing up in a military family, life was always temporary, impermanent, and home was where every we happened to be at any given moment. When I gave the eulogy at my mom’s funeral, I said that she was our home. She gave us roots, a sense of permanence, a place to land on our feet and rest without fear or uncertainty.

I learned some valuable life lessons by that existence. I learned to walk into a room of strangers and make a place for myself. I learned that a smile will bring strangers to your side and they will want to be your friend even if their approach is out of nothing more than curiosity. I learned not to become too attached – to anything. That is the only lesson I have allowed myself to cast aside. I learned that you have to rely on yourself first and foremost because, sometimes, that is all you will have. I had to take care of myself, fill my own needs, entertain myself, and find activities that were fulfilling in themselves. Maybe I am a solitary person as an adult because as a child, I had to learn to be.

When I grew up, the thing I wanted most was a permanent home in a small community where I would know everyone and live for 50 or 60 years. I wanted friends with whom I could share memories instead of just pictures of people pasted in an album, their names long forgotten.

I managed to find the home of which I had dreamed only to discover that it too was temporary. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. But, as I slide down the far side of the mountain I struggled so hard to climb, I’ve come to enjoy a life of anonymity with the permanent connections reserved for the few souls who reside in my heart rather than brick and mortar. They are our true home, after all, the only one that really matters.


A Legacy from My Mother


When I was about 13 years old, just coming into womanhood, in a very ceremonial atmosphere, my mother presented me with a carefully typed manuscript which she had prepared on her old Royal typewriter. The document was “The Subjugation of Women” by John Stuart Mills which he wrote in 1861. She had bound it in a red satin ribbon and I knew immediately that it had great importance but at the time, I was too young to fully comprehend that she was telling me that the world would not treat me equally unless I was willing to live my life by my own rules and on my own terms.

My mother was raised in a traditional French family where the husband/father was the definer of their lives. Every decision outside of the household was his to make, without questions. I recall that my grandmother never wore a pair of trousers until after my grandfather had died because he disapproved of women in pants as much as he disapproved of dresses that might reveal any part of his wife’s legs beyond her ankle. So, I grew up seeing my grandmother clad in ankle length dresses with long sleeves, no matter the season nor the work she was doing, housework, mucking the barn, working the garden, or milking the cows.

What was most strange to me was that my grandfather seemed to treat my mother as an equal and I never quite understood the dicotomy. He was a carpenter and taught her to use tools to build what she needed. He was a home builder and taught her to roof a house. Together they built stone walls and layed fencing amd they seemed to work in a comfortable partnership.

My father had come from a poor family of Irish immigrants with a father who drank more than socially and a dour mother of six children. I have no memory of every seeing this grandmother smile or speak softly or gently. She was stern, unforgiving, unloving, and I believe, generally disappointed in her life. I never knew her very well so my thoughts about her are supposition rather than fact.

It doesn’t surprise me that my father was taken with the girl with strawberry blond hair, who was always ready to smile; the girl who would fill the surrounding woods with the sound of her beautiful singing voice and the house with the music of her grand piano.

Because of his military career, our home was often without my dad’s physical presence so fathering as well as mothering was what my mother did and there was nothing she couldn’t do.

When they were together, at the drop of a hat they would dance in the kitchen as frequently as they would discuss politics. She filled his life with music and he filled hers with words. They were best friends and intimate lovers, of that there was not doubt. When she died one Christmas Eve, he lost his will to continue his struggle to live and joined her a few short weeks later. I became an orphan with no one left to share my memories.

When I wrote her obituary, I said she was a feminist before it had a name and a feminist after it became a label. She was the model for the woman I wanted to be and hopefully became. She drew me the blueprint for a good life and as I have tried to follow her plan, I have drawn my own little squiggles in the margins.

I’m drawn to these thoughts today because I was cleaning some old boxes this morning and came across those typewritten pages, still bound with the frayed red ribbon, the legacy from my mother.


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