17 February 2010

Old Pictures That Have A Story To Tell...

"I often think about my grandparents but it seems lately that I have had them pictured in my mind every day.  I suppose it's because of the anniversary of my Grandmother's death, because of Valentine's Day and because I have been watching the Olympics being played out in Canada.  Both were immigrants from Quebec...
My grandfather, Alfred Lavigne, was born in Saint-Samuel-de-Gayhurst, in Frontenac, Québec on the 23rd of July in 1912.  (This picture was taken in 1927 when he was about 15 and on the horse in this picture.  His father is holding the bridle.  I love the cars!) 
He was about 17 in this picture.  It was taken in 1929.  Don't you love how dapper he looked?
My grandmother, Simonne Gamache, was born in Saint-Clément, in Rivière-du-Loup, Québec on the 2nd of November in 1912.  They were married on the 12th of October in 1935 in Manchester, New Hampshire.   Both of my grandparents died within 4 months of each other.  My Grandfather on 15 Oct 2004 and my Grandmother on 15 Feb 2005. They had been married for just over 69 years.  They've been gone for over five years now and I still miss them sorely.

I was blessed in the fact that as an adult I had the guidance of their wisdom.  Each in their own way taught me so many things.  They each had an amazing life story to tell.  As many immigrants, they were not wealthy and tragedy had played a large part of both of their lives long before they were married.  They worked hard all their lives.  I am so thankful now that I was able to have long talks with them about their families.  About where they came from and why they came to the United States.

During WWII, my grandmother was a Rosie Riveter at Quonset Point Military Base in Rhode Island.  Grandpa fixed aircraft there for about 7 years, both before and after his enlistment in the Army Air Corps.  He once told me that he worked on such aircraft as the F-1, F-2, F-3, F-4 up to DC and 4 engine propeller planes, including the trainer planes used for pilot instruction.

He was transferred to Keesler Army Air Corps Base in Mississippi where he taught for 2 years on engines and another year on entire planes.  He broke his back in a fall down a flight of stairs and was released from service.  This picture of him in uniform was taken in 1945.

He at one point owned a garage with one of his brothers but eventually he ended up working for the government at AVCO Missiles, Space and Electronics Group in Wilmington, MA where he stayed until he retired.  Well, not exactly retired.  He couldn't sit still and always had to be tinkering with something.  Eventually he started his own business out of his garage fixing, rebuilding and selling lawn mowers and snow blowers.  He would also sharpen the mower blades, scissors and knives.  And if that weren't enough, he had the most wonderful and amazing garden.  

I have many fond memories of that garden.  I once asked him in a letter how he got his strawberries to grow so big and sweet and he wrote me back to say, "As in all things, feed and water your garden with love, attention and care.  Protect your garden by weeding when needed no matter how small or how hard it might be.  Be thankful for the bounty given, no matter how small or how large.  Love, your Grandpa"

My grandmother was a tiny woman and I sure was glad when I grew almost an inch taller than her.  :o)  She was pretty strict but you always knew she had her heart in the right place.  I always knew that she was that way because she loved her family and constantly worried about them.  And man, she was the most amazing cook!  

Her father had been a cabinet maker and in their home he had built for her a second kitchen in the basement out of maple.  It was beautiful as you can see!  He had also made the table that is in this picture.  You can't tell from this picture but you could easily fit 20 at this table!  

Both my grandparents kept their french accents to a large degree even after having lived here for so long.  My grandmother would always throw her pronouns to the end of the sentence.  The most often question in her house was, "Do you want another piece of pie, you?"  Of course this was NOT really a question as she was already putting that piece of pie on your plate.  (Much to my husband's chagrin sometimes.)  :o)

My grandfather seemed to balance her perfectly.  Physically he was a big, bluff man with a quiet way, a big heart and a wonderful sense of humor.  He worked hard all of his life and even breaking his back did not hold him back.  It must have pained him greatly, especially in his later years but he never complained.  He would swim at the YMCA almost every day and to the day he died he had shoulders and arms that always stretched his t-shirt sleeves!  The man was in better shape at 90 than I am at 44!  Heck, probably in better shape than I was at 20!

I didn't find out until after he had died that he had written down his family's story, just like he said he would.  (It was hidden under a drawer in a dining room hutch my mother received as they were cleaning out my grandparent's house.)  

They were living in Florida when my husband and I were stationed about 7 hours south of them.  We drove up there often to visit with them.  We had the most wonderful long talks and I think that they are some of my best memories of them.  I had asked my Grandfather before we were transferred to Guam, if he would write down his and my grandmother's family history.   He told me that he would have to find a typewriter somewhere because his handwriting wasn't so good.  (probably because he was missing parts of a few of his digits... but that story is for another time)  :o)

For his birthday some years later, I gave him a history of his grandfather.  I had done some research into his family and was able to get a copy of my grandfather's baptismal record up in Canada.  It listed his grandfather as his Godfather.  My grandfather didn't know this nor that he had been named after him.  He didn't know his middle name was Ferdinand!  All his life he had signed his name Alfred T. Lavigne.  I was amazed by this.  His mother died while he was still young and I guess his father couldn't remember.  (Probably because on the baptismal record it notes that his father was absent.)

So I dug a little deeper and found that his grandfather had served in the Civil War as a replacement for another gentleman in Vermont.  I ordered his military records and then traced his entire service, day by day, using both his records and the records of the unit he had been in.  

I ordered his grandfather's baptismal, marriage and burial records.  Then I scanned and printed up everything I had on him on thick parchment paper and then put them in a beautiful binder.  I will always remember the way he looked when he saw it and the thanks and love in his eyes when he looked at me.  It is a very precious memory.

I wish I could share everything I now have with my Mother's family, but for some reason things got ugly during the probation of the will.  I had heard of families doing this but I just didn't think it would happen to our family.  My cousins and I were never very close but it was not because I wanted it that way.  My sister refuses to even talk to them or about them and I can understand why.  

But I swore I wouldn't ask or take anything that was my grandparents.  They had already given me small mementos over the years that I had kept.  Even the manuscript my grandfather had written for me and the book I had made for him, I did not ask for although I know they have them.  I am grateful that my Uncle allowed me to scan some of the pictures and the manuscript.  (My mother gave me the manuscript after it was found and because I wanted nothing to do with the ugliness going on, I gave it back to my Uncle.)  My sister and I never told my Mother about the accusations.  She would have been devastated.  She had lost my father and both of her parents within six months of each other.  She had needed the support of her family, not upset.

Besides, nobody can take my memories of them away.  They are precious to me and I hope by gathering all of this, my own family will always know just how special they were.  Rest in peace Grandma and Grandpa.  You are remembered and loved.
QOTD:   To live in hearts we leave behind
                Is not to die.
                           ~Thomas Campbell, Hallowed Ground


  1. You have quite a lot from your grandparents, how wonderful. You may not have everything, but you have so very very much. What you have you can pass on to your own kids. That is a blessing.

  2. Teresa - there are so many times that I find myself wishing I could go back in time and ask some of my ancestors questions. Then I find myself thinking that they wouldn't understand me anyway. I hear myself saying things like, "Just WHAT were you thinking?" (I also have heard quite a few 'interesting' stories about some of them that just make me scratch my head.) Still, it would be interesting all the same. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed learning about your family. You are fortunate to have known your wonderful grandparents so well.

  4. That's wonderful! What a beautiful way to share it. Thanks!

  5. I love old photos like this, and to read the story behind them makes your grandparents come alive. What a beautiful tribute; your love shines through in every sentence.


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