Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mama II - History

Mama was more astute than Papa when it came to school. They had both enrolled in night classes to get their citizenship papers. The classes were in English and she had the edge on him when it came to reading English. Of course, she helped him study to get through the necessary examination. When they were awarded their certificates she got a big laugh out of the certificate that Papa received. The name on the certificate read Meji (wrong certificate) and she often told the story that the state said "You want a certificate? My eye!) It is funnier in the telling. There were times when she wanted to get away from the kids. One day she took me to the new Hollywood Theater on Fort Street, just the two of us. The movie was a Shirley Temple with her dancing and singing. I was four years old and Shirley was only slightly older than I was, yet, I saw her as larger than real life. Nobody I knew could do those things. I was pleased that Mama did not say she wanted me to try to that stuff. After we moved to Navy Street she once again took me to the movies. It was at the Capital Theatre on Vernor and Sargent York was showing. I remember being impressed with his religious conviction, not wanting to be swayed by others and always listening to his mama. When I saw the movie many years later I was impressed with his heroism and awards. Mama did like me best and I think all the others felt it. After all, I was her first born. When I was six she took me to Cunningham's Drugstore and bought me a Banana Split, my first one, and I ate it all, delicious. She had a Sundae which I noted cost less than a Banana Split. I was impressed that she gave me more than she had. While I am on me, for many years she made sure that I got a large piece of yellow cake with the chocolate icing. She knew it was my favorite and baked it often. To friends and relatives she was known as "Bete", a name we kids never called her. When we had company over for dinner that is the name that was most often heard. She always received compliments on her cooking and I could tell she enjoyed hearing them. A contrary incident I remember was when Ti Blanc was over and he proclaimed that he did not like carrots. He further stated that he was going to eat them "for penance." After the company had left, I overheard Mama talking to Papa and she was furious. She felt very insulted that her cooking was used for penance. At this time, we kids were eating with the adults ,but as the family got bigger, we kids were fed in the kitchen while the adults ate in the dining room. We ate after the adults. When they entertained my parents were not big on drinks. During the meal it was always water for adults and milk for the kids. Mama did not drink beer or liquor, her drink was tea. During the party portion of the evening Papa would serve Highballs to those that wanted one. It was a rare person that wanted a beer, but he had it if it was requested. Nobody we knew ever drank so much that they were incapicated. Maybe it was the paucity of the offerings. The lack of strong spirits did not in anyway diminish the enthausiam in laughing, singing and story telling. Papa was a good singer but it took a lot of cajoling to get Mama to sing. She would rather tell a story, she liked to make people laugh. She was good at risque stories but despised outright dirty ones. When it came to makeup Mama was enamored with face-powder and she used it heavily. One day she was talking to the priest at St. Gabriel's and she said something about not having enough time to take care of the kids. His answer: "Well if you would stay out of the bars maybe you would have enough time." He took her for a street walker because of the heavy makeup. I found it peculiar that she would tell this story on herself, yet, it did not change her face-powder applications. The Nuns at the school had explained to her that I was not doing as well as I could in school. One compliant was my poor spelling. For the next few days she sat with me and went over a spelling list. She never did receive a negative comment about me after that. Bernie was another story. He played with Donald Hood when he was in class and got many bad report cards. One Sunday, mama reported that the priest, from the pulpit, remarked to the congregation that he had seen one card with seven "U's". Mama said he was looking directly at her. She was angry at Bernie for all the playing around he was doing. She told him to stop hanging around with that "hood" because he was a true hood. Monday was wash day. I do not know how many loads of wash she did but it was enough to keep her busy for most of the day. (How much could it be when we changed our long underwear only once a week.) When we came home from school for lunch she was in the basement working on it. The wash was dried on lines set up in the basement. On wash day it was excruciatingly humid down there. I was never asked to help hang up clothes or take them down. Maybe the girls did that but Bernie and I escaped that task. Another task from which we escaped was clearing the table and doing the dishes, the girls did that. They did it but not without a struggle, they fought about it all the time. When two were clearing the table it was divided by a line in the middle. Nither girl would pick up what was on the line. Mama, to keep the peace, would clear what was on the line. One task I had was to put dishware up on a top shelf after the dishes were dried. She would always say: "Marcel, you are tall, put these up in the top shelf." I always did it when asked, yet, I do not recall ever anticipating that it was needed and positioning myself to that task. I don't think Bernie was ever asked to it, I was the tall one. She was a good card player, beter that Papa, but she did not flaunt it. She learned to play Bridge and could play well. Papa's game was Pinochle though he also learned to play Bridge. To him, it was always "playing carts." As stated earlier, Mama was a tea drinker. One day Papa offered to read her tea leaves. What she heard pleased her and Papa sensed this which prompted him to offer more often. She never asked him to read them, he had to offer. We kids sat spellbound while the cup was turned over in the saucer for proper drainage. He would turn the cup from side to side and talk about what he saw. One time Mama found something he said unbelievable and challenged him. He took it in stride and tilted the cup for her to see, pointed to some clustered leaves and said it was indisputable. I remember thinking then: where did he see this done, how did he learn to do it? There were other relatives that requested to have him tell their fortune by the tea leaves. It was my observation that Mama placed zero credence in it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mama - History

Alberta Beauregard nee Dalphe, or an alternate spelling, Dalpe, was born in 1900. Her village church was in Ruxton Falls, Quebec, Canada. Her father was the postmaster, had a country store, ran a farm, and at one time was the mayor of Ruxton Falls. Her mother was an American from Boston and spoke English as well as French. Alberta was one of fourteen children, ten boys and four girls. She was the second youngest, the youngest was her sister Irene. I can remember only two of these uncles: Arthur and Euclid, both of whom, in my recollection, laughed a lot. Most of the uncles died young though I do not know what they died of or what sicknesses may have affected their lives. Only four of her siblings were alive in the year 1939. She had a much older sister and one only slightly older than she. The later died early in life of consumption and the older, Emma, had gotten married and moved away to Maine. I do not know when her mother died but it fell to Alberta to cook for the family and oversee most of the household chores. It was she who took care of the store when her father was away. My father first met her when he stopped at the store and she waited on him. He liked her right away but she was not enamored of him. She had a boyfriend and ignored my father. (Throughout his life my father was jealous of this person.) At one point she she had a falling out with the boyfriend and sent a letter to my father and asked if he wanted to take her out. The relationship blossomed into marriage in 1924, she was twenty-four years old and he was twenty-three. Right after marriage they moved to Detroit. She did not want to remain in the local area having seen how the marriage of my uncle Eldage was controlled by my grandmother, Louisa. She was used to running her own household and was not going to have a domineering and controlling mother-in-law. This shows an unusual strength of will to be able to leave the country she was born in, to a country with a different language, and move to a city neither had ever seen. Once in Detroit, she ran a boarding house for other Canadian expatriates, many of them bachelors from the same part of Quebec. She had been used to cooking for a large group and taking care of a large house and it just came natural. She went five years with no children and feared she would not have any. Then at the end of 1929 she had me. After that, children came quickly, she had six more in a short period of time. One died, Teresa, shortly after childbirth. One of my uncles told me I had the distinction of uncorking the bottle. It was during the depression that the family moved to a house on the west side of Detroit, 8364 Navy Street. The house had a piano and many Saturdays there was a soiree until the early hours of the morning. Many French relatives came over for the food and stayed for entertainment. Bernie and I would be put to bed and then bawdy French songs would be sung to the amusement of all. Mama was a closet eater, having to hide from the kids what she truly desired. She liked candy and potato chips and ate them when she thought nobody was around. (Bernie was the family sleuth and would partake whenever he found a cache.) She was a finicky eater and never ate cheese, fish, hot dogs or bologna. When she put on weight my father was delighted, he liked weight on a woman. (He felt skinny females were not healthy.) She was a good cook and all relatives raved about her cooking. We children did not truly appreciate it until we had grown up and tasted other cooking. (Like in the Navy.) She liked to eat and when she was told by a doctor to refrain from some foods she liked, she ignored the advice. Her credo was: If I am not able to eat what I want, life is not worth living. She raised three girls that were also finicky eaters, all stubborn enough to sit at the table long after the meal was through, not being able to leave until they had eaten what had been put onto their plates. Eventually, they won and left the table without eating what they did not like. My mother had pity on them since she knew what they were going through. She went to night school to improve her English skills and got an eigth grade certificate. My father also went but had to drop out because of work and not catching on as fast as she did. The literature she most enjoyed was joke books. She liked to tell jokes to the relatives and laughed as hard as anybody at them. She was an encore teller, repeating the punch line over again to get another laugh.