Friends of the Richelieu. A river. A passion.

"Tout cedit pays est fort uny, remply de forests, vignes & noyers. Aucuns Chrestiens n'estoient encores parvenus jusques en cedit lieu, que nous, qui eusmes assez de peine à monter le riviere à la rame. " Samuel de Champlain

"All this region is very level and full of forests, vines and butternut trees. No Christian has ever visited this land and we had all the misery of the world trying to paddle the river upstream." Samuel de Champlain

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Women I admired

Photo: Marie-Ange is standing besides my mother in front of her piano. Note one of the birdcages on the left. I'm sitting on the stool in front.

If by chance somebody would ask me point blank who where my role models, I would have to say Marie-Ange, one of my father's aunts, and Yvette, one of his sisters.

Marie-Ange was the youngest child of her family, and once her brothers and sisters left their home in Montmagny, Marie-Ange stayed at home to take care of her parents. Eventually, with one of her sisters, she opened a millinery shop in one room facing the street. When that sister married, she closed the shop and rented rooms in the family home, providing the meals and clean sheets.

When I knew Marie-Ange, there was only one or two roomers left, but she was glad to take us in for a night or two, making jars of baked beans in her woodstove and an upside-down pineapple cake for us to eat. I remember her two canaries in separate cages singing to each other in the living-room, and how she would sing her sad love songs while playing on her piano.

She was the only one who dared put my father in his place when he talked nonsense, and wasn't shy to do so, pronto. She died of a heart attack, still earning her keep by renting rooms. The Dion home in Montmagny had then to be put up for sale.

Photo: Yvette in the foreground, with a sister and a brother

Then there was Yvette. Yvette was my mother's best friend when she was single and worked to provide for the family, her mother, 3 sisters and small brother. I guess my mother met my father through Yvette.

When I was born, Yvette came to stay with my parents for a week or two at a time. I guess it was to help my mother, since my father was working full time and had nothing to do with changing diapers and stuff.

My mother, Yvette and I as a child would go for long walks by the river. The conversation was often in English, to make my mother practice hers and make me learn a second language while I was still young.

Yvette was a working spinster: she worked for Bell Canada for the longest time, and also worked for Southern Bell in Florida for a while. She never married, and it never occurred to me while she was still alive that she could have been a lesbian. So I will never know. Maybe that is why she had to live in Florida for a while. But she came back to live in my town for many years with whom I assumed was a co-worker, then in Montreal. She is the one that kept the Dion family talking to each other, but when she died, a lot of family members lost touch with one another for good.

Yvette died of cancer: it started with skin cancer, then they found a lump in one breast that she had removed, then had treatments that made her so sick that when they found cancer in the other breast, she refused more treatments and let nature take its course. That, to me, is very telling of her character. She proceeded to give her belongings away to family and friends.

When she died, nobody bothered to tell my mother or myself. One day, my mother showed up at the hospital to visit Yvette, but she had died a few days earlier.

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