by Rob LeBlanc dit White
March 20, 1995
FROM THE GRONICAN
Copyright c 1995 by Robert J. White All rights reserved
Cast of Characters in order of appearance:
1. The Nightmechanic. (played by Rob White of Wesleyan's Audio Visual Center)
2. Teacher: Mrs. Patricia Reneau (Mrs. Vann) of the Wesleyan Graduate Liberal Studies Program.
3. Student 1.
4. Student 2.
5. Student 3.
6. Student 4.
7. Mrs. Wolf played by Michaeleen Wolfe Kimmey.
8. The Gearkeeper played by John Sims)
9. The Muse played by A. Valentino "Val" of Townsend Technical Associates
10. Shiva - 1.
11. Shiva - 2.
12. The Historian. (Professor Richard T. Vann of Wesleyan University's History Department)
(Hearing someone talking down a side tunnel, the mechanic stops and listens)
NIGHT MECHANIC: :Hello! Is somebody there? Anybody?:
"Oh! Hello there! Haven't seen you folks before. What are you doin down here? Lost are ya? "
SCENE (Several people come out of the tunnel. A woman and a small group of students. They are involved in a discussion of who was responsible for a particular historical conflict. Perhaps the Bosnian or Russian conflict or Irish/English conflict, etc..
TEACHER: "Hi there! Glad to see a human face. I'm Patricia Reneau and these are some of my students. We've been wandering around down here for a while... and beginning to get worried.
NIGHT MECHANIC: Where did you all start out from?
PATRICIA RENEAU: "Well! We were on a field-trip and decided to explore the Paris Sewers. Started off on a tour, got into a discussion and wandered away from the main party. That was a while ago, and now we're here."
STUDENT: 1. "It was pretty dark in some of those tunnels."
NIGHT MECHANIC: Not much light down here, in the Dim Recesses you know. Have you been wandering around for long?
STUDENT: 2. "I'm hungry, Do you know a place where we can grab a bite?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well, there's no place handy, but I'm sure we can find something for you...
STUDENT: 3. "Where are we? ... Are we still in the sewers?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Oh heavens no!. Paris is a long way off and I'm not sure what branch you took to get here. As a matter of fact, this isn't even Kansas any more, or France for that matter."
STUDENT 2. "I still don't understand, just where are we?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "For lack of a better description let's just say that
you're in between spaces. If I were a better mathematician I could try
to define it, perhaps John can, when we meet up with him.
But, Let me welcome you to the machinery of the universe. At the moment were travelling down the Dim Recesses, of the biggest basement you've ever seen. Section BC-3001. But I call it the Cellar of Cosmic Manipulation... That's not the real name you understand.
STUDENT: 4. "Still looks like the sewers to me. Smells better though."
PATRICIA RENEAU: "Can you show us the way out. We'd certainly appreciate your help."
NIGHT MECHANIC: Well! Come on, follow me. I've got a few more checks to make on my inspection, then we'll get you out of here. Careful now! Watch your heads...
SCENE: (As they travel down the tunnel you can occasionally see dim images of ancient people as vignettes (light boxes or projected slides).
SCENE: They come upon a woman who is looking through old papers and photo-albums, stray pictures and the likes...
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Good afternoon, Mrs. Wolfe. We've got some
(The woman stops her sorting and looks up).
Mrs Wolfe: (She laughs). "Hello! Glad to meet you. Sorry I can't offer you some lunch."
STUDENT: 2: "I'm starved. Anything would be great right now."
Mrs Wolfe: "All right then. I think we can arrange something. Come along,
we'll find someplace a little quieter."
(She takes them to a quiet room off the main tunnel and busies herself making tea."
SCENE: OLD LIBRARY STACKS:
STUDENT: 3: "What were you doing back there, with those old papers Mrs. Wolfe?"
Mrs. Wolfe: "Please call me Michaeleen. Clues...I'm looking for clues as to what happened to whole groups of people, swallowed up by time. You never know what you'll find in a pile of junk."
STUDENT: 3: "What people are you looking for?"
Michaeleen Wolfe: "At any given moment I'm looking for several families. There's one, a young man named Antone - Antone G. Pimental, who died recently of AIDS. He was a poet, but all that's left are poems he wrote as a boy. I'm looking for more of his works..."
STUDENT: 1: "What was Antone's poetry like? Do you have any of it with you?"
MICHAELEEN WOLFE: "Yes, I found two books of his, written when he was 15. "Thoughts For Days Gone By" and "Readings From a Troubled Mind, I think there may only be a few copies of each book... They were hand bound."
"It was such a joy to find
In life's old age I wasn't blind
To beauty I saw as a child
And lingered on a while.
Still left were many roads untaken
To reawaken my imagination.
Revitalized in the stream of time;
Brought again to senses of mine.
Awaken Lazarus from death itself;
I stopped to partake of the wealth
From the stream of time reversed.
And over and over I rehearsed:
In life's old age I wasn't blind."
Antone G. Pimental
STUDENT: 1: "But then, he never got old enough to become blind, did he?"
MICHAELEEN KIMMEY: "No, I guess he didn't. I found his books in
a trash barrel, with a lot of junk.
You can't imagine the families and people who've been thrown out with the trash when a relative dies and the estate is liquidated. It's a terrible loss, all those faces... All those orphans..."
And then there's this scrap album, created by a veteran of World War I. He died alone in a hotel room in Hartford. Bertram Keene was his name, kept a scrapbook of his regiment, the first medical group to go into the Great War. The "Original 120" they were called. Mr. Keene had a great imagination, as one can see by the stuff he put into the album; he was always poking into the unusual."
SCENE: TRAIN STATION
"Gather close my friends, I've a tale to unfold,
All about some boys, now growing old.
the year was 1917, the place Vermont
Ethan Allen the camp, and old cavalry remount
Way up in the mountains, of Revolutionary fame,
One of whose heroes, accounts for its name.
"Twas a beautiful place, with grass ever green,
The nights ever cool, all was serene.
They had enlisted these boys, no draft call for them,
All young fellows then, now middle-aged men.
"Colunn left, Squads right" Capt. Frost shouted and thundered,
What's coming next, we marched and we blundered.
The mailman came often, the food was plenty,
So passed the days of "The Hundred and Twenty."
With puttees all shined and faces aglow,
On a week end pass to the city we'd go.
Then came the day when our training was done,
We are off to a Camp, we wonder which one.
Panama said some, others said France,
None of us knew, we just took a chance.
So one fine morning we made a straight line,
And counted off by fours, one at a time.
Then on the train, to Louisiana they said.
And we piled all our stuff right under the bed.
We loaded the food, meat, canned goods and rice,
And nobody thought of putting on ice.
So the meat went bad, the very next day,
When we came to a river, we threw it away.
So onward we rode, "The Hundred and Twenty,"
For we had canned goods, potatoes and corn beef in plenty.
And into the south, we still wonder why.
On past fields of cotton and corn,
Now into the land where Lee was born.
Magnolia trees with their heads in the sky,
nodding to us as we passed by.
Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga too,
Wish us safe journey, as they pass in review
Then on to Mobile, only one stop more,
Now we are passing Lake Ponchantrain's shore.
Alexandria we find is the journey's end.
then off to Camp Stafford, our way we wend.
Now up on the hillside midst the chiggers and flies,
Our tents are erected, 'ere the evening sun dies.
So here among the pines and high hanging moss,
On beds made of leaves we would tumble and toss.
then up in the morning at the bugles first sound
Some on K.P. - others policing the ground.
Now out to the drill field, with grass to our knees,
And gentle Sargent Box - begging us "please."
The bunks and the tents are now in the past,
In barracks now we have real beds at last.
And lucky for us - both the mild and the rough,
To have Col. Geo. Lull and Capt. John Huff.
To our ranks now are added two hundred or more,
An we all do our part in winning the war,
We have been together now almost a year,
Then some went to France, the rest stayed here.
The war is now forgotten, its passed into time,
But I'll always remember these old friends of mine.
the last taps have sounded - Camp Stafford is still
And the boys make their way to farm, factory and mill.
And now in the twilight, as we all take our rest,
Close to our families and those we love best
Familiar faces we miss, in our thinning ranks,
Peace to them and to God thanks.
Statesmen may rave and bellow and shout,
And wonder what the war was about.
But this I know, while it had heartaches in plenty,
At least it made possible "The Hundred and Twenty."
George Young (written in 1945)
STUDENT: 2: "And all those people, "The One Hundred and Twenty" All of those people are gone now?"
Michaeleen: "Probably! But I'm not sure. There may be a few left. That's what I'll try to find out..."
STUDENT: 3: "What do you do, with them, the albums and the pictures I mean?"
Michaeleen: "That all depends. Ideally, I'd like to reunite the photos with their rightful family, or descendents. But, if I can't, then I try to put together these few fragments of their life. I write it all down and put the story on library shelves. Then, at least, if someone comes looking, they have a chance of finding the lost ones..."
STUDENT: 1: "Do you have much luck, in locating families?"
Michaeleen: "A little. Unfortunately there are far too many pieces missing and in some cases, like... Well! There's a Jewish family that I spent several years researching and finally did discover a relative, but by the time I could deliver his history to him, he'd passed away. The rest of the family had been destroyed by the Holocaust."
STUDENT: 1: "But what does it matter? Does anyone care about a bunch of old photographs? What difference do photographs make if all of the relatives are dead?"
Michaeleen: "Well! You're right, of course. Very few people really care about the orphans of the world, thrown out with the trash, quite literally in many cases. But some people are concerned. This is history! Real history! It's personal and vital; that's all. These are the people, the Americans who made-up early America. They were the children who became fathers and mothers, then grandparents to all of us alive today... the bedrock upon which we're founded."
STUDENT: 2: "I agree, they should be rescued. It's good that you're trying to save the artifacts."
STUDENT: 3: "How about people like the Atlanteans. Have you found any trace of them?"
Michaeleen: "Ah, hah! Now that would be news, wouldn't it? But you'd be surprised at where they went to; also the Etruscans. Look in a Rome telephone directory, if you know any names. You'll find everyone there. But usually descendents don't know anything about their history, or who their ancestors were...."
(They finish their tea, thank Michaeleen, and continue their journey down the tunnels. ) (Michaeleen Wolfe comes along.)
SCENE: PUMP ROOM: (They pass through a doorway and into the Pump Room)
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well! Here we are! There's nothing very glamorous to see; just miles of plumbing. And, Oh, yeah! You'll find the machinery of the universe here, new wheels and old, some shiny and others rusted. The wheels, the cogs, motors and gears and what makes everything run, it's all in place."
"Ah ha! There he is, the "Keeper of the Gears." Hey John! You've got some company!"
(John, the Gearkeeper is walking toward them with a clipboard in his hand. He is dressed in a white lab-coat. He waves to them, then stops to checks a gauge, then comes to join them.)
KEEPER OF THE GEARS: (John Sims) Hello Rob, who are your friends?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "John, this is Patricia Reneau and her students, they're on a field trip. How about telling them something about this place."
GEARKEEPER: "Sure! Good afternoon folks; Glad to have you aboard. Follow me for a grand tour of the universe."
(He takes them through a doorway and into the Machinery of the Universe.)
SCENE: CELLAR OF COSMIC MANIPULATION.
GEARKEEPER: "Look around: As you see, some wheels are turning, some slowly, others faster; some have never stopped. Some wheels are forever turned off, their functions terminated; other wheels are rusting over the millenia, gradually slowing down as they corrode. There are wheels here that have never once moved and never will; other wheels will turn sometime; perhaps soon.
You know! There are some wheels here that turn so imperceptibly that you'd have to watch for a lifetime to see one tooth on one gear move just enough that you might say it moved.
STUDENT: 3: " What's this place anyway? Where are we?"
GEARKEEPER: " Section BC-3001, Celestial Mechanics,... How did you get here...?"
PATRICIA RENEAU: "We started on a field trip, down through the sewer system in Paris. We were having a great time, but then some of us went off on our own. I know we shouldn't have, but..."
GEARKEEPER: That makes sense. You made a wrong turn, that's all.
Sure! That's easy to do...
And congratulations, it's not easy to find your way in. Of course, if you want to get here, on your own, there are lots of entrances."
STUDENT: 4: "Where? How?"
GEARKEEPER: "That's usually up to the Muse. Sometimes... an underground tunnel is a good way in, but not the same tunnel every time. Things change."
"You know, occasionally there's a subway driver who goes a bit wild and takes a dive with his train down some unused utility tunnel... They usually end up here. But, that doesn't happen too often."
"Then, of course, there's the way of the muse."
STUDENT: 3: "What's that? Who's the muse?"
GEARKEEPER: " I don't know that I could define The Muse. We see him now and then. Mostly he likes to sail the oceans and he reads poetry; has a sense of humor too and likes to put people in unusual situations. I think he does that so he can amuse himself by their reaction. You don't go looking for him though, he usually finds you."
STUDENT: 4: "So, how do we get back here, later, I mean?"
GEARKEEPER: "If you want to, you can usually get here through the "SHOP ON GO-BY STREET". You know the place, don't you? Its not far from that "SHOP FOR DREAMERS." You could ask the storekeeper there ... But, on the other hand, if you ask the keeper directly he might say something like" "I don't believe I have ever heard of it... Perhaps you should try someone else."
STUDENT: 4: "What happens then?"
GEARKEEPER: "With a look of boredom he might turn away from you, returning to shelves that are loaded with miscellaneous herbs and a vast conglomeration of colored bottles, and mysterious boxes, some labelled, some not. And. . ."
"Oh! But you didn't come for magical potions or spells or anything like that. I keep forgetting that styles change...Magic is out, Science is in... One theory is out, a new one is in... You know, it all seems to involve circles, nothing ever changes, things just cycle in and cycle out ... Well, enough of that... If you meet the Storekeeper, try not to be boring, get his attention by asking him a riddle or something, that usually gets his attention ..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Surely you folks are looking for the wheels and gears that belong to you. Yes! They're here, and there, somewhere; they're all here, but you have to look for them. Some are much more difficult to find than others. I mean, if your ancestors were royalty you could find those wheels real easy; directions are printed in most history books.
Now, if your people were just plain folks, then the footnotes are harder to locate. Often the search becomes quite an odyssey. Interesting though, quite a trip..."
STUDENT: 1: "And you Mr. Gearkeeper. May we call you John? Have you found the root of your own gears? And how do you come to be here, in such a position of great responsibility?"
GEARKEEPER: "My family have been keepers and guardians of power for a long time. Originally we came from the Massai people from Dar Es Salam in Tanzania, and their people came from Narok, the Valley of the Libons, a people called the Marani. My ancestors were libons who guarded the tribe's symbols of power and science.
STUDENT: 2: "What's that, a libon?"
GEARKEEPER: "Sort of a medicine man, who keeps the power of life in various artifacts. He's a very important man in the tribe."
STUDENT: 2: "Is a libon a doctor?"
GEARKEEPER: "Well yeah! And other things as well. He's an intermediary between man and the power of life. He's the spiritual part of the Maasai culture and his artifacts hold that spirit. But the libon is also a leader, psychologist, and advisor, as well as a healer."
STUDENT: 2: "But you're a long way from Tanzania and the old ways of the medicine man."
GEARKEEPER: "Not very far actually. My ancestors used very simple means to tell the future. They rolled stones and grouped them into piles from which they observed the shapes and colors. They used this form of mathematics to look into the future, much as we use computers today to look at patterns and predict trends. It's all statistics..."
STUDENT: 3: "How were you able to track your ancestors?"
GEARKEEPER: "That wasn't very easy. Apparently one of my great-great grandfathers, caught while travelling to a distant village, was sold by his captors to a trader and taken to America in the hold of a ship, along with others, many who died on the voyage.
When he arrived in this country he was traded back and forth, but developed a form of memory through stones he picked up along the roads and fields.
With these stones he created a code through which he kept a history of his travels and the story of his people. He passed the stone artifacts and his code on through his children. He was an intelligent man and I guess he realized that it would be a long time before he or his new family ever got "home." By the time the stones and code came to my generation the story was almost lost."
STUDENT 2: "What happened? How was the story saved?"
GEARKEEPER: "I learned of the "secret" when I visited my grandfather and he realized that I was sincere in my need to know the past. So he taught me the secrets of the stones, even though I was not a first son."
STUDENT: 3: "Why was the first son so important?"
GEARKEEPER: "Tradition, of course. The first son of the Libon becomes his successor. My father's brother was the first son and he was to became the next libon. Unfortunately he was killed in the Second World War and so the line was broken."
STUDENT: 3: "Why didn't the tradition pass on to your father?"
GEARKEEPER: "By then it was too late. My father was a grown man with a family, living in the Midwest and Grandpa was living in the South. And, of course my parents were modern people who didn't go in much for ritual, magic and the likes.
They sent me to school to get a degree in mathematics, then an advanced degree. What they didn't realize was that we were continuing an ancient tradition but in a new format."
STUDENT: 4: "And now you calculate the orbits of planets and stars?"
GEARKEEPER: "That's a close enough definition. I think of it as a modern form of purification. The tribal libon used an encom, a circle, and various artifacts, roots and plants to purify and protect his people. We use the tools of science and mathematics to adjust the machinery of our cosmos to help determine our fates. Actually we don't have much control, but small manipulations make big changes."
STUDENT: 4: "Did you or any of your family ever get back to the land of your roots?"
GEARKEEPER: "Oh yes! Most of us have gone back at one time or another. I spent quite a bit of time in the An Goro Goro Caldera, doing research."
STUDENT: 2: "That's a collapsed volcano cone, isn't it?"
GEARKEEPER: "Yes, and this one is 2000 feet below sea level. It's an amazing place."
STUDENT: 1: "But the people there, were you able to connect to them?"
GEARKEEPER: "In many ways yes; true we were civilizations apart in our educations, but the fact that we had blood-ties, and were family, overrode these differences. We fell in love with our tribe's people, and I'm certain they felt much the same about us..."
STUDENT: 2: "Wow! That was a great story John. We didn't realize we were in the presence of a wizard. Thanks."
GEARKEEPER: "My pleasure folks. I've got to readjust some orbits now, so you'll have to excuse me. See you later, I hope."
(John exits at this point).
STUDENT: 3: "And Mr. White, how about yourself. Have you found your own wheels?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Ah yes! My own gears. Sure, I've
got my own story, though
it's been a while since I've thought about that. But I'm not the man you're looking for anyway. You see, you want a historian, someone with a collection of facts.
And, that's not me. I'm just the repairman. I fix the gears and switches when they break or wear out, or rather I try to fix them. Sometimes you can't do a thing. It's sad, you know, when things come to an end."
STUDENT: 4: "But being around all this history. You must know a lot?
NIGHT MECHANIC: Well, I've learned a little around here. You can't hang around with professional types and not have some knowledge rub off. I mean, if you're even a bit curious, you're bound to ask questions and that's where it all begins.
STUDENT: 4: "So how do we find a historian?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: Well, I haven't seen one today. This is probably a holiday or something... Seems like its always somebody's birthday or an important date for something or other. Can you come back another day, you know, when there's somebody here to help you out, a professional I mean? That's the right way to go about it...
PATRICIA RENEAU: "I'm afraid we can't stay too long. I have other students back there, waiting for us, and I have a class to teach."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Can't huh! Too bad. Well look! Just so you're afternoon isn't wasted I'll do the best that I can to get you started on the right track.
What is it that you're looking for? An important event, war, disease, a major catastrophe?"
STUDENT: 1: "I just want to understand how I fit in, into history, I mean."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Huh! Oh, you want to understand your roots, who you are and where you came from? Hmmm! That's quite a chunk. I don't think I can do much for you. It's been a long time since I did my walkabout, trying to find out who I was and where we came from.
You know, history is more than just numbers and places, its all about people, how they lived, how they died, and who they left behind. That's you, and me. We're the ones that got left behind."
PATRICIA RENEAU: "That's true! We Americans are a strange conglomeration of history, and each of us in an interesting story in ourselves. I mean, all the people and places that went into who we are, or who we've become... There are millions of stories there, if we could find them. That's the hard part. I don't think we'll ever understand life itself though, or the purpose of our adventures..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "But have you ever thought about life, I mean really thought about it? For instance how is it that a young woman of twenty or so can produce a baby that's "brand new"? Shouldn't the baby's skin be as old as the mother's? It's almost like creating new matter out of nothin. Then again, how old is that new born tike? Nine months old at the time of birth? Think again. If he comes from his momma he's an extension of her life, and she from her momma, back generation by generation to the beginning of it all. I'd say we're all about 50 million years old, if we're a day. Wouldn't you say?"
STUDENT: 3: "What do you mean? How's that again?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "I mean just think of a tree that drops part of itself, as seeds to the ground, from those parts the tree grows again, and again. So that tree's gotta be millions of years old."
STUDENT: 4: "Never thought of it that way. I know there are lots of ways to approach history, and I guess they're all valid. But What always bothered me about the heroes of history is that they seemed so damned perfect, morally perfect. I couldn't imagine them as real people.
There comes a point where I want to find my own ancestors, to understand them, know them, in order to understand myself. What were their values and cultural ways? I want to know them as people, not just how they fit into history."
PATRICIA RENEAU: "Don't forget though, the search itself is only part of the adventure, the methods are part of the meaning, so to speak, and even the writing of the odyssey is part of the odyssey. A good journal helps to keep the facts straight..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Look! We'll go find a historian. While we're
searching for one,
I'll tell you a little about my own journey.
My family lived in Connecticut. I was born and brought up there. Born in a little house in West Haven around 1935, at home, as a matter of fact, with my aunt Mary, a nurse attending."
STUDENT: 3: (yawning).
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Oh, you don't want that much detail... Come on then, Let's walk down the tunnel and while we look for a historian or two I'll try to keep you entertained. Okay. I'll skip to the odysseys.
My mother's parents were Scotch and Irish and dad's grandparents were French-Canadians. My grandfather was an Acadian and his wife Ruby Lafayette was a Quebecois."
STUDENT 2: "Is that Indian?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "No, that's not Indian, just French-Canadian people from Quebec. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
I was sliding into middle-age and starting to wonder what was left of time. What was the value of my life anyway? I hadn't done anything important, or been anywhere signifigant. Who the heck were we anyway, bunch of modern-day peasants or something? Well, it's true, isn't it. I thought about Mom's people, Hannah Cleary and Thomas Moore from Pilltown, County Claire in Ireland. Somehow they crossed the ocean, landed in New York City and made a living there, out of nothing."
But then one day Thomas up and says to Hannah: "I'm goin back."
"What?" she said, "Yer what?"
"I'm goin back to the old sod, to put it plain," he said, "I'm goin back to Ireland. You ken come if ya want or stay here if ya like... matters not ta me, but I'm goin over to fight with Parnell."
And what'll that get ya," said Hannah?
He shrugged. "If we get the land back and get rid of the damned English, that'll be enough."
Hannah looked away from him. She wasn't going to beg him again to stay. She'd done that too many times over the past few months. She had a secret card though and knew, if she played that hand she could make him stay. But what then? What was the value of their life if he felt like a caged animal? Then again, what if he went back and got killed by an English bullet? Each night as she slept by his side she went over the choices until there came the final last moment.
She'd decided to tell him, to keep him at home, while Parnell and the other Irish boys went on to hassle the English and somehow get them out of Ireland. But then he was packed and still she hadn't said anything. In the end she kept silent, her hand covering her stomach, the swelling barely visible as she stood dockside waving and Thomas went up the gangplank. She kept wanting to yell out to him, to call to him.
But then the gangplank was pulled away, there was a long wait, and the huge ship moved out into the river.
Hannah stood there, her nausea rising, fighting back tears. She held tightly to the hand of her young daughter Maria. Standing to one side was her sister Mary Cleary Fleming of New York with her husband James. In back of her stood another sister, Bridget, married to a Durney of New Jersey, a newspaper man. They all waved to the tiny figures at the railing, trying to figure out which one was Thomas, only the little figures all looked the same. You just couldn't tell.
The ship's whistle blew its final all clear and a tug began moving the vessel out into the harbor. Soon the ship was a miniature of itself, then a thin smoke-stream and Hannah turned and went home, to her cold-water flat in the city of New York.
Soon the realities of life settled around her, like a ring of snowballs circling her neck. What was she going to do for a living? She'd washed clothes and done housekeeping for rich folks here in the city, but it was a tough business; too much competition. She'd have to get out.
And so she put her daughter to board with one of her relatives and packed herself off to New Haven, where she began living-in with some rich folks, doing cleaning and housework. She had her baby, James Marshall Moore. And now she had to work all the harder to make a way for the two of them, and when he got old enough, she sent him off to school and when he came back he was a pharmacist who went to work as a clerk at a drugstore in New Haven.
There James met Catherine Sanderson, daughter of Scotch Immigrants Samuel Sanderson from Kirkentullock and Martha Ann Warwick of Dumfrishire. Samuel was a cabinetmaker from Glasgow and he and his wife and infant daughter Martha came over when the work in Scotland dried up.
Samuel worked for Yale University as a framer and built the frames upon which many of the arches of the new university were built. He and Martha Ann kept adding to their family and soon they had nine children.
The young pharmacist, James Marshall Moore, met and courted Catherine Sanderson and they were married. Their family began at Westville with the arrival of a son, James Warwick and two other children who were born there. After that they moved to a place named City Point which was once called Oyster Point, by the Indians.
City Point became the stage for the drama that was the Moore family. It was a wonderful land of oyster boats coming and going daily, of high tides and hurricanes and people living in houseboats.
And here too, the family's biggest catastrophe took place. James Marshall Moore, working long hours during the Depression came down with pheumonia and died at age 50. His mother, Hannah Cleary Moore died a year later. So there was Catherine Moore with eight children to support during the middle of a Depression. That was quite a time...
James's daughter, my mother, Catherine Moore, the oldest girl, met Arthur White who had recently come down from the family farm in Barre, Vermont. Arthur had grown up in Brookfield, where the family owned and ran a dairy farm for many years. Catherine and Arthur met at the City Point home of Kay and Wilson Demusey, they dated for a while and decided to marry.
Not everyone in the family was happy about the entrance of this Frenchman from the north into the family. Later, Arthur's brother Oliver and his sisters, Elizabeth and Irene came down to Connecticut.
Times were hard now in Vermont and Arthur and Ruby White sold their farm and followed their children down to Connecticut. In short order the girls married, as did Catherine's brothers and sisters, mostly to Irish or English or Scandanavian descendents with a little French thrown in.
They all lived in the vicinity of New Haven and their social life consisted mostly of visiting with each other. On weekends there were visits to the family homestead in New Haven. But the shadow of war loomed on the horizon. Catherine and Arthur had their first child, a boy named Robert, that's me, and then moved down to City Point, to the family homestead where Catherine could take care of her ailing mother.
World War II began. After Pearl Harbor, Catherine's brothers hurridly joined various branches of the armed services, Walter to the Air Force, and Michael to the Navy; when the youngest, Bobby came of age, he went too. The boys were gone.
NIGHT MECHANIC: My childhood odysseys began at that point, wandering along the beaches in search of driftwood to build toy sailboats to send out with the tide.
I fought World War II as a nine year old, memorizing the sillhouetes of enemy warplanes and scanning the skies for intruders. And, on Saturday afternoon, at the Howard Theatre, I joined with Randolph Scott and the boys and we raced across the skies in hot P-38's defending China from the enemy; or stood shoulder to shoulder with Humphrey Bogart on the Sahara desert, fighting another enemy with our disabled tank. When, ten years later, as an airman 3rd class, I studied communications at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois along with 10 classmates from Japan, I wondered at enemies who became friends and friends, (the Russians) who became enemies. It just didn't make any sense...
SCENE 6: SHOTS FROM GRAND AVENUE BRIDGE (old oyster boats).
To the best of our family knowledge Hannah never heard from Thomas again and his fate is unknown. But after seven years her name shows up in Benham's New Haven Register as Hannah Moore, widow of Thomas. Hannah bought a home on Steven's Heights and lived there for the remainder of her 93 years.
As the time went by, my parents Catherine and Arthur, had two more boys, Arthur-Peter, and John, and a daughter Ann. When mothers brothers came back from the war, Catherine and Arthur moved from City Point to the suburbs of North Haven to be closer to Arthur's work as an engineer on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. As the clock ticked on, most everyone married and had children. There were dozens of Whites and Moores in the New Haven area. They had become Americans, not Irish or French, English or Scandanavians, but City Pointers.
A journal became part of my life at some time or another and I added thoughts from time to time:
Sometimes I feel like we're all ghosts
Who've played more important roles
in the past!
Now we hang around
remembering particles of those lives,
waiting for something to happen.
Why does it feel
like all the important times,
the real living,
happened long ago in another place,
when we wore other peoples faces.
NIGHT MECHANIC: I had grown up and worked for many years. Gradually, though I didn't realize it, questions of personal identity were finding the way to the surface of my mind. Then one day, as I entered middle-age, I found that I needed to know more about who I was and where we were from. Who were we? And so I went back to school in Vermont.
SCENE: VERMONT & GODDARD IMAGES FROM FAMILY ALBUM:
I went back to the hills of Vermont
retraced a road
to the foundations of my father
and found sprout-roots of my own
In an old brick-farmhouse
One hundred years of age.
Now the house is owned by strangers,
kind people who only live there,
writing chapters of their own.
beside the memories
of other times.
Walking those hills,
I discovered memories,
passed on to me by my father,
His boyhood secrets, lurking as spirits...
still laughing among the tall grass.
There were barefoot children,
Phantoms running over yellow-meadows,
Their toes settling through thin-crust cow-pats,
sinking into pungent-sweet ecstasy.
I drove back to the green hills,
and the granite quarries,
where granduncles and aunts,
once lived, worked and died.
And found them there,
remembered on slabs of the granite
they had pried from the hills.
I looked for echoes of their voices, and lost faces,
perhaps finding reverberations in the eyes of folk
who still work the land.
There was a quiet pride,
in the farmers tending their fields,
and the children fishing
in white-water rivers.
I discovered a strength in the land,
knowing that part of me had grown
from the soil.
I came back to Vermont
to join that world,
to study in Plainfield,
listening to lectures,
where my father had studied
when Goddard College was
and my father, a high-school boy,
hiked the many miles from Randolph
There were memories in those hills
and I rediscovered some
while hiking the backroads and fields,
letting new roots sink in
among the old.
NIGHT MECHANIC: "More often as I wrote thoughts in that journal
I began to think about the words: "Other people's faces." Hmmm! but
what does that really mean? "What are those faces? Who were the people?
Simple dairy farmers from Vermont, Right? Not much of a story there! But,
who are the faces of my dreams?
I got hold of a Barre telephone directory and scanned down the long list of names of Whites there. Then I picked up the telephone and called my father in North Haven.
SCENE: (SLIDES of White family at home).
"Hi Dad! Got a minute? Good. Say, I'm curious about our White family in Vermont. Are you sure the family no longer exists up there. I mean aren't there any grandchildren among all those brothers and sisters your father had? Are they all gone?"
"Rob, to tell the truth, I really don't know; there could be, but I
wouldn't know who to ask. Everyone I knew is gone. I believe Dalton was
the last one. Though I can't say for sure."
"How about grandchildren?"
"Sure, there must have been some, but we've lost contact altogether. It's been a long time."
"Our family name; I recall that originally it was LeBlanc, so they must have been French."
"That's true. Both your great-grandfather Lewis White and his wife spoke
"What was her name?"
"Mary -- Mary Yandow, I believe."
"Doesn't sound very French to me. But thanks Dad. I guess its letter writing time...."
I hung up the phone, picked up the journal and added: "I've reached a point in life where I need to find out who I am and where I've been. And, in the time remaining of my life what should I do with that time. It's important to find a vantage point, a hill or mountain of sorts, from which to look out and draw a map of where I've been. But to gain that perspective I've got to gather information. Who are we now and who were we back then?
Roots, that's the word, I think... Roots!"
At the public library I went through Canadian phone books, finding page
after page of LeBlancs, almost as numerous as Smiths in the USA. Vermont
had quite a few too. Better to concentrate on the Whites.
I telephoned my aunts, Betty and Phyllis, and asked them if they had anything, any old papers or the likes that might help, even a family bible. Betty had lots of old pictures but few had names on them.
Phyllis had found her father's date book. "Try this" she said, "here's a few names with dates after them. Brothers and sisters with birthdates and an occasional death notice, And look here, next to Grandpa Louis's name, the word DeGonzaque. I wonder what DeGonzaque means?"
That was a start.
I invited the aunts out to lunch and we talked over French-onion soup at a restaurant in Killingworth.
"Do either of you have any idea where the family originally came from? I mean before they came to Vermont?"
"Canada somewhere" replied Phyllis.
"I seem to remember," said Betty, "St. Johns being mentioned. I'm pretty sure they came from there but there's no way to know."
"Still, that's something. I'll get a hold of a St. Johns telephone directory."
When the directory came in it was loaded with LeBlancs. There was no
way to sort it out so I went back to the Barre directory and the Whites.
I called Dad and conferenced with him: "Look at these names," I said, "How about Dalton, wasn't that a name of an uncle?"
"Yes, that was one."
"How about Clayton, wasn't that another?"
He agreed. So I drafted a letter, explaining who we were, and who we were related to, and sent out half a dozen copies to Whites in Vermont.
In the meantime Aunt Phyllis had searched her attic and found the naturalization
papers for great-grandfather Lewis White from the district court of Vermont
of April 1871. She'd also found her father's birth certificate listing
his mother as Theophila Guindon.
"Call Aunt Betty," I said. "See if she knows a anything."
Phyllis called back the next day: "She doesn't know a thing and never heard of the name."
" But how could that be?" I asked.
"Search me," laughed Phyllis.
It was a heck of a mystery.
Summer reached its hottest point. One morning I arose early, the air was hot and sticky and as I lay on my bunk there were visions of faces, women's faces... I picked up the journal and began to write.
Can't sleep. Summer insomnia.
to be thinking of
Lady from a distant past
100 years or so..
Mystery lady...named on a faded document:
Mother of Peter Arthur LeBlanc,
who became... my grandfather.
His father: Lewis LeBlanc,
his mother...Mary Yandow...or
was it Theophelia Guindon?
A single name on a fading document
hiding in a dusty closet...
Stale air of
a dying summer morning...
While I contemplate
the mother of Peter Arthur...
baptized so in Winooski Vermont
on July 25, 1886.
Says so, right on the paper.
But Mary Yandow,
who was she?
And Theophelia Guindon.
Who was she? Even her name
sounds of another age...
Name written on a worn tombstone,
conjouring images of symbols from
lost pyramids, cryptic messages...
Stonehenges of our lives,
She lies, resting...
Perhaps a smile
on the memory
of Theophelia Guindon
come back to
of a dying summer stale-morning..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: It seems that I had begun a new odyssey.
Summer came to an end and September winds brought no letters from Vermont. I finished my summer vacation canoeing on the Connecticut River and returned to work. A week later I was late coming into work. When I arrived there were several scribbled notes on my clipboard.
The bottom message grabbed my attention: "Tom White, the White family historian called from Vermont with the message: "I have all the information you need on White and LeBlanc family. Will call back at 10am.
I looked at my watch, it was 9AM. That next hour was agony waiting for the telephone to ring. But promptly at 10, it did. Tom was a jovial guy and he told me that my letter had the wrong Zip code but finally got to Vermont where it was passed around for a while and finally made its way to him.
"I've got lots of information for you: You're an Acadian descendent whose ancestors arrived in Ancient Acadia, that's Nova Scotia... They came over in the middle 1600s and settled at Port Royal..."
I listened avidly, missing much of what he said, and was a bit stunned by the sudden flood of information. "I have lots more. In fact there is something like eleven volumes of information that you can see when you come up to visit. We'd love to have you, when you have the time."
I thanked Tom and then immediately rang up my two aunts and told them the good news. Then I strode across the street to Olin Library and went through the books they had on Acadia. There was a slim book by Arsenault and on page 38 I found the first clue:
VOICE OF THE MUSE:
"After having carefully examined the church registers
of La Chausee near the village of d'Aulnay, in France,
Genevieve Massignon wrote that more than half of the acts
entered in the register from 1626 to 1650 concern family
names that are found in the 1671 census in Acadia: Babin,
Belliveau (Belliveaux), Bertrand, Bour, Bourg, Bourque,)
Brault (Breaux), Brun (LeBrun), Dugast (Dugass), Dupuiss,
Gaudet, Giroir (Girouard), Landry, LeBlanc, Morin, Poirier,
Raimbaut, Savoie (Savoy), Thibodeau (Thobodeaux):
others such as Blanchard, Guerin and Terriot
(Theriault, Theriot) lived in the same region of France."
Arsenault "History of the Acadians"
NIGHT MECHANIC: Well that's interesting since Uncle Harold was a Brault too. I wonder if he knew that he was an Acadian; I continued reading and on page 53:
VOICE OF THE MUSE:
"The first Grand-Pre' settlers were Pierre Melanson and
his family, about the year 1680; in 1682 the following arrived:
Pierre Terriot, Claude Landry, Antone Landry, Rene LeBlanc,
Etienne Hebert, Claude Boudrot and ....."
Arsenault "History of the Acadians"
NIGHT MECHANIC: So there you are, answers that I'd been searching for, less than a hundred yards from my desk." I looked around me at the vast treasure house of books, realizing that many answers to a sea of questions did indeed surround me. All that was needed was a clue to the right location, the right book.
But knowledge which answers questions only creates more questions. Why was the contact between my grandparents and his brothers and sisters in Vermont broken? Or was it? How is it that in a single generation a close-family branch got lost? And when did the name change from LeBlanc to White? Why? How many other individuals and families down through time have been "misplaced?" How many LeBlancs or Whites or Blancos, Braults, Bruns, Dugasts, etc... How many are there who think they're alone in a world full of strangers, when they have thousands of "cousins" as neighbors? Yes, how many indeed?"
With my aunts, Phyllis and Betty, we drove to Vermont and met Tom White, his family, and widowed mother Ellen "Bid" White. From the moment we crossed the threshold of Bid's house we knew we'd "come home" to family. Within minutes we had adopted each other and the "missing years" dissolved, and our new friendship has continued over the years...
(The scene of the Vermont Whites should stand on its own).
SCENE: POSSIBLY PICTURES FROM THE OLD FRENCH CLUB IN HARTFORD.
NIGHTMECHANIC: When we returned to Connecticut I searched around and found out that there were people doing genealogy at The French Canadian Club in Hartford. So, on a Saturday morning I went there, parked and walked into a bar. There were people sitting around drinking and I felt uncomfortable. "Is there a place where people research French genealogy," I asked.
"Oui Monsieur," said the bartender, pointing to a door at the rear of the bar-room. I opened the door and walked into a well-lit, but small room with about eight people in the cramped space, each with a book in front of them, writing away in notebooks. There were shelves with many books filling the spaces.
"Bonjour," I said, "I'm Robert "LeBlanc" White.
There was laughter. Must be a joke of some kind, perhaps the double name." A short, middle-aged man came over and we shook hands.
"I'm Henri Carrier, the president of our group," he said, "You're welcome here."
SCENE: RESEARCH BOOKS AT FRENCH-CANADIAN GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY.
NIGHTMECHANIC: Henri showed me the marriage repetoires, books with many of the provinces in Canada, written in French, with the marriage partners, the date of the wedding, and the parents of both bride and groom.
This was a room that I was to visit many times during the next year, and get to know the people there, among them Rod Wilscam, Ann Marie Cote, and their research. In that time I came to know many of these people better than I knew some of my uncles and aunts.
In time, I was able to translate most of the French and follow the LeBlanc line back to Port Royal, basically duplicating Tom White's work, but proving to myself that I could do it.
There were several major sources of information in the books of Jette, Pontbriand, Talbot, Tanguay, Arsenault, Drouin, Godbout, Hebert, Auger, Olivier, Bergeron, and Steven White of Moncton.
I met another researcher, Robert Bisaillon, from Waterbury who invited me to his home-library; he certainly helped me in getting started and organizing my information. Gradually, the genealogy, built from Tom White's research, began to spread out, the tree branching in new directions, and each direction was a story in itself.
It was summer and I wanted a break from the LeBlanc study to explore grandmother Ruby Lafayettes family. I was finding very little information on the Noreaus or LaFayettes here in the repetoires. The information was there, somewhere. But! there were so many books, so many pages; one could spend a lifetime looking and not see what was right in front of one's face. So I decided a trip to Lowell would be in order, to see if I could find any clues there.
City of Images
Built from memories of childhood dreams,
Civilization hiding in fog-banks,
Or canyons deep, and lost in vanished time.
I search, dreamlike -- for a pathway to your mystic gates.
I wander in the early morning hours,
Time's enormous clock
like dragon-oil languidly flowing
Beneath subterranean vaults.
One windless evening,
standing on a mountain peak,
I saw you, City,
As the sun went down.
You rose, clean and grand,
hovering above a crimson horizon,
floating upon a blue-tinged mist --
Like I could stride down the mountain
And walk through your gates.
Yet I have walked and driven
half-way round the world,
have spanned one horizon to the next
and then again.
have I accessed the highway to your doors,
There have been times
when casually opening windows
in distant towns
my eyes have seen you
in the hills
or down forgotten alleys to the sea.
Then from the corner of my eye,
a shimmering vagueness,
then blink! And gone.
Or other times, old city,
when I thought myself
walking your broad avenues,
basking in the warmth of golden skies,
green fields and flowers intertwined
with trees and granite
so's you'd never know
which one was which.
Then to awaken in wrinkled sheets,
clutching a fading dream...
Emerging to dayling visions
Again, City, you have escaped...
NIGHT MECHANIC: Lowell was an important trip. I drove to that town ready to do research on my grandmother's Noreau family. With little but slim clues to guide me, I went there, letting a vague hope guide me along a thread from yesterday. At the core of this faith was the success with the White family genealogy in Barre. That was a good shot.
As Tom White said in his letter: "...you've struck paydirt." And, indeed that was exactly correct. Now a year had gone by and I was trying for a repeat performance with Grandma LaFayette's family. All I knew were the vague rememberances of my father and aunts that the Noreaus lived in a neighborhood along with the Morins and Gamaches, possibly the Rousseaus too. There was a little store, which might still be there, on the mainline in Dracut, not far from the amusement park. A place called Noreauville. I was sure I'd find something.
I drove up Rt6, through Providence, and followed 128, stopped to visit an old friend for the evening. Then, after a breakfast of cereal and coffee, I waved goodbye to my friend and started off.
I followed the curve of Rt 128 around Boston and came to the Lowell highway, then felt a surge of adrenaline. Yes! From the highway I could see that mill town, the church steeple in the distance. It looked like an old town, remnants of faded-brick factories rose above the treeline. The highway angled downward and I braked at the light. There, directly in front of me, was a three-story tenement, with ornate designs in the woodwork, and wooden railings on its three-tiered porches. The house was rundown but still had some of its old character left.
The drive into town became more depressing. There were many such run-down
tenements, all of them looking bleak and worn-out. And the children were
not French, but Spanish, Oriental, and the white kids had red hair.
Still, I maintained a hopeful feeling that I would find the Noreaus. Stopping at a construction site along the main route I asked a cop for directions to the public library.
I found the place, parked, and entered the front door. Genealogy was in the basement. There I found a librarian and explained my mission. The heavy-set, dark-haired man, bearded and of indeterminate age, showed me his books on Lowell and Dracut. There wasn't much, but perhaps If I got lucky, I might find something within the city register.
Right away I discovered a Noreau in the first book and entered that
data in the journal. But there was no store listed. So I looked up the
Morins and came across a Morin's Variety store on Lakeside avenue, Dracut.
That looked good. I
grabbed a more recent book and found the same Morin, retired, but living locally. I tried the most recent edition and found the name. Very good!
Asking the librarian for directions, I set out. First thing was to take a look at the store and ask questions there. I found the place easily, parked on a side street next door and got out. There was a woman and a little girl in the dime-sized backyard. I went up to them and explained who I was and what I was looking for. The woman nodded and said that she thought the place was once a store but she didn't know more. But, I should wait for the old woman who lived downstairs, she'd been there for twenty years and would know.
I nodded and went back to the car, took out the map and located the present position, and the address of Mr. Morin's home. It was only a couple of miles away. A truck pulled up next to the house and a man in coveralls got out. The woman went up to him and he looked toward me, then hunched his shoulders and began to unload the trunk of his car. I ambled over, said hello and asked if he knew anything about the house. The answer was no, but then an old lady came into the backyard and I went over to ask her the same question.
"Yes," she answered, the house was once a store, owned by the Morins. I walked with her to the front of the green building; it was obvious by the shape of the front where the plate glass windows had been. Now they were covered and shingled and the store was only a memory. I asked if there were any Gamaches in the neighborhood. She nodded that the names were familiar but she didn't know any of them. I asked who lived across the street years ago. She thought the people might have been Rousseaus, but she wasn't sure anymore.
I thanked her and went back to the man by his car.
"Can you show me, on the map, how to get to the lake?"
I brought the map over and he studied it. He seemed to have trouble orienting himself and I pointed out where we were and where I wanted to go. After another minute of studying, I asked the man if the major avenue between them would work. Nodding in contemplation, he said it might, but that he hadn't been to the lake since his childhood. His father had taken him fishing on that lake once, but he hadn't been there since. I thought it curious, a small lake, one of several within two miles and he'd only been there once in his fifty years or so. Hmmm! But no matter.
Well, it looked pretty good. I had Morin's Variety Store with a Rousseau living across the street. Not bad. I drove toward the lake, looking for a cross-street. Several moments later, when I passed a "New Hampshire" border sign I realized my mistake, turned around and went back. This time I located the street. First, it was uphill, then down to the lake. Must be in a crater-like depression.
I found the mailbox with the right number, faded but still legible, and the name Morin. Getting out of the car, I looked around at the lake in their backyard, then walked in through a gate in the chain-link fence. There were two doors and I chose one, knocked and waited as an elderly man came to the screen.
"I'm looking for Mr. Morin," I said.
"Well, you've found him! Come in, that's me," he answered.
We went through the porch entrance and into a kitchen. Mr. Morin introduced me to his wife, who sat at the table eating supper. I apologized for the bad timing of the visit but sat at the chair which was offered. I told them of my quest and asked about the Noreaus, Angeline Noreau, the Gamaches and the Rousseaus. But Jean, that was his name, knew nothing. So I tried again, with names like the Whites, LeBlancs, Lafayettes, but still nothing. Well, that was it, the cleverly contrived clues added up to nothing.
"I'm sorry," said Mr. Morin, "but we can't help you. We don't know any of those names. Some sound familiar but we're not relate to them..."
I felt the energy draining out of me. "I'm sorry too," I said, "but just for your information we are related on the other side of my family, the LeBlanc side. Here! Back in the 16th Century. I opened my genealogical charts and showed them where the Morin family came into the LeBlanc clan. it was not what I wanted, but perhaps it was better than nothing.
"My son might be interested," said Mr. Morin, "He's doing a study of
"I'll give you my name and address," I said, "and he can write to me if he's interested. I can tell him where to get quite a bit of information on your ancestors from France. But, its a lot of work. He'll have to connect up your generation by finding the churches which have your family records."
"They came from Three Rivers..."
"Good! If you have that, it should be easy."
"Mrs. Morin spoke up. She talked quietly about her side of the family,
"You might remember General Lemay?" she said.
I nodded that I did but the convesation trailed off. The woman nodded and went back to her plate. So I thanked them, shook hands with Jean Morin and returned to the car. it was too late to return to the library so I drove around just to get the "lay of the land."
Stopping for gas, I spoke some with a middle-aged gas attendant, who
didn't recognize the name Noreau, but had heard of Gamaches and Morins.
I asked about Noreauville, but got no response.
"Possibly Collinsville," he said, "...and the amusement park is long gone; you might find remnants of it ...."
I thought of Thomas Wolfe, "You can't go home again," as I realized the great gulf of time that lay between myself and the Lowell of Grandmother's world. Those people, their homes and culture, their language, laughter and tears were only yellowing memories from old scrapbooks. Yet, even the people in the family scrapbooks had lost their identity.
Who were the people in those pictures? I stood there, frustrated and empty, then drove back into Lowell, taking side streets, trying to get a feel for the old Lowell of milltown days.
Yes, it was definitely there, but buried beneath many layers of peeling paint. I could feel the town, and almost touch it. But for all that, the town might as well be on Alpha Centauri. For me, and this time, that world was unreachable. I visualized old pictures in the family album of Grandma. There she was, she and her beau, standing in front of a well kept home, surrounded by a picket-fence. She was smiling and holding the arm of the man who become Grandfather White. Now those people were dust and the wooden fences had changed to chain-link, if there were any fences at all.
I drove down toward the river, parked the pickup in a hospital lot and walked. I went out onto a bridge over the river and looked down at the layers of edge-strata proturding from the river bed. I could see back millions of years, and knew that it was all here, the history from the beginning of time, until the present. It was there, but locked within the rocks. Just as the Noreaus were there, in Lowell, somewhere in time. But I couldn't reach them and perhaps never would.
Looking down at the slow-moving water as it slid along the ancient rocks, my lips tasted defeat. A gradual depression fell around me as I realized that I might never find the Noreaus. Taking a deep breath, I tried to throw the mood off. Maybe there were other ways.
Let's see: Grandmother was born in Websterville, Vermont. That might be another place to search. I went back across the bridge thinking of different angles. Now! There's Grant Kearney, Dad's cousin, back in Connecticut. He might know something. I chided myself for not having prepared better for the trip. Why hadn't I done my homework? I should have filled in more background before coming up here. How stupid!
I went back and walked the streets, knowing my ancestors in the not too distant past had probably traced those same footsteps. Old houses sat there like bridges, but at the moment they were closed, dead ended.
There were small-children playing at the curbside. One of them, a kid of eleven had a cigarette clenched between his lips. He muttered to some older kids in the alley, then joined them and I could imagine an intrigue of some sort beginning. Two children, both oriental, passed by. In a dilapidated tenement courtyard, several Spanish women sat with their infants. I met their eyes for a moment but there was no communication between us and I passed on.
The old Lowell was gone, really gone. Gradually I began to understand that the past was dead. My romanticized vision of Lowell was part of ancient history. Now there were Spanish tenements. And further along the boulevards, away from town, were shopping malls and hamburger joints, conforming Lowell to the standards of the connecting towns, all of them looking much the same.
I sighed! In this understanding I felt better. Perhaps there was some relief in facing the truth. Maybe I could stop looking, stop searching for magic, castles and dragons. I laughed at myself. To stop was to die, to fade away and vanish. No, I wouldn't stop. but now I knew that not all of the questions were going to be easy. The odysseys were going to cost, in time and effort, as well as disillusion. There would be no answers from Grandmother or Grandfather or their brothers and sisters. They and their world were dead and buried. So too with my mother's side of the family, the Scots and the Irish. They had receeded into memory and even those who remembered them were few in number.
Driving away from Lowell I raced toard Boston, took a wrong turn on the highway and found myself near Lynn. There I stopped at a pancake house, realized I hadn't eaten all day, and ordered a Broccoli-omlette and tea. I hate Broccoli, but needed a taste of something different. I don't know quite why.
On a full stomach my spirits brightened. I'd come back tomorrow. Maybe my friend would like to come along. Then I'd go back through the records and fill the journal with whateve was there. But the next time I came up from Connecticut I'd be better prepared.
The search was still on...
I visited with my friend in Boston, then returned the next morning to the library and researched the whole day. I wanted to try the town clerk's office but found that it was only open to the public on Tuesday mornings. Well, I was too late for that, so continued my research in the Lowell Public Library. At the end of the day I had pages of notes that might be clues, but none of them added up to anything. So much for the Noreaus. Perhaps another day . . .
STUDENT: 1: "How did that dead-end affect you?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Oh, a lot, and a little. By that time I was beginning to understand that one needs to have patience over the long haul. You keep digging, finding a clue here and there and, one day it all comes together."
STUDENT: 2: "But you don't always find the answers you're looking for..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Nope! There aren't any guarantees. Sometimes you strike out. But if you don't ever strike out, you can't ever succeed. And on another level I was starting to understand that the odyssey was at least as important as the information I was looking for."
STUDENT: 3: "What do you mean?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well, at first I was looking for information only, gathering names and dates and making charts, but then I realized that the people I was getting this information from, and the people I was meeting in the process, were the real treasures."
STUDENT: 4: "But you didn't find anything in Lowell?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well, that's not really true. I went looking for the church my grandfather and grandmother were married in. Parking in town, I looked for St. Louis's Church, but couldn't find it, and when I saw a building whose sign read St. Louis's Orphanage, I parked and went in to find closed offices. It was obvious that the place was a social welfare center.
I went outside and looked around; an old woman was sitting in the backyard, in a religious grotto of sorts and I walked over to her. I explained my search and the woman began to talk, telling me of the history of St. Louis's church, the orphanage, and the part her family played in that history. She gave me the address of the church and rectory. I thanked her and followed her directions to St. Louis.
The reverend was a friendly sort and looked for the marriage of Arthur Peter White and Ruby May Lafayette. Not finding the names, the reverend went into an older book, its binding falling away. I looked over his shoulder as he searched.
"There!" I pointed, "That's it! Arthur Peter LeBlanc and Ruby May Lafayette. Interesting, how they were married under the old French-Acadian name."
Writing down the data on the page, the address where they used to live and names of the witnesses. I thanked him and asked for directions to the church cemetary. I sketched a quick map and then drove there hopeing to find the tombstone of grandmother's mother, Angeline Noreau who had first married James Buchanan Lafayette, then after his death, a Mr. Rousseau
Strolling through the cemetary the old family names appeared. I was mesmerized. Here they were, all the right names, alongside of each other: LeBlanc, Hebert, Thibodeau, Morin, Boudreau, Richard, Leger, Maillet...I visualized the soliloquay from Maillet's Pelagie:
VOICE OF THE MUSE: "It was hard by, in the valley of Memramcook, before the startled eyes of her man and the disbelief of her brothers, that Madeleine LeBlanc felled her first tree... Come on, you flabby asses, it's here we're digging our cellar and throwing up a roof! "
"And the carts spread out to the four corners of the land of old time Acadie, pushed by winds from the south, southeast, southwest and northeast, climbing the rivers, jumping from one island to the next, digging into the hollows of creeks and bays..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: I could feel the presence; the exiled Acadians gathering from around the world, united in spirit, though separated by time and space. Yet here they all were, living next door to one another, as in the old days. It made me feel quite happy, though a little sad to be with them, yet not with them, to be among them, yet not able to touch them or talk to them. So I photographed their namestones, as the day began to close.
Walking back toward the car I could see that some of the gates were closed. Perhaps it was past 7 and I was locked in for the night. For a moment I was nervous and then I Laughed. So what! Such a peaceful way to spend the night, among one's ancestors, their friends and relatives. And so I contemplated hiking to a restaurant to eat, then coming back to sleep in the pick-up.
Only then, a vehicle, the gardner, drove past. The man nodded casually and drove through an open gate that I hadn't noticed.
Well! So much for sleeping in a cemetary. I thought about driving into town, then coming back in the morning to do some research. But no! I was getting itchy to be back on the road. Driving through town I crossed the Merrimack River and found the highway for Nashua New Hampshire, then headed out for a few days rest before going home.
STUDENT: 3: "Where'd you look next?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "I went back to the books in Hartford, or rather
Tolland, since the French-Canadian Society had moved to a small building
on the Tolland Green, sharing the space with another local history group.
And the number of new repetoires was growing. But on my next vacation I went back to Vermont to visit the Whites.
"Ruby May, a slim, attractive young woman of 16 walked quietly beside her two older sisters, Cora and Maude, as they traversed the main street of Lowell. The girl's long skirts billowed out, seeming to float them over the wheel ruts in the road. Ruby loved the town with its miles of picket fences, looking more like a park, than anything. But, there was a sadness in her eyes, a loneliness that hinted at enduring tragedy in her young life.
It had been six months since her father's death, and Ruby could not forget the lingering battle with the "white-lung" disease, that left James Buchanan Lafayette wracked with constant coughing. When he'd been able to work, as a stone cutter at the granite quarries, life had been good enough. But the cough, which he'd had for many years worsened. He started coughing up blood, and began to spend more and more hours in bed. There came a time when he could no longer work and could barely breathe. His lungs, struggled drink in air, pierced as they were by stone particles, breathed in over years of hard work in the quarry, were full of holes.
Ruby tended him during that time, washed him, cooked his food, and disposed of the messes, while her mother and sisters took in washing and did whatever they could to bring in an income.
Then the bed was empty, which to Ruby was almost a relief, that her father was beyond the immense suffering he'd gone through. But she missed him deeply, the tender father, who'd always found some time in his busy day to talk with her, and laugh with her. Now he was gone, and they were back in Dracut, suburb of Lowell, with mother's sister, and the security of the neighborhood of relatives...
As the three sisters came to the family store, owned and run by Uncle John Morin and Aunt Matilda they giggled as a tall, good-looking young man, Joseph Kerouac came out the door, tipping his hat to the ladies. His eyes met Ruby's and for a moment they held, but the laughter of Cora interrupted this gentle balance of forces and Joseph smiled, Ruby cast her eyes downward, and they entered the store.
Joseph Kerouac would, later, marry another local young girl and have children, a sickly boy who would die early in life, leaving a younger brother to mourn him through his writings, this perhaps being the spark that turned him into Jack Kerouac, and the beginning of a life "On the Road."
Ruby would go back to Vermont, to stay with relatives, and work as a
telephone operator at the local exchange. In Barre she would meet a young
man named Ezra White, go out on a double date with him and his uncle Arthur
(both men were born in 1886), somehow the date would get turned around
and Ruby would be taken home by Arthur just as Mildred Holt would end up
with Ezra, eventually marrying him. Ruby continued her job as a telephone
operator at the local exchange, she dated Arthur and eventually they decided
Ruby knew little of her ancestors, and with the death of her father, that side of the family history was lost to her.
Ruby May Lafayette married Arthur Peter LeBlanc: (Anglecized to White) on the 3rd of March 1908 at St. Louis Church in Lowell, Mass.
Ruby May Lafayette was the daughter of:
James Buchanan Lafayette, a woodsman, who married Angeline Noreau,
in 1886 at Chazy, New York; then they moved to Barre, Vermont where James became a stonecutter at the granite quarries.
James was the son of:
Pierre Desfailette the third, a farmer, who married first to Marie Reine Lussier on 9-10-1815 at L'Acadie, Canada.
Pierre was the son of:
Pierre de Lafayette the second who married M. Agnes Surprenant, on 30-01-1791 at L'Acadie, Canada:
(Louis, one of Pierre and Agnes's boys was caught during the Canadian Revolution of 1838 and was then deported to Australia as a political exile; but after five years he was pardoned and allowed to return to Canada.)
Pierre the second was the son of:
Pierre DeLafayette who married Marie Josette Paquet, somewhere around 1760s at St Marguerite's Church, Canada:
Pierre was the son of:
Joseph Faille who married Catherine Tabeau, often spelled Tabault or Tableau, on 04-03-1726 at Laprairie, Canada:
Joseph was the son of:
Claude Joseph Faye who married Jeanne Perras, on 25-10-1688 at Laprairie, Canada:
Claude was the son of:
a Faye whose name is unknown, but probably came originally from France with the Carrignan Regiment. Many of the records relating to troops in the Carrignan Regiment were lost...
(Researchers know of him because of Mathew Faye of the "Regiment", who was the uncle of Claude Joseph, which makes Mathew a brother of the unknown Faye ancestor.)
The family is traced to its most distant relative in France through Mathew Faye or Lafayette, the son of Claude and Marie Sullier b-1641 at St. Jean, diocese of Clermont, Auvergne, who was married to Marguerite Francoise Maureau, the daughter of Francois and Francoise Gardien of St. Sulpice, Paris, on 30, Sept. 1670.
Mathew was a soldier in the company La Varenne, Carignan Regiment; This regiment of soldiers was pulled out of Europe where they were fighting Turkish troops. They sailed to Canada to stop the raiding Iroquois Indians who were killing settlers in great numbers. Mathew was injured by Iroquois and died 19 Aug. 1695 at Lachine, Canada, of wounds sustained in that battle.
It is known that Mathew was the Uncle of Claude Joseph Faye who married Jeanne Perras in 1688 at Laprairie and so the assumption is that Mathew's brother, whose name has not as yet been clarified, was the father of Claude Joseph Faye.
By inference then since Claude Faye who married Marie Sullier in the early 1600s at St. Jean-d'Aubrigoux was Mathew's father he was also Claude Joseph Faye's grandfather.
This unknown Faye, father of Claude Joseph Faye, was the
Claude Faye who married Marie Sullier, in the early 1600s at de St Jean-d'Aubrigoux?, France.
Further ancestors of this family are shrouded in the mists of time...
and may be revealed at the discretion of the Muse . . .
I drove up to Barre and visited with Tom White's sister Rosemary Normandeau. Her husband, Leonard, was working in the yard on the family car and Danny, their 11 year old son introduced me to one of his friends whose French sounding name implied that he was yet another cousin. Rosemary invited me to breakfast, and over an omlette, she told some family stories. When she stopped speaking, Danny took over. And so a pleasant morning with good companionship was spent.
Late in the morning I said goodbye and drove toward the lake region where the Whites were camping. Two hours later I pulled into their campsite. The family was getting ready for a swim and so I joined Tom and his wife JR and grandma Bid, as the two children, Cara and her brother Clayton, raced ahead to the beach.
As we watched the children swim, I told Tom of my plan to go to Canada
for further research. Tom suggested that there were family mysteries to
be discovered at Napierville during the rebellion of 1836-38. I told him
I'd do some digging in that area. "Also," said Tom, "There's probably a
lot to be learned at Chambly too, if you get there."
"Two weeks isn't much time," I said, "but I'll look where I can."
The following day we hiked a trail along a mountain ridge that paralleled the lake and Tom pointed out distant landmarks including the Canadian border. We returned to the campsite ready for a cookout and songfest by the campfire.
"Have you ever heard of a song called: "The Road to Morrow?" I asked.
"Sure have," said Tom, strumming a tune on his guitar and singing the words. When he'd finished I responded: "Too bad. I was hoping it was an original song. We found it written in my grandfather's journal along with several short stories."
"Well," replied Tom, "Now, it could still be his. The song was collected as part of a folk-art gathering a number of years ago. They went around looking for obscure native work. So it might still be AP's song."
I'd originally planned to stay at the campsite for a day or two and
then move on, but the companionship of the White family was very comfortable
and two days drifted into three; and the next day was Cara's birthday.
So, how could I leave? Just before Cara's party the Normandeaus arrived.
I took Tom's son Clayton and cousin Danny and drove into the nearest town
looking for balloons to add to the festivities. We found them too at a
roadside country-store that sold everything from soup to nuts. And we found
some special balloons too, that whistled as they sailed through the air,
guaranteed to cause a commotion.
Cara had met and invited a young Czek boy and his family who were camping nearby and so, with fun and games, laughter and merriment, the afternoon danced by.
But now I could feel the call of the North, and saying goodbye, I headed toward Essex and Lake Champlain.
SCENE: FADED IMAGES OF THE OLD LEBLANC FAMILY IN VERMONT
Just remember this,
We were here.
Once upon a time.
We walked and loved,
cried and ... died.
But, in between,
a lot of stuff went on.
No, we didn't make the book of names.
Not that we didn't want to...
but, they couldn't fit us in, so they say.
And, what the hell! We had some good times,
Made a few great-friends,
Enemies too, maybe one....or more.
But, Now that its all over,
we love them all.
For they were part of us,
our lives, our happiness,
our world, for good or bad...
Just remember this:
We were here.
Once upon a time,
we danced and sang,
until our song was through.
Maybe there's just a slab of rock,
a marker of our time on Earth,
to prove that we went past...
But our loves and our friends loves
were just as special to us
as the lovers made of granite
who stand in the middle of the park.
Only, our skins were soft and warm
and tingled as we touched.
as you think of us...
NIGHT MECHANIC: First I stopped back in Barre Town, to look around and to drive the mountain road for a view from the top. Spying a backyard with a magnificent view I stopped and walked across the grass. There was a man catching Japanese beetles.
"Hello!" I said, I'm Rob White: You've got the best view on the hill,
mind if I take a picture or two from here?"
"Certainly not," he said, "Are you visiting here?"
"My Dad and his folks came from Barre and there are still Whites here. "I'm traveling north on vacation, following the route the family may have followed when they emmigrated from Canada."
"You wouldn't be related to Ezra White by any chance, who used to own the Rock of Ages Granite Quarry?"
"Yes...He was a great-uncle. Did you know him?"
"Sure did. My name's Ted LaPrade, by the way. I worked for a crew that did work for him. good man, he was. The house where he lived is just down the road a ways."
As I clicked photos of the town, Ted told me a little about Ezra and
the times in which he lived. I mentioned Ernest Lafayette, cousin to my
grandmother Ruby, and Ted knew him, even knew his kids.
"Robert lives in town, works for the Post Office on the main street; you can probably catch him there, if you like,"
"My thanks Mr. LaPrade for the pictures and the hospitality."
Driving downhill, I located Ezras house, stopped and took two photos. Ezra had been half-owner of the Rock of Ages Quarry. Certainly that deserved some time. "Well, why not the quarry? I'm on vacation..."
Headed south, I quickly arrived at the quarry proper. "Too bad the family
doesn't own this place now," I thought, "Lots of money in those rocks."
I sought out the offices and found that Jeanne Rousse, the receptionist
remembered Ezra well.
"Are there any pictures of Ezra here?" I asked.
She thought a moment then went to a file cabinet and searched the contents. "No, I'm sorry," she said, "I think all the archive photos have been given to the Barre Library. You can get access to them through the local historical society."
"Hmmm!" I mumbled, "Don't have time for that this trip. I'll mention it to Tom though; thanks Jean."
In town I stopped at the Post Office and met Robert LaFayette. Robert had never heard of my grandmother Ruby or her sisters. I surmised that that may have been because Ruby's father had died when she was 16 and mother Angeline "Noreau" remarried to a Rousseau in Lowell. With the genealogical charts I was able to show him the generations previous. Robert gave me the address of a sister in Connecticut who might have further information. We shook hands and I was off.
Already it was Saturday, almost a week gone by and I was still in the
U.S.A. "Got to remember its vacation; there's no rush."
I drove into Essex Junction about sunset, located a pizza joint for supper and had a 10 inch pizza while scanning the telephone directory. I wrote down the names of several Yandows, some Rochons and Lafayettes, finished the pizza and inquired about a pay phone. There was one at the Inn about a block away and so I stopped there. First I phoned a listing for Mary Yandow, but that was a wrong number. Then I tried Bernard Yandow. Bernard was cautious on the phone asking who was calling and where I was calling from.
"My great-grandmother was Mary Yandow, anglecized from Marie Theophile
Guindon. I'm trying to make connections with any of that family. Can you
be of any help?"
"No," he said, "but you might try Chuck Donolly from Fairsburg, Vergennes whose wife Joyce was a Yandow. Her brother Harry is a doctor. He did a family history a while back. You know, there's a LeBlanc in town who runs the local coffee shop who might be of interest to you."
"Thanks, I'll give it a try."
In the morning I got up early, cleaned up the back of the camper and took a bike ride along the lake. I stopped at the Colchester Library and looked through the town directory letting myself dissolve into the pages, fading back through time, looking for connections:
VOICE OF THE MUSE:
White, Erving H. painter and paper hanger. Main St.
White, George H. farmer. Cilley Hill Rd.
White, Henry T. Farmer, Cilly Hill Rd. Underhill.
White, Sophia, widow, Russell.
White, Carrie P. widow James E. in the village.
White Embree B. student, bords with Mrs. Carrie P. White.
White Mary N. widow Henry.
Chittenden County. 12 miles south of burlington. Town chartered 1762. Daily stage leaves Burlington 7AM and 1PM. Arrives 10AM and 7PM. Fare: 75 cents. Population 1,216. Area 23,040 miles.
White, Arthur R. prop. Mountain View Creamery. bds Frank A. Ellison.
NIGHT MECHANIC: This one was very interesting since my grandfather was Arthur White and he did run a dairy farm, but Gramp was Arthur P. White, not R, and he had been in Brookfield, not Charlotte. But an interesting similarity non the less. It was easy to fall into the trap of false leads. One had to be careful, yet not too careful.
VOICE OF THE MUSE:
White, John W. agent for all kinds of sewing machines.
White, Lewis of Essex Jct. paper-machine tender. Home on Park St. works for Hunter Shiland hanging and curtain papers. Essex Jct.
HUNTER SHILANDS PAPER MILL: Located at Essex Junction is operated by water power and has in addition four engines for grinding stock. All of their machinery is of the most modern style enabling them to do first-class work. They employ 20 hands and manufacture one and a half tons of paper per day."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "So," I thought, "There he is, Great-grandpa Louis LeBlanc. Such a small item on the page, hardly worthy of note, yet its like opening an ancient crypt and finding a secret message."
I copied the information in my journal and went off for breakfast, only by now it was time for lunch. Of course the LeBlanc coffee-house was my destination.
It was not a big place and the waitresses were teen-aged girls. I asked for Mr. LeBlanc. "Oh, he's retired and his daughter owns the restaurant. But, you're in luck. He's here on holiday and working in back, since the cook quit. You can go back if you want."
Mr. LeBlanc was a quiet man, a baker. He didn't know anything about the family history, but listened to my tale. Then he gave me his sister's name. She lived down the road in Winooski and had done some research a while back on the family.
I phoned the sister and introduced myself, then drove the short distance to Winooski. Simone Mary Parot was a gentle woman in retirement. She proudly showed me the condominium she lived in which was once a mill that her father had worked in all his life. We went upstairs for tea. Simone searched for, but couldn't find the genealogy done for her by Father Trahan, a researcher whose name I was familiar with, also an Acadian cousin, by the way. So I pulled out my reference books trying to find another way.
With a copy of Janet Jehn's "Acadian Descendents" I researched Simone's grandparents and found them on page 147. Zepherin LeBlanc married in 1878 at Napierville to Uzilda Pare. Zepherin's father was David, and his father was Pierre Drossin. There was the common ancestor, Pierre Drossin LeBlanc. So we had another cup of tea while any distrust of strangers vanished. "You've got to meet my friend Emma," said Simone, "She's a LeBlanc too."
A short while later I drove the few blocks and met Mrs. Emma Desmarois. We sat on her porch, drinking lemonade and talking about the LeBlancs. Though we couldn't find our direct connection. Emma came from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and there was no doubt that we were related. But the books I needed were back in Connecticut. Emma gave me the addresses of several of her relatives in Nova Scotia, and I promised to visit, if I ever got there.
The shadows had lengthened when I finished my lemonade and thanked Emma
and her husband for the hospitality. I greeted their children, young-folk,
as we met at the driveway, I going out, as they drove in.
Then it was time for the highway, but at the last moment, I changed my mind and swung over for one more trip through Essex Junction. On Park street I looked for the old homestead of Louis LeBlanc and Mary Yandow, alias Theophelia Guindon.
"It could be that house, or that one. No, There it is! Changed a bit, but the woodwork is unmistabeable from our old photos. That one there; that's it."
I wanted to stop, to visit the old house but the hours were running down hill. Now it was time for the northern trek to Canada. In a short while I was on the Lake Champlain road, headed down the narrow highway that ran the length of the lake. I was determined to spend the night across the border.
VOICE OF THE MUSE: Daniel LeBlanc was born in 1626 in France. He is said to have come from Normandy, then also from La Chauseee, Loudun, Department of Vienne, in the old province of Poitou; the late Genevieve Massignon says he was from Martaize, Vienne. There was some unfounded supposition that Daniel LeBlanc's family descended from the Capet Kings, although not yet disproven.
In the census of 1671 Daniel LeBlanc was 45 years of age and his wife was age 48. they had one married daughter, Francoise, 18; and Jacques, 20; Etienne, 15; Rene, 14; Andre, 12; Antoine, 9; Pierre, 7. They had 18 cattle, 26 sheep, 10 acres of cultivated land in two places. In the 1686 census, Daniel & Francoise were said to be both age 60 and had 2 guns, 15 cattle, 20 sheep, 7 pigs and six acres of land.
"Because this is one of the most numerous of the Acadian families, it seems important to include the marriages of the children:
Jacques - married circa 1673 to Catherine Hebert in Ancient Acadia.
Francoise married circa 1671 to Martin Blanchard.
Etienne - he was a navigator who left Acadia... (fate unknown).
Rene married circa 1679 to Anne Bourgeois.
Andre married circa 1681 to Marie-Jeanne Dugas.
Antoine married circa 1681 to Marie Bourgeois.
Pierre's first marriage, circa 1684, was to Marie Terriot.
Pierre's second marriage, circa 1694, was to Madeleine Bourg.
One of the children, Rene, was the father of Longfellow's character Rene LeBlanc, the Notary of Grand Pre' in "Evangeline."
Reverend Godbout says the LeBlanc family settled on the north shore of the present Annapolis River, about nine miles above the north shore of the present Anapolis River (fade voice to silence) . . .
NIGHT MECHANIC: On Sunday morning in a Napierville campground I awoke to a peaceful, quiet, brightly-lit day and felt that I had arrived. I crawled from the back of the pick-up and sat at a picnic-table, listening to the sound of crickets and enjoyed the sunshine. I stretched, relaxing for the first time in weeks. Opening a fresh page in the journal I wrote:
"I can feel that this moment of the trip marks an end of something, although I don't quite know how to determine what it is that is finished. A milestone has been passed. Perhaps, it's the completion of a circle, a return to the land of my ancestors. I feel content here even with the realization that our family research has only begun. Yet to be explored is the family of my mother, her grandparents Thomas Moore and Hannah Cleary from Ireland and her mother's parents Samuel Baird Sanderson and Martha Ann Warwick of Scotland. Those family lines will be difficult.
I celebrated the arrival in Napierville with a bottle of warm Coke, then hiked around the campground, looking at the tents and trailers and thinking of the research. Of course I had not completed the family history and never would. People, more knowledgeable than I, had been at the job for a considerably longer time and others would still be researching long after I was gone; I knew that now and felt no regret. But Napierville seemed to be the completion of one part of an identity search that had continued throughout my lifetime. The need to know about life -- the universe, space, time, and place; people and things. Not surprisingly the search had opened up more questions than it had answered. And I was confronted with other mysteries I could not have contemplated two years before.
I washed and shaved at the washstand, noting the cobwebs in one window
and dust on the shelves. There was a Frenchness about the place, a casualness
that American facilities didn't know, from the soft-green paint, peeling
at the windows, to the glass itself, dull from not having been washed in
quite a while.
No one came to the stand and I suspected that people were still asleep except for the little-kids who were up and around. I could hear their laughter across the field. I sat for a while at the picnic table, thinking about the trip and making journal entries.
"I can feel a presence here, though I must admit its not too strong.
But, perhaps that's because I don't know exactly where to look. I feel
like I've moved a small distance into the past.
There is a feeling too of having become a member of a fraternity of time-travelers. Cousin Tom White has been a good guide and I deeply respect his knowledge and his sharing of that knowledge. Others, such as Stephen White of the University of Moncton's Acadian Studies is another scholar whose life-work will fill in many gaps. Then there is Arsenault, Druin,
Pontbriand, Father Trahan, Roland Auger, Archange Godbout, Jette, Roy, Hebert, Nathan White and on and on and on.
Time travel is possible, but it is all done in the mind. We have the ability to take little bits and pieces of information and weave it together into pictures of yesterday. Through our dreams and our thoughts we can realize those images in our writings, paintings, movies and song.
I thought of Billy Pilgrim in "Slaughterhouse Five" and how he bounced back and forth in time. I found that I had always done that. One minute I was sitting, talking to a friend, and the next moment, bouncing back to an incident that happened years earlier; then with a jolt, coming back to the present. There was nothing unusual about it. It was standardard operating procedure of the mind.
I noticed several people moving toward a low central cottage and so I wandered that way. Here was breakfast, cafeteria style, with a dozen children in the backroom pounding away at electronic games-machines. There was something surrealistic about this moment of travelling back through time, yet at the same instant finding myself surrounded by the sounds of space-battles. But it was pleasant eating ham and eggs and listening to the campers talk away in French that I could barely understand.
After breakfast I left the camp and drove backroads trying to get a feeling for the land, the homes and people there. And gradually I began to connect to that farmland. After a while I could even sense Great-grandpa Louis and his family. Though Louis had died many miles to the south, still his spirit felt alive in this land.
In the afternoon I wandered back to town and tried to make some contacts. But my inability to speak French was a severe barrier. At first I was angry at people for not trying to help more and then at myself for not knowing better. Then I wasn't angry at anybody. Things were just the way things are, that's all. "Cest La Vie"...
I walked to the church in Napierville. It was a great, and peaceful building with no name that I could locate. The place was empty on a Sunday afternoon. I tried the rectory but no one answered the bell; then the convent; no answer either. So I went back to the church. Father Julibett came to the door. Fortunately he spoke some English, rather a lot, I thought. That was luck. I explained my search.
Father Julibett smiled: "I must say mass in an hour," he said,
"Can you come back tomorrow?"
"Well, I can but, I haven't much time left on this trip."
"There is a man who did research on the church. His name is Mr. Foucault. Here, this is his address. He might be able to help you. Come back during the week, and I'll see what I can do."
I drove to Mr. Foucault's house, but no one was at home.
"Well I could camp and wait for him tomorrow. No, I need to travel,
to follow that call North, at least to Montreal."
Travelling the highway felt good, but I stopped after a few miles just to stand by the road and look out across the fields, across the plain. How flat it was, and quiet. I could see to all horizons in a circle around me and there was not a soul in sight, nor a car passing by.
L'Acadie was next. I'd driven through the town before I realized I had passed through the center. I circled back again. The place was only a cross-road, but of course, there was a church. It was a lot like Germany.
In the churchyard I found them, more family names, and friends.
And so I wandered among the silent relatives again...
St. Phillippe was next.
"God! I'm getting to know the land. Names on the map are becoming real places. And I am walking in the footsteps of my predecessors. If only we could talk together for a while, what tales they might spin."
Late in the afternoon I reached LaPrairie, with Montreal in the distance. LaPrairie was quite a suburb now. I found the church there, with an old tree being cut down in the front yard. I swiped a slice of tree-ring, part of it anyway.
"Look there! At those rings, See! Way back when the tree was young. There are LeBlancs there and the others too. The record is plain, if I could only read it..."
I drove into Montreal and was lost. There was a campground on the map and I drove to the place shown, but there was no campground. Locating a police station, I pulled up and went inside. The officer on duty looked puzzled but he checked anyway and still couldn't find the campground. "Must be a mistake on the map," he said, "but try further north."
Driving for another hour I exited from the highway and, following a sideroad, pulled into a campground labelled "The Cascades."
Morning's light showed the meaning of the Cascades; an old canal from a day gone past, still alive and healthy. I paid my respects to the camp attendents, two friendly young ladies, and paid my fee. Then I spent some time bicycling along the canal before moving on.
Driving from the Cascades, I had an urge to stop the car, get out, and
stand for a moment on the prairie. Looking across the canal, at the small,
isolated houses, I could smell the cowshit, and felt closer to the land
than I had been for a long time. During that brief moment I sensed elbow-room,
freedom and a sense of frontier.
Rain drops ran me back into the car; I contemplated following the road further North-West along the canal, deeper into a land of fewer houses, less civilization and quiet. It was tempting.
"There is a feeling of space here, of being somewhere between forces, a pause, a deep-breath for life to take in oxygen. I have a need to get across that canal, to be among the houses way off, if only for a little while."
So, then I went back, back in time, across the bridge, over the canal and there were people living there. I found a mighty river too and the real cascades.
"Standing on the hillside I watched the tons of moving water. Perhaps a trip like this should be taken alone to appreciate our smallness, as measured against nature. Conversation would be intrusive here, and the solitude between two people awkward."
On the road to Montreal I felt something of the frontier. It was like coming in from the Outlands toward the center of civilization. I expected to see vehicles loaded with produce on the way to market and perhaps strange gypsy wagons with vagabonds and even Mongol hordes armed to the teeth, on their way to battle.
NIGHT MECHANIC: A cold rain settled around Montreal. It was a dreary day, mist rolled in layers across the road, followed by a sudden heavy downpour.
I reached the center of the city, located the library but couldn't find a parking place. So I rode around until I found an opening four blocks away. My light-jacket didn't keep out the penetrating chill and so I hurried along to the library.
Striding down the street, I inspected the buildings under construction, and bemoaned the loss of the beautiful old buildings they were replacing. I wished they had turned the spaces into parks instead of buildings.
At the library I began looking for something on the Noreaus. Both Tanguay and Drouin had documented the beginning of the line in North America. I translated the records from French to English. Now, all that remained was to connect the original immigrants to the Noreaus of Lowell, Mass. No small feat, that.
Still, it was good to find the name Noreau. For a while that name had been lost to our family. It had been my sister Ann, the youngest member of the family who remembered it. Ann's memory of conversations with Grandmother White and the name
Angeline Noreau filled in another blank on the genealogical chart. And Aunt Phyllis had confirmed it. Yes, the name sounded right. And, they came from Lowell or near there.
So when I visited Aunt Irene in Higganum, and we'd gone out for lunch
together, she remembered the name too. Angeline
Noreau, from Dracut near Lowell. There was a neighborhood there. The Noreau's owned a small variety store. Or was it the Gamaches who owned the store? Well, they were related anyway, and one of the families owned it. The community had been called Noreauville. Lots of people in that community were related: Noreaus, Gamaches, Morins, possibly Rousseaus and who knows who else...
Returning to the stacks I rambled a bit, in awe at being among so much
history. "Probably" I thought, "somewhere within this one library, if I
knew where to look, is all the information I'd ever need complete the family
No! Not history, but histories,...
I laughed at the thought of completing history and, smiling to myself, shook my head from side to side as I wrote in the journal.
"Mathurin Noreau, born in 1689, the son of Jean Noreau of Saintonge, France immigrated to Canada in the early 1700's He married Marie Joseph Marchet on 13, May 1722 at Notre Dame de Quebec, and there were thirteen children. The Noreau line was propagated in name by Jean-Joseph, Charles, Jean-Jacques, Mathurin, and Andrei. The girls, Marie Joseph married Joseph Voyer, Marie-Louise married Andre Cloutier, Michelle-Catherine married Jean-Baptiste Donohue, Agathe married pierre Meunier, and Marie married Francois Robitaille. . ."
Continuing with the journal, I wrote: "This "history" like any other can never be complete, only smoothed and polished, added to, subtracted from, changed. but the entire picture can never come together. The present is still in progress, the future is yet to be, and the past goes back so far it's hard to imagine a beginning.
This journal then can only be a personal statement from point F to point G. And what I have seen and remembered, read, researched and found, will go into the volume, hopefully adding to some universal store of knowledge.
On the shelf in front of me was a book of Canadian maps. I pulled the book down and thumbed through it. Good! Old maps. There! Port Royal. With my finger I followed the river up, past the fort, past the windmills and beaver-traps.
"There! There it is! A small dot on the map, the home of Pierre LeBlanc,
and the original homestead of our original immigrant, Daniel LeBlanc and
his wife Francoise Gaudet, the widow Mercier.
Pierre was their youngest son and he inherited the farm since the other brothers and sister moved across the Bay of Minas to Grand Pre. But there it was, a small dot among other dots, labelled Pierre LeBlanc. I Xeroxed the map, made several copies and returned to the book.
I researched Napierville and found a book in the collection that
l hadn't expected to find. It was the repetoire written by Foucault. There
I found great-grandfather Louis DeGonzaque LeBlanc, and his family.
From the records I could see that Louis's mother Marie Luce Hebert was not a strong woman and most of her children died at childbirth or shortly thereafter. Then, after Marie Luce died, Pierre remarried to Domitille Granger and there were other children. Having discovered Foucault's book I was anxious to get back to Napierville.
Quitting Montreal, I drove over the bridge to LaPrairie and stopped
for supper. I looked up Foucault's phone number and was hesitant to call
him since my grasp of spoken French was terrible; but I had to try anyway.
I attempted to tell Mr. Foucault my story, that I was the great grand-son of Louis DeGonzac LeBlanc. But I was speaking in English and he in French and we didn't have much luck with the conversation. Though we did manage to set up an appointment for "dix heur" the next morning.
It had been a busy day and I finished it by driving part way up Mt.
Royal, then bicycling up the remainder.
The sun went down golden and I watched much of the solar procession from the summit. As the rays crossed the city at a low angle, Montreal looked like some ancient city from out of the Far East, a place soft and misty, a land from another time. I thought of Lord Dunsany's "At the Edge of the World."
VOICE OF THE MUSE:
"I heard a rattling and sometimes caught a flash from those golden dragons far away below me that are the triumph of the goldsmiths of Sirdoo and were given life by the ritual incantations of the conjurer Armagrarn. On the edge of the opposite cliff, too near for safety, I saw the ivory palace of Singanee, that mighty elephant-hunter; small lights appeared in windows, the slaves were awake, and beginning with heavy eyelids the work of the day..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: As the horizon around Montreal darkened, lights crept on from the valley below, until the countyside became a galaxy rivaling the night stars. I stood, watching the procession of lights in the valley and tried to imagine what the view was like three hundred years ago. Then it was time to return to the campground, and a good night's sleep.
I awoke and tried to stretch, but the camper was too crowded with boxes of clothing and books. After a week of travelling, things had gotten quite jumbled about. Exiting through the back-window, I looked around and found the camp-site even more quiet than the last time. "Weekday," I mumbled, realizing that most of the campers must commute in for weekends, then head back to the cities. I shaved and walked over to the breakfast cottage but it was closed.
After eating at a restaurant in town I drove to Mr. Foucault's home
in the suburbs. As I walked up the front steps of the ranch-house I saw,
through the door window, a man coming to meet me at the door.
"Bonjour Monsieur LeBlanc," said the stocky, smiling man, offering an enthusiastic handshake.
"Bonjour Monsieur Foucault. Comment Allez Vous!" I replied.
"Bon! et vous?"
Monsieur Foucault launched into a long thought leaving me lost. "Pardon Monsieur! Jen ne pas parle Francais, Parlez Vous Anglais?"
"A little," said Mr. Foucault.
Fortunately Foucault's English was much better than my French and we began communicating right away. Foucault brought out his book: NAPIERVILLE REPETOIRES and then quickly located Louis from the Xerox sheets I had made in Montreal.
Monsieur Foucault expressed his admiration that I had located his book. Great-grandfather Louis was there but not his wife nor children. That would come years later, after the journey to Vermont, and Louis's marriage in Burlington to Marie Theophilia Guindon alias Mary Yandow. I was able to supply that information on Louis and his family from my own genealogical charts.
Together we studied the connection back to Pierre Drossin LeBlanc. There too, in the book, were many DeFayettes, the family of grandmother Ruby May LaFayette. Foucault turned to a page on the history of the parish and the date 1838 stood out. I remembered Tom White's words to search out the date. There it was, the right time period, anyway.
"There was trouble in the parish," I could read, "L'Angleterre usurpaint..." Foucault interpreted: "On 3 nov. 1838 there was an insurrection in the communities of Laprairie and Napierville. Robert Nelson arrived in Napierville and proclaimed martial law. There was a battle and once again the French were routed. There were executions and exiles. Louis Defaillette, son of Pierre Desfaillettes et d'Agnes Surprenant, farmer from St. Cyprien were exiled to Sidney."
There were other families mentioned and then: "David Drossin-LeBlanc, son of Pierre Drossin LeBlanc and Marguerite Trahan deported on 26 Septembre 1839. Hubert Drossin-LeBlanc, brother to David, was also exiled.
I lifted my head from the book. Another mystery was resolving itself.
Certainly grandfather's people knew grandmother's people. Their granduncles
had fought a battle for freedom, lost, and been exiled together. The revolution
1838, French against English had failed. There was more information that I could handle for the moment, but I was sure that Monsieur Foucault would sell me a copy of his repetoire and I could translate it at home...
Now I felt satisfied. I'd accomplished one important goal and found a major connection between my grandparents. I contemplated a drive to Nova Scotia, to the Acadian Research Center at Moncton and a visit with Steve White. Thanking Monsieur Foucault for his help I returned to the campground.
Looking at the map I realized that I could drive north a few miles, cross over the Richelieu River, and head down to Vermont. This would take me through Henryville, the town where great-grandfaher Pierre LeBlanc lived when he first left Napierville before immigrating to Vermont.
Driving the backroads toward home, I felt good about the countryside around me, finding names on mailboxes such as: Thibodeau, Hebert, Landry, or a hundred other names listed on the pages of my genealogy charts. With each familiar name came the feeling that I was passing a friend...
Our thoughts are collected on these pages of poetry
And in our journals, worn with time.
... And in photographs of old-folks
Sunning on Yesterday's porches
At the end of Autumn days...
Images caught by silver-crystals
freezing time and smiles forever...
at one-sixtieth of a second at F' Five-point six...
As snapshots of laughing children
On a sunny, bubbling-brook afternoon.
We are the words
And we are the photographs that
Someday, someone, somewhere --
will find on the dusty-shelves
of a 12th Street bookstore,
And carry them home, on their lap, as they ride
The Coney-Island expressway to
their house in Connecticut
And, sitting quietly, with a cup of green-tea,
find us, our laughter and our sorrows...
So, at the end ...
When the last page is closed,
As that someone sits with our book in their lap,
And the memory of our stories in their mind...
Thinking of us,
as we laughed, or cried, in each other's arms,
That reader may just dispatch a sigh
For wishing they had known us,
when we were more than poems or journal entries,
or photographs of old-timers sunning on Yesterdays porches,
at the end of Autumn days...
STUDENT: 2: "Who were the Acadians anyway?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Oh, they were common folk, settlers in a new world. Possibly the best source I've found are the books of Reverend Parkman. He's fairly objective. If you read books by a French author, the Acadians were a simple, homespun people who were victims of English imperialism. English authors look at them as arrogant, independent subversives. So, its hard to find an unbiased picture?"
STUDENT: 2: "But still, what are the facts of history?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: (shruggs, and laughs). "Facts! What are facts?"
PATRICIA RENEAU: "The records show that the Acadian people were French immigrants who settled in New France, Acadia, Nova Scotia, call it what you will, at the same time that the Pilgrims were settling the East Coast.
They were caught in a power struggle between two major powers, the French and the English. Claiming neutrality they tried to walk the razor's edge and succeeded for a hundred years. Then they were caught, on the edge. A trap was laid by Lawrence, whole villages were taken at gunpoint, men, women and children, whole families often separated, some never to meet again; then shipped down the coast in different boats. They wre dropped off and left to the mercies of individual states along the way, held prisoner of the states, but not allowed to work.
If you've read Evangeline, the story is there: two lovers, separated, struggling to find one another, but doomed."
STUDENT: 3: "But that's genocide, eliminating a whole nation of people!"
PATRICIA RENEAU: "Genocide is a strong word. This was a power struggle on the biggest scale for a large chunk of the world. The English were afraid that the Acadians would become too powerful. Already the small band of people who had arrived there had grown to many thousands."
STUDENT: 4: "Rob, where did your ancestors end up?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well all of the Acadians were my relatives, but my direct line had strong connections in Port Royal and so they were able to hold out until the last. In the end they were exiled to Massachusetts and Connecticut.
There's a house in Guilford, just of the green, called the Acadian House. My ancestors were married there, but then went back to LaPrairie and Napierville.
Other relatives were scattered to the winds, England, France, the East Coast; most of the ships had safe journeys, but a few of them sank with all hands aboard. Some of the Acadians later became what we call the Cajuns. But many went back to Acadia, after a treaty was signed between England and France. Only those who returned found that their land was now owned by new settlers from Scotland, and other countries."
"Monsieur LeBlanc was not the only one of the name to come in contact with Rev. Parkman. August 23, 1758, he writes: "In returning to Westboro, called...to see the old French folks Mons Pierre LeBlanc, and company." This was surely Pierre LeBlanc of Shrewsbury, where Parkman, on his return to Westboro from a ministers' meeting at Boylston, interrupted his trip to visit this French family.
His full name was Pierre Hilaire LeBlanc; he was nicknamed Pinault, written Pinous in the Massachusetts Archives. Born in 1683 the son of Antoine LeBlanc and of Marie Bourgeois, he married at Grand Pre', February 16, 1711, Francoise Landry, daughter of Antoine Landry and of Marie Thibodeau. A few months after visiting the said Pierre LeBlanc, Parkman writes, the day after Christmas: "Peter leBlanc junior. of Shrewsbury with Amon here". This was Pierre Hilaire LeBlanc, Jr., son of Pierre Hilaire LeBlanc, Sr., and of Francoise Landry, just mentioned. He would cross the Massachusetts line to get married, October 13, 1762, in Guilford, Connecticut, to Marie-Isabelle Hebert, daughter of Pierre Hebert and of Elisabeth Dupuis. That marriage was revalidated the 17th of January, 1775, at St-Philippe de Laprairie, where they settled. There are still two other LeBlancs mentioned in the diary who have not been spoken of yet: (fade)...
SCENE NOVA SCOTIA SLIDES:
NIGHT MECHANIC: I didn't get to Nova Scotia that year, but the next summer I did. In a sense, when I got there it was an anticlimax. By now I had an overview of who the Acadian part of my family was, and I knew where I fit into the scheme of time. Still, I wanted to go there, to find the LeBlanc family homestead or rather the land on which it once stood. And I wanted to visit Grand Pre, where ancestors and relatives were boarded at gunpoint and shipped to various parts of the country and the world. So, when friend Nikki agreed to join me for the trip we left together.
At Fredrickton I left Nikki off to visit her relatives there while I went on to meet Stephen White at the Center for Acadian Studies in Moncton.
Stephen showed me his new manuscript which followed the Acadian families during the Exile. We talked of difficulties encountered in being precise because of inaccuracies and lack of some information on certain families. I asked him when his work would be finished. He smiled, and spread his arms wide to emcompass the sea of paper covering every surface in the room. "It will be finished when it's finished," he said.
"What about research overseas in France?" I asked, "Massignon's assertion
that Daniel LeBlanc was descendent from Hugh Capet..."
"That's an unfounded supposition," said Stephen, "It hasn't been proven yet; though Entremont says he's done so. Still, I need to see better documentation. Maybe someday I'll get over there, but first we have to organize what we have here. Then, perhaps..."
I left Steven among his pile of papers while I went out into the research area, pulled out my notes and got to work. There were two major problem areas with our Acadian genealogy. I couldn't find any information on Marie Bernard's parents and the same with the Gautrot family during the time of "Le Grand Derangement."
When Stephen walked by I asked him to take a look at my notes on the Bernard family. He scanned the page, nodded and went into his office. In a moment he was back with two full pages of information. I was amazed and delighted, but not surprised by the thoroughness of his work.
With those two pages duplicated I went back to his office and asked about Gautrot. Steven checked my notes, then filed through his folders and pulled out several pages. Again, there were the answers. Xeroxing those pages, I spent the next hour going back to Bergeron and copying those two family lines out fully, then connecting those names on my genealogical charts.
Now, basically our Acadian lines were complete. Not that the research was done and finished, but actually I had a fairly broad picture of who my Acadian family was and where they had been before, during and after the exile, many of them, anyway.
Knowing how busy Steven was I didn't want to take up too much of his time but we did converse for a few moments before I left.
"With all of the racial intermarriages down in Louisiana someday you're going to have a black-man ask for his Acadian LeBlanc genealogy," I said.
Stephen laughed: "We're way ahead of you," he said, "that man, and many others have been here already. The Acadians have blended into most of the nationalities of the world by now. We're multi-national."
Later I met several other LeBlancs at the Center and they assisted me in obtaining some photographs of the LeBlanc Family Reunion. I'd come across the photos reading issues of "Evangeline" there at the library.
Back in n 1955 there had been a gathering of LeBlancs at Moncton and it was ascertained that from the original two partners, Daniel and Francoise, there were now over 100,000 descendents. So it didn't surprise me that most all LeBlancs in Canada and the U.S. originated from Acadia.
I picked up Nikki at Fredrickton and we left Moncton on the highway, to stop for lunch at an Acadian restaurant. The waitress, an attractive, dark-haired young girl came to take our order.
"Are you an Acadian too?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied, with a smile.
"May I ask your name?"
"Theresa, Theresa LeBlanc..."
Nikki laughed and I joined in. "That's my name too," I said to the befuddled girl who couldn't understand why we found her name so amusing. I told her that we'd found a lot of LeBlancs here, and were wondering if indeed everyone wasn't a LeBlanc. She promised us they weren't and took our orders.
"We're close to Memramcook," I said to Nikki, "I'd like to say hello
to Phyllis LeBlanc, I've been corresponding with her, but I don't have
her address or phone number, just a post office box. Well, maybe next time."
"Where shall we head for?" asked Nikki.
"If you don't mind," I replied, "I'd like to drive toward Port Royal
and follow the River Dauphine looking for the LeBlanc village, or rather,
the land that once was the village. I have an old map that I found in Montreal
with the location, and cousin Tom said it was near a place called Gesnier's
Creek. I don't think we'll find the place exactly, but we can come close."
Nikki drove, as her back was troubling her, and she found it easier to support her posture by holding onto the steering wheel.
About once every hour we stopped for a break, and to buy cold drinks. Driving this rolling landscape was much more interesting than the narrow, tree-lined highways of Maine, as you could see the houses and the land, and sometimes people.
Our van rolled with the land, dipping down into the hollows, then up the winding turns of the hills. And for a while, as we rode a ridge, we could see the country for many miles. Each house stood off by itself, alone, with farm-land all around it, much like New England was many years ago. There was a ruggedness about most houses, a utilitarian attitude that the land served an important, self-sustaining purpose; it supplied food and fuel for immediate needs.
I thought of our lives back in Connecticut; how far from the food chain we'd grown. Indeed, one of the high schools had a program where the students raised chickens from eggs, then slaughtered the grown chickens at the end of the year so that they would have an understanding of how the food chain worked. They needed to be aware of the fact that chickens weren't the exclusive property of Colonel Sanders and Mr. Perdue.
Shadows lengthened and we sailed into twilight, a crimson horizon became our goal, and as darkness settled, we drove into the land of Evangeline. I set up the tent while Nikki went into a washroom. Her back was feeling somewhat better. Perhaps a good night's rest would help.
With the tent up, I decided to cross the shallow creek over to the beach. For a while I stood there in the spotlights of the campground, trying to gauge the shoreline. I travelled further down the beach, leaving the lights behind. Standing there I let my mind wander out over the water, searching for images of yesterday.
For a while I felt only an enjoyment at being by the sea, then slowly mental-images mixed with what I could feel and see. I began to sense another landscape fitting parallel with this one. Again, I felt a familiarity with the land and the coast.
There were scattered lights across the bay, and out further toward the sea. I recognized the scene from somewhere. Was it possible that I was connecting to a memory from the past, perhaps the images of an earlier ancestor. This was an eerie feeling, not without some discomfort, but exciting too.
A poem of William Inglis Morris floated through me as I visualized a landscape, strange, yet vaguely familiar...
"We are what the past has made us --
Echoes of the million lives,
And the storm and stress and yearning
Of desire that in us strives.
Other souls can tell us little
of the struggles, fierce and long,
Of the fight for truth and duty.
Or the urgent call of wrong.
Other strains are mingled in us,
Other loves and hates and woes:
Countless tendencies are blended
With our ecstasies and throes.
Drain the goblet, pass it onward,
With the dregs of revelry:
Let the fires of melancholy
Smoulder in the lives to be."
William Englis Morris
NIGHTMECHANIC: Walking back to the campsite, I found Nikki sitting at a park-bench reading. I told her about the experience and my thoughts of there being a possible connection to an earlier life.
"I'm not surprised," said Nikki, "I feel that in a past life I
was Egyptian, probably a slave, and at another time, part of the upper
class. But that's part of my Buddhist beliefs. I studied Buddhism for a
while, you know."
"Yes," I said, "I remember you told me about that, years ago. But this was such a clear image...
You know! Now that I think more about it, I can see what happened. The land I was brought up on, at City Point, in New Haven, is very much like this coastline. Yes, that's what it was. I was connecting to an image from my childhood; I'm sure of that. It's not quite so exciting as a past life, but still rather interesting..."
The next day we drove back onto the crossroads and ate at a small restaurant and gift shop called "Evangeline." I shivered at the thought of this commercialization, but the waitress was quite friendly, and the food was good; we asked where the town of Grand Pre actually stood.
"Right here! You're on it," she replied.
Later, after breakfast, I walked down the road-a-ways and looked back at the crossroads, trying to imagine the place as it was then, but the gas station, the store, and highway, the power lines running down the road were too powerful for me to displace.
We looked for the government-run museum and found it several blocks
down the road. There was a gift shop and statues of
Evangeline, one of Longfellow too, and a chapel. I asked a tour guide where the Acadians actually embarked on their voyage and he pointed out toward a back field.
"There's a dirt road that leads to a metal cross. If you squint you can just barely see it out there in the fields, down the railroad tracks, beyond the cows and that tractor. It's private farmland, but the farmers won't mind if you hike out there."
Nikki decided to remain behind and read some more while I followed the road. Several busloads of schoolchildren arrived and suddenly the grounds were alive with laughing, frolicking kids and their teachers. I passed by them and moved on along the road.
My feet were hurting some from all the walking in Moncton and I realized just how soft I'd become from driving. The stones from the dirt-road hurt my soles, but I dismissed that as being part of the price of admission.
As I walked further from the tourist site the sounds of the children's voices grew soft and disappeard, to be replaced by the chirps of birds, and the mooing of cows who came up to the edge of the wire fences to inquire about me, probably looking for something to eat. The walk took me over half an hour and the last part I finished by walking down the train tracks.
The cross was dark black, with French scrolling; it stood alone at the edge of the fields, near the tracks. Behind it there was a weed-covered basin, an overgrown channel that led out to the bay. I put my hand on the cross and I imagined the sadness of that moment when the Acadians were herded away from the dock and put into long boats for the short row out to waiting ships. I thought of Herbin's book, "Grand Pre'" and the account of a woman, who, having excaped from the "prison" took refuge in the woods and witnessed the entire event...
SCENE: NOVA SCOTIA SLIDES
"By noon, the 5th of September, the beach was piled with boxes, baskets and bundles; behind them were crowds of weeping women and children; children crying for their mothers, and mothers looking for their children; sick men and bedridden women were carried by strong maidens, or tipped out of their carts which bore them to the spot.
A little before highwater the prisoners in the church were ordered to form six deep and march to the place of embarkation; they refused to obey the command. The troops were ordered to fix bayonets and advance on the prisoners. This act produced obedience, and they commenced to march. When they came to the beach, and saw their property, their mothers, wives, children, and sisters kneeling on each side of the road, one long, loud wail of anguish went up from them on account of being so suddenly torn away from their houses and homes, the place of their nativity, their flocks and fields, which were then covered with the crops of the season, with some of the wheat cut, and the remainder ready for cutting, and separated from the wives and families, leaving behind them their Church and the graves of their kindred, to be dispersed among strangers in a strange land, - among a people whose customs, laws, language, and religion were strongly opposed to their own.
The women were ordered the same afternoon to embark in another ship. About midnight all were on board, except one or two women who had escaped to visit their forsaken houses the next morning, and witness the sad havoc that had been made the night before by some British soldiers who remained, by setting fire to a number of the houses of the village. Among these was the Chapel...
The transport ship with the men on board drifted down to the mouth of the Avon River, and there awaited the other vessel that had women and children on board. At daybreak she was in sight, and they drifted down the Bay with the saddest freight on board that ever sailed out of Cobequid; and as the vessels stood out to Pass Blomidon, the third vessel that had run further up the Bay joined them, freighted with the French inhabitants who were gathred from the places now called Onslow, Truro, Clifton, and Selma.
With a favorable wind these miserable, houseless, homeless wanderers were borne out of sight of the place of their nativity; night hid from their view forever the blue mountains of Cobequid..."
Herbin: "Grand Pre"
There was no way for me to appreciate the depth of their sorrow. Even though they were the people of my origin, still their tragedy was the pain of personally being separated from relatives and loved ones, some never to be seen again. I looked out toward the bay, seeing the ships at anchor, watching them load up and then move out with the tide, white sails spreading, catching the winds while on the shore the same winds fanned the fires which consumed their homes.
Vague phrases from a poem I'd read in a second hand bookstore came to mind, a poet named Morden, I believe. (later I went back and found his book to refresh my mind)
SCENE: - NOVA SCOTIA PICTURES -
"Upon a cliff
that fronts the bay,
A wooden cross
Stands far away.
Many a tale
It tells of yore--
And peace and war.
It whispers not
Of love and cheer,
But the fight twixt the French
and the English here.
It stands alone,
The gravesign of
the years long flown.
And naught doth mark
and days and scenes
Fore'er gone by."
SCENE: NOVA SCOTIA SLIDES -- GRAND PRE
NIGHT MECHANIC: Well, now, I think that's how it went, but maybe I don't have the words quite right. Close enough though, I think it catches the idea...
Turning to the cross I said simply: "Hello folks, we've come back, your great-great-grandchildren to visit and pay our respects."
Saluting the monument, I turned away, but stopped to gather several stones from the site. One rock, split cleanly in two, reminded me of the separation of a people, torn from the land, split into fragments and scattered to the many parts of the world.
With those rocks in my knapsack I walked back down to the road. Strangely I had not met anyone on my walk and was glad, for in this way, I was able to be with the spirits of those ancestors who remained within the soil.
Now the woman who had watched in horror the evacuation of her village awoke shivering in the woods the following morning:
"She sat down on the doorstep beholding the desolation of the Village, when an Indian approached her, and told her to come with him. She inquired the fate of her people. "Gone," said he, "all gone," pointing down the Bay; "the people everywhere are prisoners; see the smoke rise, they will burn all here tonight..."
* Herbin's "Grand Pre"
Leaving Grand Pre' on the next part of our journey, we drove the highway toward Port Royal in search of the LeBlanc family homestead. I had the map that I'd found in that old manuscript at the Montreal library and Tom White's description, "near Gesnier's Creek."
Crossing a suspension bridge we stopped at a field where I could
see the Annapolis River and I walked through the high grass to a point
where I could take photos of the river. Beyond the field, there were people
working in a garden and I hiked in their direction while Nikki sat in the
car and read her book.
There were three people working the field, a young woman weeding by hand, and two men, one pushing a power plow. I waved to the girl and she nodded.
"I'm looking for Gesnier's Creek: Do you have any idea if I'm
even close to the place?'
She thought for a moment: "I've never heard of it," she said, "But my dad may know something. He'll probably take a break after he plows this row, if you want to wait."
Slowly, but steadily, the chugging machine came down the row.
The farmer noticed my presence. His strong arms guided the plow with the
expertise of years of experience. I was impressed with his bare feet on
the rocky soil. When he came to the end of the row, he parked the machine,
switched it off, and turned to me.
"Hello!" I said, "Sorry to bother you, but I'm doing some research on the genealogy of my family, the Acadian LeBlancs and their homestead was somewhere around here, at a place called Gesnier's Creek. Does that ring any bells?"
"Well," said the man, "Gesnier is an old name around here. Now the creek... Yes, I do remember something about a creek..."
He thought for a while, but couldn't quite place it.
"I have a map back there, at the car, if that would help," I volunteered.
"Good! Why don't you bring it up to the house and I'll have a look."
"Thanks. I hope I'm not taking up too much of your time."
"No. That's not a problem. I was due for a break anyway."
I walked through the fields, waving to Nikki. Eventually she saw me
and drove the van up to Mr. Hudson's house. I took the map from the van
and went into the house while Nikki continued reading.
"This is it," I said to Mr. Hudson, "It's an old map going back to the 1600s."
Mr. Hudson took the map, scrutenized it from one perspective, then turned it sideways and upside down. "If this is Port Royal," he said, "What's the scale of miles."
"From Port Royal to LeBlanc Village, this point should be 14 miles."
"Hmmm! Then you're almost in the right area now. I think if you drove down to the Gesnier's place and asked them, you might be very close."
At this point Mr. Hudson's daughter came into the kitchen and stood
at the sink washing her hands of the garden-soil."
"My wifes French," said Mr. Hudson.
"What's her maiden name?"
"Melanson," he replied.
"Ah Ha! Another Acadian name. I believe that family came from the Scots actually. But the Melansons were part of the original Acadian settlement. Quite important too. Some people think the Acadians were entirely French but that's not true. There were Scots like the Melansons and others like Casey, an Irishman, who settled in with the Acadians, took a French wife and became part of the melting pot. I'll send you some information on the Melansons, if you're interested."
"We'd like to have it," said Mr. Hudson.
I thanked them for their hospitality.
"About three miles down the road, the Gesnier's can help you, I'm sure."
We shook hands and I left through the back door, passing three trees that had a layer of moss growing on them. the color was strikingly golden and beautiful, but I assumed, lethal to the trees. I pointed it out to Mr. Hudson."
"Yeah, that's recent. Have to do something about it."
Nikki revved the engine and we headed downriver. Close to Upper Granville I asked Nikki to pull over by the side of the road as there was a woman pruning her flowers. I got out, shot more photos of the river, then walked over to the woman. At the same time a man walked up from the garage and nodded to me.
"I'm looking for the Gesniers," I said, "your neighbors, the Hudsons up the road, said they might know something about Gesnier's Creek."
"Yes," replied the man, "They live in that house across the way. They're the last of the Gesnier's in this area, you know, getting on in years."
"Hmmm! Then I probably shouldn't bother them. Is there anyone around
here who knows the local history?"
"Oh sure, that would be Mrs. DeWolf. She lives right next to the Gesniers."
Thanking them for their help, we drove over to Mrs. DeWolf's house and I knocked at the door. At first there was no answer, so I went to another door and tried again, then went back to the front and knocked one more time. I could see someone coming toward me down the hallway inside. A small, thin woman with white hair and glasses looked through the stormdoor at me. She motioned that the door was closed or sealed and that I should go through the back.
At the back door I introduced myself and told her I was looking for
information on Gestnier's Creek and that her neighbors had said she was
the expert on local history.
"I know some," she said.
"My family, the Acadian LeBlancs originally came from near here, LeBlanc Village it was called on Gesnier's Creek. Am I reasonably close to the place?"
"You're very close," she said, "It's across the street; the land belongs to the Myles family now."
I felt quite a thrill to know that I'd actually arrived and had found
the place. For, all the while, I had felt that I might get close to the
area and photograph what I thought was the right stretch along the river.
But instead we'd actually found Gesnier's Creek and the village of LeBlanc.
"You're interested in local history?" she asked.
"Yes, I am."
"Then you might be interested in my father, Captain DeWolf. He was a ship's captain with lots of adventures. There's his picture on the wall opposite the photos of my children and grandchildren."
"Please tell me about him," I asked.
So began the tale of Captain DeWolf and I wished that I had my tape recorder, to capture the stories of his voyages and of the lost logs that once chronicled them.
"I'll write you a letter when I get home, " I said. "If you like you
can write those stories down on paper. I'd be happy to type them up and
make copies for your children and grandchildren. Someday, they'll appreciate
"That's a good idea," she said.
I thanked her for the information, then said adieu, anxious to get across the street to the creek and walk on the land that was once LeBlanc Village.
Nikki drove us to what I believed was the Myles home. I got out and went around to the back. The door was open; there was no one around. But there were several people working in the field across the way, and so I walked toward them. As I approached, a man set down his hoe, wiped his brow with a handkerchief and nodded to me.
"Hello!" I said, "I'm a LeBlanc, looking for the family homestead. Have
I found it?"
He smiled, a broad, friendly grin. "You certainly have," he said, "Your people came this way, back about, maybe, 30 years ago."
"35 years," I said, "That must have been the LeBlanc Reunion that I've heard about. Has anyone been by since?"
"Maybe one or so, a Frenchman."
"Well," I said, "The organizer of the event, Father Patrice LeBlanc
passed away a year or so after the 300 year celebration. I guess that was
the end of the family society, just sort of faded away after that..."
"That's too bad. I'm sorry to hear about it."
"Do you mind if I wander around and take some pictures of the place?"
"Of course! Take all you like."
I asked him if he and his wife would pose for a shot. He agreed and
I photographed the two of them standing together against a background of
"You'll want to speak to my father," said Mr. Myles, "He was involved with the group that came down from Moncton."
"Thanks," I said, "That's him, I gather, up by the other house?"
I walked down the dirt road toward the senior Mr. Myles. When I approached
"I'm another of those LeBlancs,' I said, "come back, looking for my roots."
Mr. Miles stood and motioned for me to sit in his chair, next to the red cat, while he went inside for another chair. Then we sat; I stroked the cat; "What's his name?" I asked.
"Tom," said Mr. Myles in a raspy voice. He used an electric larynx and said: "Had an operation on my lung. Got only one of them left."
"Do you remember the LeBlanc visit?" I asked.
"Oh sure! There was a bus load of them, wanting to see everything, the
river, the creek, our farmland. They were good people. We enjoyed their
"You know, Mr. Myles, in a way, I feel at home here."
Mr. Myles smiled: "But you are at home."
"Thanks; that's nice to hear."
He nodded and smiled and I could see the twinkle of my grandfather Arthur
Peter's eyes there, his nose too. And the more I looked, the more Mr. Myles
resembled my grandfather. The land was the kind of place Gramp would have
lived on too, and the barn, the wooden outhouse, and the fields were all
familiar. I began to feel close to this man who I had only met moments
"Do you mind If I wander around and shoot a few pictures?"
"Of course not. Go anywhere you like. You can follow that path to the river."
I thanked him and wandered toward the river, taking photos as I walked past the barn. The path was a mowed strip through the weeds down to the garden. There it stopped and i went into the high grass to get to the river. I fired off several rolls of pictures, anxious not to miss anything, but really trying to find a connection to the land of our family's origin on this continent.
I could feel that ancient tie within the land but could find no visible sign of those vanished inhabitants. Yet, I could envision the houses here, the men and women working in the fields, the children fishing by the river, clothing being washed there too.
All around me were memories, clinging to the fields, the trees and the soil itself. I took a clump of dirt, a handfull from the edge of the fields and put it in my knapsack. Then I looked for a rock from the edge of the grass and put that in too.
I was overjoyed to be here, yet nervous and anxious to be on my way, with the event consigned to history, another memory salted away in the journal. There was too much energy here for me and I wanted to go everywhich direction at once. The camera zapped and then I reshot the same scenes again and again, trying to push back the layers of time to those first days, insisting that the camera find images from yesterday.
Returning toward the house I passed the outhouse. It strongly resembled the Foxon outhouse of my grandparents. So too, the toolshed looked quite similar to Gramp's toolshed. I thought to look inside, but knew what I'd find. I didn't have to look to find the similarities. Subconsciously I knew they were there. Somehow there was a connection between myself and the people who lived here now. I didn't understand how that was possible because the Myles family wasn't French, to my knowledge anyway. But nevertheless there had to be a connection there somewhere.
At the house, Mr. Myles was there sitting with his cat Tom. His wife,
Mrs. Myles came back from the fields, her hands and clothing covered with
the dust of the land. I envied her that honest contact with the past. There
was something quite familiar about this lady as well, and I realized that
she bore a strong resemblance to my grandmother.
"Are you French?" I asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"I thought so. Do you mind if I take your pictures?"
"Oh no!" she laughed, protesting, pointing to the garden dust on her blouse and hands, the smudge of dust on her cheek.
"Oh please!" I laughed, "That soil is from honest work. Don't brush it off."
She laughed again and they stood together while I took their pictures.
It was like traveling back in time to the Foxon home of my grandparents,
or their Branford place and another chance to say hello to them, a reprieve
from time, so to speak. And so I savored the moment, fearing the barrier
of time would slam down on me, cutting me out, shunting me back to where
I belonged, but it didn't
"Can I have your address?" I asked.
"Certainly," they nodded and Mrs. Myles went inside, motioning for me to follow. We went in and she wrote it down. I gave them a copy of the old map and told them I would write with more information on the Acadians.
The kitchen was clean, simple and comfortable, and I felt that I could stay there for a long time. But as we stepped back outside there was a gentle rain falling, like that curtain of time I'd worried about.
From my knapsack I pulled the clump of dirt and the rock.
"May I have this?" I asked.
Mrs. Myles laughed: "You can have the whole field, if you want it." She gestured toward the turned earth.
Mr. Myles smiled and his eyes smiled too in recognition that he knew
what the small clump of earth meant to me."
"Yes, please take it," he said, "And come back again. You're welcome anytime."
"Well," I said, "Thanks for the visit and the earth. I'm glad that the homestead is in good hands. I couldn't imagine it in better. Please take care of our memories..., and..yourselves. . . ."
They nodded in agreement and I climbed into the van as the rain swept in and the van's engine came to life. It was time to leave the past and head back the way we had come.
We returned from the land of Acadia, spent the night in Moncton and crossed the border, driving the 10 hours down the long straightaway of Maine. Nikki and I had supper in Niantic, and there I left her, talking to her son David, while I climbed into my own pick-up and headed back to New Haven.
I was glad to be headed home, yet sorry to leave that beautiful country. Though I knew I'd be returning soon, to continue with the family history, looking for stories of yesterday and tales of the relatives in that day and age.
I realized how important it was to keep this journal and wished that my grandfather had continued with the one he'd started. Perhaps he did and there are still chapters to come across, hidden in the Higganum attic of the Braults. And maybe there were other boxes of pictures in cousin Donny's attic as well.
I remembered another quote from Maillet's "Pelagie:"
VOICE OF THE MUSE: "And the carts spread out to the four corners of the land of old time Acadie, pushed by winds from the south, southeast, southwest, northwest, and northeast, climbing the rivers, jumping from one Island to the next, digging into the hollows of creeks and bays."
...and that's how the Cormiers wound up high on the Cocagne River and married into the Gagnons and the Despres..
...and the Allains, the Maillets, and the Girouards on Buctouche Bay..
...and the Legers at Gedaique called Shediac..
...and the Godins, the Haches, and the Blanchards more to the north, right up to the Caraquet and Ile Miscou...
...and the Belliveaus and the Gautreaus at Beaumont looking across at Saint Mary's Bay just opposite..
...and the Poiriers at Grand-Didgue..
...and the Bordages and the Richards at Richibucto..
...and the Robichauds at Barachois...
...and the Basques in the islands and on the dune spits...
...and bits of LeBlancs here and there and everywhere."
NIGHT MECHANIC: Driving toward home by the side of a river I let my imagination float free to become part of everything I saw, the houses and trees, people and animals, the soil, the sky and river.
MICHAELEEN WOLFE: "You know Rob, you truly are one of those bits of LeBlancs that landed here, there and everythere. It's strange now, this search for identity. We look for something that is within us all the time. We are who we are, partly a product of our genes, and the people we grow up among, yet, at the same time we're more than that. We're the end result of a most complex recipe that has been handed down through time, back to the beginning of life."
PATRICIA RENEAU: "I think I agree with that sentiment. We are the representatives of the first people, Adam and Eve for lack of a better definition. We built the pyramids and walked with Christ, the Buddha, Confuscius, and we're part of the same chemistry that produced them. Indeed, though we may not be their direct descendents we are their cousins. We're the direct link to a vast number of people and each of them has a name and is a part of us.
In a sense then, we'll never die. Through the "gene-pool" our spirits, indeed the recipes which are us, go on forever, sometimes with blue eyes, and sometimes with dark skin. We're all of one flesh and in time, if we don't blow ourselves to kingdom come, we might, someday, come to understand this..."
STUDENT: 1: "Was that the end of your odyssey?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Oh no! It was only the beginning. But, it was the end of one voyage. Part way back from Ancient Acadia we had stopped by the highway, on a rise overlooking the plains. In the distance the mountains of Vermont sloped down to meet the prairie. I thought of that connection, two worlds meeting, blending. "What a magnificent jig-saw puzzle our lives are. With pieces scattered all over the world. And, as you find more parts, they not only solve one mystery, but open up new puzzles."
STUDENT: 2: "Can they ever be solved, those puzzles?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: The whole can never be solved, but the individual puzzles can. Even so, it all makes for a very interesting journey.
SCENE: (As they walk along the tunnel they pass many dark recesses going off at right angles to the main spur).
STUDENT: 3: "Where do all those tunnels lead to?"
Michaeleen: "To other times and places. Some are dead ends."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Watch out for the very dark ones though. Those are dead ends, evolutionary and social both. Things that never really made it..."
STUDENT: 4: "You mean, like Beatnicks and Hippies?
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well, I guess we all become obsolete, after a while. My Acadian ancestors: If it wasn't for Longfellow and his "Evangeline", they'd hardly be remembered at all. The Acadians founded a culture that existed for a while, became unique, and then was destroyed. Even so, today, some Acadians are trying for a comeback, but I think it may be too late."
SCENE (They come to a dark tunnel).
STUDENT: 2: "Can we look down this one, just for a minute?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: (He turns toward Patricia Reneau and shruggs) "Why not!"
PATRICIA RENEAU: "I guess a little look wouldn't hurt."
(They enter the tunnel and find caves with prehistoric beasts frozen
(After they've entered two or three caverns they decide that is enough.)_
Michaeleen: "As I said, evolutionary dead-ends..."
SCENE: (As they leave the tunnel they hear music coming from a branch-tunnel)
STUDENT: 3: "Where's that sound coming from?"
Michaeleen: "That sounds like one of Shiva's tunes to me. You never know where she's going to turn up."
STUDENT: 4: "What's her story?"
Michaeleen: "You know about Shiva: Creater, Destroyer, all in one, don't you?"
STUDENT: 3: "Vaguely, I guess, haven't studied that culture much."
SCENE: (Dance of Shiva, performed by Becky Arnold).
PATRICIA RENEAU: There's a poem, I remember from childhood:
SCENE SHIVA DANCING.
Winds of the Cosmos,
spirals in galaxies
or storms churning desert plains:
of birth and death.
I dance from sunrise to sunset
creating -- destroying,
all are one.
Children from dust spores
Old men into dust motes are torn...
Clouds spiral from my dancing feet
whirling through night air.
on tombs of dead princes
asleep by the streets.
I dance and the universe moves in my
Time is a circle
a cadence without end...
The past -- the present -- the future
all rotating slowly
a wheel rumbling on...
Michaeleen: "Let's move on now, I'd rather she didn't notice us..."
SCENE: (Leaving the tunnel they enter the library looking for a historian to find their perspective on the history of the world after Columbus....)
STUDENT: 2: "So, do the pieces all fit together now, for you now?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well! I don't know. You might say I know who I'm not, rather than who, or what I am. Certainly I am an American citizen. But, I've learned that I'm not Irish, or Scotch, French or English, or Acadian. My ancestors were those things, and I respect them. And yet, try as I may, I have no deep love for Acadia or Canada, France, Scotland, England or Ireland. They're only places on a map with ancestors names beside them, great places to visit, but I haven't called them home.
When our families split from their tribes, they lost something, the identity of the tribe, the closeness, and the loyalty. Sure! They gained freedom, but that freedom came with a pricetag...
My own memories, and loyalties, lie within the oyster shells of City Point, or strewn among the campfire logs of the Hermits Cavern in Montowese, where we camped out as kids. Parts of me reside along the roadmarkers of the St. Goddard Pass, which I crossed on a motor scooter when I was an airman in Germany a decade after World War II. I guess, more than anything, I feel that I'm the sum of my memories..."
STUDENT: 1: "You said you're part English, where did that come in? It seems like your family, the Irish and the French, have been at war with the English for lots of years..."
NIGHT MECHANIC: Actually for a while I thought I could be anti-English, but then I added an interesting name to my genealogy: Phaneuf."
STUDENT: 4: "I don't know that name. Is it French?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Yes and no. Of course there's a story to it. There always is."
MUSE: "It is a warm summer afternoon, a Sunday, and the Farnsworth
family of Groton, Massachusetts is going on a picnic. The widow Farnsworth
and her children are packing up the buckboard for a short trip to the river.
"Mathias! Mathias Farnsworth! Finish your chores so we can get moving."
Mathias dashes out to feed the chickens. Such stupid animals he thinks,
but Matilda is different. He picks her up from among the others and strokes
her head. But Matilda would rather eat and wiggles free.
The boy helps his sisters load the baskets of food into the back of the buckboard. The girls climb aboard as does little Jeremy. Uncle John takes his rifle and climbs aboard, taking the reins. Mathias walks beside the rig as they head for the river.
Beside the river, the wagon is unloaded and the children are warned
not to stray too far from the area. Mathias and his sister Sarah, take
off, running through the grass toward the river.
"Keep in sight of the wagon!" yells Uncle John.
Laughing, the two children reach the river and splash in, starting a game to see who can get the other one the wettest. There is a noise from the bank and Mathias suddenly grabs his sister's hand. They freeze as they watch the grasses part and a fat otter waddles down into the river. Again the smiles return and the splashing continues.
After a while, they climb out of the shallows, and lie on the bank, feeling the summer warmth seep into their veins. Another sound of movement in the bushes disturbs them, but probably it is just Mother Otter going back home.
There is a scream from the campsite and Mathias and Sarah jump
to their feet. A shot rings out, then another; the children run to the
edge of the grass where they see the campsite under siege by Indians.
Sarah starts to run forward, but Mathias grabs her by the arm and holds her back. "No," he says, "They haven't seen us yet, stay still!"
The wagon turns and tries to head back toward the fort, but hits
a rut and turns over, tumbling its passengers all over the ground.
Crouching there in the grass, Sarah and Mathias cling together, shivering. They crawl deeper into the grass, huddling together, still shivering. Then they lie there, too scared to move. Sarah is crying and Mathias rocks back and forth. It is all like a dream.
There is the sound of shooting in the distance, from the direction of the fort.
Much later, as the children, still hiding in the tall grass, hear the weeds around them moving again, they tense, but then they hear voices of friends, and soon hands reach out for them and pull them from their hiding places. The boy protests and wants to see his mother, but the friends who are there to help them have no words.
As the children are brought into the fort, through the gates, women turn away from them and weep. Inside the building, there is a fire and the children huddle in front of it. A woman takes Sarah, holds her, wraps a blanket around her and takes her to a corner. Another woman brings a blanket to Mathias, and tries to put her arms around him, but he shruggs her off.
That night they sleep in the stockade. In the morning Mathias
awakens, and at first, doesn't know where he is. "Where's my mother?" he
asks, but the women only turn away. One woman begins to cry and wipes her
face with an apron.
There is breakfast, but he can't eat. His friend's father comes in and takes him outside. It is warm but he still feels chilled. The man wants to talk to him, but Mathias doesn't want to hear what he has to say. They walk together, he and the man, who carries a gun.
"Come, we'll walk to your house," says the elder.
Mathias walks with him to the exit of the fort, but will not cross over to the outside.
"Where's Sarah?" asks Mathias.
"She's at a friend's house," says the elder.
"Where's my mother?"
"You'll have to be a man now. Be brave," replies the elder.
"My mother...and uncle. Were they captured by the Indians?"
The elder stares at the boy, then looks away. His adams apple
bobbs as he swallows. Then he looks at the ground. "No, my boy. Both of
them were killed, murdered by the Indians. But they died suddenly, there
was no suffering."
"No!" says the boy, "No! No!"
The elder reaches out and puts his hands on the boys shoulders. "Now they are with the Lord. Praise be their names. They will sup tonight with our father in Heaven."
"What about Jeremy?" says the boy in a quite voice, almost a whisper.
"They... They took him, the Indians did," says the elder.
They kneel together and pray. When they stand, the elder puts his arm around Mathias's shoulder. The boy stands there, feeling nothing, just a great emptiness that seems to stetch out to forever. And he wonders why he can not cry for his mother and uncle, and the missing Jeremy.
"Thank you," he says to the elder. The man's arm drops away and the boy walks out of the fort, past the armed guards to a rock in the field. He climbs up and sits there, feeling the warmth on it. Slowly, he climbs the rock, lying stomach down, looking out across the fields and he follows the sun's path as it goes across and down the sky.
The next day he walks with some soldiers and women to the house. Sarah is with them and they go through the items in the house, loading some of them into a wagon. Mathias will go north to live with his uncles at Fort Number 4, and Sarah will stay here with a family.
Mathias stands, watching the loading of the wagon. He looks toward Sarah, and they avoid each other's eyes. Then it is time to go. He hugs Sarah, but they say nothing and she gets up on the wagon and goes off. Two men are waiting for Mathias; they put a pack on his back, hand him a rifle, one that belonged to his Uncle, and they walk down to the river and the canoe.
He sits in the middle of the canoe, with the packs, and they paddle away from the shore. He watches the fort grow smaller, then vanish behind the first curve in the river. Still he feels nothing. It is like not being.
As the hours pass they stop to rest, to eat, then move on again.
The boy sleeps but the men do not. Several days later they arrive at the
Fort, Number 4, its called. His uncle is there to greet him. The uncle
takes the two canoers aside and they talk in private, then he returns to
"Come on boy, there is work to do," says the man.
They go to the fort and they eat. Then they join the men, women and children in the fields, and they harvest the corn. The work is tough and he sweats. He doesn't think of anything, but the work. Tired, he eats and sleeps. Then they get up and eat and go to work. The sun rises and sets.
One evening he lies in bed next to his cousin Jonathan and begins to feel a sadness. "I am Mathias Farnsworth, son of Mathias Farnsworth who was killed fighting Indians in King Phillip's War. My family came from Normandy with William the Conquerer. I will continue the family name." His eyes fill with tears and he cries.
In the morning they eat and go into the fields. The sky is clear but the boy does not see the sky, only the earth, dark-brown, dark."
The uncle looks across the field at his nephew, puts down his hoe and
crosses the field. He puts one hand on Mathias's shoulders, and with the
other hand raises the boy's head so they are looking, eye to eye.
Work hard," he says, "your sorrow will pass, someday."
STUDENT: "What happened to him, Mathias, I mean?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Several months later there was a raid on the fort and Mathias and some other children were captured by the Indians."
STUDENT: 2: "Were they killed?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "No, actually they were treated rather well, but taken to Canada."
MUSE: "Returning from a raid in Maine, the Indians from the Sault-aux-Recollet, brought back to Montreal a young prisoner by the name of Mathias Farnsworth, about 14 years old. It was the Sulpician Fathers who took charge of him on 11 August 1704. They taught him French and converted him to Catholicism.
On 10 January 1706, at Notre-Dame de Montreal, he was baptized Claude Mathias Farneth. His first name, Claude, was given in honor of his godfather, Claude de Ramesay, Governor of Montreal.
On October 30, 1706 he was naturalized.
On July 19, 1711, Claude Mathias Fanef received, from the Superior of the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, a concession of 3 by 20 arpents, situated on the Riviere-des-Prairies and carrying the title number 1175D. A second concession was given on 14
September 1723, perhaps as a wedding present when he married Catherine
Charpentier, daughter of Jean and Francoise Huneault of Riviere-des-Prairies.
There were numerous descendents of this family whose name shifted over the years from Farnsworth to Farneth to Fanef, Faneuf and finally Phaneuf."
STUDENT: 2: "But, that's quite a paradox. Your family was a victim of the English power, and then you became English, part English anyway. It seems as if you exiled yourself!
How do you resolve that problem?"
NIGHTMECHANIC: "You're right. It is a problem. Once I visualized myself as one of the Acadians being led away to the ships, led there, at gunpoint, by a man with my face... Now, how can I despise the English when I'm one myself?"
STUDENT: 2: "And do you identify with Mathias Farnsworth?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Yes, actually I do. Like it or not, I am a Farnsworth.
One day, several years ago, I came across some writings on the Farnsworth family and, following them up, had the opportunity to visit the author's father, at a rest home in Hartford. I visited Mr. Farnsworth and we both marvelled that we two branches of the same family were at the present moment sitting across from each other, visiting, after a span of two hundred and more years. It was an odd feeling, but filled with cameraderie."
STUDENT: 1: "It becomes confusing, the personalities of our past lives, so fragmentary, the memories and the artifacts, our lives, their lives, the lives of all who ever lived, all returning to a few common ancestors, at the beginning of it all.
STUDENT: 4: "Confusing isn't the word for it... What does it mean, all those ancestors? Who speaks for them?"
PATRICIA RENEAU: "It seems that we might be one layer upon another layer of the strata of civilization. We're like a ring within the ancient tree of time. Today we're the current ring. And so, for the moment, we're the voice who represents them, the whole line of our ancestors descending back to the beginning of things. We're a synthesis, of sorts, of all of them."
STUDENT: 2: "I guess it's up to us to tell our own stories, and in so
we become their voices as well."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "That's right. So we search out their memories in artifacts through history, finding notes, photographs, sometimes footnotes in history books, to pass them on to generations to come. We continue those odysseys started by others long ago..."
SCENE OLIN LIBRARY
NIGHT MECHANIC: But, look! I think we've found our historian."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Excuse me Professor. I'd like to introduce Patricia Reneau and her class. They have some questions. Could you give them a few moments?"
HISTORIAN: "Perhaps! What are the questions?"
STUDENT: 3: "We're trying to discover just how we fit into history, personally, I mean. Why is it that we're here and not there? And how did it all come about?"
(Gives a perspective on the factors that were at work at the time of Columbus and thereafter and the power struggle for control of half the world which the major powers were involved in)
(The students and Patricia Reneau thank him and they all return to the tunnels for the return home.)
SCENE: RETURN TO COSMIC CELLAR AND PARTING... (Butterfield Tunnels)
(The Nightmechanic and Michaeleen Wolfe stand with Patricia Reneau and
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well here we are. "Time-Out" Subway. This will get you back in a hurry, probably in time for your next class Patricia...
PATRICIA RENEAU: "Thanks so much for all your help, all of you. We've had a great time."
Michaeleen: "Come back again when you can stay a while. I'll take you through the archives of "the Other"...
STUDENT: 2: "That sounds interesting, what is it, the Other, I mean?"
Michaeleen: "It's called a hook, my friend. Leave em with a mystery, that way they'll come back looking for more...."
(The subway vehicle comes into sight. They climb aboard and are gone."
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Well Michaeleen, about that second cup of tea..."
SCENE: (SAME TUNNEL: (Just then John comes running."
GEARKEEPER: "You didn't send those people off, just now, did you?"
NIGHT MECHANIC: "Why yes, what's the problem?"
GEARKEEPER: "That wasn't the "Time-Out", it was a non-sched. called the "Out-There." Next stop Alpha Centauri...."
Michaeleen: (Laughing). "Well, I guess they won't get home for her next class, will they?"
"We travel from one time to the next. Clock-tock follows click-tick like footsteps echoing down long, spidery corridors. Those harmless, tip-toeing seconds become scurrying minutes, which stretch and transmogrify into shuffling hours, scuttling days, racing weeks, blurred months, lost years and forgotten decades.
Our bodies expand from the microscopic, reach a peak, then begin to contract toward nothingness, all to the rhythm of a synchopatic clock, sounding like the beat of far-distant drummers.
The seasons spin as a game-wheel whirling at some dusky-carnival, sprawling along a worn country road, changing colors from verdant green to blood-red and gnarley-yellow, then crinkled-gold, muddy-brown, now mottled-white.
The creaky wheel spins slowly in our youth but gains momentum, year by year, as we travel that well-trod road, following ruts from the carnival's route.
Time is a place that we arrive at again and again. One Spring day of this year is like any other "things are the same, but not the same..."
The familiarity of the scene is comforting, yet a sinister dread seeps in through the back of our heads, saying:
"Watch out! Something here is different: Beware!..."
(FADE TO END ...)
Return to: A Shop For Dreamers
CREDITS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
WITH GREATFULL THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING:
Ellen "Bid" White
Mr. Bertram Keene
and to all of our other relatives and ancestors who helped to make US possible.
"The Original 120" by George Young. Sept. 1st. 1945.
"Thoughts For Days Gone By." by Antone G. Pimental.
"Readings From A Troubled Mind." by Antone G. Pimental.
Shiva by RJ LeBlanc
WRITINGS and RESEARCH BOOKS AND REPETOIRES:
George Young "The Hundred and Twenty" written in 1945 (from the album of Bertram Keene of Hartford)
Herbin's "Grand Pre"
"Parkman's Diary and the Acadian Exiles in Massachusetts." published in the French Canadian and Acadian Genealogical Review.
Tom White, "Our LeBlanc Family Ancestors."
Writings and research of Thomas White of Vermont.
Writings and research of Steven White of the University of Moncton.
Janet Jehn. "Acadian Descendents. Vol. I.
P. Elie. "Family Phaneuf."
Repetoire of L'Acadie.
Repetoire of LaPrairie.
Repetoire of Napierville.
Lucien Rivest, "Marriages Du Comte Du Terrebonne."
Mormon Church microfilm collection.
Mar. 20, 1995. "The Cellars of Cosmic Manipulation" -- A Movie created for the Graduate Liberal Studies Program as part of an Ethnic Studies course requirement under the instruction of Patricia Vann.)