Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Continuation of: Letter to “Frenchie’s” Wife in Portland, Maine …

Mouse writing Animation(Why this mouse?  (1995) “One of our cats caught one. Brought the poor trembling thing home and I had the cat drop it and it scrambled for safety and probably to write of the close -call to his relatives.” It was written in this letter and I just (2009) searched for an animated running mouse and found this one and followed it with a paragraph from the letter.  Apropos?  I think so).

   … Thursday, Oct.12, 10:30 A.M. Hello, again, dear aunt Alice:

It's another lovely day. The geese have calmed down since their blatant attempt to scare away a shaky and sweaty meter-reader man. The unwary fellow had advanced on them after getting out of his truck perhaps to chase them away but that's like chasing a plague. Damien (my gentle, Merle Great Dane who just stood by and barked)  as I rescued him. Poor, misguided, meter-reader thought he could scat them away  but with our schizoid Snow geese , chasing them would be as chasing the black plague! I felt unsettled, not because I had to literally sweep the crazy birds away but by the man’s profuse ‘Thank you’s” that spewed from his mouth as he rushed back to the company truck without reading my meter!

When I told my youngest son about this incident, he snapped back: “Mom, I keep telling you, why don’t you get ride of them!  “Why don’t you stuff  and shove them in the oven!”

“Oh, Joe, they’re not so bad. Remember when they tried to save me from Nella, our goat?”

I think you’re making that up, Mom!”

"Well, it was something like that. Besides, your father likes them as much as I do. Maybe more.”

“Mom …  Roast, fry, bake, boil, steam, call ASPCA, Shaw’s, Hannaford’s … Call a veterinarian for a mercy killing, call a priest! But, get rid of them. They attack everyone!” 

“Maybe we can fence them in.”

“They fly, Mom!”

Aunt Alice, I acted upon your suggestion and did contact  my ‘unofficial’ aunt Agnes.  She was taken aback hearing from such an unexpected person who just dug herself up from buried and forgotten family secrets  yet, listened attentively as I explained the impetus for the phone call: Would she be willing to look at some copies of my maternal family photos and, to the best of her recollections, providing it wasn’t upsetting to her, address some questions had been stored in the neurons of my brain about my family and hers, in particular, a brother. Our nervous breaths intermingled over the phone-wires during a prolonged pause in our conversation.

I detected a slight defensive reaction, like a twitching at the corners of her mouth that might of sounded like slowly crushed cellophane paper, and I became extra cautious  in how I expressed my rationale for calling. What as the trigger for her guardedness? My maiden name? Still, she graciously consented to see me.

Saturday noontime, Sept.30, Woody and I visited Agnes and her petite and talented daughter, Alice Irene, my 1st cousin and three years older. I understand that Alice was named after her mother's sister who had gotten the name from a boat her father, Bartley, particularly admired. He had worked as a longshoreman on the Portland docks for many years. Most likely the boat had been anchored at the pier where he worked unloading cargo and might of been the Schooner, ‘Alice S. Wentworth’ as was mentioned by Agnes during our visit.

The ultra neat home on Broadway Street, South Portland, is a handsome place. Not a speck of dust to be found, hardwood floors and furniture glow from deep polishing. Alice and Agnes must be determined cleaners as nothing looks like it's had much wear though many pieces look antique. Each room laid-out and decorated in almost mathematically precise order and color harmonized. Two beautiful oil paintings by Alice (two of many) compliment the walls as do her intricate needle-point work compliment several pieces of furniture.

Alice is a creative woman with a beautiful voice for operettas that has sung often in local musicals at respected theatres. I sense, however, that this sweetly devoted daughter has never been able to fully evolve into her true self because of stronger forces that  has circumstantially bound her to her mother and to God and the principles of her faith which has sustained her. She appears resigned and satisfied to be what she is – a  Catholic, a devoted daughter, an artist, a singer, an aunt. Still, I sense an incompleteness as if a painting was missing an important component and has been left on the easel for later, for too long. The subdued adventures in her life and those younger exciting day-dreams that uplift the spirit like a deeply inhaled breath of ocean air, are now but the subdued longings of a silenced heart and of this impression I am certain of.

Now, Agnes, another Irish aunt but from a rockier coastline, strikes me as a woman of a tougher nature that’s kept sheathed within the suede leather of a capturing Irish spirit.

She's as tiny as the second hand on a gilded mantle clock but I had the distinct feeling she could become a forceful personality to reckon with if taken to task. And this time without any pause, this rock of Erin, more granite and sandstone, took to task my probing into family affairs like a fierce Leprechaun would in guarding his pot of pyrite gold!

We had gone through all the photos I had surprisingly been able to coax out of her from a box of loose pictures and one album, and still had turned up nothing that could have yielded me an opportunity to directly ask her my question which was the reason I was there. I felt her Irish coastline, not too different than mine, Aunt Alice, and, despite my discouragement, was more grateful for her time than disappointed. It was then, motivated by Woody's obvious nodding of his head, that I brought up my alleged father, Frank J., for it is his name that is on my birth records. It is his name that you and aunt Exilda finally had revealed to me, the name morally owed to me from my mother and never given.

A loud no, no, no!" careened from Agnes’ drawn lips. The rock had struck!

"Your mother’s family tried to blame my brother, Frank, but it wasn't him! Frank told me so! He swore to my mother, to all of us, that he had nothing to do with your  mother! Why would he lie? He went to church - He belonged to the Knights of Columbus. No, he’s not your father!”

  … In the background, from the dinning room, I could hear a clock ticking … First in measured rhythm then in less and less movement as if time was coming to a stop, turning, and backing up … A handsome policeman had come to our door; the house was on the busy corner of High and York streets and I was very little. In this policeman’s hand was a gift wrapped in pretty paper and with a bow so outstanding as to forbid touching though my eyes caressed it’s every fold and flow of ribbon. I gasped as my stern grandmother sent him away, with his gift. Twice, after that incident he visited again but only when I had been outdoors on the steps playing and both times crouched down to my height and embraced me. His words were in English; I knew only French yet, somehow, I felt a sadness from him along with a lovingness that felt real but confusing. I never saw him again until viewing Agnes’ scattering of pictures. Years, later, following our last encounter, I learned, as you know, that he was the first law enforcer of father’s brothers, the one the newspapers referred to as, “the singing policeman’ …

Woody quickly stepped in to set her at ease and assure her that it really didn't matter as the reason I was there for was to inquire about  my bloodline and that all I wanted was information; not confrontation.

She softened and from that point on, was very cooperative and gracious although she did manage to repeat  and insist that neither Frank, or officer Bill had ever been associated with my mother. How was that possible? My mother’s brother was the husband of Agnes and father of her two children (Alice Irene and Joe, jr.) and when Joe and Agnes would go out to a movie, to shop  or attend a function, it was my mother who would be asked to babysit. Downstairs, resided Agnes’ mother and Frank, who was 31 years old; my mother had turned 19 and still very timid, dared not tell her family of his seduction and her resulting pregnancy - least of all, her brother, Michael Joe! 

… Hate me not for the breath of my unwitting sin -               For responsibility denied by an unsolicited lover who cursed me to bear this new life scorned and chagrined -

Too bad; so sad, “What can one do with this mademoiselle”?        Said he, Raise the child or give it away –                          It’s not my doing – Not my concern for her dismay -              Ask my family, I’m a good man so I’ll just be going                   but, do have a good day.

 Uncle Michael Joe died from an accident while working for the Maine Gas Company, at the South Portland gas storage tank facilities, and financial compensation was paid to Agnes’ for her terrible loss which could never bring him back. But, now with Michael Joe gone, my mother Irene, and our entire family were increasingly scorned and belittled by these Irish relatives and with the same fervor cursed by my grieving mother’s French family who had lost a son and brother and, dignity, for how my mother had been treated and her child denied. No decency. Not even  meager compensation for one tear or diaper!           Now, some say that I resemble my father’s mother, Catherine. Others say that I look like my great grandmother, Georgianna who was part Quebecois French and part Metis. Both embraced by me with open arms and with a tic-for-tac’’ gene inherited from which one, I couldn’t tell you, but that gene awakens whenever the Irish raise their clubs and the French Indians go on the warpath as their blood flows in me in equal parts and non existent am I timid. 

Halfway through our second cup of tea, Woody slips me a subtle look that indicates that it’s time to go home. The timing is right – the subject of my father had been sweep  under Ages’ rug and pleasantries and laughter had replaced discord. To my surprise, we were invited to visit again which cousin Alice Irene insisted  that we do so. I think, aunt Alice, that should we visit again, I’ll not mention Frank, or my mother … that window is closed not by heavy drapery but by pieces of a patchwork quilt from an old spindle bed that light can still pass through.  I wish that you could see me smiling, aunt Alice, because your predictable words were noticed walking in slipper’d feet across my thoughts.:  “Well, now, all’s well that ends well.”  

The drive home to New Gloucester was unusually quiet. Woody and I hardly spoke. It is probable that I am my father’s daughter and a drop of blood would confirm that once and for all time. Would it really matter? Make it make everything alright?        I wonder why he never married - Becoming an alcoholic  and dying from that awful disease with just his family and closest friends to moan his passing. I wonder why his brother, Officer Bill, visited me three separate times? Other than you and Aunt Exilda and uncle ‘Frenchie’  the rest of the family stayed mum as if saying my father’s name aloud would bring pitiable souls from hell to castigate both families for their tribal offenses against eachother.

Before reaching North Gate Shopping Center, Woody spoke so low as to sound like whispering” “It’s too damn bad your mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t ,take your feelings in account. I remember one day when we were at her home you asked her about Frank and she bit off your head, "Don't ask me about that rotten man or his damned family!  ... Don't ever ask me about them. Ever! I mean it!”                                                       “Remember what that did to you?” 

“Yes …”

That night sleep was fretful. I was restless and felt very cold so covered up to my ears then sweated … And dreamt:

… I was in a very huge and mystical, primordial cathedral with enormously high ceilings that disappeared once it reached beyond a wraithlike reflection that had risen  in circumference of where I stood. There was a chill in the air and yet a warm dampness seeping into my pores. My straining ears pushed against an unrelenting silence that hummed as muffled energy from a flood light filament. Gulps of air burned in my throat as if I'd been running to exhaustion and was rendered breathless and parched. In the vastness of this cathedral, this holy place, there were no Stations of the Cross fastened any wall  to stimulate prayer and penitence from quivering lips. No confessional in sight. No pews, or benches other than bundled hide skins as if scattered on the marble floor to accommodate pardon-seekers from an absent god. But I saw it as a place more suited for the lost and disenfranchised traveler … and, for escapists.

Overhead, festooned with clusters of grapes a  corkscrew shaped chandelier  hung suspended from nothingness. Threaded between the grapes were letters, bloodied, that read, Do not litter! Do not litter!”  My first thought was to be aware not to litter and behind this thought, a baby cried.

From the corner of my eye, a distraction glistened in a fallen tear. I turned and saw three small, lowly altars, one each at the ornate entrances of this ethereal place, I’d not noticed before. The  crafted wooden doors revolved slowly  allowing a sporadic breezes to fan my cheeks. However, in doing so, they caused countless of lit candles on all three altars to flicker and smoke creating black, distorted shadows to undulate against any object in their path.  My pulses quickened like a ticking clock beating ahead of its time and I felt panic … Dare I trust this place? Had God given up on it? I tensed, stretching my eyelids wide and wider,  focusing to see if there was someone, something, standing where the recent breezes had come from. And I knew like sensations of pain that the breezes were  expelled breaths from spent bodies.

Cautiously, I walked to the closest alter to me, each footstep feeling as if my shaky feet were balancing on rubbery stilts. Then, one by one, the flickering candles extinguished and an engulfing blackness, thick and dense, that had captured the images of the candle flames, reflected back  those images of orange and white and stabbing yellow light like paired fireflies on a moonless summer’s night … And the fireflies became eyes and the eyes repeatedly blinked as if blown with ash.

My head turned upwards, pulled by the shadowy radiance that had risen above me earlier. And, a dome opened like the thumbing of pages in a thickset book admitting a light that increased in reach and brightness until it flooded the entire cathedral. "Oh!" I exclaimed excitedly, “It’s the Book of The Ages!” It wasn't. My vision – my hope, had yet to adjust from one extreme to another to an adjustment …

Abruptly, I awoke from the surreal realm of my dreaming. Dawn was just beginning to brush the tree-tops with the colors of pewter and blush. Would I get up and watch the shaping of a new day from the rim of a hot cup of breakfast coffee? I didn’t need to think about that!

The strange dream keeps returning to me like the return of bad penny. Could it have some significance? What do I make of it? I don’t know … What comes to mind is a quote from Descartes: “I think, therefore I am; or I am thinking, therefore I exist” …     (“therefore what matters not who my father is but who I am” thinks AliceMary”)  With that statement, I’ll move on, dear aunt.

One day, three weeks ago, while doing research at the Franco-American library in Lewiston, I paused to listen to a priest talking to a woman who was writing down information from a book that he had recommended to her from the shelves.

"Each time I work on genealogy I marvel at the continuum in every ancestral line and I'm certain that someday we'll be able to follow our ascendance right to our biblical Adam and Eve, and from there, to our Creator and Father"

It is wise and better, dear Aunt Alice, that I refrain from interpreting the meaning of my dream … It doesn't matter who my father is whether he's Frank or a passing Planter's Peanut salesman. What matters is that I am a life and that life is mine with each day a new beginning.

Well, dear hearts, the end of the letter comes. I wish it hadn't taken so long to finish it. Today is Sunday, Oct.15. This morning, I attended church - Woody is working all day till evening so when I got home, I tackled some of our stored winter clothing. Mid-afternoon, Chuck and his family visited bringing cider, and a large bag of apples they picked at Herbie Thompson's Apple Orchards. Next week, I'll bake pies.

Joe, and the singles club he belongs to at his church, put on a wonderful program after church services – lunch, speakers, music, etc.

Bob and Debbie and the children, Carissa and Kyle have gone for a nice day's drive to New Hampshire. I'm glad the weather complied with their plans for an enjoyable few hours.

Dear Steve and Fran and Ray are always in my mind and heart. Please keep them in your prayers … I miss them so much.

All my love to each one of you ... Take care and know that no one has ever been more of a family to me than you, my aunt Alice, and cousins …

God keep you well and safe ... Prayers and much love … Alice and Woody and Family.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Letter To “Frenchie’s Wife In Portland, Maine …

Wednesday, 9:30 A.M. – Oct. 11, 1995

Dear Aunt Alice Mae …

     I’m having a cup of honey-tea and like to think that you are, too. It’s a pleasant way to visit, read, and write. A sip from my cup and I listen before beginning my typing – The house pays no mind to me; it listens to its own tones, a melody of familiar sounds expressed from a rumbling furnace, a thumping dryer and, the subtle creaking of it's infra structure. I turn on the radio and walk away dismissing the house from my thoughts after all, there are those times when the dwelling becomes bothersome so I pay it no more attention than it does to me. It covers my head; I sweep its floors ... it waits the warming from the sun; I exact pleasure from my computer. This morning is such a time - time for you and me.

You're always in my prayers however, for the last few weeks, my prayers have focused more on Richard and Bill (your good sons-in-law) for recovery from their medical problems. What the blazes, dear hearts, we'll not give our occasional physical setbacks any more catering than we have to, as Lord knows, the setbacks are sneaky, stealthy thieves as is the passing of time, both constantly altering our passage and condition in life, not always for our comfort. Sometimes that’s only appreciated when the miseries that we humans inherited from those infamous apple-eaters in the Garden of Eden before they got pitilessly evicted from there, are over with!  I wonder, if it had been more serious than eating an apple, would anyone one of us be here today? I think hadn’t they eaten the apple we would not.

We, here on the farm, are fine. Each day God keeps us from anymore darkest terribleness is a blessing - all other hardships are manageable. The loss of my Raymond last year continues to feel unbearable as is the loss of his two older brothers as you know occurred in 1992 and 1980. I dare only argue with the good Lord up to when I begin to feel a spit of flame licking at me all the way from Dante’s inferno.

Isn't autumn beautiful! I just paused a few minutes for  refill of tea and a look-see at my surroundings, from the kitchen slider door, while the pot went to a boil. The vibrant colors that wind-dance and shimmer from a sunlit wood line creates a warm feeling  within me. In increasing numbers, deer have been crossing our fields taking their leisure searching for the sweetest growths although they never take this house for granted in their selective "grocery shopping" – erect ears and large oval eyes ever fine-tuned to their environment. They instinctively know that there are people in this house, people with hunting rifles that could claim one of them when the weather turns colder. This is the time of year instincts sharpen instinctively. Time, for them is relevant, as it is for us, and it’s just a matter of time before rifles are re-cleaned for hunting and L.L. Bean boots are taken out of storage.

Yesterday, I tapped on the front door window just loudly enough to echo across our facing fields. The nearest deer immediately looked up and stared motionlessly in my direction. None of them bolted and ran off to safety. Obviously, it wasn't a noise that was directly life threatening like a snapping twig from under a booted foot, or crunching strides on dry leaves or, the sound of pounding heartbeats that only pursued creatures can hear.

I was merely a distraction - a harmless bother they dismissed as they have for as long as we’ve lived here. They traverse on set paths and come from this area, Auburn, Durham, Gray, Cumberland, Falmouth  … They are healthy and their thickening, sienna-brown  fur glint in the myriad bands of autumn light.

The coy-dogs that congregate on our upper pastures (referred to as the ‘Homestead fields’) are getting bolder. A week ago, pups from spring’s packs were yelping and yipping directly from behind Bob's trailer communicating to the others who would respond within chilling cries from the river-cabin pastures. Now, that’s very close to the main house  though I suppose that shouldn't surprise us as they've been traversing the land closer and closer to our dwellings each Autumn and springtime. When conferring with the game wardens on this matter (bear in mind how profoundly city’fied we are) their recommendation was that we "put them down" whenever we can target one within the perimeters of our land boundaries. Well, we’re not up to doing that as no threats have been demonstrated so they remain free to live and excite one’s senses with the pulses of wildlife, such as it is, stifled by encroachment. I've not had the heart, nor tolerance, for that not even for destroying friendly raccoons here though one would be wise to assume the strong possibility that they may be infected with rabies, a caution the media urges us to regard in their local news reports. I hope I won't be sorry someday for being led by the emotions of my heart instead of the logic of my mind. However, my dear aunt,accept it as an absolute certainty that I've no conscience when it comes to my nemesis, the wicked, evil fox that relishes taking our chickens and taunting us! There would not be a split second's hesitation in my discharging him to Hades where he'd be stalked for an eternity by meaner beasts than he ... that is if I can ever get my gun loaded and a bead on him before he's out of harm's way grinning from ear to ear till the reverberation of my curses echo back to embarrass me.

Well, that time has come, hasn’t it? Seems I can't ignore the sounds of the house any longer ... drying to be folded, rugs to be vacuumed and kitchen floor to be rinsed ...

Same date, 4:30 pm. I’ve just returned home from soccer practice. He limps, the result of playing serious defense but he doesn’t complain – I had him lay down on the couch with the TV on, and  serve him a lunch. His brother, C.J., hasn’t come home from school yet, no doubt dunking baskets and batting the breeze with his friends at the ball-courts. Woody's still at  work. The house settles and the dog naps. As my fingers prepare to resume typing, I quickly glance towards a neat pile of papers to be worked on and placed in a folder, one of several taking up where my second cousin, Garret, from Holyoke, Ma., left off in his overview of the Fortin family genealogical history that I’m picking up from and tracing to Normandy, France. I've been most fortunate in tracing, and documenting, to pre-1600’s.

By the way, grandmother, Amanda, has been, since I can recall, steadfast in her claim that there were Iroquois Indian genes in our makeup. I've not discovered any presence of that in our genetic lines.  If any Iroquois genetic material resides in us, I’ve yet to uncover any trace of it however, Woody insists that this may be true as he’s witnessed me ‘go on the warpath’ on occasion! Chances are that if there is the presence of an Indian presence, I would think it to be Algonquin or Abenaki.

It’s getting late, dear Aunt Alice. Another chapter tomorrow …

Monday, March 23, 2009

Justitia omnibus:


I owe you, my readers, an apology and do sincerely extend regrets for having bombarded you, via my last blog, w/my aggravations that I hope have not diminished our relationship. With yesterday’s unexpected nonsense from ‘Problem’, I became fully aware that this woman has serious problems that I suspect has been manifesting for some time and whether triggered by my ‘African’ painting or from my writings, I don’t know but – this I do know that from the first time she communicated w/me at the recommendation of another blogger, things were not right between us … Something was amiss. I was leery of her as if having heard a little voice in my gut calling for caution. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep in mind this intuitive voice we all have w/in us referred to as, ‘Hunch’.

Time back, for awhile, I had been encouraged by Debbie and my son, Bob, to consider blogging … I said: “No”. Just the thought of sharing my inner self to God-knows-who and being vulnerable spooked me! I knew, from many years in the community that there are a percentage of folks, perhaps a small number, that are troubled folks out there smoldering w/malevolence just beneath a silky surface and I want no part of that, anymore. Another apprehension was putting myself out there, again, as I’d become reclusive and dependent on the comfort and peace of mind of my isolation. I had lost three sons under dreadful circumstances – two sons; two years apart, 1992 and 1994 w/the first loss of a son in 1980. And, experienced many staggering hardships, before and after their soul-searing deaths, perhaps too many, had visited my life and stayed too long. Create a blog? No way, not on your life! Step out of my safety zone? No way!

Last famous words, right? Finally, I stepped out into the blog world by first reading through random writings and became very impressed and happy to silently ‘meet’ in my cautious walk on main street, blog-town, great writers and crafters! It felt good. And so began a quasi-residency there and more and more, I felt secure in being who I was from where I came from, writing and sharing freely. Then, up from left field came a problem I should of seen from the beginning although, true, I did feel bad ‘vibes’ about this ‘problem’ … Why I didn’t slam the door shut in the face of my adversary and ‘move out of Dodge’, I don’t know except that I basically like the heart and spirit of blog-town and it had taken me much effort to get there and, for certain, tenacity had tightening my resolve to stay there. However, I failed to use good common sense and self protective measures from an ill-meaning troubled person whose last email to me revealed the unpleasant extent of ‘Problem’s deviousness.

Now, I don’t know just what is the matter w/‘Problem’ but on rereading the last blog received from her (GeeGee’s Paintings, Part #3) and emails - the latter one came to me from out of the blue like a sharp-edged razor, mid-yesterday. This, I will not publish but will confer w/a councilor as to the best way for me to deal w/a mind such as ‘Problem’s’ should another such email come to me. What is the matter w/’Problem’? At first, I felt sadness; then, anger – Pity and anger are not good. What was going on w/’Problem’?

Have two (unproven) opinions:

(1). Racism –

(2). Jealousy - Nobody does what she did, in the manner in which it was done w/innuendo and baiting, with no logical reasoning behind the ploys, w/out having a questionable frame of mind. That kind of cleverness, when harboring deviousness, is a Raven tap, tap, tapping at a door. I was behind that door and I didn’t want to put up w/what was there and I didn’t want to stand behind it waiting for it to go away so … I opened it!

Everything in me now screams to return to the sequestered comfort of my privacy. However, I’m 77 years old and have never run from problems and when this ‘Problem’ baited me w/NAAWP I did raise hell in protest as I had first thought it was (and it still may be) ugly, sneaky racism that I equate w/an ignorant or sick mind. I understand that jealousy is a malicious condition, too, however, why would ‘Problem’ be jealous of me?

All this said, my apologies are for none other than for all good and decent bloggers and to the Servicers of the these sites for my outburst … I’m sorry. And as for sitting on the fence or in shadows when it comes to racism or any other human injustice well, don’t wonder where I’ll be – it won’t be on the fence .…And, as for being chased off by ‘Problem’ – Not in my lifetime!

Thank you for your understanding and if not your understanding, then for your tolerance … GeeGee


Saturday, March 21, 2009

A No Win Situation …


Dear Mona and your Readers … In fairness to me and my beliefs the following is posted, March 21, 2009:

   … You wrote, in commenting on my blog of March 17, 2009 – ‘GeeGee’s Paintings – Part #3 ‘

I understand, I think, but I always wondered about the NAACP and wondered why when a young high school girl tried to start a NAAWP there was such an up roar. I don't understand it.
I would love to have your thoughts on this AliceMary.
I also know what it is like to be shunned. It is a most hidious feeling, especially when one is a child and has no understanding of prejudice at all. What have they done wrong? It is terrible for adults but the children simply cannot comprehend.
Thanks for the wonderful post.

March 18, 2009 4:16 PM

I think that before I share w/you my thoughts and feelings on this subject, I would ask that you go on, googles.com , and research both organizations … You needn’t have to go deeply into either subject as they are both obvious. When you have done this, we can then dialogue (via email, or blog,) …  You are a very intelligent woman, Mona, so will not get lost in drawing obvious conclusions. I saw a set of rosary beads on your daughter’s mirror and wonder if there is Catholicism in your background. You went to High School – where? I ask because that will give me some sense of where your head was coming from or, more to the point, why you don’t understand the concept of NAAWP ???  I mean you no disrespect, but you’re not numb, Mona even though you live surrounded by a pretty moat … Now, if that is the case, well and good enough, but now browse the internet or better yet, take CED classes and surround yourself with another kind of beauty – human rights (all human rights), real poverty, real abuses, real realities … Sometimes, dear Mona, you and some other blog-ladies come across so sugary that my heart puckers as my mouth would on sourness. And, sometimes, it’s liken to entering a heavily incense-scented room that disguises staleness. Sincerity doesn’t require much cosmetics. Tell me, truly, does everyone in your city of bright minds and ambitions sound like that? If so, I would automatically be suspicious and think, “Do they seek adoration in return?” Not even heart and soul committed nuns or other religious folks come off like that and if they did – “Lord, help us!”

Now, begging your forgiveness, I’ve been honest w/you and not from out of left field and hope that you can stand back and think about this and if you disagree, so be it.

Blessings, GeeGee

You responded as follows: Thanks for your response. 

Let me first answer some of your questions. 

Yes..there is Catholicism in my family.  I was not raised a Catholic but was exposed to it most of my life and became Catholic when we had our children.  All of my friends were Catholic.  My grandmother was devout and did several rosaries a day kneeling on a tiny footstool in front of a statue of our Virgin Mary.  So..yes I do have Catholicism in my family.

I went to Grossmont high school in La Mesa California just south of San Diego.  No college other than a class here and there.  Mostly on children.

Child development classes etc. 
Let me tell you up front so that you will know pretty much exactly where I am coming from.  I am a liberal Democrat.  I only slapped my husbands face once in our entire life and it was over the rights of blacks in the south.  It was over stopping the black children from entering a school.  Pat was raised pretty much with southern values..I was also..but it bounced off me and I found myself enraged through out my lifetime over the injustices.  That has not changed and never will.  I was married the second time to a strong Republican conservative and it was not easy for me. 

I felt total frustration and often had to walk away. 

In the world we live in I don't mind the sugar.  I take it for what it is and I don't judge them.  It didn't take long for me to realize that I was out of my element.  I still have fun..because decorating is a hobby of mine.  I think it is of theirs too.  It is my "art" just as your painting is your "art." 

Dare I compare my "pretty moat" to your lovely art?  Yes, in some ways I do.  Your painting comes from your heart.  So does decorating my home.  Does it compare with some of the other homes?  Of course not...but I still enjoy sharing it.  Who cares.  It is fun. 

I think most of the "sugary" comments ARE sincere.  I think some are just...what they seem.  In this harsh world, AliceMary...a bit of sugar and kind words are wonderful to me.  

So...there you have some of it.  All you and I have are words. 

I would say more...but my daughter just came by for a visit.  Perhaps this will at least give you a tiny peek as to who I am.


Today, Saturday, March 21, 09 – I make the following statement that near feels like a deposition but is, in fact, just a simple truth. Mine. We met on my blog ‘GEEGEE’S GRAFITTI’ through a valued friend I’ll call, Olof, and began corresponding via blogging but mostly via emails. I found her to be a nice old lady – I being older, 77 years old, and a long-time community organizer, (as a volunteer and as a V.I.S.T.A.) from 1959 to 1980 and part of that time as a lobbyist at the Maine Start House. I lobbied for AFDC mothers (abandoned mothers w/children) and I lobbied for job training and day care services and for welfare and housing rights, none of these just causes easy to lobby for in those days as most so-called caring folks looked down on the poor and low-end blue collar workers. I lobbied for health care services and programs for street kids and ‘throw-away’s who weren’t wanted.. I worked for a suicide prevention and intervention service called, Recue, Inc. based in Portland, Maine where, during the night hours I was Chief Operator answering crisis calls till daylight. Some night, I need not tell you, were close-calls! I lobbied and marched for human and Civil rights, most importantly, the rights of Blacks to an almighty God-Given and ever-lasting human right to be free and equal to any human being on this earth! I had the honor of marching with Martin Luther King and with Cesar Chavez for the lettuce pickers and enjoyed a conversation with him with other supporters. I marched and lit candles in demonstrations advocating for Women’s abuse centers and shelters … well, without further ado, I hope that you now have a peek at me.

… This whole bothersome mess w/Mona came about from her comment to me about NAAWP and her not understanding what the uproar was all about against it. Hello! Are we on the same page!

I wrote back to you, Mona, about this as I was perturbed and here is why … for you, and your Readers: I sense that there are two Mona’s – one that was and one that wants to be. By your own admissions and occasional slips-of-the-tongue, you and your husband grew up influenced by a prejudice that was strongly embedded in the Southerner’s mentality. Your husband, as I see it, was a hard drinking, hell-a-whooper oft tough-guy. When you have shared some insight, I think that part of you loved him and part of you didn’t but wanted his power because you were powerless. No, you didn’t slap this guy in the face about blacks – No, that didn’t happen and, if it did, you would of landed fast and hurtfully, on your backside! Especially if he was drinking. Now, that’s a given! Think about this, you were 17 when you married Pat and lived w/him 42 years for a total of 60 years. Did he miraculously change in these 60 years or, stopped drinking and went to AA? How, come, dear lady, you wrote to me about having no knowledge of alcoholism or its abuses which aren’t always physical or loud.

You wrote about being poor and starving … Some of that I can agree with while what else you wrote doesn’t ring true like your ultra-sharp memories about your early marriage years. You were starving and Pat knew this? Hello! Pat had fallen off the ‘cabbage truck’ long before you knew him and was as sharp as a tack! I suppose that is why I didn’t bother to get too involved w/your Pat and Mona story … Yes, you wrote well weaving in fact and fiction like embroidered hems on pillow cases. As you will admit, never once did I ever comment on your story. You were doing your thing and that was up to you and had nothing to do w/me. And, may I please add, you know well why you dropped your story! It was because you’ve known from the beginning that I had vibes about you but couldn’t put my finger on them. Honestly, for your own nice self, don’t groan and moan about me indirectly and even lie because that denied and needy old lady w/in is going to get nasty! You talk a good talk; but do you walk a good walk? The answer to that is, look what you are doing w/this situation – look where you’re going w/it.

If only you had not played games. Maybe we could have been real friends and not ceramic figurines. Oh yes, one more thing, you know what you can do w/your NAAWP!

And to your Readers – “Is there one of you ladies that I might have lobbied for years ago? Or, are you one who looked down on them? Some of you have been very talkative on Mona’s last blog -


How about doing that on my blog. What do you think a blog is? A lynching mob? Why do you think I wrote to Mona privately? Maybe you ought to take a break and catch your breaths. You sound like overheated vigilantes. … AliceMary/GeeGee …

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

GeeGee’s Paintings – Part #3 …


    ‘Bermuda Insert’by GeeGee – Mid 1970’s

Oldest son, Francis Michael had many friends in High School and one in particular had just returned with his family from a vacation in Bermuda … I had no reservations in peering over the boys’ shoulders as pictures, from a bulging envelope, were passed between them.

Then, one came up that filled my eyes, “Wait, wait, can I see that one?” The boat was the most attractive and appealing vessel (other than any fishing boats docked at a Portland, Maine wharf) that I’d ever seen … “What is it called?”

“I don’t know.  My parents bought from a Bermudian street artist that makes a living selling his paintings to tourists.”

Would your mother consider loaning me this picture so I can do a painting of it?”

I telephoned her and she was pleased to loan me the actual painting! I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation and barely could wait until my husband got home from work to drive me to her home.

Weeks later, I returned her painting and showed her my finished work that she liked better than the original because the colors in the boat were more vibrant.

That sweet, trusting woman will never be forgotten - “Thank you, dear lady, thank you”.


     ‘Perish The Thought’ by GeeGee – 1979

At the time I painted this dear-to-my-heart couple, I was a V.I.S.T.A. (Volunteers in Service to America) involved with the poor of Portland, Maine and in other areas of the State. I helped organize the poor for welfare and housing rights, for day-care, for training in pursuit of better jobs and legal representation in the affairs of politics and business as it effected the poor and low-scale blue collar workers. Human and Civil Rights were our prime concern … The poor and the Blacks, our focus but mostly the poor as they had little to no voice whereas the Blacks had NAACP and we’d be in partnership with them and morally supported by the Jewish Community, one of many that began to recognize and respect our efforts. A new dawn was breaking just over the gray horizon and voices, once prejudiciously muted, were raised in concert and their numbers grew and the bodies of these freed sounds marched with posters to the beat of drums and there was singing and unity for rights that had long been manipulated in a language dipped in maple-syrupy falsehoods.

“God Almighty, we will be free someday – all of us that have been held back by color and poverty would forever hold our heads high on stronger necks from firmer shoulders built-up with our struggles.”

At an New England Conference in Boston where representatives from low-income and blue-collar groups, NAACP, agencies, state offices and committees, city departments, churches, Lettuce pickers, inner-city Federal housing tenants, and so many more that I fail to recall, I ended my prepared speech with a poem I had written for the occasion called:

Perish The Thought ...

Perish the thought
That I should want
Human rights and well-being
Tied into a knot,
Perish the thought!

Done and undone
What is and is not
I remember their games
Their names, I forgot ...

If truth be impotent
Untie me please
And perish the thought ...


Sunday, March 8, 2009

GeeGee’s Paintings – Part #2


Some time ago, ‘Blueberry Field’ and ‘One space’ brought hubby and I to ‘Paradise Island’ to visit Margaret and ‘B’ … The home is a showcase of beauty and art – Margaret’s art. I was inspired! During this time, ‘Blueberry Field had been encouraging me to return to my painting. The last one in 1979. Blueberry was relentless in her pursuit to to get me to pick up a paint brush again. And, so I did, finally. Why I chose the subject that I was drawn to is up for grabs as I don’t know, even now, a year later.

One day while scanning the internet for data, I came across the works of artist Tom Barnes and his ‘Long neck Ladies’ and was captured by his ‘The Harlequins Again’ and knew as if a  scented breeze had caressed my checks, that this work of Tom’s was for Debbie - (Sorry, dear Tom, it just had to be and my thanks to you equal the number of stars in our gem-embedded galaxy.         


The above painting is Tom Barnes’ painting …

Debbie is a people-person who appreciates each one as special individuals who tends to nurture ladies simply because they, least of all, are valued their worth thusly, Tom’s Harlequins had to become, ‘Debbie’s Ladies’ – Granted, a bad imitation of Tom’s work but my first oil painting in 30 years … Never-the-less, my  (and Tom’s) tribute to the admired ‘Blueberry field Lady’.

Look at us, silly judgmental people -

We’re neither Indian paint brushes

or tainted doves trembling on a stilted steeple -

We’re not easy to make cry, to whimper or blush

though we are wounded and seriously crushed -

We’ll not be ridiculed, this cannot be, because from here and lame -

From whatever you came from, you and us look the same -

                                  By GeeGee

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seeds in my Genome


Joseph Raphael Fortin – lineage

(1) - Simon Fortin lived at Cosme-de-Vair, France. B. April

10, 1617.

Wife unknown/or or yet to be substantiated.

(2) - Julien Fortin, commercial butcher, son of Simon, B. 1600.

M. Nov. 26, 1619 to Marie LaVye daughter of Gervais LaVye,

Proprietor of hotel named ‘The White Horse’.

(3) - Julien Fortin (dit Bellefontaine) B. Feb. 9, 1621, Cosme-de-Vair,

M. Genevieve Gamarche, 11-11-1652, N. D. Quebec.

(Julien was the first Fortin to help set a foothold in Quebec.

Genevieve B. 1636 at Mantes la Jolie, France. D. Nov. 5, 1709.

(4) - Eustache Fortin son of Julien Fortin dit Bellafontaine, B. Nov. 15,

1658 - D. January 22, 1736 at Cap-St-Ignace, Quebec.

M. Louise Cloutier, May, 25, 1693, Cap-Ste-Ignace, Quebec.

(5) - Francois Fortin, son of Eustache, B. Oct. 28, 1695 at Cap-St-

Ignace, Quebec. M. Madeleine Richard, at Cape Michon, Quebec.,

Jan. 31, 1719. Medeleine’s parents, Pierre Richard and Francoise


(6) - Rene Francois Fortin , son of Francois, B. March 17/23, 1724.

M. Marie Charlotte Normand, Nov, 6, 1752.. Parents of M. Charlotte Normand:

Jacques Nomandeau and Marguerite Louis Collet.

(7) - Barthelemi Fortin son of Rene-Francois, B. March 9, 1763, M. Louise Thivierge, Aug. 10, 1793,

Montmagny, Quebec.

(8) - Joseph Barthelemi Fortin (2nd) M. Marie Louise Ursule Bernier, Nov. 7, 1820, Cap-St-Ignace, Quebec.

Parents of Louise Ursule were Paul Bernier and Marguerite Jalbert.

(9) - Pierre Fortin, son of Joseph B., M. Marie Janille Genide Belanger, July 01, 1862, Cap-St-Ignace, Quebec. Parents of Janille were Gregoire Belanger and Suzanne

(10) - Joseph Raphael Fortin, son of Pierre, was baptized at the Parish of St. Ignace, Cap St-Ignace Nov. 6, 1875.

Joseph Fortin and his spouse Emma Bernier were the godparents. Pierre, Raphael’s father could not leave work to be present at his son’s baptism as jobs were scarce and unemployment reaching high numbers everyday …

Raphael Fortin’s wife was Marie Amanda Fitzback, B. May 23, 1878 and baptized on the 28th of May in the church of Notre Dame du Sacre Coueur, Rimouski, P. Q., By Reverand Charles Guay, priest.

Amanda parents were Georgiana Ouellet and Damase Bard(e) Fitzback. Her maternal grandparents were Jean Baptist Ouellet and Ursule Levasseaur Lebel. Her paternal grandparents were Dominique Fitzback and Adalaide Bard(e).

I have never been sure if either families of Raphael and Amanda knew of each other prior to their meeting in Amesbury, Ma., USA, though many of the same names associated with both families have shown up in researching the lines such as distant cousins, aunts and uncles, godparents, etc. This same research has also drawn a clear picture of a progressive decline in Quebec’s ability to economically meet it’s people’s needs ... The societal structure was changing - Fathers needed to have dependable employment in order to support their families No longer could small farms could sustain a decent livelihood. Steady employment became as scarce as finding buried treasure. Under-paying day by day jobs despaired this Quebeque’s spirit and toughened his resolve to provide for his precious family - They were his priority; his main focus.

... Life of the French-Canadians in Quebec was largely agrarian. It was a system where each household grew, produced or bartered for everything the family needed to survive. As the population grew and time got leaner, family farms could no longer support succeeding generations, many left behind this self-sufficient life style for one based on wage labor in the mills. Eventually, one third of Quebec's population left Canada for mill villages in New England where they gathered in close-knit ethnic communities.

I quote from: Damien-Claude Bélanger,

Département d’histoire,

Université de Montréal

... Causes of French Canadian emigration to the United States

At the outset, two important points need to be established: the first one is that there are costs associated to emigration. These costs are economical, emotional and cultural. The economical costs are fairly easy to estimate as they are quantifiable. When individuals leave, assets have to be liquidated, often at a loss. Many material possessions have to be left behind. Packing material has to be acquired. Then there is the cost of transportation to their intended destination, and the cost of sustaining themselves during their travel. Lastly, there will be further costs of settlement, once the destination has been reached. The emotional costs are more difficult to estimate. To migrate often means to leave behind beloved family and friends with who long association have forged strong emotional ties. To leave family and friends behind certainly meant to leave behind one’s support system. It also always meant to forego the familiar surroundings of one’s region and ancestral home, the land which generations of their ancestors had toiled, and the landscape that had defined their environment since birth. All migrants have to face these wrenching emotional costs, and they will frequently remember very fondly that which they have left behind. The cultural costs may also be great. If one immigrates from a region that has particular cultural characteristics, such as way of life, language, religion and traditions, that are quite different from the host society then one will have to adapt to a far greater extent than a migrant that would share many cultural elements with the receiving society. Thus, it is evident that the greater the costs, economical, emotional and cultural, the less likely one is to leave one’s country for another. While the economical costs of French Canadians to leave for the United States might have been relatively small, the emotional and, especially, the cultural costs were quite high. They left behind a traditional rural society with strong family ties. They entered an industrial world, alien to them by virtue of its way of life, language and religion. Given these high emotional and cultural costs, it is surprising that so many French Canadians engaged in the migration process between 1840 and 1930. In fact, it would be normal to consider that French Canadians, who only find their language and religion dominant in a part of the continent, would be the least likely to engage in the migration process. Indeed, since the beginning of the 20th century, Quebec has had consistently the greatest rate of retention of its population of all provinces in Canada. These comments serve to highlight particularly the factors of causation for the emigration of French Canadians to the Unites States: if French Canadians were the people least likely to migrate from Canada, what severe problems impelled them to leave?

Historically, the great mover of large numbers of people has been poor or deteriorating economic conditions. When one’s life is miserable, when one does not see a way to pull out of poverty, then one is literally pushed out of one’s environment ...

For (my) Fortins, based on personal knowledge and family stories, they must had suffered extreme stress before relenting to the persuasions of mill agents from New England, USA. Before this family, such irresistible promises of dependable jobs, weekly pay envelopes, food, company housing. Yes, they would leave for surely to permanently return in time to their beloved Quebec was inevitable. While living in Amesbury, Ma., The family did visit the homeland a few times and what sweet times these visits were! Once established in Portland, Maine all the money that had been saved along with humble investments were lost in the crash of Wall Street. The Great depression had everyone under its heels. For the French migrants, it was the second blow to hit them. Yet, not one ‘bellied-up’ as hopeless fish, on the contrary, adversity made them stronger and the Fortins, more tenacious; more alive. But, I digress ...

Raphael Fortin was a charming man. All who knew him loved him for his boundless generosity (not viewed approvingly by his wife), his wonderful sense of humor, dancing skills and gifted story-telling. No one they knew could split their sides with laughter or bring them to a flood of tears as he. Raphael met his future bride in “Frenchtown” Amesbury.

Her father, (his origins from Luxembourg) was most strict and, to a stranger, an unyielding man. Yet, this French/German became an admirer of this little man’s big qualities. After, a period of time, Raphael courted Amanda, won approval for her hand and church bands were announced.

Raphael and Amanda were married Nov. 23, 1896, officiated by Rev. John J. Nilan at St. Joseph’s Church, Amesbury, Ma. Raphael Fortin was a multi-talented man:

He was a master carpenter -

Barber – Family pig farmer and breeder (in Quebec)

Musician and leather-worker, machine operator, glass-grinder, wheelwright and hatter.

Of course, he didn’t raise pigs in Amesbury, Ma. but applied all his other trades. When he owned a barber shop, if someone couldn’t afford a hair cut and needed one, no problem as they could always go to Raphael. Someone to provide music? See Raphael. Leather pieces needed, but no money? You guessed it- Raphael. Need a few dollars till pay day? Sure, they knew who to ask and who to stall when pay day came. What about the hungry guy hanging around the barber shop? No problem, Raphael took him home to eat a meal. Amanda would smile and quietly say a “Hail Mary”. These were hard times for everybody and although she was glad to help someone in need, Raphael’s kindness tended to shred his pockets.

Times got thinner, no dollars were entering the cookie jar - no more barber shop – grandfather had to work full time and evening side jobs as by then five children had become ten and addresses changed, first floor to third. Still, on weekends, the living room rug was rolled back, chairs pressed against the walls, kitchen food smells wafted on the air currents tossed about by dancers. Into the evening the merry-making continued till the old clock struck midnight or later. Programmed from birth, no one missed services on Sundays although there were some who required incentive. “La mère, père dort toujours. Obtenez vos frères et déplacez cet homme hors du lit !”

One way or another, the dear ‘joie de la vie’ never missed Mass nor work. And, never did anything or go anywhere without his rosary beads which the author now has and treasures. All Raphael’s children could play a musical instrument and two of his sons reflected him in all ways - “Lets push back the rug and polish the floor and dance and sing of our ancestral home in le belle Quebec and lets toast her with wine.” All of the girls, as expected, were obedient and reserved catholic ladies. There were five girls and five boys.

The ladies could knit, crochet, do various kinds of needle works and design and sew their own clothing. Cook? Oh, yes. My mother became a gourmet cook for many wealthy people. Another could sketch and do watercolors that were sold or given away. She was very artistic. Another aunt could hunt and shoot as an expert and was adapt with the bow and arrow, and loved wood carving. Aunt Exilda should have been a nun, had the calling, but a persistent young man pursued her till she relented and agreed to marriage. The fifth one who was the first born died at 12 years old from Diphtheria that was prevalent at that time. The Fortin boys? They were “Jack-of-all-trades”. They had learned much for they possessed an insatiable thirst for knowledge and were hard workers in their jobs. These ten children of Raphael and Amanda were conscientious and, as their father, good-hearted and musical.

By early 1900’s, an uncle joined the Army was eventually stationed at Fort Preble and then Fort Williams, South Portland, Maine. There, he met an Irish lass and after a passing of time they got married. By 1920, the Fortins left Amesbury, Ma. and moved to South Portland, and Portland, Maine. There was ample work there - Fish factories, fishing boats, a Burham and Morrill Baked Beans plant, the Portland Foundry, bakeries, and several good paying sewing businesses, many dept. stores and restaurants and hospitals.

In 1928, the Great Depression. 1932/34, the Fortins, all but two, were living in the west end of Portland in the St. Dominic’s Parish, an Irish dominated area that paralleled the waterfront. No one there spoke French other than one priest from St. Dominic’s Church and the majority of us spoke no English but became quick learners ... quick to hold our own and quick to set our place in their

Raphael liked to drink wine more than on social occasions and as the years passed, his intake of wine increased still, he always managed to work and earn a living building cabinets and furniture and making repairs on fishing boats. Amanda felt deep commitment and admiration for her husband’s qualities and goodness but was sadly at odds with his dependency.

I ask in a low tone of voice, a whisper, did Raphael’s father, Pierre, suffer from the same weakness?

Marie Amanda Fitzback Fortin died, Feb. 1, 1955 in Portland, Maine.

J. Raphael Fortin died much earlier, Oct. 26, 1939 in Portland, Maine. Both are buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery, South Portland, Maine. Both funerals were attended by many relatives and friends and a grand niece of a priest who Amanda had designed and embroidered several vestments for was at both services to show appreciation for the vestments which are still kept in the family and Raphael who had build a fancy, hand-carved bookcase for the priest.

Now, what became Raphael and Amanda’s progenies?

They became: A fishing boat pilot, co-captain, crewmen, union organizers, gift shop owner, master carpenters, professional gourmet cook, a beauty queen and artist, a seamstress, fish-cutter, coast guardsman, and soldier, lace-makers and woodcarvers.

Truly, this family is a tenacious people who married and associated with strong men and women yet, however they might  have tried to fit in and would have hadn’t it been for the  damning  seduction of alcohol, they just couldn’t step up to the plate Yet, Through theirs and their companions of the first hundred’s admirable efforts,  Quebec, referred to as New France, became a great land worthy of a place in the world as any other nation and though under Canada’s Flag, it flies it’s own colors in recognition of it’s founders - in recognition of their land - in recognition of the “100” who pledged themselves to creating a French Homeland. Our Fortin, Julien, was one of the hundred who risked all on this vision of stargazers.

Years later, these noble souls’ progenies were no longer the French from France but the French from Quebec. How erect we must hold ourselves in that accomplishment! I felt a closeness as I walked in their footprints … footprints faded but not erased from time.

A sadness, perhaps a resentment, began to slip into my revelry when writing about Raphael. This charming man loved his wine.  Too much. Should there be no mention of this? Yes, I should as 14 generations later (not including my great grandchildren) the propensity for alcoholism  continues to attach itself to our genome but, not all of us – a number of us don’t drink – Never had a need or desire to.

It came to me that all men have their particular weaknesses –Fortins  rank mountain-high in this regard when it comes to liquor.  To be vulnerable is to be human. To be human is to be a person, one person in a family; one family in a long ancestral line. Genetics are relative. Inevitably, where there is weakness; there  must be strength strength and the ability to overcome adversity. The numbers speak for themselves.

My Fortin genes descend from Simon Fortin and beyond him to homo erectus and from there, the God particle that took root in the Garden of Eden. What glorious transformations from there!

Raphael’s handicap did weaken the family but I’m old enough to have seen changes in each generation that have followed mine and anticipate many more changes as future generations take their place in the Fortin line and see that the line is less asymmetrical … And I see that  in the scope of all things Raphael’s wine was but crushed grapes to beware of.


Friday, February 27, 2009

He took it to his grave …

          image Sitting on the logs

“… Uncle Eddie, what happened in 1925 at a Canadian Logging camp?”

I never knew this uncle, the oldest of my mother’s siblings very well. He and his family live in Massachusetts and visits were on special occasions and holidays but I liked him – He had the same kind of penetrative green eyes as my favorite uncle Nap, aka, ‘Frenchie’. His laughter was similar to a booming sound that reverberated through the rooms like distant thunder from mountain hollows. This was amplified when Frenchie joined the frivolity with his own loud mirth. How I relished those sounds especially when it was hushed by an ultra-reserved aunt (who I thought looked like the actor George Raft) with her misting, “Shhhh, shhhh!” Now, what could of been better than that!

Several ago, as I was going through my filing cabinet, in the back of a drawer was a legal-size pad of paper with curled up ends of pages that sighed (perhaps it was me) when reached for. Scribbled, in big bold letters, were triple-spaced notes spread across two pages, “What the … hell?” What kind of secret code was this? Then it came to me – The notations were about uncle Eddie, told to me by aunt Exilda, his oldest sister. “Maybe you can find out more than I can tell you about this.”

“Is this some sort of mystery?” “Yes.” “Spies and secret agents’ stuff?” “Well, I wouldn’t go that far, no.” “Aunt Exilda, please tell me what you know … “I’m beginning to feel like Charlie Chan".

… During the roaring twenties, when bodies littered streets and machinery reduced employment and the crash on Wall street was a sliced wrist and gasp away, an out-of-work uncle Eddie had to find a job on two counts, he was at an age where he needed independence and a paycheck that would provide that precious extra amount that could be sent to his mother. Raphael, his father, once a respected barber and carpenter, had become a daily consumer and self-appointed connoisseur of bathtub hootch. It did not raise the eyebrows of neighbors to see the little guy brought home slung over a son’s shoulder. “Did you take the back streets here?” “Mother, I brought him home.”

Raphael hadn’t earned a living for several years so the reins of responsibility for the support of the large family automatically passed down to the combined efforts of the oldest sons although everyone who could earn even a nickel or dime, contributed it to ‘mother’s teapot.’ Napoleon (Nap) and brother, Michael (Joe) managed to hang on to their jobs in the mills, as did aunt Exilda who thought herself especially blessed to be working for pittance. There were no chicken-in-every-pot in those days but there was an increasing number of signs reading, “Irish (nor French) need not apply here.” Situations born and bred underground were beginning to surface like nightcrawlers in a downpour.

There, on a main street, a storefront office, operated by representatives from a consortium of Canadian lumber companies was hawking for workers … Anyone who could swing an axe, draw a saw, climb a tree, and skin a cat was sought – all expanses paid. It was the kind of work uncle Eddie’s strong arms and back could do. It was the answer to his prayers! “I don’t trust this, Eddie,” cautioned, Nap. Chimed in, Michael, “Why don’t you go to Boston, first and see what’s there.” “No, I’m not wasting anymore time – I’m going to Canada!”

By the 1920’s,  Communist branches of The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World had cut wide swaths across Canada for the establishment of socialist labor unions that had placed a toehold into lumber camps owned by profit-conscious companies. True, workers lived in appalling conditions and were subjected to many abuses. The pay was rock-bottom though increased slightly because of  steady pressure by the communists. On January 1, 1924, the established IWW lumber workers union called for an 8 hour day with blankets to be provided and a minimum wage of $4.00 per day. The workers, in support, went on strike. After several weeks, the camp operators tried to bring in scabs from various areas in Canada and from the United States. Another feature of the strike worth mentioning was the offer of ‘free’ transportation by the Northern Railways to scabs (certainly not described as such) on condition a man’s luggage was impounded until his strike breaking wages repaid the fare … 

None of this was known to Eddie. As far as he understood he was going to work in Canada, in a lumber camp, good money, just a hard-working guy wanting to make a living, no philosophy, no politics, no nonsense. I think that when Eddie got to his destination, he found himself in an intensely hostile environment however, he was there to make money and that’s what he tried to do. But, taking a striker’s job, especially someone striking for better working conditions, stuck in his throat. A scab? Not on your life! Was he pro communist? Not this man; not this family!  Logically, he supported unionization. Morally, he supported worker rights, the American way that even with its faults and abuses, was the very best way. I think that for a period of time he compromised his beliefs for the money, sending the majority of it home. Then, unable to stay dumb and numb to the beatings and serious injuries the strikers suffered from bad-ass scabs and from company-hired thugs, he crossed over the line and joined the workers, doing his share of striking and head-knocking before returning home.  Afterall, the man was no scab; no strike-breaker. He stood with the strikers and if he had to hurt someone well, it was an understandable matter of protective responses for the cause of rightness against oppression and abuse.

When uncle Eddie returned home, he carried scars but never confided to anyone (though it is thought that he did so to uncle Nap who he trusted) what exactly happened in Canada and went to his grave with that story but I think, based on, albeit quasi, research that he and a few others, also with scars, did some damage there before taking the long way back to the family hearth. But, what do I know? A Charlie Chan, I’m not. A reporter for the National Inquirer, I’m not. But, something did happened in that lumber camp or at another not too far away. Maybe I’ll never get any closer to it than I am at present though I’m close – very close and should leave it at that.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

GeeGee’s Paintings, Part One


“Sea Cove” - Painted for my oldest son, Francis Michael  - Pre 1970. His suggestions created life in my brush-work.
All throughout my painting era until 1979, Francis was my biggest encourager  ... He believed in my ability to paint and in the eventual development of my own unique style. He had a keen sense of perspective and color where all I possessed was a deep need to paint; no know-how, no experience, no idea of what I was doing yet there he was as  unobtrusively as possible peering over my shoulder, “Looking good, Mom.” Even when he gave me softened criticism,
it was always accompanied with praise for the slightest improvement. “I like that wall - looks like part of an old bridge-way or onetime detour from the rocky ledges and shallow waters.”
“Really? Oh, that’s great as I just painted it there because that corner needed to have something occupying that space.”
“You’re improving, Mom.”


I painted the above  in 1971- named: “Something Egyptian” after perusing through piles of saved National Geographic Magazines finding three that had articles and photos of Egyptian history and artifacts that provided me  with what I was looking to express ... No great undertaking which would of been beyond my abilities to do anyway but just a simple, something Egyptian. I bought a canvas board and following a shadowy notion I had in mind, was ready to begin when another thought took hold: One of the magazines had the prayer of the dead, in hieroglyphics, displayed. I couldn’t wait for Francis to come home from school!
He suggested taping a border around the canvas-board where  he would mathematically figure out where each symbol of the prayer of the dead would fit in total for me to draw in with ink or marker after the painting was done. “That’s brilliant, Fran!”
The bottom part of the border was for it’s name and date and my ‘John Hancock’.
Unfortunately, instead of  ‘Something Egyptian’, I named it ‘King Tutankhamun’ because the prayer of the dead was taken from an article about the young king and seemed more rightful.
        Personally, I much prefer my name for this painting  ...


Left: When I was about 1 yr. old and fussing, I was placated with a National Geographic Magazine that  uncle Nap (Napoleon) felt sure would pacify me. And it did, well beyond his visit with grandmother. My aunts told me of this years later, between chuckles of laughter, that grandmother struggled with a stalking feeling of guilt every time I would get bored and wanted attention, naturally when she was at her busiest. It was then she’d resort to a NGM, opening it to a page that met with her approval - no naked folks in wild dancing frenzies! Each page, I would examine carefully then pulled at it till it ripped and with that, tears flowed.  How easy it became for the family to support my love for this ‘opened door to the world’ by keeping  me supplied with this first love, this genuine love of  earth and all it’s exciting inhabitants! At bedtime, it accompanied me. 

Finally, I outgrew it’s companionship but never it’s presence - it’s moving photos and stories, it’s peoples that are have been welcomed every month in my home for the past 76 years.

This painting I did for grandmother and for the handsome couple that my heart embraced  … I’ve named it,  Suspended in Time

Monday, February 16, 2009

“14 Hands Around, Matey!”

                    seagulls and owl

My favorite and  best loved uncle was popularly called ‘Frenchie’, a nick-name that stuck with him throughout all of his life yet, it was more than a moniker, it was a title spoken with fondness and respect … A jolly, “Hey, Frenchie, my good man!” Or, a serious “Captain Frenchie, You can’t turn me down, I need your help – I’ll make up to you.” Most of the time, they didn’t make it up to him but, what the hell, Frenchie understood … “14 hands around, Matey, my friends don’t owe me nothing, glad to be of help!” And this simple, under-rated statement summed up the real altruism of Frenchie, my uncle.

Joseph Louis Napoleon Fortin was born to a mill-working Quebecois family in Amesbury, Ma., 1909 and died in 1987, within the embracement of his West End home, Portland, Maine having lived at Gorham’s Corner and West End sections of this coastal city for the majority of his years. During his hard-pressed and tormented lifetime he was a Coast Guard auxiliary seaman for a spell, patrolling the southern coast of Maine in search of bootleggers, harboring a strong opposition to prohibition and the rum-runners. He was a commercial fishing boat crewman and oft pilot and skipper, labor union advocate and handy backyard mechanic – A ‘jack-of-all-trades’ yet master of none though of one; the Jew’s Harp from which he could create the lamenting sounds of lost loves and noble causes, and then bewitch a listener with tunes that would make a stony man dance with a racing heart. Frenchie could do the same with a harmonica.

He fell deeply in love with a nurse from High Street, not far away, who was as Irish as the earth of Ireland, itself, and possessed the patience of St. Job along with the gift of Irish smiling that made the difference in during days when all hell had broken loose! Now he, himself, was a hot-wire with a temper that was frequently quelled by a heart bigger than his baggy undershirt. Still, his temper was always just below the surface. Frenchie and the Nurse had 7 children, 4 boys, chips of the old block and 3 girls, reflections of their mother, who I grew up with during the  prevalent effects of the infamous 1929 stock market crash.

The wounds of the Depression were agonizingly slow in healing – times were ‘hand-to-mouth’ days with no rest for the weary. This was 1935 … In Maine, the Depression had limited impact relative to the rest of the nation because the state's core industries of fishing, textiles and timber had been in a depressed state since the 1890s, said Richard Judd, a professor of history at the University of Maine at Orono

"The joke was that people in Maine didn't realize they were in a depression because Maine people had been dealing with economic adversities since the late 19th century," Judd said ...” 

Our large family pulled together like that of a wagon train under attack and we survived the ravages of impoverishment in a city that was predominantly Yankee with minuscule consideration for the Irish and least of all for the French, both unfaltering workers who, all too true, earned much less than their productive value on the Portland docks though represented by the longshoremen’s Benevolent Society. It was a labor union that not only had to advocate for the dock workers under political nit-picking forces but had to fend off the maneuvers of communism, mob-run labor unions and corrupted trade practices. Racketeering was a pronounced presence like wharf rats with the lowest rodent looking to fit in with the local ‘big boys’ and move on to bigger piers. Whatever it took to get there was not a problem … It was a blood-thirsty compulsion!

Frenchie’s love was for fishing; his hate was for anyone who stuck their hand in a poor man’s pocket and if that meant speaking out against that, he would - “14 hands around, matey, put them damned gangsters down, I say, put them down.” Grandmother would sigh lightly and reach into a pocket of her starched apron where rosary beads bulged from a lint packed corner. “Don’t look for trouble, Napoleon, you have a family and lucky to be working … This is not the place nor time to speak out. Be patient.” Hmmm, uncle Nap patient?

From this insinuating thought my mind is becoming flooded with a memories that are stitched with graphic images as tatting on a handkerchief, never having faded, or changed, during these many years gone by …

I remember, as a young child, a splendid time when we were having a family reunion that included many out of state relatives. Our home (I was living with my grandmother) on the corner of York and High streets was filled to capacity with jovial and hugging kinfolk that had brought old albums and recent pictures, gifts and cameras with blinding flashes. Throughout the large dinning room were end to end tables with platters of assorted foods – nothing fancy but tasty and filling. In the living room, where the rug had been rolled and pushed behind the couch, there was dancing and singers crowded around the piano where aunt Exilda played tunes upon requests, two uncles played guitar and banjo when she needed a break. Frenchie played his Jew’s harp.

In the mist of this merriment, the doorbell rang sounding like a muffled shrilling, as I recall. Somebody wanted to speak to Frenchie. I saw uncle Nap go out the door and was suddenly overwhelmed with fear!  Enough so that I felt nauseous and had goose-pimples. Grandmother was in another room so I squeezed into a corner furthest away from the front door by a lamp wanting to turn off the light but didn’t dare to. My heart pounded and I heard my voice utter and repeat, “No, no, no, no” followed by piercing screams that froze everyone in the moment! Aunt Bertha, wringing her hands, sobbing and mumbling, kept running back and forth between the rooms. As if in slow motion I weaved through the gathering crowd and pandemonium to the front door and there, at the bottom of the stairs, laid uncle Nap on the brick sidewalk in a pool of blood! A thickening, dark red fluid surrounding his head and shoulders, staining grandmother Amanda’s fancy dress as she rested his head upon her chest. Aunt Exilda handed her a towel to hold against his throat that had been sliced from ear to ear. Unnoticed, until I was roughly pulled away, I was sitting next to grandmother poking at the blood with a crooked twig trying to push it away from our Frenchie who looked like he was just sleeping and dreaming but, he wasn’t. Why? Why would that man with a knife do that? With my mind’s inner eye, I had glimpsed a look at his hands and the knife that had a design, a squiggly line that curved and looped on the edge of the blade like it had been crudely carved in there. The hands were of a intense man who smiled too much. Why would he do this? I felt sick. I knew that this was not an accident like when both my knees were cut and bloodied from falling on rocks at Willard Beach, So. Portland. Somehow, this was as if I’d been forcibly pushed onto jagged rocks, deliberately. A brutal person had forcibly done this to Frenchie, deliberately, but with a knife

Grandmother Amanda, predisposed to her father’s Viking and German genes was not one to over-react to emotionalism or even participate in it, especially not at a time as this because all around her, the family and gathered relatives, were in crisis. Uncle Nap had been rushed to the hospital … Aunt Exilda and uncle Bill were sent to aunt Alice’s home (Frenchie’s wife) as she had left the festivity earlier to release the babysitter and breast-feed little baby cousin Cecelia. … Exilda stayed with the children and uncle Bill rushed his sister-in-law to the hospital to be with her husband. She was prepared for the worse and prayed for his life to be saved as if assured that it would be.

It was a precarious ‘touch and go’ situation for the first days of Frenchie’s hospitalization but, miraculously, he recovered, albeit with numerous stitches and with an abounding amount of high-flying stories from visitors as to what really happened and who really did it and, “who’s going to get it next” to, “damn loud-mouth Frenchman, he asked for it”. Uncle took the tales in yet made no comment – he seemed only concerned with how we were doing.

Paranoia seduced by the temptations of mystery lent the passing days an excitement,not felt for awhile, that had men order an extra tall glass of ale raised to each other, “God help us all”. And the women, they couldn’t wait until mass was over with so they could linger outside church long enough to catch the newest take on the story, understandably, after grandmother and my aunts had passed beyond ear reach.

Time cannot care about what’s happening, it’s not involved in the affairs of ‘mice and men’ so summer turned into a cold, blustery winter and friends and dock co-workers of my uncles and aunts (who worked in fish canning factories on the waterfront) eased back in visiting us everyday though did continue to drop by at uncle Nap’s home fairly regularly till Christmas booted November, out of the way, Ho, Ho, Ho’ing at the hard times and attention was focused on the season. Frenchie had healed and seemed his former self once more - almost. He didn’t laugh as freely and wouldn’t talk about anything even remotely related to what had happened to him. I still observed that bounce in his walk when he visited grandmother. He hadn’t lost that but my spunky uncle had changed; was more protective of all of us, more cautious, more serious. And, there was an anger present as visible as the pigmentation on his skin. The aunts and my mother spoke in low voices when congregated around the kitchen table by the window, one of my favorite places when it was mean-spirited wintry and the coal-burning stove warmed the room. But, during this unsettling period of time, I chose to curl up at the end the living room couch that faced the front door and windows. And think. And feel. And I sensed that more harm was going to come to us.

My family, both French and Irish, were as if genetically pre-programmed to be pro-Quebec, pro-Irish, pro-Catholics, pro-Americans, pro-equal rights, pro-unions. It was a given. What a proud way to live … “14 hands around, matey!”

Most Americans don’t realize the incredible war against workers going on in workplaces behind closed doors. According to Cornell University research, one-quarter of private sector employers illegally fire at least one worker during a union campaign; and 90 percent use some degree of intimidation, coercion or threats to intimidate the workers. When employers deny workers’ their right to form unions, families have smaller paychecks and worse benefits (if they get benefits at all), overtime pay laws are weakened, society’s safety nets are threatened, race and gender wage gaps grow, the tax base is weakened and the doors open wide for more abuse of workers  (Page updated 5/3/04) 
                         From:  MAINE AFL-CIO 
                      A Union of Unions Fighting for
                 Working Families in Maine and the Nation

You’ve read and some may recall, from personal experiences, what it was like on Commercial street before labor unions. Unions were not welcomed by companies and businesses and strong measures were practiced to dissuade the hardworking men and women, and children, from their appeal. It became a standard response to the problem, through third party arrangements, to hire thugs to scare off the union organizers and sympathizers with acts of brutality such as beatings, broken limbs, killings and in Frenchie’s case, throat-cutting that, had the slitting been a little deeper, would of resulted in murder.

I was in my twenties when, one day while visiting my mother and her sister who was there, our conversation took a turn backwards to the sardine-cutting and packing days where I, too, had a fling with scissor-cutting herring heads off as quick as blinking an eye. From there it was a straight line to an older clock where my ladies were walked by me to a place that raised the cockles on their necks and mother shivered in reliving that time “when our the music turned to blood.”

I’ve never liked long silences. It felt like waiting to be anesthetized before having my tonsils removed. “Bastards”, spewed my aunt, who shattered the silence, “they almost killed Bobby, too.” What a rush! I was back sitting on that old horse-hair stuffed couch riveted to the front door and windows waiting … more was coming …

As told to me, when ‘half in the bag’ uncle Bobby became loud and boisterous completely the opposite of how he was when sober, a quiet, small man with a shock of blond hair that was the brassiest thing about him when sober. When drunk and feeling a powerlessness, he became a raging lion and this behavior increased after the attack on his big brother. In a barroom or wherever he was when 4 sheets to the wind and there was an audience, he became foolishly bad. “Whoever cut my brother’s throat has me on his scent and I’m going to find and hurt him. I’m talking to alot of guys and getting closer to that weasel so if anybody wants to help me do right, tell me who he is right now!” Nobody told him anything and he continued to drink and grow booze-muscle and a nastier mouth. 

A month or two later, the police came to grandmother’s home to notify the family that Robert was in the hospital with broken ribs, a shattered leg and a badly fractured The height5 of that arm, broken nose and extensive bruising. Allegedly, he had fallen from the Portland Grain Elevator building. that reminded me of what the tower of Babel would of resembled. He didn’t work there, nor could anyone reason why he had been there so late at night. Bobby told family and friends that he couldn’t remember what had occurred that day and evening – everything was a blank. Actually, claiming that he didn’t think he’d ever remember what happed. At the time I had been told, unconvincingly, that uncle Bobby had pneumonia. After that, he was never the same ever again - a stranger who became a very sickly, garbled alcoholic. Years later, he died from aspirating on his vomit. “Bastards’, my aunt tearfully repeated, “he was almost killed.” Mother replied with rasping words, “But he was! He was killed!” I had listened intently to what my mother and my aunt released from the burial places in their minds and pieces of my puzzle began to fit together as integral parts of the whole story except the identities of the thugs, names forever lost. 

Frenchie’s drinking progressively increased over the years and his value onboard a fishing vassal, decreased, “14 hands around, matey, I’m as good a hand as I was.” … “I know that, Frenchie, maybe next time.” So my hero uncle reeled nets, lumped boats, cleaned decks, fillet fish when his hands didn’t trembled too badly, worked in a cold storage warehouse until he fell asleep in a freezer one day and near froze to death, unloaded trucks but would take off for another drink. before the job was done. Cheap wine became the jug of the day and when that wasn’t affordable, he’d squeeze canned heat, with the walking dead, under a dry wharf. By this time, his children were grown adults; his wife patiently standing by him. One afternoon, as he was staggering home, he crumbled in a heap from a heart attack in front of the Mercy Hospital’s entrance. He died and was resuscitated back within minutes. Frenchie recuperated, dried out, went to AA and talk about sun-drenched endings, my beloved uncle had miraculously been blessed with an extended life, sobriety and the loving closeness of wife and family.

I remember … 14 hands around, matey … I remember. 

                              jew's harp