In Memory Of Memere:
Marie Anne Fournier Fleury LaFlamme
March 12, 1909 - August 25, 1998



Word came to me through my sister that our grandmother, a French Canadian from St. Claire who moved to Maine and became naturalized during the 1930's, passed away recently. I was sad, naturally, but not surprised. Memere suffered a stroke 5 years ago and was in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, just biding her time until she was called into God's presence.

I sat quietly often over the next few days, remembering things about Memere, but it wasn't the sad, frail creature in the wheelchair that I remembered best. I was remembering more fondly my younger days, when life seemed a never-ending playground and all the world still held wonders I had never seen......


My grandparents owned a dairy farm "out in the boonies", and most of my memories revolve around the big farmhouse with it's big barn, multiple sheds and seemingly-endless fields. My sisters, brother and all our cousins used to run rampant through these, roaring into the house in groups of anywhere from three to twelve at a time, smelling of cows, dirt and hay. Memere, spewing a mix of French and English mutterings, would give us such grandmotherly advice as "go take off those shoes" - or simply "back outside", if we smelled a bit too "rich". One of her favorite sayings, which I still don't know the meaning of despite 5 years of French classes, was "Eh mon jee"(or at least, that's what it sounded like in my ears)...(addendum 5/10/03: one of my former co-workers cued me in that my grandmother, who always told us never to swear, was saying "damn it" in French...*grin*)


I remember sneaking out to the edge of the garden with my cousins and hiding on the far side of the raspberry bushes to sneak sweet, ripe fruit for a between-meals treat. With "look-outs" posted to watch for Memere or Pepere, we would get a couple of hand-fuls each, then sneak off again, feeling the elation that comes with getting away with something one knows is wrong, but not harmful to anyone. Raspberries that were given to us (or purchased, in later years) were never quite as good as those we snuck, so the saying "It's better if you steal it" became an inside joke among us "young'uns". We didn't find out until we were teenagers that Memere had always blamed road dust for the lack of berries on that side of her raspberry bushes, never suspecting her grandchildren would be so sneaky...*grin*...


I recall having my cheeks pinched and kissed while getting hugs from strange people spouting words that I didn't understand, knowing little except that these were "the Canadian relatives". As the years progressed, I started to recognize some of the more frequent Aunt Germaine, Memere's sister (and something of a spinster, though we never understood the shame associated with that status for my grandmother's generation until we were much older). When I began to learn some French in high school, I was able to understand some of what they were saying to me, and felt genuine pride eminating from them when I sang some of the songs from church while signing the words after learning American Sign Language in college. Aunt Germaine smilingly dubbed me "tri-lingual", and although Memere said nothing, the smile in her eyes gave me a warm feeling and her gentle squeeze on my arm spoke volumes...


We always had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables from Memere's garden as well as many special things that were home made, and I had two personal favorites of all the things she sent our way: (1) the maple syrup they boiled down in the spring - especially the maple taffy-like candy we made with the boiled-down syrup, referred to by Memere as (again, I'm sounding it out) "tzea-ia", and (2) the dill pickles that were strong enough to cross your eyes - or curl your toenails...


Shortly before my high school graduation, my infant nephew was put into Children's Hospital in Boston and my sister went down to be with him. Torn between her daughter (me)and her grandson, Mom went down to help any way she could, and Memere stepped in to help me with my graduation party. We really got to know each other over those little sandwiches (which were always required by etiquette) and dainty desserts we made. From then on, we didn't always need words to communicate, and Memere often conveyed more to me in one little squeeze than most would say with a million words. One of my most treasured pictures features the cake she made for me...


But my fondest memory is of driving up for a planned visit to my family - with the surprise news that I was to be married in 4 days to the man I had lived with for two years (in an unexpected addition to my husband-to-be's sister's already-planned wedding). When I sat down with Memere and gave her the news, I expected some resistance - especially as he wasn't a Catholic, but a firm Atheist, and I had been brought up strictly Catholic. Instead, Memere looked at me quite sternly and asked me one question: "Does he help with the housework?" When I nodded my head, she smiled and squeezed my hand. "Then marry him and be happy." I took her advice - and don't regret it. I'm still on my first husband...


Memere is gone, no longer handy to dispense her heavily-accented advice, often hard to decypher at first, but well worth listening to. Her passing has left a hole, but her suffering of the past years has ended. She often told me "I've lived a full life. I'm ready to go." I have to believe she's happy, but I'm certainly going to miss her, just as I've missed those who have gone before (my father, my favorite cousin, Aunt Germaine), but I will never forget her, nor the effect she's had on my life...




I'd like the memory of me to be a happy one,
I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when day is gone,
I'd like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times, and laughing times, and bright and sunny days.
I'd like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun,
Of happy memories that I leave when life is done.

-Author Unknown



(My thanks to Brooking-Smith of Bangor, ME for providing the memorial card containing the poem,
to Windy for the background,
and to Francy for the border art)

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