When I was a young polliwog, my dad would take me and my brother to our grandparents’ house at the end of Smithies Street in Fall River. Back then, there was no Route 24, so their property was literally a stone’s throw from the North Watuppa.
It was great fun to run around the area, climb trees, and catch crawdaddys (crayfish to you non-Canucks, similar to us calling catfish, hornpout) in the culvert bordering the reservoir.
I have limited memories of my pépère Loridas, he died when I was four, a long time before I became a full-fledged frog.
My mémère made the best baked beans ever and she had a parakeet that spoke French, and a lovable old German Shepherd, Prince, who also followed French commands.
It wasn’t until well after she died, and I was a full-fledged frog with polliwogs of my own, that my dad told me that was my step-grandmother, and that his mom had passed away when he was six. Her name was Laura Dudevoir, born in 1894 on Barnes Street in Fall River. More on that in a minute.
I was taken aback by this. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a mémère I knew nothing about.
I questioned my dad about her often. The thing I liked most about his responses was that she was a loving mom with a good sense of humor, like her brother, Leo.
I bring up Barnes Street because that’s where my dad was born unbeknown to me, and Denise and I had an apartment on that street with Ben, Lauren, Emilie and where Davey was born, although sadly, he never made it back home. Coincidence?
I wanted to learn more about Laura. I belong to Ancestry.com, so I did get some great info. She died at 33 (sound familiar?), on March 18, 1927. Her dad, Joseph Dudevoir, was born in Canada in 1856, exactly 100 years before me.
As a polliwog, I often felt I didn’t look like the rest of my family (I’m sure a relief to them), but then I saw a picture of Laura as a young woman, and my jaw dropped. Emilie and I, at that same age, look incredibly similar to Laura. I wasn’t adopted!!! (See photo at right; me, Laura, Emilie).
Since learning more about Laura, I’ve grown to ask her intercession in prayers. How can the mémère I never met say no? And I ask her to keep an eye on my son (and now my dad, too).
The other day, I was rummaging in the basement for God knows what, and I came across an old book: “Petite Bible Illustrée” (Small Illustrated Bible). It was published in 1880, with an imprimatur from Pope Leo XIII.
The yellowed pages with brown edges are beautiful with myriad etchings as illustrations. But that’s not the beauty of the book.
On one of the first pages, written in a young girl’s Palmer Method signature, is Laura Dudevoir, Barnes St, Fall River, Mass. — three times.
I felt like I had just scored an autographed Charles Dickens’ classic at a used book store.
I was, and still am, in awe at the finding. This brings me so much closer to my mémère Laura. To have, in my possession, her actual signature is, to me, like having a relic of a saint.
I can’t read much of the Bible. Sadly, I never picked up on French, even though my mom and dad spoke it fluently (as did a parakeet and a German Shepherd on Smithies Street).
But just having the priceless heirloom is all the joy I need. It’s not a nice hot pot of baked beans — it’s even better.