By Rachel Morin
The announcement called to me from the pages of the Twin City TIMES: Local author Marguerite Roy was going to discuss her book, “Aurore: My Franco-American Mother”, at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College. How could I not answer the call?
Me, with a name like Morin, marrying into a large Franco family and before that with a maiden name of Gilbert, with my father and his equally large Franco family—I had to go.
And so, there I was at Lewiston-Auburn College, at the end of August, arriving early, eager to meet Marguerite and her family. It turns out I knew two of her sisters, Madeleine Pare Roy and Louise Pare, from our membership at L/A Senior College!
I knew Marguerite would have a good attendance, and I was right. Behind me, streaming in, were groups of white-haired women, some with husbands following, Marguerite’s siblings and extended family members, her friends, classmates, neighbors and other interested people, some coming from beyond the Twin Cities.
Marguerite was introduced by James Myall, coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the college. “This book by Marguerite Roy is a great addition to Maine’s Franco-American literature,” he said. “We are fortunate to have her book in our library.”
I looked forward to read Maggie’s book, as family and friends call her. Once in my hands, I could not put it down. Marguerite weaves a loving story of her mother’s life, from Aurore Lessard’s birth in 1896 to her marriage at age 22 to Cyrille Pare, a widower with two young sons, then becoming a mother herself of nine children, and finally to her death six days after her 84th birthday in 1980.
Marguerite began by telling us her mother was a storyteller with an outgoing personality and a wonderful letter writer who had thoughts on everything. She wondered if her mother’s life story might be as interesting as the popular “I Remember Mama” series on TV had been many years ago.
The memoir begins with little Aurore losing her mother at two-years-old. Aurore’s widowed father, Andre Lessard, was left with nine children to care for. His oldest daughter, Feline, 19, took over the care of the children and managing the household.
Aurore had no memories of her mother and would ask her siblings time and time again for stories of their mother. The loss of her mother at such a young age was an anguish she carried until she died. Throughout her life Aurore would write poems to her mother in French, A ma mere inconnue (To my unknown mother.)
As was the custom with Franco families, every child had a nickname (which stayed with them for life), and I loved the nicknames for Aurore’s brothers: Pitou, L’Noir, Bebe,T’enfant, L’Coq (rooster.)
A special name for the youngest child, Aurore, was La P’tite (little one.) Historical footnotes are included in the book and are just as interesting as her stories: memories of bygone events; local history; long-gone stores, restaurants, clubs, mills and movie houses; the 1936 flood; the 1933 New Auburn fire; Jean Baptiste Parades; B. Peck store, known as The Great Department Store and for years the largest department store in Maine; the nuns she loved; the convents, churches, hospitals, newspapers; and so much more in the Twin Cities. I kept a bookmark with the historical footnotes as I read the book.
During Marguerite’s presentation, she was very much at ease reading from her book. The audience loved her warm, delightful memories of a large Franco family growing up in the past several decades. These stories were gleaned from boxes of letters and photos stored in the attic at the family homestead, coupled with years of research in newspapers documenting local historic happenings and dates, as well as from memories of her siblings and relatives.
Marguerite, the youngest of Aurore’s nine children, was able to piece together a comprehensive story on the life of her mother. The stories were much like my own family or any other Franco family growing up in the Lewiston-Auburn area. The similarities and familiar stories shared common bonds of faith, language, cuisine, culture, politics, family customs and traditions with the audience, and they responded with nods, laughter, recognition and nudging each other.
I loved reading the French expressions (with translations) Marguerite sprinkled throughout the book. But it was Aurore the stories centered around. A resourceful woman, Aurore was a warm, compassionate, devoted and caring mother who thrived on her children. She became the mother she never had.
Times were hard. It was the Great Depression. Often, employment was not steady for her husband. Aurore made all their clothes and she re-used and recycled everything for a second and third time, long before recycling was a way of life. She managed to stretch what they had so all her children were clothed and fed.
The family moved often in the early days, sometimes moving in with relatives. It was not uncommon to see families sharing an apartment. They would pool their money for rent and other essentials. In those days, families helped each other.
On a parish visitation, Aurore confided in Father Fortier, the pastor at Holy Cross, that they would have to move as the family was unable to pay the rent. Father Fortier returned that evening to speak to Mr. Pare and wondered if the family would like to move into an old, rundown house he had bought.
It had been empty for seven years. It needed a lot of work. Would Mr. Pare be willing to fix it up to make it habitable for his wife and eight children? They could buy the house from him when they were able. The house was a Godsend, as it was large enough to accommodate the family of 10.
Mr. Pare was handy in carpentry and other skills. He tilled the soil, preparing a huge vegetable garden, which supplied food for the summer. The fall harvest found Aurore canning vegetables for the winter. During the passing years, the house became more comfortable.
Aurore was happy to have a home for her children and fields for them to play in. Her ninth child, Marguerite, was born soon after they moved in. The family’s happiest memories are living in their home on Webber Avenue. The book has many black-and-white pictures recalling fond memories of large family gatherings. Especially noteworthy is how people used to take great care in dressing for special occasions or to have their pictures taken. Dressed in their Sunday best, the photos show attractive families at festive events.
When the presentation concluded, many in the audience were reluctant to leave and lingered in small groups talking and reminiscing. Long lines formed at the book table, waiting for Marguerite to autograph their books. A Lewiston native, Marguerite earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Southern Maine while raising four children with her husband Raynald Roy.
The author’s stories and articles have appeared in Down East, Discover Maine, The Family Digest and Out of the Cradle magazines. Other stories have appeared in an anthology published by the Writers of Sun City Center, Florida.
Marguerite and her husband divide their retirement living between Auburn and Sun City Center. By request, a reading and discussion of her book is scheduled for Tuesday, October 9, at 2 p.m. at the Auburn Public Library.