As you can see on page one of this edition of The Anchor, Pope Francis has designated this Sunday (July 25) as the first World Day For Grandparents and the Elderly, and I’m delighted he opted to do so.
So many countries around the world view their elderly citizens and inhabitants with great reverence and respect. I fear the United States has fallen into a culture where grandparents, and the elderly population in general, are seen as more of a burden than a source of wisdom, knowledge, experience and life lessons for younger generations. Plain and simple, that’s sinful.
Of the four grandparents I had, I met three of them and knew two of them. What I wouldn’t give to have them alive and a part of my life right now. As my dad grew older and more fragile in body and mind, he shared so much wisdom with me. I will never be able to repay him for what he gave me in is final years (all his life for that matter), despite his failing mind and body.
Being primarily of French-Canadian descent (with a little German and First Nation/Native American sprinkled in according to Ancestry.com), I had two pépères and two mémères. I love the fact that even today, grandmothers and grandfathers are referred to in their native languages, be it Portuguese, Polish, Hispanic, Canuck, et al.
My mémère Laura (Dudevoir) Jolivet was the only of my grandparents I never met. She was born in Fall River on Feb. 7, 1884. She died of tuberculosis at the young age of 33, on March 18, 1927. My dad was only six years old at the time, yet in his final months and days he spoke of her often, thinking she was still alive.
He did tell me she was gentle, kind and had a sense of humor. I recently found in my dad’s things a prayer book of hers as a young girl, with her signature. I cherish that relic.
My pépère Loridas Jolivet was born in Rivière du Loup, Quebec, Canada on Jan. 27, 1887. After he came to the U.S., he eventually enlisted in the U.S. Navy during WWI. It was there he contracted the Spanish Flu and was considered a gonner by military doctors, but pep didn’t give in. He and mémère Laura had two children before she died, and it was a struggle for pépère Larry to raise two young children alone. From what my dad told me, he and his sister Connie were put in nearby orphanages for a while until my pépère remarried.
Life wasn’t easy for them, and my dad left school as a lad to work to help support the family.
Pépère Larry died on Dec. 7, 1960, when I was just four years old. I have very vague memories of him, and frankly, to this day, I’m jealous of my brother Paul, that he got to spend time with pépère Larry; going fishing and skating and boating. He has memories I wish I had.
My mom’s parents were the two I knew most, especially my pépère Ernest Vautrin. Pépère Ernie was a hardworking, fun-loving little man who thought the world of his plethora of grandchildren. He had nine children.
He and my mémère Alice (Simon) Vautrin owned a three-decker on Whipple Street in Fall River with a massive yard, needed of course for the herd of grandchildren. The yard included a humongous maple tree (yes, the one from which I fell and mangled my arm when I was 11), and plenty of space to run and play. They property was always a beehive of activity.
Pépère Ernie always had a garden in the backyard and always an old barrel in which he burned trash (and my fingers one day on a little white hot bottle from the ashes). He absolutely loved being outside with his mob.
He was pistol and never afraid of hard work, as a wall-paperer, painter, carpenter, whatever. I remember one winter my dad had to go up on pépère Ernie’s garage to get him because he was up there shoveling snow off the roof. Pépère was in his 80s.
We lived across the street from him, and as a lad, I would go to his house every morning to read the Boston Record-American sports page — after he had. He was a big Red Sox fan (my pépère Loridas was a Boston Braves fan).
As I grew into my mid to late teens, I saw him not nearly as much as I should have, and I deeply regret that. He died on Oct. 1, 1974, when I was 18. My mom told me that a few days before he died, my pep had a dream about me and a little dog (Igor?). That both warmed and broke my heart that I was on his mind, among his many grandchildren.
My mémère Alice seemed to some, and to us grandkids at times, to be a cantankerous woman. My most vivid memory of her is her constantly telling us to “close the gate,” every time we entered or left the yard. I chuckle just thinking about it.
But she was a sweetheart. I also remember her as a fun-loving woman who loved a party and a good time — and music. She played the piano with great spirit and joy. And when she wasn’t playing, we grandkids would grab a roll, plug it into the spool, pump the foot pedals and become instant piano players too.
When I was still a pup, mémère fell at home and broke her hip. That was in the 60s and she was in her 70s, and that was pretty much a death sentence for an aged person back then. She spent the rest of her life in bed at home, always surrounded by her children and older grandchildren. Mémère Alice died on Oct. 8, 1968.
It has been bittersweet to write this column, but it has also made me love the four of them even more. I wish I could spend time with them now. I hope they’re proud of me.
Larry, Laura, Alice and Ernie, thank you — and please pray for me and my family, as I keep you in my prayers. I love you all.