The Life Story Of
Interviewed by Linda Pease (February 25, 2000)
Marthe Rivard is an eighty eight year old widow of Canadian descent. She lives in Lewiston, Maine in an apartment building owned by her daughter and son-in-law. She has five grown children and nine grandchildren. Her first language is French.
She has been a volunteer at St. Mary’s Hospital gift shop for 41 years. She is very active, usually walking to and from her volunteer job and keeps a very busy social life with her family and many friends. She is a very proud, dignified, well kept, vibrant, attractive elderly lady.
Mon nom est Marthe Grenier Rivard. My birth name should have been Marthe Elizabeth Grenier. We went in style in a horse and buggy, and because we lived far from the Church my godmother forgot the name Elizabeth, so I was called Marie Marthe Louise Grenier. I was born in Val Racine, Quebec, Canada, on a farm, on a very small farm. We had a few cows, lambs, pigs, hens and two dogs, Collie and Brandy and did we love our dogs. I always worked. We started to work as soon as we could because there was so many things to do, but we didn’t call it work because we didn’t care. On a farm there is always something to do as soon as were are able to work. We could do something in the garden, we had to pull out the weeds. It was nice when my grandparents came over because they were given the land to open the place. It was nice but they didn’t know it was all work. There were lots of maple trees, lots of maples to make maple syrup and sugar. But when they cut the trees under them were rocks, they couldn’t work on it, it was so hard. My father had to pull out the rocks and we used the rocks to make stone fences. I was born in August of 1911. I remember when I was about two or three years old and what we did. We had a big skidder that we put the big rocks in and then the children that were big enough, took the smaller rocks and put those in the skidder. Then we made a fence with the rocks so the cows would not go to the neighbors.
My mother had 14 children. Seven boys and seven girls and I was the seventh child in the family, right in the middle. There were three boys older than me and three girls. The oldest was Thomas, the second was Charlotte Anna, then it was Antoine , Blanche , Rose Bernadette, Gerard Euclide ,and here came me, Marthe Louise and then there was Lydia Rachel, Cleophas Paul, Clement, Lorette Gracia and then there was a boy, Alban, he was just a few weeks old and he died, and then another boy Calixte Leon. When we arrived here my mother was pregnant and then she had a little girl, they named her Jacqueline Priscilla and she lived about one month. It was very sad, I hate to think about it at my age. I was twelve at the time, it was so sad. So coming back to where we were, they were given the land free but what was sad is there were trees, maple trees and there was a big fire, that was before my time maybe I was born, I don’t remember. Anyway it was before my time and all the trees were on fire and a priest went around and threw holy water on the fire. The cows, horses and the house was saved, that was about it. And then they had to start all over again. They were very poor, very poor. But we never went hungry. We always had molasses, beans and pea soup to eat. Believe it or not, I still like it. Its funny huh?
There was my grandfathers, Pierre Grenier and Pierre Dufault, with big families also. My grandfathers met on this land, they were neighbors. Around this time my father and mother were starting to get older and they all liked it there in this area. My father had four brothers and they all had a piece of land too. They were all adjoining pieces of land one after the other one was across the road. My father had four brothers who married four sisters from the same family. They were very nice families, very bright. On my mother’s side, I had four cousins married to four sister in the same family and they lived in Lewiston, try to beat that. That is one for the book, huh? The ones in Lewiston, my cousins, were the Beaules, they were very well known and very nice. The four Beaule girls married the four Rancourt boys. They were from the village of Sabattus. I still have the picture of them when they went to New York to be on the radio program Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When my aunt passed away, my uncle, the father of the boys, met the mother of the girls and they got married. They all lived in Lewiston and Sabattus. This all happened around the time we moved to Lewiston.
My father always worked in the woods in Maine. It was far from where we lived in Canada and sometimes he would be gone for 4 months or more. My mother would be very busy taking care of the animals and the children, did she work hard, did she work hard my mother. Of course my father had it easier in a way because he worked in the daytime but at night it was fun, it was OK, but my mother had to take care of the animals, the cows and the children, that was hard for my mother. The children were very good. In the winter it was so cold that my sisters, Blanche and Rosa, and my brother, Gerard, had to go to the creek to pick up water to give to the animals. My mother would pick up snow because the water was frozen. So it was harder for my mother. She would gather wool from the sheep and use the wool to knit clothes for us. When we went to school, she would make us scarves to put around our face because it was so cold. We lived around a mile from the school and in the winter it seemed far. In the fall, we went to school always barefoot and many times it was snowing when we came home. You can imagine, I was a good runner. When we arrived at our house, we always had a big pot of pea soup and we ate the pea soup to warm up. Can you imagine, I was eleven at the time and my sister was ten.
That was also the age when we used to milk the cows too when we lived on the farm. My grandmother use to make straw hats for us because we could not go out in the sun in the summer time without our hats. I would like to have one of those hats now. My sisters Rosa and Blanche, in the summer time, use to milk the cows and my sister Lydia and I would hold the cow’s tail because the tail would go back and forth and then there went the little straw hats and they would get mad. Then we graduated from the tail to milking the cows.
My aunt from Lewiston, Aunt Mary Beaule, came in 1910. Then four of the children, Thomas, Anna, Antoine and Blanche came to Lewiston because my Aunt Mary was here. They came one after the other and lived with her for a time. They each got a job in the shoe shop and then lived on their own. Then my Aunt said to my mother, “You should come too because they are all coming and you are going to stay there alone”. My oldest sister was only seventeen when she moved to Lewiston and then the others followed one after the other when they were about nineteen or twenty. Blanche was only fifteen when she came. My aunt moved many years before, around 1910, and she was here for a long time. She use to send us some material from the Bates Mill to make dresses. She had all boys. My mother was so busy, she did not have time to sew. But my sister Blanche, when she was only twelve years old, was very clever and she would make us some dresses. When I came here, that was what I wore, a dress that my sister made for me from material from the Bates Mill.
My Aunt and Uncle moved to Maine because they wanted to do better than what they had in Canada, I suppose. For my parents, I don’t think it was a good move. When we arrived in 1923, we arrived at the Grand Trunk. We were eight and we slept in a jail at Island Pond. We didn’t go all the way through, we all stopped. We were detained at the border because we were a big family. They made us read and my father didn’t know how to read. It was better for my mother, because she knew how to read. We never saw a toilet before, it was something. Did we flush the toilet, we had never seen that. That was sad when we left Canada that morning. We had two big wagons, it was sad, I hate to think about it, I can cry. We went to every house to say good bye, to my grandparents and to my cousins that we loved very much. We stopped at every house, it was very sad.
I had never seen a train and I was so excited to take the train. Then we arrived at Island Pond where they kept us. It was raining. At Island Pond they had bunks on top and I wanted to go up on the bunk but I fell asleep. Then my mother said, “To wake up, we have to go”, so I didn’t get to go up on the top bunk. I still regret that I did not get a chance to go up on the top bunk.
We didn’t bring anything with us but clothes. We had an auction and they made good, it was a beautiful day. It was very sad but everything went, even the piss pot. They were very pleased with everything they sold.
We arrived at the Grand Trunk on Lincoln Street. We all walked from the Grand Trunk to the corner of Pine Street and Lisbon Street. I can remember looking in the window of Atherton’s Furniture. There was a little fire there, and I wondered what was that? What in the world was that little fire? I was looking all around and across the street there was a store that had all kinds of fruits. I never saw a banana before and I saw oranges and apples, my eyes were open wide. I never saw that before. I was looking all around while we were waiting for the trolley to take us to my Uncle Beaule’s in Sabattus. Now I know what it was in that window at Atherton’s, it was a little gas stove, I am sure it was. For a long time I wondered and then I saw a gas stove and said , “Oh, that is what it was”. I had never seen one before. My mother cooked with a wood stove back in Canada.
We went to my uncle’s and cousin’s, who were all boys. They were so nice to us. There was one girl but she was younger then me. She was at the Maison Marcotte, because my uncle loss my Aunt Mary. After a week we found an apartment. We moved to the corner of Birch Street and Bartlett Street. The fourth floor, imagine coming out of the woods and going up there to live. I was upstairs and I saw someone selling pop corn on the corner of Bartlett and Birch Streets. They gave me a dime to go get a bag of pop corn and it was the first time that I went down. I did and then I did not know which stairs I had taken. There were three stairs and I did not pay attention to which one I came down. I was looking all around, then I saw someone’s head and then I knew which stair to take.
I had long hair and never got my hair cut, none of us did. My mother did not want us to cut our hair. My sister, Blanche, cut my hair after I was here a few days. The other girls all had short hair. I was bashful and I didn’t look at what I was doing when I was walking, I fell down, I am still embarrassed about it. My face was red.
The first girl I met was Simone Beauschesne, who was from a very nice family, they lived across the street. We became friends with a nice family by the name of Fortier. We are still friends but there is only one alive today and she is ninety-five years old. They bought a place on Knox Street and they said, “The fourth floor was awful, why didn’t we move to an empty apartment that is on the first floor on Knox Street”. So we moved to 10 ½ Knox Street.
Everybody worked after the First World War because it was 1923 and the family worked. I stayed home. I went to school about three months at St. Peter’s School. I learned a lot in Canada because we were all the same grade and when they taught the oldest, we were there, we listened and we learned. When I arrived, they put me in the third grade, my God that was baby, baby. They sang songs and it was so young compared to me because I was use to working. They were so young, I thought they were so young, they didn’t know a thing. When Lydia and the others were old enough, they went to St. Peter’s School. One day, Lydia was crying. Everyday, a girl at school hit her. Well I told her I will go tomorrow and meet her. As soon as I arrived, a girl by the name of Monique Carrier, surprised me with a good smack in my mouth. Oh boy, did I give it to her. I punched her in the nose and told her I would be there for a few more days and if I saw her face again I would give it to her again. I have to admit, I was very strong. I never saw her again. I would like to see her now, we would have a good laugh about it, I bet. Anyway, I went to school about three months and my mother was so tired, like I said, she was pregnant. So I stayed home to help her take care of the house. My youngest brother was only two and I took care of him. Did I love my brother. He was so bright and I loved him so much, I never loved anybody like I loved him. I can cry, when I think of him. I took care of him and he loved me. I was the only one that was able to wash him. When he passed away, it was two weeks before he passed away and I didn’t know it, he was OK. He telephoned me and said, “Marthe, I’ve got to tell you how much I love you”. I said to him come on, come on, are you drunk? And he said, “ No, no, I want to tell you how much I love you”, and I said I love you too, you know that. Two weeks later they called me to the hospital he was very ill. I called his oldest child to tell him to come to the hospital and then he died. Why I went to that story I don’t know. I never went back to school, only forty years later.
I started to work in the shoe shop at fifteen years old, worked 54 hours a week for $10 at Wood and Smith. Until then, I stayed at home and helped my mother. My mother never worked outside the house. My mother was very busy with all the family and all the company from Canada. Many people came from Canada. When they did, we slept on the floor. There was always somebody visiting us. Then my grandmother came to live with us for a while. She had a bedroom, so we had to sleep on the floor. On Knox Street, we had a big, big bedroom and there was two or three beds in this one room and we slept three in a bed. For a long time Lydia, Lorette and me slept in the same bed. That was when we had a bed, many times it was on the floor when we had company. Lydia was very fussy, to me I slept, it didn’t bother me and she always said, “ Lorette, your getting bigger, Lorette, your getting bigger”. I called her in California and said to her,”Do you remember when you said, ‘Lorette your getting bigger’?”. That was funny.
My father started to work in the mill, everybody worked in the mill. I think the Androscoggin but then he was an outdoor man, he liked to work on outdoors. So he went to work for the Central Maine Railroad. He was working in Rumford and he was pulling on a metal circle made of iron. He was pulling hard and that thing was all rusted and he cut three of his fingers, not completely off but he went to the hospital to have them fixed and they didn’t clean them good enough. When he arrived home he couldn’t talk, he had lockjaw. The doctor over here said to hurry up to the hospital with him. At the time he wasn’t sick but he was unable to talk. At the hospital they took good care of him around the clock. I don’t know who paid for it, maybe Central Maine, we didn’t ask and we did not know but they never sent a bill. We didn’t have any money but St. Mary Hospital never sent a bill. After that he was weak and he went to Canada and he stayed with his brothers but he never was the same. He worked a little bit but not too much.
Then the Depression came. Some were married and in 1932 the last of the oldest got married. I was lucky, I always worked. I worked at the shoe shop in the daytime and many times after the shoe shop, I worked a couple of hours at another shoe shop. The others didn’t have any jobs. I was always lucky. I worked at this time at The Star Hat Shop. Lydia did work at the Bleachery, that was OK. During the Depression, we had many cousins who came and stayed at the house. We didn’t have much. I am telling you, I was sent to the store to get bones, a store on Knox Street. We would put potatoes and carrots in the soup, it was good. When I was at home they liked to smoke. They didn’t have much money but they still had tobacco and a machine and I had the knack of it. Did I have fun making some cigarettes for the boys. At first I was not good but then I got the knack of it. I did a very good job. And they played cards and we had a piano and of course, everybody sang in my house. They played the accordion and the violin, there was always music in the house. I was too young at the time, Lydia and me were not allowed in the parlor but we would look, we listened.
In Canada, at Christmas time they took the time to go to Mid-night Mass. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, it was more New Years. If we had a treat, the older children gave images of saints to the younger children and we decorated the Christmas tree with that. We didn’t have Santa Claus, we didn’t get nothing because we had nothing. We didn’t expect nothing. Sometimes they would put an onion or potato for a joke, the oldest kids. We had a slate and pencil sometimes, maybe a candy because my brother, Gerard, would work hard. Before Christmas, he would go into the woods and sometimes I would go with him. He would wake me up saying, “ Marthe, come, we are gonna go to try and kill some wild rabbits,” and he would sell the skin to make a little money for Christmas to buy some candy. Can you imagine, he was in front of me with a rifle on his shoulder and we went into the woods. At the time, he was about ten and I was about eight. He was so smart and he worked so hard. He would always help my mother. My mother would have to tie the horse to the wagon and he would do it for her. He would have to jump up to put the bridle on the horse. He would go out at night time and I would go with him to water the animals. And we had to clean the stalls in the winter and I helped him. The others were working out in the woods. They started young. I still remember when he had the rifle on his shoulder. There is a Lord for the innocent. Can you imagine?
I was a good worker, we all were. When we picked up those rocks, my hands and feet would bleed. When my mother separated the milk in the cream separator, she took the skim milk to wash our hands then we gave it to the pigs. It helped a little bit. We were always barefoot and between our toes would bleed. Again we used the skim milk on our feet.
When I was young and living in Canada, I can see myself, early in the spring in the morning. We had to go out and call the cows in from grazing. We would call them back to the barns and it was so cold. We were barefoot. What did I do? I stepped in cow droppings. There is nothing warmer than that. Then there was some water and I went in the water and again I would step in some. I told my sister Rosa and she said, “Why did you do that, why?” I said it was the nicest thing. I didn’t care it was so warm. In the winter when they killed a cow to eat, the skin was tanned and there was a woman who made shoes. But she always made them too small. That was what we had in the winter time. My mother would knit some stockings, it was cold but that was what we had, we were use to that.
IN the spring, we cleaned the house, of course it was dirty. The house was not that big and we would come in from the barn to the house. Can you imagine the smell, what it must have been? My mother made a broom with cedar branches, not like the ones we have today. That was what we cleaned with. In the spring, my sisters Blanche and Rosa, they were twelve and thirteen, they washed everything. The ceiling was wood, it was all wood. When they talk about paneling today, I say is that what you call paneling. We had that in Canada in the house, it was all paneling, the ceiling everything. They would clean that, I remember. We would sleep on a mattress made of straw. In the spring they would clean all that and we would sleep in the barn until new straw was ready to make new mattresses in the fall. At first, they were real thick but by the spring they got real thin. I don’t complain. I think of that and think of people today and they are lazy, lazy, lazy. I get so mad. Everything is boring. Oh come on! I don’t think I had a hard life. I call it experience.
When I was fifteen, I went to work at Wood and Smith shoe shop. My sister was working there. I worked there about fifteen years, until I got married. I was twenty-nine. I had a friend, she took care of me. She was seven years older than me. She would take me out with her. We use to go bowling. I was bashful and my first time bowling my face turned red. I got the knack of it and I loved it. I have pictures of us, we won, the Smiling Club. I also joined the Rainbow Club. I was not able to speak much English but our chaperone, Mary, was very nice. She always tried to talk to me and then I learned a few words. We always won. I was the first one to bowl because I was the worst one and they watched us like a fox, we always won.
I’ve got to tell you again about when I was in Canada. Rosa and Gerard, they would shear the sheep and I would take the wool to take care of it and how I hated the smell of it. I still can’t eat lamb, I hate the smell of it. My mother had a big kettle and she would boil the wool. Then we would put the wool on the grass to dry. There was a place where we would bring the wool to process. Once my mother brought me there and I was the one in the family with the biggest feet. I was only nine or ten and I wore my sisters lace up boots and they were pointed and I didn’t like them. Imagine, we had some rubber boots that were round and not pointed. My mother didn’t see me and I put them on, it was a beautiful day. We went there to have the wool processed and I had never seen a linoleum and I sat on a chair wondering what it was. There were flowers on it. It impressed me very much. When we left we went to the horse and wagon and my mother saw me with the rubber shoes. She was so mad at me, she made me take them off my feet. Imagine a beautiful day like that, she was so mad at me. That woman in the store must have wondered what kind of people we were. My feet looked smaller with the round rubbers. I was about nine or ten and I had to wear some shoes. It was summer time and I didn’t have any shoes. All the cousins use to pass along the shoes but I think I wore a size nine at eight years old. I still wear a size nine shoe.
I will come back to when I met my husband. A good friend of mine, Aldea, told me that there were two boys who opened a restaurant on Lisbon Street. At the time there were no restaurants, a few maybe. I never went to a restaurant. She said that there were these two boys that opened a place, Dumais and Rivard. She told the girls that went bowling, we should support them. OK, I went there. I didn’t know Rivard and I didn’t know Dumais. Of course, I knew the sister because she bowled with us. I didn’t know if they were married. Anyway, Aldea said she wanted a hamburger. The price was 10 cents and I got 50 cents a week. Thirty cents for bowling, 10 cents for the hamburger and 5 cents for the drink and I would have 5 cents left. I gave my money to my mother but I kept the money from the weekend job where I worked at The Star Hat Shop or the Fortier Bakery. That I kept. I think I made a dollar at least. So I went to the restaurant and I looked at the hamburger. I had never heard of that but Aldea knew what to do. I watched her put ketchup on it so I put some on too. He made a good hamburger. When I saw what it was I thought of my mother, she called that ground steak . She would go far with hamburger. She could make all kinds of things with that.
I was lucky to have Aldea. She had a date and Romeo Rivard asked her if she would ask me to go to the Musical Literaise. I asked her if he was married. She said no. There was one of the boys that was married but not him. I said what the heck! He is kind of big but anyway. She said he was the brother of Simone, who I knew. So I said sure I’ll go. We had a good time. We went out for about six years. We always went out in a gang like that. The first thing we knew, we were married. Many of the times we went to visit the boys of the National Guard. Many times in Augusta. He would ask the girls to get in his car and he would take them and I was one of the girls he would take. He usually asked me through Aldea, but when he asked me to marry him, he asked himself. I was lucky to have her. I didn’t like to dance, I didn’t know how. She taught me how and I thanked her. We use to go to the Racqueteur Club, bowling, we belonged to the Rainbow. I belonged there for many years until I got married. It was about 10 cents a week to belong and in May, when Old Orchard Beach opened, we would take our sheets and pillow cases and we would stay at the Beaumont Hotel. We would take the train and the Rainbow Club would go and we would dance on the pier. Finally, I learned how to dance. One weekend there was a good looking boy, he looked like Rudy Vallee. He came at midnight and we danced three dances on the pier. He never said a word. When I arrived they kid me. I danced all week end with him and never knew his name. I had a good time. I wonder what happened to him?
I got married and we went to Florida, Miami, in a Chrysler New Yorker. It was something at the time. It was so nice, I didn’t realize it. Miami Beach didn’t have a big hotel at the time. We were there for a month. He said when we got back it was nice, we will go again next year. But the next year, I had a baby, we never went back. He was too busy. He was a married man, but single. He went out with the boys, bowling. At first I didn’t like it, but then, I had many friends. Then I started to work at the gift shop at St. Mary’s Hospital. He never complained if I went out. He went bowling and played cards on Friday nights, just small games. We fell apart a little bit. I was lucky to have my five children. I got married in 1941, February 15 at 7 o’clock in the morning and it was raining cats and dogs, I remember it well. I was lucky, I always had many friends and I loved to play cards at the time. Today I play Scrabble and learned to spell. I told my children it was too bad I was not able to help them when they went to school. Like Caroline told me, “ Don’t feel bad mama, because I can’t help my children today because it has changed so much”. I didn’t know nothing, so I decided to go to night school. I lived at 220 Sabattus Street at the time and it was just in back of my house. So I went to school. I started in the third grade. This was around 1954-55 and then I jumped to the eighth grade. I had a hard time with the math. I didn’t need it and I didn’t want to do it. I can see Mrs. Stewart now. I would try fractions. I learned with my husband and Claudette and Irene Levasseur and then I learned. Mrs. Stewart was very nice. She said, “ You are interested in everything Marthe.” I read a lot because I knew many things. She told me I should go to High School. She encouraged me. In High School, I had Algebra. Well, Marthe was stuck again. I had American History and World History, I loved it and I read so much, I was good at it. But the math and Algebra, I could not understand it at all. There was a boy from Canada, who knew all that and he did my Algebra for me. Did I love that boy. I passed my tests and got my Diploma. My daughters made a party for me, they took pictures. I didn’t see those pictures and when I turned eighty they celebrated my birthday and they had pictures made from the negatives for me. I got my diploma in 1974, when I was sixty-two years old. The teacher told me it would take time. She said, “you can’t learn two nights a week, there is no way but what you are going to learn, you will be proud of yourself.” “You can do it.” I see her once in a while and the other day I saw her at the gift shop. I was so happy to see her.
I never went to work. Well I did go to Drapeau’s Costume Shop. My good friend Lucia Drapeau, who owned the shop, said she needed someone and she asked me if I could help at the house doing some sewing. I started like that, then she had to move to the corner of Maple and Lisbon Street. That store was a restaurant before. Lucia had to clean it. I said to her to go back to your house, that was where she had her costume shop, on Main Street, in her garage. I told her I would do it. I cleaned it and then she moved. She had a couch in the sitting room and an ironing board. She said that would be nice to sit there. The couch, we never sat on it, it was always filled with stuff. I worked for her for many years. Not everyday but when she needed me, I went. Then she sold the shop to Doris Martin and I still work there, especially at Halloween. I make costumes, not too much anymore but when the costumes arrive, I organize them and hang them up. It is now a big business on Lisbon Street. I don’t make the costumes anymore, but I have made some. I have pictures of some I made. They don’t need me except I still go for a few days to organize them, iron them. I’m a good ironer, and I love it.
I started at the gift shop at St. Mary’s Hospital, it will be forty-one years. I call it my gift shop. When I worked at Wood and Smith, I used to stop at the 10 Cent Store. They had a cash register. I looked at it and I thought they were so lucky, would I love to do that. When I was seventy or more, finally they got a cash register at the gift shop. Every time I use the cash register, I get a kick out of it. I just love it. Then they got the VISA and I said I think I am going to quit. I think it was a year ago. I don’t want to learn anymore. They said, “Oh come on Marthe, you can do it.” I still go there, it is my social life. I have many friends and I learned to talk English. That is where I learned. I also learned by reading. I knew how to read and when they talk to me in English there were words I understood but there were words I did not understand. So I would tell them to spell the word and then I understood. I learned my English by reading and by my Scrabble game.
When I started to sew, I didn’t know how. At the shoe shop, I was a good fancy stitcher, I made the samples. I was good. I never saw a pattern and I didn’t know the words on the pattern, I didn’t understand that. My sister-in-law, Delcie, started to make some night gowns for Carmen and Caroline. My husband bought me a sewing machine, the cadillac of sewing machines, a nice Singer. That was about 1941. I used it to mend clothes. I didn’t know how to use it. So my sister-in-law said, “Now that you have a sewing machine, I’ll give you material and patterns”. I did not want to tell her I didn’t know how to sew. So I took it and I took something apart and I copied it. Then I used the patterns which I had a hard time to understand and the first thing I knew, I did all the wedding dresses for my four girls. Did I sew, I looked at something I did and I surprised myself. I did some beautiful things, it took me a while. When Carmen and Caroline went to Holy Family School, I had some red corduroy material and I made them a jumper. It took me a long time. I had a friend, Irene Lavasseur, who lived across the street. She was a good seamstress. She told me how to use the pattern, she understood the directions. I made them and I did a good job. When they went to school they had a red jumper, when they came home they were pink. There was nap to the material and I didn’t pay attention to that. I learned the hard way, but I did. My mother never had time to sew, she worked so hard. She baked bread, she made everything. She made our clothes out of wool that she used to knit and when my sister was old enough, around twelve, she made some clothes for us. My Aunt, here in Lewiston, also sent us some hand me down clothes from people here. I met a lady here who I played cards with. She was a little bit older than me and she told me she gave my aunt some clothes to send back to Canada. I told her I bet I wore some of your dresses. Did she laugh.
I am very lucky to have friends. I have many friends. I can still walk, I walk to Church and the gift shop and to the market and I can go to the mall if I have to. I am lucky to have the gift shop. When I started there, I delivered the mail from 2 to 4 or 7 to 8. Then a lady from personnel, Grace Marcotte, asked me if I could work in the gift shop and I told her I don’t know if I can but then I said OK. At the time they called it Get Well Gift Shop but today they call it The Geraldine Beeaker’s Gift Shop. That is the way I started. It has been fun.
That is about it. Do you know what was the excitement in Canada? About two years before we left, we got the telephone. We listened to the telephone pole. You could hear the noise it made when it rang, you didn’t hear the voice but you heard a noise, that was excitement. And then when the car started, I saw my first car, I must have been eight years old. In the summer time you would look at the dust and you would see the design of the tires. I was afraid of the car when I saw one. I would jump up on the stone fence till it went by.
Also at times in Canada, there were some drifters who went through. One time it was a black man, never saw a black man before. My mother was afraid, she was alone with the children but she always gave some bread and mittens. He slept on the floor, it was winter. Mama, didn’t sleep, she was afraid. I didn’t realize, I was young. She wrote a note to the woman across the road and had Blanche take it to her. She told us she needed eggs but on the note, in French, she said, “I am so afraid, come, come. Make believe you needed to come over.” She did and stayed until he left. There were many men like that at the time.
When I started to get my Social Security, oh boy! I never asked for money, I was very independent. My husband was an old fashion husband. My sister-in-law knew he gave me a little bit of money but I hated to beg. I felt like a beggar. My husband got his Social Security. My sister-in-law came over and told my husband, “ OK, you always said you don’t need your Social Security, then give it to Marthe”. She came over for a couple of months to make sure he gave it to me. He did. He always said I would spend everything, well I did. I went to Hawaii, I went to Louisiana and did I spend my Social Security and am I glad. And thank you Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the Social Security.
I have no more to say except, I am very lucky, I have good friends, good children and a good life.
A I listened to Mrs. Rivard talk about her childhood years in Canada then in the United States, I could not help but think that her humble beginnings have been a constant influence throughout her life. This is a woman who has a very deep appreciation of life and what has been doled out to her not matter what happened.
Very early in life, she developed a very strong sense of extended family. In her early years in Canada, she was surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of her parents’ families, as well as, her immediate family. She developed a strong sense of community, where everyone helped each other in time of need and everyone celebrated the good times together.
It was very difficult for her to leave her relatives behind and move to a new country with different customs and a different language. She seemed to have replaced her large extended family in Canada with a large contingent of friends in Maine. She has also maintained a very close relationship with her immediate family and the extended family located in Maine. Every year she has an all day open house around the Christmas holidays which gives her the opportunity to stay in touch.
Her early years of poverty has also been an influence in her life. It became evident in our talk that she is a person who is very appreciative. Rather than complain about her years of hard work and what she had to give up for her family (i.e. her education, money, etc.) she considered herself lucky to be able to do the things she did. When she realized that her children were not in as much need of her time, she volunteered her time at St. Mary’s Hospital. She views this as a benefit for her rather than the other way around. She considers this her social life.
It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Mrs. Rivard. While I was at her home, she showed me a table cloth that she started in the very early 50’s. She has had the guests in her home sign this table cloth then she embroiders the letters to make it permanent. I had the honor of being asked to sign it while I was there. This table cloth is about 20 feet long and was covered with many, many signatures of family and friends. She even has the signature of Governor Angus King on it. She is very proud of the table cloth and uses it when she entertains.
She also had a banner taped on her wall when I came in. She told me that when she was a young girl she said she was going to live long enough to see the 21st century. She said people thought she was crazy, you will be 88 years old by then. She was very quick to tell me she did see the century change and now she was looking forward to the year 2011 when she will turn 100.