Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 29 - 13 Ways to Celebrate My Grandmother's 93rd Birthday

On November 1, 1914 a baby girl was born to Eugene and Emilie Meuse in Amirault's Hill, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. And today, 93 years later, a great-grandmother celebrates her birthday in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Join me in taking a stroll through smiles and memories as I introduce you to my grandmother, Juliette Doucet.

1 - This photo was taken in Amirault's Hill in 1919. My great-grandfather was a photographer and took wonderful photos of my grandmother's growing up years. Juliette was the fourth child of ten. In this picture, baby Olivette is the youngest, but there would be four siblings to follow.

From left to right: Isabelle, Adelta, my great-grandfather Eugene, Danny, my great-grandmother Emilie, baby Olivette (my gram's best sister/friend!), the eldest Angeline and at far right, my gram Juliette. She was 4 years old in this picture.

Yarmouth was a busy harbor town when Juliette was a girl. It was full of big, stately sea captain's homes, many of which are still in perfect shape today. The horse statue in the third photo is at Milton Corner, which today is still a busy intersection and still has the horse in its center.

2 - This picture was taken in the mid-1920's at school. Gram is from a French Catholic family, and a very musical family. In her mid-teens her father was asked by the priest if Juliette could go and live at a neighboring parish to be the church organist. This was quite an honor, and Juliette was eager to play for the church. It wasn't too far from home, but far enough, in those days.

So she left home at age 14 to live in the priest's house along with the priest's housekeeper, Delia. She played for several masses per day at times, depending on the church calendar. She went with the priest on a circuit of four area churches and she played at all of them. In later life, Juliette took her old friend the housekeeper in to live with her and Grandpa when Delia was an elderly lady.

3 - My grandma is a fantastic cook. When she got a bit older, she had the opportunity to take a position as a cook in a private Halifax home. She was given permission to do so by her father because her older brother Danny lived in Halifax as a jeweller and watchmaker. And let's face it - my great-grandfather was a bit of an adventurer. More on him in a future TT! He likely couldn't bring himself to stop a daughter who wanted to see new things and do new things like he did.

Juliette worked for the Craig family, going over menus with the lady of the house, giving the grocery order to one of the other staff, and having all the dishes, pots and pans taken care of by yet another member of the staff. In the old days, once a family's cook was known as Mary, for example, then every cook after them was also called Mary. Gram could never understand why the Craig's always referred to her as Mary until I told her about the domestic servant research I'd done for my WIP.

She laughed so hard at that. One time she'd made a dessert with raisins which the Craig's referred to as 'plums', and apparently Old Man Craig wished there had been more raisins. "Mary, where's the plums?" he'd asked. Now Gram and I say that as a joke between us, if we wish there was more of something yummy.

Gram is known far and wide for her absolutely divine homemade bread. When I'd come for a visit when I lived in Toronto, I'd always take some home on the plane with me. Recently one of my mom's cousin's from Cape Breton dropped by while he was in Halifax, and when he knocked on the door, he said, "Is this where I can get some good bread?"

She also made to-die-for baked beans. They took two days to be just right. She showed me how to do it - that's right! I've got the secret!

Her chicken and dumplings are melt-in-your-mouth-y. Mmm. This is making me hungry.

My dad - her son-in-law - used to almost have stars in his eyes whenever he'd hear Gram was fixing spaghetti and meatballs for a visit. A guy loves his mother's cooking, that's true, but when your mother-in-law's spaghetti-and-meatballs are the best in the whole wide world, you don't question it. You just dig in.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to a birthday party in Halifax. Juliette met a young man from whom she absolutely couldn't take her eyes off. She remembers standing in the doorway with him gazing up at the moon. He offered to walk her back to the university students' residence where she was a cook. She held out her hand and off they went.

4 - The young man's name was Charles Doucet. He worked in the laundry of the Halifax Infirmary. Once he'd brought her home, he asked if she would meet him the next day at the Public Gardens.

The next day he took her canoeing over at the Dingle Park.

5 - On August 17, 1938 Juliette Meuse married Charles Doucet at her home parish in Amirault's Hill. They had photographs taken at Ellenwood Park.

They returned to live in Halifax, where the first two of their eventual five children were born.

6 - Charles also had an interest in photography, and when he had an opportunity to move to Sydney, Cape Breton to run Meyer's Portrait Studio he moved his young family there. They had three more children.

Here is the family in the mid-1950's:
clockwise from upper left corner - Paulette (my mom), Sheila, Warren (he and I share the same birthday), Charlie, Juliette, Louie and Charlie Sr.

This was a big family reunion held for Grandma's and Grandpa's 45th wedding anniversary, at my Uncle Charlie's home. Two families travelled from Michigan to attend (Uncle Warren's and Uncle Louie's.) Grandma and Grandpa are in the center.

From left to right, back row:
Charlie III, Uncle Charlie, Auntie Noel, Mom, Dad, Uncle Frank, Aunt Sheila, Aunt Louise, Uncle Warren, Baby Lacey, Aunt Kathie and Uncle Louie
Left to right, front row:
Julianne, my sister Michelle, me, Warren Jr., Marc, Stella and Jon

7 - When Mom was growing up, Christmas was a one-week affair. And the actual Christmas tree didn't show up until the wondrous moment of Christmas morning. The kids went to bed on Christmas Eve - no tree. They woke up Christmas morning to a magical tree in the front room with presents from Santa. When Mom got older and had her own family, she marvelled at how her parents had been able to pull that off.

The kids didn't go to bed until 9pm or so. It's not like they had all evening. More like an all-nighter! Not only that, but Grandpa used to dress up as Santa, go in the backyard and ring bells and say, "Ho! Ho! Ho!" And the kids would get up and peek out the window and get all goosebumpy that Santa was there. And then somehow get to sleep.

Well, when Brad and I first moved back to Nova Scotia to live with Gram in her house in Yarmouth for two years (before we all moved in together, Mom too, in our Walton's house in Cole Harbour) I was thrilled to decorate a huge tree in Gram's front room. After years of apartment-sized tabletop trees, I was in Christmas tree heaven. I had music on and was in a delirium of joy.

Gram brought me chocolates on a little silver tray, and told me that when she and Grandpa used to put up the tree when the children were in bed, "we used to make a party of it. We took some brandy." Gram would make a meat pie while Grandpa would wrestle the tree into place and fetch all the handmade toys from all their hiding places throughout the house. Then they'd decorate the tree, snag a few hours of sleep and then the children were heading down the stairs to find everything transformed. They'd head to mass and then return to eat the meat pie and other delicacies Gram had made.

The picture above was taken with a timer on one of those Christmas Eves as they made magic for their children and 'made a party of it' with each other.

8 - Here's a great picture of Gram and Grandpa having a grand old time at one of the many house parties to which they used to go. Grandpa got an opportunity to run a portrait studio in Michigan and Gram encouraged him to take it. So in the late 50's they moved their family from Sydney, Cape Breton to Royal Oak, Michigan. My Uncle Charlie stayed behind in Nova Scotia because he already had a job at the TV studio in Sydney.

This is Uncle Charlie on guitar, Mom singing and Gram of course on the piano at a house party in Yarmouth in 1992. If you didn't know where Gram was, you could look for her in two places: in the kitchen or at the piano.

This is my dad's father, Gabe. My dad's parents and my mom's parents became good friends through these house parties, especially since Gabe played fiddle and Juliette played piano. The two of them got the party started wherever they went. They were a duo for twenty years. Charles and Juliette moved back to Nova Scotia in the mid-70's, but the two couples kept in touch because by then they were both grandparents to me and my sister.

This was taken at my wedding reception, nine months after Grandpa had passed away. It was the first time Gabe had seen Juliette since Charles had died, and he's getting a bit choked up in this picture.

Last May, Gram had a special mini party arranged for her at the house so she could play to a real live fiddler. Uncle Charlie asked two amazing local musicians to come over for a late morning ceilidh (musical party.) It was AWESOME.

9 - In 1966 Juliette went on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Mexico with her husband and his boss's family. They had this commemorative album made up, embossed and the whole deal. Must have been partly a gift because Gram and Grandpa weren't really embossed album types!

All the pictures are 8'x 10' color photographs. I love looking through it.

Grandpa and Grandma are standing at the bottom of the stairs on the tarmac. No accordian ramps then. I think his boss was the photographer (the owner of the portrait studio.)

This is Gram standing on the balcony of their hotel room with Mrs. Toren and her daughter.

Look at the size of that thing...

And check out those sunglasses on Gram!

I wonder if they have these kind of sunscreens any more? I love it!

10 - This was their 50th wedding anniversary, celebrated in Yarmouth where they'd come full circle. I was newly relocated to Toronto and couldn't attend the party. They were busy kissing, anyway...

And dancing...

See - you can't keep her away from that keyboard. I believe the fiddler is Art LeBlanc, her musical partner once she moved from Michigan and needed a replacement for Gabe. In the background are her son Charlie and Gram's brother Benny on guitar. Cue the foot-stompin' jigs and reels.

11 - This was taken at my wedding in July 1992. Three generations, and now we all live together. The girl in the picture is my now-20-year-old niece, Emily. She doesn't live with us, but I'm sure we could find room.

Here's our cute house.

It's surprisingly big. Brad and I use the door at the back as our main entrance. We live on the lower level. Mom and Gram are on the main floor.

Grandma, Mom, me and Brad. And don't forget Xena!

12 - As Gram's hearing got worse, she suddenly began drawing when she couldn't hear herself play the piano anymore. Obviously she needs a creative outlet, because she's not cooking much anymore, either. Mom sometimes sets everything up for her so Gram can make cookies. It's a team effort, though. So Gram spontaneously started drawing and now she covers every scrap of paper she can get ahold of with these.

I love the little washing out on the line!

13 - Happy Birthday, Gram! I'm so glad to be sharing these years with you.


Addicted to crafting said...

such a sweet woman...Happy 93rd birthday to her!!!!

Thanks for stopping by and you are right, The Surprise was very fun and I love me some clooney!!! ;)

Have a great day!!!

Darla said...

What a fascinating life your Gram has had, and how wonderful that you still have her with you, and have all these pictures and stories! Happy birthday to her.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

This is going to come out sounding wrong, so bear with me. You write the longest TTs that ought to make me groan at how long they'll take to read.

But I know that by the end, it's been a fantastic read and I'm so glad I did. Such cool information you've got. And to live with your mom and grandmother -- peacefully?? Holy smoke. You're amazing.

Gram's pictures look like my grandmother's artwork. Really surprised me -- although my grandmother didn't put clothes on the line. That IS a great detail!

Happy TT, darling!

Kelly Boyce said...

I absolutely loved reading your Grandma's story! Happy birthday, Gram!! What a great history.

MsSnarkyPants said...

What a lovely tribute to your Grandmother! It was so sweet! Happy Birthday, Gram!

Karina said...

This was not only really sweet, but very informative too. It was so nice to learn about your grandma, and then to get a bit of a history lesson as well. How wonderful!

It made me miss my grandmas though. There's nothing like a grandma, is there?

Happy Birthday Gram!!!!

Anonymous said...

Found you on the Rock Chicks blog, commenting on my comment-LOL. I loved this post-made me miss my Gram! Did you show this to your grandmother, I'm sure she'd adore it.

Carrie Lofty said...

An awesome tribute to your grandma. I love how in-touch you are with your family history.

Amy Ruttan said...

Awwww Happy Birthday Gram!!! You're so lucky to have your grandma still I lost both of mine when I was young.

Big hugs to you all!

Aline de Chevigny said...

wow definitely celebrate 93 is worth it. Great TT


MichelleWriter said...

Wow, Jul-- love the pictures! I think you've covered everything. I'm going to have to try the "Mary, where's the plums?" on Gram now too. Happy Birthday Gramma Julie! :>

Shelley Munro said...

Julia - this was a wonderful TT. Thank you for sharing your Gram with us :)

Tilly Greene said...

What a fabulous life your Gram has led and you're so lucky to have the memories shared with you.

Happy Birthday to Gram!

Robin L. Rotham said...

Oh, I love grandmother tales!

Happy Birthday, Gram!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother! I hope she is enjoying her birthday today. :-)

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your Grandma's special life with us. She's still a beautiful woman - it's probably because she has the soul of an artist and it shines through.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely Fabulous!
Thank You Julia for taking the Time to put this together and for sharing Gramma D's Life. I am happy that she has you to share her stories and memories with. Am Sharing the Photos and Story with Emily now.
Keeping all the generations in touch with their heritage.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Hey, Heather! So glad you dropped by my blog!

Kailana said...

Me and your grandmother were born in the same town! Mind you, there were a few generations in between! haha. I have that postcard of the ships, though. :)

I hope she had a wonderful birthday! My great grandmother just celebrated her 100th birthday in August. Pretty cool!

Gattina said...

What a wonderful life story and so interesting for me ! The only thing I miss where did her grandfather come from ? My (american) uncle's grandfather came to the States in the 1880 from Germany. My uncle married then the sister of my mother and they found out that her great grandfather and my uncle's grandfather were brothers !! Isn't that an amazing story ??
This is a very nice tribute to you grandma !!

Flowerpot said...

happy birthday - what a lady!

Anonymous said...

Hey Julia - what a wonderful TT for Gram! I never saw the picture of them by the Christmas tree taken with the timer. What a lovely moment in time captured forever, and now beign shared with the world!

She sure has had an interesting life. It's nice to see it all described and illustrated. We must get Dad to print it off in color and keep it.

M. said...

what a beautiful tt topic. i love the old photos, and the proof of how creative expression will find a way out in some form or other.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Kailana - we should meet up for coffee! We could find out we're related, for heaven's sake, if you're from Amirault's Hill.

Gattina - my grandmother's father was the 8th generation in the New World. My people have been here since 1653, when an ancestor came over from Cherbourg, France.

Akelamalu said...


What lovely pictures and memories. Thanks for sharing them Julia. x

Jill said...

We can see how close you are from your family!!
I have like a ton of question to ask!! You wouldn't have by any chance a cousin that is a professor??

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Jill - no professors that I know of, but in the Acadian world, you could very well know someone who is a distant cousin of mine. Not sure if you read my blog post about my family history in early September, but it's in the archives if you want to see if it answers a few questions!

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Jill - check the Sept. 6th blog post for the ancestor info.

Kailana said...

oops, I worded that badly. I was born in the town of Yarmouth. My grandparents, though, are from the outskirts. They just moved into the town when they got married. :)

Did you know that the horse statue is not the only one? Well, it is the only one with a horse, but it used to be a watering area for horses and things. There are actually three, but the VERY lousy mayor only keeps up that one, and they have even talked about getting rid of it! Could you imagine? They say it is a road safety hazard. It is not the stationary horses fault that people can't drive! And if they do hit the poor horse, at least the hospital is on the same road...

Camille Alexa said...

Those vintage family photos are TO. DIE. FOR!!!

...absolutely lovely.

Robin said...

I love your family-themed TT's - you have a fascinating family history, and you know so much about it.

Sans Pantaloons said...

Happy belated Birthday Juliette!

Toni said...

This post is WELL BEYOND precious! I loved and enjoyed every bit of it. Thanks so much for using your incredible writing talent to draw us in. Happy 93rd birthday to your dear Gram.

Ire said...

Whoa...93rd birthday..amazing. I loved this post of yours...and your grandmum reminds me of mine...very sweet!

Joy Renee said...

lovely tribute to an amazing lady.

does she know that birthday wishes have been sent her way from around the globe?

Louie said...

Finally got a chance to look at the great job you did reporting what a wonderful "Gram", my "Mom" is. Yes, tis I, uncle Louie. It was such a thrill reading about things that I actually didn't know about Mom, or over time had forgotten. Thanks again for the care in putting this piece together.
Love Ya,
Uncle Louie