Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Search For The Twins - Part III

"Now you just sit right here in this rocker, Julia, on the porch so you can catch the breeze, and you rest, child." That's what Louise DuBois said to Julia after she helped her off with her corset that day and got her settled on the porch.

Louise DuBois was a stout, matronly woman with a stern look and a commanding voice that could be heard a mile away when she gave it full rein. But she had a heart made of pure gold. She had no qualms about taking charge when the occasion called for it. That morning was an occasion that called for it.

Julia had managed to feed the men their breakfast before Louise got there, but she was close to exhaustion afterwards. Not a morsel of the breakfast meal remained that could go toward the midday meal coming up next. Work on the farm in those days was extremely hard. A farmer had to consume between 6,000 and 8,000 calories a day in order to have the energy needed to do the work. A large man might need to consume close to 10,000 calories a day.

Julia was just starting to clean off the table outside on the lawn when Louise pulled her spring board up to the ice house in back so that it would not be in the way. The two women had not seen each other for more than a month. Louise had been up north helping a niece with a new baby. "Yoo-hoo, Julia." Louise called as walked into the yard. Julia seemed listless to her.

After embracing her warmly, Louise pulled back and placed her hands squarely on Julia's shoulders. She tipped her head first to the left and then to the right as she studied Julia's face intently. Then she dropped her right hand and placed it on Julia's abdomen. "You're in the family way." She announced. Julia nodded yes. In those days pregnancy was referred to in delicate terms such as that.

In 1900 half the babies were delivered by doctors. The other half were delivered by midwives. Louise had been a midwife for over twenty years. She knew all the signs. Yet, it was not unusual back then to find a married woman of child bearing age pregnant. It was almost a given if her youngest child was a year old or more. Indeed, Julia went on to give birth to a boy, Armond, the following January in the dead of winter with the ground covered in lustrous snow and Louise present to assist in the birth.

"Morning sickness?" Louise asked as she started to gather up the stacks of dishes on the table.

Julia brought her apron up and wiped the sweat from her brow with it. "Almost all day I am sick and want to throw up. Everything tastes odd to me. I get tired easily." She replied.

"Let's get you in the house, child, and get your corset off. You need to rest a spell. And the children? Where are the children today? "

"My sister Rebecca is watching them. She's taken them down to the creek to look for crawfish."


The Corset. It had been around for centuries. Although it often provided support for the mid section especially the back, its main purpose was to prepare the female figure to receive the fashion of the day. So, the corset form changed with the fashions.

A woman living in Julia's time wore her corset everyday just as today's woman wears her bra everyday. A woman back then hoed the garden in her corset. She did the laundry wearing it. She prepared the meals all corseted up. It may have been a matter of propriety to wear a corset and inappropriate, perhaps even seen as immoral by some, to go without one in public.

Regarding pregnancy, it was considered inappropriate, even immoral, to be seen in public if you were pregnant and showing. The longer a woman could wear a corset while pregnant and conceal that fact, the longer she could be seen in public before the baby came. But Louise advised Julia that day not to wear her corset during the pregnancy, because she had heard that there was a growing concern in the medical community that corseting up could harm the developing child in the womb. In fact there is reason to believe that some women, upon finding themselves pregnant back then and wishing they weren't, tightly laced their corsets in order to deliberately cause a miscarriage.


"But there are chickens to cut up and fry, Louise." Julia said as she struggled with her corset.

"Now, never you mind about the chickens or anything else. I'll manage just fine in the kitchen without your help. You just rest."

"I don't feel right about leaving all that work to you, Louise."

"Lands sake, I'm fit as a fiddle. The Pelletier baby isn't due for 'nother week yet best I can figure and I'm free as a bird today. " Louise replied as she helped Julia get back into her dress.

With Louise close behind, Julia came down the steps and walked out onto the screened-in porch off the dining room. She eased into the rocker that David's mother had given her earlier in the summer. Julia had whitewashed it and set it on the porch in the corner by the hydrangea bushes.

"I stopped by the Boudreau farm on the way here and Zelia sent you a big pot of beef stew plus several loaves of bread for today's dinner meal." Louise said as she placed a small pillow behind Julia's head. "She said to tell you she's sorry she could not come here herself and lend a hand," her voice trailed off as she headed for the kitchen, "but her youngest is all a mess with poison ivy and her man is down on his back again with something."

"That was kind of her to send the stew." Julia called to her from the porch. "I'm sorry to hear about her man being down on his back again."

Louise chipped a few pieces of ice off the block of ice in the ice box. She drew water from the hand pump at the kitchen sink and carefully washed the saw dust off the chipped ice. Then she plopped the ice in a glass of water and walked back out to the porch with it. "Besides my pies, Julia, I brought along some of my pickled beets and a kettle of ham and beans too. Why, dinner is almost ready for the men."

Louise handed the glass of water to Julia and said, "This should cool you off right nicely." Tucked under her arm was a Sears, Roebuck catalogue she had grabbed off the table on her way through the dining room to the porch. "Here, Julia, look at this while you rest." She said as she handed over the catalogue to Julia.

In the evenings by the light of a kerosene lamp Julia would comb the pages of her Sears, Roebuck and look at everything a person could buy. Augers. Bailing wire. Oil chandeliers. Commodes. Divan couches. Chewing tobacco. Shaving soap. Plum pudding. Rolled oats. Vanilla extract. Chocolate. Men's dancing shoes. Ladies mufflers. Ladies ribbed drawers. Bustles. Buckles. Butcher's apron. And on and on. It was like touring a fantasy land of goods.

Julia wanted to take the twins to the new photographer in town to get their picture taken for their fourth birthday. So, she was particularly interested in what Sears, Roebuck had to offer in boys' clothing. She found an outfit for the boys which she favored. It was inspired by the Little Lord Fauntleroy fashions of a few years earlier. The shirt, or blouse, had a wide ruffled collar to it and long sleeves with ruffled cuffs. She decided upon a big floppy bow, too, in a red plaid for the boys that went under the collar and tied in front. At the time these bows were especially popular in America. Julia used her egg money to pay for the twins' outfits.

While Julia rested out on the porch, Louse busied herself in the kitchen finishing up some of the dishes Julia had started to prepare for the dinner meal. She glanced out the window at one point and then quickly called to Julia "Well would you look at who is comin' up the lane, Julia." She wiped her hands on her apron. "Sweet Lord, it is Marie Chouinard...and she's wearin' a hat of all things. Must be thinkin' it's Sunday."

Marie Chouinard was tall and thin with a mouth that rarely turned up at the corners and usually laid in a narrow abbreviated line right under her nose.

Whenever she spoke, the tip of her nose wiggled like a rabbit's nose. This made it difficult to take seriously whatever she was saying if you were looking right at her. Prim and proper, she was always snooping around looking for something that did not meet with her approval and she usually found plenty that did not meet with her approval. Despite Marie's shortcomings, Louise managed to get along with her and even liked her although at times Louise was forced to set her straight about certain things.

Louise rushed out the kitchen door to greet Marie who was struggling to carry two large wicker baskets. "What have you there, Marie?" Louise asked cheerfully.

"Oh, I thought Julia could use some spiced peaches and pound cakes for the men's meals." Marie replied then added snidely. "I don't suppose she's done much cookin' for the men with all those youngins runnin' round."

Louise shook her finger at Marie playfully, "Now Marie, let's not start that." She said. Louise knew where that was coming from. Marie had given birth to only one child, a boy, who died from pneumonia when he was three years old. That was twenty-five years ago. After the boy died, bitterness set in and never left Marie. It determined her attitude toward everything.

Julia was standing in the kitchen by the sink trying to wash some dishes when Marie walked in. "Oh, Marie, I am so happy to see you." She wiped her hands on her apron and went up to Marie. The two women embraced.

"Well, I know how hard it is to feed a bunch of farmers at harvest time, and I thought you could use some help Julia."

"What are you doing in here, Julia?" Louise squawked when she came through the kitchen door from outside. She set a basket down on the table. "You get right back out there on that porch." And she took Julia by the hand and led her through the dining room and back out onto the porch.

When she returned to the kitchen, she found Marie examining the curtains hanging in the kitchen window. "I wonder when the last time was that these were washed." She remarked as she fingered them.

Louise rolled her eyes and walked toward the sink. "Marie, help me wash up these dishes here, would you. And take off that hat, please."

The two women proceeded to work side by side at the long, trough-like sink covered in a sheet of metal. Marie leaned toward Louise and said quietly, "I see that Julia is not wearing her corset."

"Yes, that's true." Louise replied. "She's in the family way and exhausted right now. I advised her not to wear her corset anymore until after the baby is born. It could harm the baby, Marie. That's what the doctors are saying."

"I'm sorry, Louise. I try not to be judgmental, but...it is not right. It simply is not right. It is immoral, I do believe, to go without your corset in public." Marie replied smugly. "And here with all these men about on the farm today. When the other ladies hear about this, they will be shunning Julia for certain."

Louise began to vigorously pump the handle up and down on the hand pump up at the sink. Water gushed out. "MARIE," She bellowed as she pumped, "I'VE A GOOD MIND TO REMOVE MY CORSET THIS VERY MOMENT RIGHT HERE IN THIS VERY KITCHEN IN FRONT OF THIS VERY SINK. ....AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?"

Marie stiffened as she stood back. Her face glowed red. "Huh,...well.....I never." She muttered.

Julia heard the commotion coming from the kitchen, but just about that time she saw Rebecca running up the road toward the house from the creek with the baby on her hip and Eugene and Albert close behind her.

Rebecca leaped onto the porch steps and swung open the screen door to the porch. "The twins. They've disappeared, Julia. I can't find them anywhere." She said breathlessly. Meanwhile the humming of the threshing machine in the distance could be heard.

To be continued....



I know everyone is eager to find out what happened to the twins, and I was hoping to reveal that in this installment, but it got too long and I ran out of mental energy. Next time, I promise you will find out.

Forever there has been a sisterhood of women to help each other out like these women were helping Julia. In any group of women, too, there is bound to be a Louise and bound to be a Marie. I am sure these stereotypical women existed in Julia's group of women back then.

In researching Sears and Roebuck, I found a site devoted to their 1902 catalogue. I was amazed by the variety of things that one could purchase through this catalogue. If you are interested, you can purchase a CD of the 1902 Sears Catalogue

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Search For The Twins - Part Two

Even though it was still early in the morning, the day was already fulfilling its promise to be hot and sticky. Julia was thankful for the healthy breeze that was blowing through the window giving her some relief as she labored over the stove in the kitchen. Shortly after Eugene had appeared that morning, the twins had trailed down the steps, too, in their night shirts. Except for baby Phillip who was still sleeping in his crib upstairs, the children were in the dining room with their Aunt Rebecca eating their breakfast cereal of oatmeal. It had their favorite topping....cinnamon sugar.

In those days meals were served in the dining room. The small table that might be in the kitchen was reserved for food preparation. In fact the dining room was always humming with activity, aside from eating, of one kind or another in the household. Children did their school work at the dining room table. They played board games there such as checkers and chess. With her sewing machine nearby in the room, Mother used the dining room table to cut out pattern pieces to that dress she might be making for herself. Father sat at the table and paid the bills and made entries in his farm journal. It was a room that served many purposes.

As she watched over the potatoes frying in the skillet that morning turning them at just the right moment of crispness, Julia fingered the letter in her skirt pocket. It was from her cousin Emily. She had received the letter the day before. Emily wrote to say she was coming in the fall all the way from Vermont to spend a few months with Julia. The cousins had not seen each other since 1897 shortly before Julia and David married.

Emily's letter brought painful thoughts of the past to Julia's mind. "We are sending you to Vermont to live with your Aunt Leonia for a while." Like ghosts the words Julia's father spoke to her that day so long ago returned to haunt her. They laid like heavy weights upon her chest once again to the point that she could not breathe even after these many years later. That entire chapter of Julia's life began to seep into her mind as she stood over the stove preparing the day's breakfast for the farmers.


"Papa, no!" She pleaded.

"My dear child, your very soul is at stake." Her father insisted.

"But I love him, Papa." She cried.

"Julia, I can not permit you to marry this man and leave your church. I must insist you go and stay with your aunt. Your train leaves next Wednesday for Vermont."

Tears washed over her cheeks as she rushed out the door and to the haven of the old oak tree in the corner of the yard far from the house. This is where Julia always went when she was troubled and needed to think and find peace. She leaned against the oak and began to sob as she slipped to the ground. The rough bark snagged her Sunday dress. She did not care. She prayed for peace.

Peace did not come to Julia that day although like a trusted friend it sought her out through the protective canape of the old oak, the soft breeze, and the sweet scent of lilacs. But it could not penetrate her anguish which imprisoned her spirit.

The following Wednesday Julia boarded the train for Vermont. Her heart broken, she waved a somber goodbye to her parents who stood on the platform outside the train station. The engine chugged along slowly at first then picked up speed. She felt so alone. Whenever she glanced at the strangers on the train, she saw no one but David. She caught herself sighing again and again. Wishing the world would disappear she closed her eyes and fell asleep for a while.

Suddenly there was a jolt and she was awake. The train had stopped to pick up more passengers at the next station. Once it was underway again, Julia allowed the countryside the train passed through to become a meaningless blur for her. She looked down at the purse that laid in her lap. Her mother had made that purse for Julia out of a remnant that came from her own wedding dress.

People were frugal back then. Nothing went to waste. Everything was recycled and used again and again in one form or another. Women were highly skilled at sewing and altering clothing. Their husband's old suit was cut down to fit Junior. Wedding dresses became purses and Sunday dresses for the little girls in the family. Worn tablecloths became tea towels, napkins, and hot pads. Every piece of fabric that still had thread life to it and could not be used in some other way became part of a quilt.

Julia loosened the strings of her purse and carefully reached inside. She pulled out a lace handkerchief that she had neatly folded earlier before she left home. She unfolded it and stared down at its content. It was the rose that David had given her. She had pressed it between pages of a book for a keepsake. He had picked it off one of the rose bushes on the Langlois farm the night of the square dance when they met for the first time. She closed her eyes and let the train rock her back and forth into a twilight state where she began to remember what it was like the first time she saw David.

Julia knew of him before she met him. She had heard that his first wife had died after giving birth to a son who survived. But she had never met David or seen him before that night. The moment she laid eyes on David that night she was smitten with him. He was a beautiful man. Tall. Muscular. He had strong features and the darkest of eyes.

Toward the end of the evening, David was smitten with Julia, too, by all indications. After a few dances, they had slipped away together from the crowd and the clatter. They found a moonlit path to walk along where they talked and talked to each other. Their courtship progressed rapidly after that first night.

Julia's parents were not pleased with her new suitor, because he was Catholic. But it was not until Julia started talking about becoming a Catholic herself so that she and David could marry that her parents decided to intervene and send her off to Vermont in order to separate the two.

After Julia arrived at her aunt's home in Vermont, a series of letters began to go back and forth between Julia and her father. Her letters always started with "My dearest Papa,..." and ended with "Your loving daughter, Julia." Letters from her father started and ended in a similar fashion. Then one day a money order arrived for Julia from her father with a letter instructing her to purchase a train ticket and come home. The issue was resolved. The quarrel was over. Julia had prevailed. She was free to become Catholic and marry her beloved David. She had her parents' blessings.


When she reached for the jars of jam on a high shelf in her pantry, Julia was still deep in thought about Vermont and what had happened years ago. The sound of horses' hoofs hitting the ground outside in the farm yard as neighbor farmers started showing up to help David with the threshing distracted her from what she was doing. Suddenly a jar of jam too close to the shelf's edge toppled off and crashed to the floor below. "OH, NO!." Julie shouted.

"Mama?" One of the children said in a small worried voice. It was Leon. He and his twin Leonelle were standing in the doorway of the pantry. "Are you hurt, Mama?" He asked.

"Oh, my hearts of love. No, mama's not hurt." Julia replied warmly. "Come here to Mama." She bent down and kissed each of them directly on the mouth which was the custom in her family. Then she rose up and pulled them toward her and pressed them tightly against her body. "Mon beau enfants (My beautiful children)." She whispered as she thought of what could have happened years ago and what might not have ever come to be today.

(To be continued....)

Epilogue: It is true that Julia's parents sent her to Vermont to be with relatives after she expressed a desire to become a Catholic. They were Protestants even though they were French and had come from Quebec which should have made them Catholics.

The detective in me has concluded that Julia wanted to become a Catholic so that she and David could marry. The Catholic church would have been very strict about mixed marriages back then. Plus there would have been influence coming from David's Catholic family. I believe her parents were trying to separate her and David by sending her to Vermont hoping that the two would forget about each other. At least it is a romantic thought.

The fact that Julia returned home eventually and became a Catholic and married David suggests to me that some communication was taking place between Julia and her parents while she was in Vermont and that letters most likely flowed back and forth between them giving Julia an opportunity to change their minds.

And surely there was the rose that she pressed between pages of a book, the rose that David gave her.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Search For The Twins

When the twins disappeared that day on the family farm and everyone was looking high and low for them, it was the dawn of the 20th Century.

Teddy Roosevelt was president of the United States. The
American flag had only 45 stars. The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower. In 1901 Queen Victoria passed away and the Victorian Era officially ended. There were only 8000 cars in the U.S. at the time and only 144 miles of paved roads. More than 95 percent of all births took place at home. The average life expectancy was forty-seven. There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day around the turn of the century. Only 8 percent of the homes in the U.S. had phones. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was around 30. The crossword puzzle had not been invented yet. That did not happen till 1913. Coca Cola contained cocaine. Coffee cost 15 cents a pound. There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S. in 1902. My grandfather, Leon, and his twin brother, Leonelle, were four years old at the time.

My knowledge of what happened that day on the farm when the twins disappeared is limited. So I poked around history to find out what life on the farm was like back then and I reviewed my genealogy records and refreshed my memory about family lore in order to add flesh to the skeleton of this narrative. I wanted the story to come alive for the reader. I have created an account of what I imagine might have happened the day the twins disappeared.

This story is a blend of fact and fiction then with photos to enhance the reading experience. Some of the photos are a bit deceptive though. They suggest that Great-grandma Julia may have lived in a darling Victorian farm house with copious manicured flower beds surrounding it when in actuality she probably lived in something austere by comparison and only daydreamed of having flower beds like that. But since she was a good woman all her life and deserved to live in a darling Victorian farm house, I am allowing her that luxury in this story.

It was a day in July. Harvest time. Winter wheat. As was the practice back then, several nearby farmers were coming that morning with their wagons and their teams of draft horses to help David with the threshing.

Julia was expected to feed all the men and tend to the children as well. Mrs. DuBois down the road promised to come later in the morning with an assortment of her pies for which she was famous in the county. She had won Blue Ribbons galore at the County Fairs with them. Julia's sister Rebecca was on hand to help. In fact she was spending the summer there helping Julia with the children and the household and Julia's share of the farm chores.

Life was exceptionally hard on rural women during those times. Their days were long and filled with tasks that were labor intensive. This often exhausted them physically and mentally. A helping hand was much appreciated and needed especially if there were many children in the household. At that time, Julia had five children in tow...all boys with the oldest no more than six.

Julia was in the midst of preparing for the day in the kitchen that morning just as the sun was about to appear and chase off the haze that hovered over the ground here and there like magic carpets. The roosters were nearly finished with their morning ritual announcing the arrival of day. A strand of her dark wavy hair had escaped from the bun she had hastily made on top of her head that morning. The strand swayed back and forth as she worked with another batch of biscuit dough under the dim light of the kerosene lamp nearby.

"Careful, Julia," she could hear her mother's words echoing in her mind, "not too much, or they won't be flaky....won't rise nice." How many times, she wondered, had she made biscuits and heard the echo of her mother's instructive words. Countless times, she decided, and every time. The echo was always in French. Her mother had emigrated with her family from Quebec to the rich black soil of the Illinois prairie. She never did master English. David's parents, who also were French, had come down from Canada too. Consequently, Julia and David were able to speak both French and English fluently. Sometimes they spoke in French. Sometimes, English. Sometimes both in the same day. As a result, all their children grew up bilingual.

Julia caught a whiff of the biscuits baking in the oven of her wood burning stove. She was especially proud of that stove. It was a wedding gift from her parents. Her astute sense of smell in the kitchen told her the biscuits were ready to come out of the oven. She quickly dusted the flour off her hands, bunched up the lower part of her apron with her hands, and opened the oven door to remove the biscuits.

"Ah!" She exclaimed when she saw her biscuits. "Parfait (perfect)!" Mama would be proud, she thought. The hot air from the oven rushed at her turning her face rosy red. She pulled out the biscuits and closed the oven door. About that time, she heard the screen door open in the back hall. It was her husband David. He was finished with milking.

David walked into the kitchen. Fresh milk sloshed against the inside of the pail he was carrying adding to its white froth on top. "Just set it on the pie safe for now, David." Julia said as she slipped the hot biscuits onto a waiting plate. "Coffee?" She asked.

"Oui, mon petit Shulee (yes, my little Julia)." He replied. Practically everyone called her "petit Shulee." Indeed she was so petite that when she was carrying the twins she had to use a strap of sorts to hold up her belly toward the end of the pregnancy. She was small, but she was spirited. Some people described her as downright feisty especially when it came to politics. She was a woman with an opinion, and she was not afraid to express it.

Quietly David moved toward her from behind then bent down and kissed the nape of her neck. She jumped. It gave her goose bumps. It always caught her by surprise when he did that even though he had been startling her like that every day practically since they got married. She turned around briskly and pretended to shoo him away all the while with her face beaming.

"How 'bout some of these biscuits, too," David said as he reached around Julia and snatched one off the plate and popped it into his mouth, "with those strawberry preserves you put up last month." He added while munching on his mouthful of biscuit.

David and Julia were wed in 1897. She was twenty and he was twenty-six. His first wife had died giving birth to a son who survived. Julia became a mother to little Albert then the instant she married David. She and David went on to have ten children of their own. The twins were the first to be born. That was in 1898.

Breakfast was to be served to the hungry farmers later than morning outside under the shade trees at a makeshift table which consisted of several wooden planks resting on wooden horses. Benches flanked the table.

Colorful patchwork quilts eventually covered the tabletop that morning. As an added feminine touch, Julia ended up placing a vase of freshly cut flowers right in the middle of the table mostly to remind the men to watch their manners as ladies were about, especially a young one...her sister. Rebecca who was only seventeen and had been given the task of chasing the flies away from the food while the men ate.
The breakfast menu that morning was to be bacon, smoked ham, eggs, fried potatoes, mounds of plated biscuits, milk gravy, sliced tomatoes and white radishes from Julia's garden, peaches Julia had canned the year before, a generous assortment of Julia's jams and preserves, and plenty of sweet creamy butter which Julia had churned herself. Last but not least, a big pot of coffee to wash it all down.
After breakfast there would be dinner to start working on. It would be served around 2 in the afternoon. Julia had killed and plucked some chickens the day before. They were waiting in her icebox to be cut up, floured, and then fried in lard. After dinner, supper would need to be prepared. The host farm wife was expected to feed the crew of farmers, who had come to help, three meals plus a snack that day. It was often the farm wife who encouraged her husband to invest in the new labor-saving farm implements so that she could be freed of the burden of feeding so many people at harvest time.
In a huge iron skillet on top of the stove, the thickly sliced bacon sizzled angrily as if in defiance. It spat at Julia when she was turning it, and hot grease hit her arm. "Ouch!" She squealed as she recoiled and rubbed the affected area. That was one thing she disliked about cooking. She was so engrossed in her quarrel with the bacon in the skillet that she almost did not notice the tug on her skirt or hear the small voice say, "Mama, I go wee." It was little Eugene standing there in his night shirt with the telltale spot.

(To be continued...)
DISCLAIMER: Although I have tried to be careful when researching farm life and farming practices that took place in the early 20th Century, I can not guarantee that I have been accurate.
CREDITS: Some of the photos I have used in this story are the works of Boliyou.