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Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

Second Trip to Quebec, Summer of 1933

We must have kept the DeSoto only one year as we traded it in on a new Dodge before we moved to Muskegon and drove it to Quebec taking my mother with us. The Dodge was a five passenger, enclosed car, brown, with a built-in trunk at the rear and a slanting but flat windshield. It was the beginning of streamlining but the headlights and tail light (there was only one) were still separate from the car body. The DeSoto had become very much out of date. Perhaps that is why we kept it such a short time. I presume, tho, that it was because we were able to pay for it with script and save our cash for the trip. I don’t know whether mother came to Muskegon and went with us from there or whether we drove to Peoria and then went east. The only thing about the trip I remember is stopping in Quebec overnight where a second or third cousin, a woman of about 35, had found us a room in the center of town. Because the buildings came right to the sidewalks mother felt we were in the slums but it was really a very nice place.

We looked for a furnished apartment first in Trois Pistoles but were unable to find anything suitable so we returned to Rivière du Loup where we had stopped the night before with Jeanne and Albert. We found a place in a row house on the east side of town behind the cathedral. There were about six or eight dwellings all in one building. A long balcony about ten feet above ground level ran along the whole front of the house with steps leading from the sidewalk to each apartment. A second stairway went from the kitchen down to the space under the house which was used for storage. There was a large, well-built house across the street with a big yard and a fountain where two children about the ages of Yolande and Alan and an older child often played. Unfortunately it was not until a day or two before we were to leave for home that we met the family and the father of the children invited our two to play in their yard. We met them when the older child came by driving a pony attached to a cart and asked Yolande if she wanted to ride. Yolande must have been five and Alan three.

We often drove over to visit with Jeanne’s family on the other side of town where the children had a chance to play with their cousins, Claude, who was Yolande’s age and Gerard, the same age as Alan. Jeanne’s oldest child, Gustave, was 11 or 12 and Berthe was perhaps 8. Albert’s grocery store and Jeanne’s millinery shop were in the same building with the living quarters to the rear and above. Albert kept a horse in the stable behind the house and had small dray for making deliveries and also for getting his supplies from the wholesalers and the farms in the surrounding countryside, as well as a buggy with a single seat. Mother had her picture taken in it and I wonder if it is still in existence-the picture, I mean. Gustave was kept pretty busy working for his dad and Berthe had to do a lot of the housework altho there was also a live-in maid (une bonne), a girl of 25 or 30 who played the accordion in the evening. She was treated as one of the family. No one felt degraded by having to hire out to do housework.

I amused myself in the evenings when we were at Jeanne’s by copying down on paper the dance tunes that the maid would play on her accordion. Then I would arrange them for piano and play them on the old organ in Jeanne’s living room. All of the tunes had the same rhythm and everybody sat around the room keeping time with their feet. Some years later I used two of the melodies in a composition for symphony orchestra, working them into several variations. The West Shore Orchestra played it in one of our concerts.

Yvette’s grandfather LeBel was living in a rest home kept by nuns in Rivière du loup and we took Yolande and Alan to see him. Yvette had dressed Yolande in a summer suit with just a bib for a top so her arms and back were bare. The nuns found the costume scandalous but not grandpa LeBel. I believe he was then in his 90ies. He was quite spry and had all of his wits. He had a long white beard which made Yolande think he was Santa Claus.

Mother and I had the chance to watch the baptism of a new baby one day when Jeanne asked us if I would drive the parents and child to the church in our car. Babies are not baptized in the Church of Christ and there is no christening ceremony or celebration. In Quebec it’s an all-day affair with a great deal of eating and drinking, especially the latter, which takes place at the home. The only people at the baptism were the parens and the priest, or would have been, except that mother and I slipped into a back pew near the baptismal font and watched out of the corners of our eyes. We were involved because it would be unthinkable to take a baby for baptism without going in style, a car or a fancy carriage. According to Catholic doctrine, if a baby dies before it is baptized it does not go to Heaven but to Limbes. I had heard of Heaven and Hell and Purgatory but that was the first I knew about Limbes, the place reserved just for unbaptized babies. There was more to the ceremony than just putting a few drops of water on the baby’s head though that was part of it. After we drove the couple and their baby home they invited us for drinks but we, having had no experience with alcohol, declined. Anyway, mother didn’t speak a word of French and I wouldn’t have known what to say.

One of the scenic attractions of Rivière du Loup is the falls in the river that empties into the St. Lawrence there. View points have been built so it can be seen both from below and above. The city electric station depends on the falls for its energy, large steel pipe carrying a part of the river’s flow from near the upper view point to the power station at the foot of the falls. The highway from the river back into the mountains on on into New Brunswick and Maine followed the gap made by the river. A walk to the falls, usually along the main street, was all uphill, and part of my daily exercise, unless we drove to Trois Pistoles, or some other nearby town. Yvette had aunts, uncles and cousins thru-out the area. There were two tante Marie-Louises in Trois Pistoles, la petite tante Marie-Louise, who was hunchback. She and tante Philomene, who was married to oncle Luc, were sisters of Yvette’s father. Le Grande tante Marie-Louise was an aunt by marriage, having married Yvette’s oncle Ludger. I never met him as he had committed suicide just after his last child, Madeleine, was born. Madeleine was about 6 or 7, perhaps older as I remember her reading Panagruel by Rabelais which I had picked up in Quebec and inadvertently left on my chair on the porch. The book is on the index of the Catholic church - Catholics are forbidden to read it - but Madeleine didn’t know that and I didn’t tell her. She found it very funny, which it is. Mother didn’t know a word of French and tante Marie-Louise knew no English but the two women would sit on the front porch while Yvette and I ran our errands and gossip as tho they knew what they were talking about.

Albert LeBel, Jeanne’s husband, had never had much education but he must have been a good businessman and he was acquainted with all of the farmers in the countryside which made it easy for him to spot bargains in produce for sale in the grocery. He never drank on the job but he liked his whisky and beer and when he came to visit us on Sunday he would bring along a bottle, put it alongside his chair on the front porch and before he went home he would be a little uncertain of what he was saying or doing. His sole recreation was to sit in his special rocking chair in the evening with a spittoon on the floor, smoke his pipe and read the newspaper. He seldom wore a coat; was always in shirt-sleeves and vest and he insisted that dinner be at 12 exactly and supper at 6. A gold watch on a chain in his vest pocket was pulled out periodically to make sure the women folks were not going to slip up. I don’t think he was very religious but he was worried that he might not get into Heaven so he went to mass every chance he had to pile up merits in St. Peter’s book. After he and Jeanne retired, which was fairly early in life, he would go to mass for or five times a day.

Table of Contents
We Move to Muskegon
I Take Over the Heights Band and Orchestra, 1933

Last modified on 16 April 2018 @ 23:31