Among My Souvenirs — Title My Valley of Tears
By Estelle Hebert
(ed note — There is a date that seems to be written in Estelle’s hand in the upper right corner that looks like “January 6, 1963.” I’m not sure what it relates to.)
My dear reader of My Valley of Tears,
I was born in St. Agatha, Maine, and I am the daughter of Aime Bourgoin and Delina Gauvin. I was born in a little county of St. Agatha of Flat Mountain. I was born on November 8, 1911.
My dear readers, I am not educated and I would like to ask your forgiveness if my writing is very bad. I am not writing like those story books. I am writing like I am talking to you in person. My father’s name was Aime, but everybody knew him as Keith Bourgoin. He was a little farmer. Also a blacksmith. It was him who shoed all the horses in out community. Also welding. And my mother sge was a school teacher before marrying my father. They had a family of 14 children. I had 6 sisters and 7 brothers. I lost one brother at 18 year old from the Espagnol Flu. I also lost 2 little sisters four and two years old. Also a set of twins, a boy and a girl at the age of 2 months each. I remember like yesterday how my brother Thomas had spoiled me. Everywhere he goes he took me with him on his bike. And at home he often lay down on the floor and he sat me beside him and sing me some songs that I learn from him. And I still sing those today. But one day my brother took sick and died. He was 18 years
old. I was seven years old. And the next day after Thomas’ funeral, my oldest brother, Patrick plans to get married that day. So they got married as it was planned, but it was a very sad day for both my poor parents. Only Patrick and my father and his wife with her father went to church for the mass. And they came home after being married, and that was it for Pat’s wedding. For my mother and father, they passed their time crying for their lost son Thomas. And I cried too, but I hide myself to cry because I didn’t want my father and mother to see me crying, but I was missing my brother so much. My parents were very poor. It was just a little farm they had. And for a family of 14 children, it’s all they could to do keep them growing in good health. But for the love they had plenty to give us. They both love us kids so much. They were both so worried when on of us was sick. Sometimes just a little bit. My father had spoiled me a lot too. I remember as it was yesterday how my father used to rock me on his lap at night, smoking his pipe and singing me songs too. It seems that I still feel his heart under my head, and how his breath feels on my head. For my mother, well she didn’t have too much time fussing over us. She had too much to do. It was my father who teach me how to knit and showed me hot to knit my mittens and wool stockings and darn
our mittens and socks too. My mother she had to take care of us and churn the butter and milk the cows, take care of the children, and she always had a larger garden because she had many mouths to feed. And in the spring she sheared the sheep. My father put for her a big black kettle near the little brook we had on the farm. So she was near the water to wash her wools after the shearing. After the wool was dry, she corded it ready to knit. She had to knit a lot because my father and older brothers always wore knitted wool underwear and sweaters for all of us. Oh she had lots to do. And int he winter she wove blankets, wool and cotton ones. My oldest sister helped her to tod the chores and take care of the smallest babies. In our home everyone had to do his share. My older brother Patrick was leaving home with his wife and he helped my father on the farm. For me the help I done to my mother. I was about six a the time. I eat my mother’s little cucumber as soon as I saw a little cucumber in the garden. I piled them on my arms and hide and eat them. And small carrots too. I remember my mother said I don’t know what happens to my cucumbers, there were lots and now I can’t find one no more. I didn’t say a word, but I knew where [the cucumbers went]. I
had been a very bad girl as I see it today. In our home, everyone get up at the same time in the morning except my father. He got up early in the morning to go feed the cattle and horses and the rest of the animals. After he came back from the barn, mom got up and we heard her say alright children, get up for breakfast. We wash and now she said kneel down for prayers. We all pray together, morning and night. My parents were very religious people. On our farm, my father grew wheat and barley and peas and potatoes also buckwheat and hay. He made us walk on the loads to press it down. And we were always bare foot. And the thorns in the hay hurt our feet badly sometimes. And in the fall picking potatoes time. My father made us sort the potatoes in the field. So the oldest one picks the big ones and as I was on of the youngest, I had to pick the small ones. And how I hated those small potatoes. And we were also bare foot and no gloves like they have today to pick. And sometimes it was so cold int he field. My father had to build a fire in the field to warm ourselves. And in the fall my father fatted a young beef for food in the winter. Also a lamb. And when he slaughtered the beef and lamb I had the [noose, nose, noise, rope, ?] as I could.
And I never ate beef or lamb. And for the pork, I was scared when he killed them for food. I hide so I won’t seem them. So today I like pork, and I always liked it. He salted pork meat and smoked some for ham. And my mother she made blood sausage and lots of craton. For the beef there was no refrigerator, so my father wait almost at Christmas to slaughter it. And my mother cured some and the rest my father put water in pork barrels and after it was freeze around the barrels he throw the rest of the water and put the beef in and he put the barrels in a snow pile so we had beef for the winter. My mother she canned lots of vegetables too. So we were never hungry. And with the beef hide my father ship it to the tannery in Bangor. And when it came back it was ready to make [shoepac]. My father made us each a pair of [shoepac] or moccasins for the winter. And with good wool stockings, we were comfortable, but it was very slippery. We often fell on our dariaire at first. For our house it was just a little house. With a bed room down stairs and a kitchen. My father added a little shed beside the house where my mother cooked in the summer times. The upstairs was not finished. And in the winter snow fell inside. But with plenty of good blankets, we were warm in our beds. And a little well outside about 100 feet from the house
to fetch water. And my father’s blacksmith shop and a barn, an old one too.
One day we heard a noise. My father said, “listen kids.” So we listened, and about 10 minutes what we saw coming in the road, a kind of wagon and without horses on it. My father said what kind of rig is this? But to his surprise it was his brother Joe Bourgoin. He stopped at the house and said it’s my new car. We visit this thing. It was made like my father’s Sunday wagon, but instead of a horse, this machine had a little motor under the seat. And a crank in the side. It was very funny for us to see. So this was the first car I saw. Another time father called to come quick and sadi do you see the think in the sky? and the noise it made. This thing is an airplane he said. It was way up in the sky. She seemed large like a big crow. So this was also the first plane that I saw. Not very long after one day father came home with a model T Ford that he trade for a nice little horse and wagon. It was a new car. But when my mother saw this car she cried for 2 days. Because with her horse she could go where ever she wanted to. And this car she couldn’t drive it because a woman in those days would have been a shame to drive a car. So my brother Patrick drive that car, not my father. One day he said come children, I’ll give you
a ride, so we got it. And Patrick was maybe going 5 miles an hour, and I was so scared. I says, Pat, don’t go too fast, and I put my hand on my eyes not to see each side of the car. How funny it is for me today to think about this, but one day I cried to drive that T Ford. So my father said you want to drive so come on. He put me at the wheel. I was 8 years old at the time. And he give me a push, and as the road was a little hill and there was a culvert at the end of the hill. I fell in this culvert. I’m telling you it was the end of my driving. My father had been so scared. I almost killed myself. And I thought he wasn’t smarter than me to push me down this hill with the car alone. After Patrick was married for a year and a half, his wife give birth to a daughter named, [J______]. and I spoiled this little baby so much she cried all night. My brother Pat had to walk her in his arms almost all night long. [—–] was sometime mad about me. But after a while they moved to Stockholm. My father didn’t need him too much on the farm, and there was lots of work in Stockholm. They moved there and Pat was a blacksmith for some company. And for our school that we went to, it was just a very small school, about 15 feet long and 15 feet wide. And in this school, there was a big [Bat, big] stove in the middle of the floor. And at each
side a big table about 7 feet long. and a big wood benches a the side to sit on. And for the blackboard, three boards about a foot wider painted in black. And near this blackboard our teacher’s desk. All was French, no English at all. And no school mostly in the winter because part of the time we didn’t even see where the road was. So school was mostly in the summers. School was about half a mile from home. At 9 years old I had to make my First Communion. [At] We lived 5 miles from church. So we had to walk 10 miles a day to go and come back. And it was in June and some days it was so hot. The road was a dust road and we were bare footed. We too our shoes in our hand and when we came near the church we put our shoes. So we burn our feets in the dust. And sometimes we had rain. We arrived at church all soaked up. The day before we were doing our Firs Communion, I was so sick. the priest give me a note for my mother to keep me home. I was too sick to go the next day for my Communion. The priest told my mother to keep me home, and when I feel better to bring me to mass and will do my first communion. So that what she did. I been sick almost a month with the Measels. I cried almost all day to see the other one doing their First Communion and me sick at home. but Mom said don’t cry. God understands.
In the fall, for one thing or another, I guess my father needed money. So he said to Mom, we will move to Stockholm for the winter. So Mom packed our things and my father ask one of our neighbors to take care of the animals for the winter. And he packed the baggage in the wagon and my brother Leonard and Thaluspore went with him by the road and mother too us Laura, and Anna, and Lily and Lewis was barely 7 years old. And of course me. And Baptist Thibeault too us to the depot at Frenchville and we too the train. Poor Lily she was so scared of the train she didn’t want to get in, but after she didn’t want to get out. We pass the winter with Pat and his wife. My father started work for hauling wood for Sam’s Co, and Thelist and Leonard hunted rabbits all winter. There was so much rabbits in [Jimpland Woods] they sell rabbits for over 200 dollars that winter. They gave their money to father to help him. And in the spring we were all so glad to come back to the farm. There was still some big snow drifts near the house. So we had some good times sledding and playing, but the next fall we moved back to Stockholm. Father worked again also Thelost and Leonard they went to work in the woods for Ernest Thibeault. I was almost 10 years old. So mother said you got to go to school with Anna.
So one morning my mother prepared my small lunch and to school I went. It was about on good mile from home. It was an English school. Al the children were talking English except me. I never heard speaking English and the teacher give me a couple of books and showed me what page to work on, but I didn’t understand at all what she was talking about. She was a big lady teacher and when she looked at me I was so scared. She asked me my first name. I didn’t answer. A little girl near me said what’s your name, so I tell this little girl and she told the teacher my name and age. She put me in the third grade. But I couldn’t do nothing. I didn’t understand not a word in those books. And sometimes when I got home I was so cold my feet were almost frozen. When I told my mother how cold I was she said don’t worry God will warm your feet, but me, I was freezing just the same. I pass my winter like this at school and the teacher after a while didn’t try to make me understand. She let me be in school that’s all. I was so glad when spring came and we moved back to the farm. But the next fall father sold all his animals except the hogs that he killed and salted for winter. All he took to Stockholm was his horse. So I had to start school again. I was 11 years old. Sod school I went again. But I didn’t understand more than the year before.