Posted by: lafouch | March 30, 2010

My Aunt Mattie (2)

The other room in my Aunt Mattie’s house where I spent a lot of time was the sun porch. Her sun porch was taken up with two desks facing each other. One was often used for sewing and the other had a typewriter on it. Sometimes we were playing with paper and sometimes with cloth. Usually, scissors were involved. Here I learned to sew. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the neat, small, even stitches in my sewing that she did so easily in hers; however, I did get the confidence to sew which made it easier to make my clothes and clothes for my children. Whatever we did when I spent time there, there were always strict picking-up rules. Every thread or scrap of paper that fell on the floor had to be picked up before we were done for the day. She would see the tiniest thread even when I couldn’t.
The porch windows looked out on her backyard and garden. The garden went all the way through to the next block. For many years my Aunt Mattie and Uncle Bill kept that garden growing. There was a fence that separated the backyard lawn from the flower and vegetable garden. There was a free-standing garage to the left of the house and behind the garage there was a grape arbor and a compost area. My Aunt Mattie for a long time was able to pick weeds from her garden and lawn without bending her knees. When I was a pre-teen, I took over the job of digging the clover out of her lawn. A friend and I would go over after school and sit on the lawn, armed with a paring knife and a little berry basket. We’d fill our baskets and then take them to the compost heap. We’d earn ten cents per basket full.
When I was born, my mother wanted to name me Martha after Aunt Mattie. However, she didn’t like her nickname, Mattie and convinced my parents not to do it. So, we shared a middle name only.
Most people didn’t know my Aunt Mattie the way I knew her. Some knew her as a teacher. Many knew her as a genealogist. They came to her for her ability to research their forbearers. You can still find her research on the internet.
My mother knew her as someone she could rely on. When my mother was making many of our clothes, I know she went to Aunt Mattie for her assistance. When somehow it was decided that I should go to nursery school as there were no children close by for me to play with, it was Aunt Mattie that paid my tuition as my parents were just starting out. My only wish is that I could have known her as a young girl. I got a glimpse of that side of her sometimes when she related to my Uncle Bill. With Uncle Bill, she would sometime even giggle.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a photograph to show you.

Judie Fouchaux

Posted by: lafouch | March 26, 2010

My Aunt Mattie M. Bowman

Perhaps you remember home economics for girls and manual training for boys. I do. It wasn’t always like that in Paterson, New Jersey. When my Aunt Mattie (Miss Martha Mary Bowman) was teaching in the elementary school they did have manual training for the boys. The girls, however, had a sort of free period. As I understand it, my Aunt Mattie decided the girls should be learning something useful during that time; something along the lines of manual training. She began teaching sewing to the girls in her classes. This was soon picked up by the school district and Miss Bowman began teaching sewing to all the girls in all the schools. Stories I have heard about her mentioned her strictness, her promptness (you could set your watch by her, if you had one), and her expertise. My mother tells of how Aunt Mattie reacted to one of her first sewing projects. She sewed a pair of gym bloomers, which had a very long and full seam. My Aunt saw the seam and thought it was poorly done, so, she ripped it out. This was on the eve of the day the bloomers were to be exhibited for their grade. My Grandmother was very upset. I understand that she stayed up with my mother getting the seam re-sewn until well after midnight.
My experience of my Aunt Mattie was varied. She did have strict rules about how things should be done. I remember having a wonderful time with her on many occasions. At one point she took me to a convention in Atlantic City for the DAR. Another time we went into New York City to see Santa at one of the stores. Santa wasn’t a grown man on a big chair. He was a movable character inside a workshop at the North Pole. He moved around the work shop and spoke to us as we stood looking in at him. We spoke to him through a microphone. I’m not sure how the achieved the effect but it seemed very real at the time.
Aunt Mattie was my Grandfather’s sister. She and her brother, my Uncle Bill, lived in a house that was two doors from my grandparents. It was almost a mirror image of my grandparent’s house. I spent a lot of time in her kitchen or sun porch. I loved her kitchen. There was a table, which was usually against the wall. There was a radiator with a wooden cover under the table. When I would go to visit they would pull out the table and I would get to sit on the radiator cover…that was unless the granddaughter of her doctor neighbor was visiting her as well. Then we would have to take turns. Once ensconced on the radiator cover we would be served milk and Mary Ann cookies. We would eat around the name first.
The cookies were kept in her large pantry just off the kitchen. I remember that on the back of the pantry door there was a big cloth pocket that she had made for string and paper bags. The other interesting thing about her kitchen was her rocking chair. She had a wonderful rocking chair with a collapsible arm on the right side. When it was up it made a writing desk, a place to write your shopping list or a thank you note to a friend. When down, it was a regular, comfortable rocking chair with normal arms. Her kitchen was always a comfortable place to be.

Posted by: lafouch | January 26, 2010

Poetry of Childhood

Tonight as I left my client’s house the wind was blowing hard with a light rain. The trees were bending. Suddenly, tossing around in my head was the poem my mother frequently quoted:
The wind she blow like hurricane and then she blow some more.
But you don’t get drowned on Lac St. Pierre, so long you stay on shore.

I researched this when I got home tonight and discovered it’s from a poem by the Canadian poet, William Henry Drummond called The Wreck of the “Julie Plante”. The end of the poem is the moral which my mother slightly misquoted, perhaps because she wasn’t French Canadian, but goes like this:

Now all good wood scow sailor man
Tak’ warning by dat storm
An’ go an’ marry some nice French girl
An’ leev on wan beeg farm
De win’ can blow lak hurricane
An’ s’pose she blow some more,
You can’t get drown on Lac St. Pierre
So long you stay on shore.

Don’t know why or when she learned it, though it was probably in school. It certainly was appropriate tonight.

My mother often quoted poetry, usually from the same two or three poems. The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was a favorite. She would quote, “I bit my arm I sucked the blood and cried A Sail A Sail” or “Yea, slimy things did crawl upon a slimy sea.” Another of her favorite quotes was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree.”
So, I have bits and pieces of poems strolling around my mind. Fitting for today and actually for all this week has been,
“Raining, raining all night long,
Sometimes loud, sometimes soft, Just like a song.
I’ll sail my boat tomorrow in wonderful new places,
But first I’ll take the watering pot and wash the pansy’s faces.”
Among my childhood books was Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses”. In the summer when we used candlelight to go to bed, I would think of this poem. My mother would tell me how this poem was quite real to her when she was little.
Bed in Summer
In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?
One of Stevenson’s poems was one of the first ones I learned. It was:
My Shadow
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow–
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Though I don’t sit down and read a lot of poetry now, I believe these early experiences of being read poetry (and stories) by my family helped me enjoy reading as a life-long entertainment.
NOTE: Photos are ones I took of recent wave and wind action along the coast here in California.

Posted by: lafouch | January 18, 2010

House From The Past

Memories of houses you’ve been in are always hooked to the people you’ve known. Recently, a narrow house in New York City was sold for over two million dollars. It brought back memories of a narrow house I visited with my grandmother as a child. One of her childhood friends was Helen Birch. I knew her as Aunt Helen Birch. She lived very near where we went to church in a “narrow house” so frequently we would stop by and visit her on a Sunday. We may have had lunch with her as well.

From the outside, front of the house, you saw a small front porch, front door and bay window overlooking the street. A round table sat close to the window and looking out was a beautiful porcelain baby. I would watch for the baby in the window as we drove up to her house. When inside the living room I would go immediately to the baby doll. She lay on her stomach on the table pushing up as if getting ready to crawl. One leg was stretched out along the table and the other bent at the knee, kicking up in joy. Her knees and smile were dimpled and she wore a pink dress with tiny flowers on it. I was always delighted to see her when my grandmother and I visited.

The house had a long corridor from the front door to the kitchen at the back. There were no rooms on the right side of the hall. All the rooms opened up one after another on the left. I only remember the living room and the kitchen, and a postage stamp backyard that was behind the kitchen so I suppose those were the rooms we visited. The hall seems long and dark in my memory but that may have been colored by my own size at the time.

Aunt Helen Birch had other fascinating things in her living-room which kept me occupied while the grown-ups were busy. My other strong memory was of a chair she had. It was leather and wood and had a lever on the side which she let me work. When you moved the lever the back of the chair dropped back and a footstool came out from under the chair. I loved to make it work. While I hadn’t thought of it before, that’s probably why I have and enjoy my La-z-boy furniture today.

Judie Fouchaux

Posted by: lafouch | January 2, 2010

A Mixed Bag

Dorothy and Marjorie

After writing about my Great-Grandfather Johnson and his stone chair, I came across this picture of my mother, Dorothy (the elder sister) and Marjorie (her younger sister) sitting on the Stone Chair in front of their summer home. Even though this blog was to be about Christmas and the family, I thought I should include this picture before it was lost. So, this blog is a mixed bag.

Now for Christmas: I have some fond memories of Christmas past. My mother enjoyed getting ready for the holidays and almost every year, getting ready included making something for each of us. One year it was tiny stuffed animals for our stockings and that was after we were all fully grown. Sometimes as you can see in these pictures it was the clothes we wore or the outfits our dolls wore.

I must have had a fascination with the Red Cross nurses because I remember painting a picture of a nurse in a parade. My mother kept the picture for many years. Here I found a picture of a doll in a Red Cross outfit that I don’t remember.

One year, it looks like my present was another baby sister. Here I am feeding my sister Linda while Anne looks on. Obviously sisters were as much fun as dolls at that age.
On Christmas morning, my father would go downstairs and get orange juice for us all. We were not allowed to go down until my grandparents, Nana and Harkie, arrived to watch us open presents. We would beg my father to tell us if Santa had come and he would usually tell us he didn’t see anything while he was down there.
Finally, everyone would be there and down we would rush. Most of the time Christmas would not be a disappointment. I do remember one year when I was temporarily disappointed though. I was a avid Nancy Drew mystery reader and what I wanted for Christmas was a mystery book. That year my father got me a beginning French book. When I asked why I didn’t get a mystery book, his explanation was that wasn’t French a mystery to me. I learned to be careful what I asked for then. An excellent lesson, don’t you think.

Posted by: lafouch | December 24, 2009

The Holidays: Time for Families

Great-Grandaddy Johnson with me, my mother and Grandmother

The holiday season…a time for families. This picture is from my mother’s side of the family. It shows my Great-Grandfather (Papa) Johnson holding me, with my Mother and Grandmother standing by. I have a vague memory of going to see him at my Grandmother’s house, when he was bed-ridden shortly before he died.
My Great-Grandfather was Martin J. Johnson, a Hardware Merchandiser, who lived for a time at 321 Market Street in Paterson, New Jersey. He was born in 1854 (probably in or around Paterson).
Through his connections with people in construction, he became a member of the camping group that bought and developed the Hawthorne Park Club property in Sussex County. He built his summer home near the road and set a large stone chair up in the yard where he would sit and greet strangers who wandered into the property. His house had a grape arbor near the back door. I remember helping my moth
er make grape jam from the grapes that grew there…many years after he had died.
Martin married Lillie L. Vreeland. They had, I believe, three children. My grandmother Bertha Johnson, her brother Percy Johnson and another girl whose birth certificate I found. The name on the certificate is unclear. She was born on July 8th 1884 and must have died in childhood as I never heard my family speak of her.
My Great Grandmother died sometime after my grandmother and grandfather were married. I don’t have much direct knowledge about what she was like. I don’t remember my mother or grandmother speaking about her often. I know that she must have been very interested in the arts. My grandmother and grandfather went together for 7 years before she agreed that they could marry. She had really wanted my grandmother to become a concert pianist. My grandmother was given piano lessons by the foremost piano teacher in the area and was his star pupil, according to Carrie Berry who was also his student. (Carrie Berry became my grandmother-in-law years later.) My uncle was encouraged to become an artist and he did become a commercial artist.
While I can’t be sure, I do believe that she had help running her home. I know that my grandmother had help with the cooking for much of her married life. My mother gained some knowledge of what to do in the kitchen not from her mother but from her mother’s cook.

Posted by: lafouch | December 21, 2009

Traveling with My Family: Part 2

One of my earliest memories is of driving in a car in a snowstorm going to the next town. I remember the lights and the swirling snow. My father often reminded me that I had made them miss a train to his next stop early one morning when I refused to drink my orange juice. Years later I discovered that I had reactions to orange juice unless I ate something with it. Perhaps that is why I wouldn’t drink it. Or, perhaps I was just being naughty.
I liked traveling and living in hotels. I remember that one hotel had a small convenience store in it’s basement. I would take the elevator down to visit with the saleslady who was kind enough to entertain me for a while…something I think my mother appreciated. Some of our hotel rooms had a “Murphy Bed”. One evening my mother went for a relaxing bath and my father was reading the paper and watching me. The Murphy Bed was down and I got into the closet behind the bed and was playing happily there. All of a sudden the lights in the hotel went out. A call to the front desk let us know that there were electricians coming around to try and find the cause of the outage. My mother sat in her cooling tub while my father and I waited in the dark. Shortly there came a knock at the door and the electrician arrived with his flashlight. He searched around checking on my mother in the tub (probably discreetly) and then flashed his light into the closet behind the Murphy Bed. There he discovered why the lights had gone out. I had stuck a hairpin into the electric socket. Don’t know why, but I don’t remember feeling anything when I did. My mother and father had to apologize to a troupe of acrobatic entertainers that were practicing in a room down the hall and were upset when the lights went out. Other than that I think all was well.

A favorite memory of mine involved the Green Lantern Inn (Rochester, NY). We went out for dinner there one night (I must have been around 4 or 5) and what I have remembered all these years was that they served green ice cream that had been molded to look like a green lantern. It made a lasting impression. I hope they still serve that now.

Posted by: lafouch | November 9, 2009


First Day of School

First Day of School

When we weren’t traveling, I was sent to Miss Stiles’ School, as there were no children my age in the neighborhood. I began school at the age of two. The school was held about two blocks away in a large Victorian house with wide porches, shingled sides and a creamy yellow trim. The children in my group were on the first floor. What had once, I suspect, been a dining room was a playroom with a very large sand table (at least it seemed that way in my memories). I don’t remember much about these early school days. The sand table and spending time on the back porch steps playing “I See A Color”.

Right across from our house was the public school, School #13. At one point, I decided I wanted to go to public school. I was taken in and met the principal of the school. I don’t remember her name but I do remember she was a warm and caring person. I hadn’t been there very long when one morning I became very upset and went to the principal’s office. I got up on her lap and told her I didn’t like her school. She asked me why not. I replied, “Because I can’t find my seat.” She took me to my classroom and by then the only seat left empty was mine so I easily found it. She told me to see her again if I needed any more help. I remember her as a special person in my life.

Public school for me had it’s ups and downs during these early years. I remember having special deerskin sandals for a dance class we had in gym; a substitute teacher who told us we should chew milk when we drank it; a math teacher who told us not to spit on the floor. For some reason, when she said this I spit on the floor and then, to cover it up, put my foot on the spot. She came over and asked me to move my foot. I slid it along the floor and there was a large wet stain on the floor. I had to stay in class during recess that day.

My worst memory of School No. 13, happened after I had found a praying mantis in my backyard. My father helped me capture it and I was going to take it in to my class for “Show and Tell”. I got as far as the playground when one of the older boys in the school took the jar and opened it. There was a mad dash by lots of the students after the mantis. I got lost in the rush. I was scared for the mantis but he/she was very quick and got away.

My best memory of this school was the art classes. I painted large sized tempera paintings of all sorts of things. I remember painting a Red Cross nurse in a parade. For years my mother kept my paintings in a large binder of VanGogh’s paintings. I always felt like I was in good company.

I was fortunate to like school.

Judie Fouchaux

Posted by: lafouch | October 26, 2009

Halloween Memories

As a child, choosing our Halloween costume didn’t mean a trip to the store…It meant a trip to an attic. Sometimes it was my Grandmother’s attic but mostly it was ours. Family friends traveled and brought back outfits from places we visited which often became our Halloween costumes. Judie in Hawaiian-CostumeOur attic was a wonderful place. There was the grass skirt from Hawaii that I got in the summer so I wore in then as well as for Halloween. I’m not sure where the Dutch costume came from but it was a wonderful one to wear as a descendant of Dutch settlers. It was warm too as it was made of wool. Made to last! I know that I wore it and my sisters wore it and the last time I saw it the trim had worn off. Dutch-Costume

When my father traveled to the Philippines after WWII, he brought back outfits including hats they wore in the rice paddies. They too became our Halloween costumes. If getting to know someone is done by stepping in their shoes, somehow, without really trying, we learned a bit about the world as well by wearing their clothes.

There were still things in the attic to wear when we got older. When I was a teenager going to a Haloween party, I wore a dress my grandmother had worn. I remember it was a beautiful pale blue. I loved it.

Linda and Anne In Costume (without masks)

Linda and Anne In Costume (without masks)

We usually went trick or treating in groups so, I must have been out with friends when my sisters’ picture was taken. I’ve always liked it.

Posted by: lafouch | October 12, 2009

Traveling With My Family: The Early Years

My father was a bank examiner, examining banks all over New York State. Because my mother didn’t like being left behind, I developed a love of travel and adventure. Sometimes I was packed up and sent to my grandparents and but often I was packed up and taken along when the trips were more extended. Albany, Syracuse, Ithaca and Oneida were towns I knew like the towns at home.
Evenings when we were traveling were often spent at local bowling alleys and bars with other examiners. I drank “Shirley Temples” and learned to play shuffleboard (table type) and bowl duck pins.

We lived this partially vagabond life for my “formative” years. When my sister, Anne, was born we continued to travel. We had a folding buggy which we took with us for Anne. During a winter trip, Anne became known as Blizzard Liz because every afternoon my mother and I would bundle up and get Anne and the buggy ready for a walk. When we’d gotten about a block from the hotel it would start to snow. We would dash (as fast as a five year old and a buggy could dash) back to the hotel where I would hold Anne while my mother collapsed the buggy. Then we’d dash inside to the warmth and safety of the hotel lobby. The next year my sister Linda was born and we gave up our nomadic ways.

Older Posts »