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"Le Jour de L'An" was one of the big events of the year, being the first day all relatives would meet at the "Old Homestead"...some came in sleighs, some on snow shoes, a few by train, but the "GANG" was there.
There was always gin for the men and wine, sometimes homemade, for the others. After Mass, one would see a real procession stopping in front of their old homes and the "Robes de Cariolle" (blankets) were thrown off the sleigh and the men and women with heavy "Capot de Poil" (fur coats) and heavy home-spun suits, jumped off the sleigh. Men at the time wore whiskers (beards) and, the weather being very cold, some had icicles on the end of their mustache. The gals would run away from those cold kisses. It was really the BIG DAY, as everyone from cradle to 100 plus, would get a kiss and hug and the ever Christmas wish "Bonne Heureuse Année" (Happy New Year), "et le paradis a la fin de vos jours" (may you reach heaven before you die)...what a wonderful way to start the YEAR when the father would say, "Now children, please kneel and I will give the Benediction (blessing)...you will be happy all year".
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Jars of donuts, "Croquinoles" which were all points and twists, usually spread the tables and many delicacies, of course "les croquettes de sucre d'érable" (maple sugar fudge) for the children. Usually the kissing custom started at the church door, in case some would miss kissing the women.
All the holiday celebrations lasted until January 6, "La Fête des Roix", which ended the vacation for schools and workers. A large cake was baked. A pea and a bean was inserted in the cake dough and the one who got the pea was "king", while the finder of the bean became the "queen". A home-made crown was placed on their head and, to this day (1960), this feast is celebrated. Usually the queen headed all the parties or club meetings of this special group, for the entire year, and these two would have to take turns, entertaining.
The second big event before Lent, was "La Chandaleur". This was usually the using of our last pieces of good maple sugar...egg pancakes called "Crepes" covered with homemade butter and a thick layer of shaved maple sugar. As it got harder, people made maple syrup with the pieces. As usual, after Christmas. the maple products were used up. All those "meetings" ended in a dance. Even in the afternoon, people got together. One would play the fiddle, another the accordion and some of the kids would play mouthharp. This was done by covering a comb with tissue paper and then humming through it. Beware of the tickling of your lips...this was a rather "tickly" tune!
The first of the evening usually was a gathering together and the best dancers would organize a grand march. The couples would get together for "Une Dance a Quatre". Of course the evening had been planned ahead, and the "calleux", the one who could call a Square Dance, had been invited ahead so he was there, choosing the favorite dancers. One "joueur de violon" was Paul Vaillancourt, who was called "virez-de-bout" (upside down). As he played the violin, twisted his back, under feet and had so many ways of changing his violin, from back to front, that he was a scream.
Many games were played, "les dévinettes" and, of course, "de la magie" (magic) by the family magician. One that brought much fun, was making a small cake on the stove with a mixture of flour and salt. This had to be eaten upon going to bed and walking backwards. A piece of this was put under the pillow and, the boy you dreamed about, was your future "cavalier". Usually one person was the programmer. She or he would "lead" all these games. One very quiet and solemn activity, was taking a long hair, which was passed through a wedding or engagement (blessed) ring and, this ring was held over a tall glass half-filled with cold water, and the person would have to be careful when she turned the hair inside the glass, three turns to the right and three to the left; it had to be held carefully over the water and then the ring would, by itself, skid over the water and hit the side of the glass a few times; and the one holding it, meant the number of years he or she would be single. Married couples would count the times and this would give the number of children, they would have. For some, the ring did not strike the side at all, while for others it would "ring" as many as ten times. This hair was held tight, so that the manipulator did not move his/her hand, and to many, this was really a magic trick! There were other fun games, like peeling an apple and being careful not to break the peel, keeping it in one piece, then throwing it over the left shoulder, letting it fall on the floor and the shape of any letter it would take...this was the first letter of your "cavalier's" family name.
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Frolics, also called "corvés", would be a gathering of neighbours, friends and relatives, who would come to the home and help with quilting. Also, "monter une pièce", which was putting the loom in order to weave the linen, woolen cloth, etc...to make garments with. Also, spinning and many other kinds of work and many a time, some older people would make a large kettle of chicken stew. This was brought to the "frolic" meeting-place and everyone would dig-in and have a lunch. During that time, someone was baking beans in a bean hole, this to be used for the evening meal. There was always a barrel of "bièrre d'épinette" (spruce beer) in the cellar. This was kept as cold as if it had been on ice. Children would go down and draw some of this frothy beverage, and bring it to the workers. Similarly, if a farmer had some land to clear, a crew was organized and a match was set to one side of the "abatie", thus burning only that part of the forest. The rest of the trees were for stove wood. Special vegetable were raised on the land cleared, like turnips...the "burned" ground was good for this, since the fire would leave cinders, which helped enrich the earth. There was always some kind neighbours when one's barn burned or had other such calamities; friends were always near. So much could be said about the making of clothes. Unraveling the old woolen goods, cutting them in pieces that were then pulled, thread by thread, by the children. This would be placed in wooden "barates" kept especially to churn "les défaisseurs". This was the wool thread and in turn it was carded like new wool and spun to use again in making heavy woolen socks, for the men who worked in the woods. The last refreshments to be served were usually "plogues" (pancakes made of buckwheat flour) rolled and filled with "cortons" (a spread made from pork and beef meats and lotsa seasoning)... [Yvon's note: my wife still makes them! Connect to http://www.acadian.org/ploye.html for her great recipes].This was followed by a hot cup of tea, brewed with the leaves loose. After the tea was gone, one of the "tireuse de cartes" would read your tea leaves and tell your fortunes for the future.
When a person died, as soon as he breathed his last breath, all the water in the house was thrown outdoors and, not having central piping or water in the house, it took as much as a few hours to go to the water well or get to the barns and fill pails from the barrels which had been filled daily. The water was to represent the last breath out. Others who knew they were dying, asked a relative to prick them with a pin or needle before putting them in the casket, so they would be sure they were dead. A corpse was sometimes exposed a few days before being put in the casket, waiting for relatives to come from afar. There were not many undertakers. The dead stayed in their homes and again, all the neighbours would cook whole meals to bring to the home of the deceased, which was open day and night. If a funeral passed your home and the hearse stopped in front, it was believed someone would die again during the year. So many believed in bad omens and really made themselves nervous by such things.
If a cat washed himself in front of a person, this person would have visitors from far away. If your right ear got hot, someone was talking something good about you; if it was the left ear, someone was gossiping about you. If your right eye kinda trembled, you would have fun; if the left one did, it meant sorrow. When watching the new moon, if you held something in your hand, right was a gift, or left was a disappointment. If the object was small, you put it under your pillow and dreamed about your lover. If the stove or tea kettle hummed, it was good news for the one nearest to the stove.
Many people were like doctors, nurses and researchers...according to many herbs and leaves of trees they used for home medicines. Children especially, had ear-aches during the winter as there were no double-windows and the panes of glass were usually coated with half-inch frost. Children would draw and write on this ice...results were a good cold, ear-ache or a tooth-ache. The fastest remedy for ear-ache, was to blow tobacco smoke in the ear. Since everyone smoked a pipe, it was easy to cover the bowl of the pipe and then blow, covering the ears with wool, when we did not have cotton batting. Many made their own salve with soap, carrots etc. Some would not give their recipes away, as they were family secrets.
Many different kinds of herbs were grown in the gardens. Tonics of all kinds were made by boiling the bark or sap of some trees and making an infusion of herbs. There were not any drugstores in small towns; people had their own! If one stepped on a nail and it was rusty, the best thing to get the infection out, was to take the rind of salt pork and put that on the cut or bruise; that would surely bring out the bad in the cut.
Nicknames were really second and third names and many times used on papers, as signatures. The Cormiers were called "Mascou" and "Grelet". The Violettes were "Flambette" or "Susisse". The CYR's were les "Cross" or "l'oignon". Les Martins from Canada were les "Piroitons"; others were "Banabes". The Webbers were "l'Anglais". The Grace families were also called "Dick"; St. Germain were "L'Ecureux" (Squirrel)...some do live today and I know one family who are called "Squirrels", while the other is St. Germain. The Roy families were called "Bonniface" or "King".
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During the middle of the last century, the Madore families had three different color names and one was called Francois Madore "LeBlanc", the other Francois Madore "Le Noir" and one Francois Madore "Le Rouge". Some Madores were also known as "Gasune". They were related by marriage and one could write on and on, as today (1960) many of those names are brought back to the younger generation when they try to prove their citizenship and the like.
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