My memere - or grandmother - was named Oline Doiron, and she made textiles and shoes, first at the Goodall Mills in Sanford and later at the Nike factory in Biddeford. As a Nike employee she was entitled to certain discounts on sneakers in the company store, and so I found myself branded with a Swoosh from a young age. I pre-dated Michael Jordan, in fact.
Technically, Oline was my great aunt. But after my grandfather was killed in the run-up to World War II (the Nazis torpedoed his ship, the Reuben James, off Greenland in October 1941) my real grandmother, whom I never met, found herself unprepared to raise an infant son who would become my father. And so Oline stepped into the breach. My memere was a pistol: smart, fearless, and giving, a model of female independence ahead of her time. She was not, however, the world's best cook. At Christmas, she made baked stuffed "shrimps," as she called them, which I eventually developed a taste for. But I don't recall any of the recipes writer Michael Sanders mentions in his article on the vanishing art of Franco cooking (page 84). If I ever ate poutine or tourtiere, I have buried the memory deep. Why does Maine have so many Thai, Chinese, and Italian restaurants and yet almost no Franco ones? Sanders has some theories. I'm sure Oline would have had an opinion since she had plenty of them, especially concerning politicians and the UMaine hockey team.
Towards the end of her life, I began taking an interest in French culture and genealogy, and Oline became my chief conduit to the past. She helped me trace the Doirons back to Shediac, New Brunswick; Pentagoet, Acadia (which became Castine, Maine); and finally all the way back to the French coast. We shared an enthusiasm for history, and so it was especially cruel that in the years before she died Alzheimer's robbed her of her memories. The last Thanksgiving I saw her she no longer recognized me.
I prefer to remember Oline at her funny, self-sufficient best. When I was a kid, she ran an antiques business out of a shed in Acton that she named, rather unglamorously, The Shed. She used to gather rhubarb behind the building to make a tangy pie that we'd eat while we waited for customers. I don't know if her antiques were mostly junk, but I still have a hunting knife she gave me: gray-bladed, with a pheasant-headed hilt. I doubt I'll ever have it appraised. I already know it's priceless.