Memories of my mémère.
- By: Paul Doiron
When I was five years old, my mom and dad moved our family out of my mémère’s duplex in Sanford and into a new suburban home in Scarborough. My mémère (or grandmother) lived in a row of millworker houses; the yards were small and close together, and, out back, there was a deep gully into which people pushed rusted appliances and other unwanted things. Our split-level in Scarborough was one of the first homes in what would become many spreading subdivisions — a cornfield had been razed to make way for its development. In Scarborough all the houses and streets were new, and the trees were newly planted in the lawns. It took many years before the oaks and Norway maples grew tall enough to provide any shade.
My family made infrequent trips back to Sanford to visit my mémère and “the cousins,” as we called our assorted relatives. These forty-five minute drives, down the Turnpike and out Route 111, through Biddeford and Alfred, seemed to last a lot longer than forty-five minutes, and we always had the sense of traveling backward in time, not just because our Scarborough house was new and the Sanford duplex was old, but because we ourselves were changing from the little kids who had lived on Nason Street. As Christmas approached, I would feel myself growing vaguely anxious as we packed into the Chevy Impala for the trip south. I loved my mémère deeply, but I was unnerved by the tall statue of the Virgin Mary she kept by her bedside, and the way an adult conversation might veer suddenly into French, a language I didn’t speak.
It would have shocked me to learn that someday my favorite holiday memory would involve climbing the steep stairs up to my mémère’s crowded apartment. In the kitchen we would find her preparing baked stuffed “shrimps,” as she called them. She would have the Christmas card I drew someplace prominent, and all the cousins would compliment me on my skills as a cartoonist. Her presents were often funky and unexpected. My mémère made shoes in a factory for a living, but she had a side business in antiques. One year she gave me a vintage copy of Fur, Fish & Game magazine, an heirloom I still treasure.
My mémère has been gone for a long time, but every year I find myself making that trip backward into the past to visit her. She’s always smiling there, so happy to see me.
- By: Paul Doiron