Mourning Memere

Matchbook pin-up

Elsie smiling for the troops – this photo went on the cover of matchbooks for soldiers during WWII. The photographer? Larry, the man she married decades later.

A few weeks ago, we lost my kind-of step grandmother. I went to Connecticut for her wake and the funeral mass, which left me feeling helpless for a few days, watching so many people I care about grieving, knowing there’s nothing I can do or say to help. But Elsie was a strong woman with a great faith… In a letter she wrote for one of her sons to read at her service, she told all of us to leave our pain and sorrow at the altar, because God can bear it better than we can. While I’m not a deeply religious person, I am very spiritual, and appreciate her intentions. In that vein, I thought I’d post about some of the things that struck me most about her life.

She was born in Frenchville, Maine in 1927, one of the youngest of 20 children. Yes: 20. Frenchville is a small town right on the Canadian border. When Elsie was 13, the family moved to Lewiston. Elsie once told my mother that when they moved, she was afraid to go out alone because all the houses looked the same and she was afraid she wouldn’t remember which one she lived in.

Elsie and Richard's wedding

Elsie and Richard’s wedding

She married Richard Bernaiche and moved to Connecticut, where they had seven children: Reggie, Rick, Gene, Arlene, Sheryl, Joe, and Normand. My mom’s brother Norman married Sheryl, and I first knew Memere as my cousins’ other grandmother. When I’d stay at Aunt Sheryl & Uncle Norman’s to visit Carina, Robin and Brandon, Memere was often at the house, playing cards. She never learned to shuffle and would just spread the cards all over the table to mix them up.

I never met Memere’s first husband. In 1979, she married Larry Anctil – he had a crush on her when they were in high school. Years later, they connected on a cruise ship, where their friends and siblings had sort of set them up. Pepere worshipped her. He was a kind, gentle, Renaissance man who sang, gardened, played organ, made stained glass, cooked, and painted.

Elsie at bat!

Elsie at bat!

When my mom began dating Reggie, I saw even more of Memere and Pepere. I remember going to visit them in Lewiston. Eventually they moved back to Connecticut and lived with my mom and Reggie for a while before moving into a condo in Cheshire. They moved back in while Aunt Sheryl and Uncle Norman built an addition onto their house with an in-law apartment for them.

What else can I say about Memere? She had sparkling gray eyes and a great smile. She had an incredible faith that helped her survive pancreatic cancer, one of the nastier ones. She was just always there. She enjoyed life, but wasn’t afraid of death. I hope I can have that attitude when it’s my time to go.

Thank you to Carina for the photos.

with_kids

At the beach...

At the beach…

Hey, sailor...

Hey, sailor…

Great smile.

Great smile.

Timeless.

Timeless.

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