Since she was the twelfth of the fourteen children in her family, Mathilda often found herself playing piano so that her older brothers and sisters could dance with their sweethearts and spouses. Her father, Barthélémi-Joseph Martineau, had been married twice, first to the scandalously named Salomée, who was her oldest six siblings’ mother, and then to her mother, Laura, who already had three children by her first marriage when she met Barthélémi. Mathilda was the first child born in the United States, in the mill town of Smithfield, Rhode Island. Her mother was a school teacher, so Mathilda was very well educated, having completed school all the way to the sixth grade, and she continued to be a great reader and a very refined woman all of her life.
The Martineaus had an illustrious family tree. Mathilda’s grandmother was Léocadie Martel, who was a descendant of Charles Martel, grandfather of the emperor Charlemagne and victor of the Battle of Tours in A.D. 732, which kept all of Europe from speaking Arabic, at least for a while. Centuries later, Mathilda’s Martineau ancestor, Martin Prévost, married Marie-Olivier-Silvestre Manitouabewich on November 3, 1644, in Québec, in the first French and Native American marriage in North America. Mathilda’s cousin, Sir Wilfred Laurier, was the first Prémier of Canada. Despite these exalted forebears, when Mathilda was eight years old, her father moved the family to Esmond to work in the textile mills there, along with many other French-Canadian immigrants.
One of the young people’s favorite places was the Esmond Dance Hall, provided by the owner of the village mill. Mathilda and her family loved to dance, so they often made their way to the hall on the weekends. Naturally, it was a wonderful way to meet new people, and it seems that even back then, the nice girls always fell for the bad boys.
In the 1930s, the whole world seemed to be suffering. People everywhere were poor, and in Europe, the leaders were beginning to fear that the War to End All Wars would not, in fact, live up to its name. But life in the tiny New England mill village called Esmond was small and safe. Margaret grew up walking all over town and riding her bicycle with her friends. She was not the only daughter of immigrants. Her friend Josephine Infantino tried hard to avoid walking near her house, since every time her Sicilian mother spotted them, she would rush out with a glass of milk and a handful of olives. Evidently, she worried that Josie was burning too many calories and would starve before she came in for the evening. Josie would obediently drink the milk, hand the glass back to her mother, and then take the olives, promising to eat them as she walked. As soon as they were out of sight, Margaret would take the olives from her and gobble them down. Josephine hated olives, and her mother always made her eat them. Margaret loved olives, and her family never served them.
Young people in those days often went out after breakfast and came home just in time for dinner. Parents didn’t start worrying until then. In Esmond, the place to swim was in the mill pond, that is, the water in the reservoir for use by the textile mill. They laughed and jumped into the water for hours, casually avoiding the turbines beneath the surface. When they tired of swimming, they would play hide and seek in the warehouse, where the huge bales of wool were kept before they were made into fabric. Margaret and her friends would burrow as far as they could into the wool so that they would not be found. After they were married, her husband told her that the mill employed men whose only job was to kill the gigantic rats that infested the mill warehouse. This is why we say that the Lord looks after fools and children.
During this time, Peggy was often sick, and had taken to wearing her bathrobe all day and complaining constantly. This grieved Margaret greatly, since her mother already spoke with an embarrassing Scottish brogue, and now she was not acting respectable, like her Aunt Vera and the other ladies she knew who kept their houses spic and span and washed their floors in sturdy high heels. After one such spell of ill health, her mother was finally well enough to go out with her father, and when her parents arrived back home, they found Margaret stuck on the stairway where she had been trying to move a bed back upstairs, where she felt it belonged. She had maneuvered it into such a spot that she could neither move backward nor forward, and had been waiting to be rescued for quite some time.
After many years, Peggy was diagnosed with gallstones, and after having her gallbladder removed, she spent most of her life in cheerful good health. When Margaret later experienced gallstones in her sixties, she never complained until the moment she said, “Call 911. I’m having a heart attack.” And that was pretty much the pattern for her whole life, all stemming from a repugnance that she developed as a child toward people who complain about ailments.
On the other hand, Peggy was deeply devoted to her daughter in her own way. One day during Margaret’s teen years, her mother came home from Centredale, the nearest town with decent shopping, and presented Margaret with a new pair of shoes. Since money was scarce, gratitude was the expected response for any new item of clothing—or even decent meals, for that matter. Add to that Peggy’s Scottish frugality, and new purchases were An Event. However, she could see from the expression on Margaret’s face that she was not pleased. She knew that her daughter and her friends went to the movies and exclaimed over all those glamorous movie stars that they saw on the screen. When her mother demanded an explanation, Margaret meekly admitted, “Well, Ma, they’re just so old-fashioned.” Peggy exploded into a fury, chasing a screeching Margaret around the kitchen table with shoe in hand, excoriating her for being so ungrateful, and finally cracking her over the head with the well-made heel. She then packed up the inadequate shoes and boarded the bus back to Centredale to buy her something more fashionable. What did she know about fashion? She was a Glaswegian factory girl, and her daughter was a beautiful American teenager.
For his part, Archie always loved a crowd. He kept a drawer full of candy by his bedside, supposedly for the kids, but also for his own sweet tooth. Sometimes, when the other adults went out for the evening, he preferred to stay with the little ones. When Margaret came home exclaiming that one of her friends had a television set, he could not bear the thought that his beloved daughter and all of her friends would be spending their time somewhere else. Without telling anyone, he marched down to the store and brought home the huge piece of furniture containing a phonograph and the little screen that flickered black-and-white images from New York City right into their living room! Now he could rejoice in the sounds of giggly teenagers, playing records and dancing to the sound of the Big Bands.
At about this time, all over America, many immigrants began changing their family names in order to sound less foreign. Although most of those families were of German descent, Archie decided that he needed to change their name, also. He took his father’s French surname, Boucher, pronounced “boo-shay,” and changed it to Boushee, pronounced “bushy.” War was marching toward America.
Archie Boucher worked in the local textile mill, like almost all of the young people in their Rhode Island village. He couldn’t help noticing lively young Peggy Lorimer, who had lately come from Scotland to live with her aunt and uncle. She was always laughing and having fun with her friends, but she seemed so shy when she saw him. She wouldn’t meet his gaze. Those eyes, though. He had never seen that shade of blue before. When he saw her coming out of the grocery one afternoon, looking up in dismay at the sudden rain, he took his chance.
“May I offer you a walk home under my umbrella?”
After Archie and Peggy married, he went to work for the A&P, and eventually became their produce manager. They soon had a daughter, whom they named Margaret, after her mother, and Peggy spent all of the baby’s nursing time stroking the sides of her nose so that it would be narrow, unlike her own. It worked—or perhaps Margaret just inherited her father’s nose. She certainly inherited her mother’s deep blue eyes, although they were never the clear, cornflower blue of Peggy’s own. They doted on little Margaret, who turned out to be a beauty. As much as their tiny budget would allow, they dressed her in the finest clothes and saw that she was always the prettiest girl in town.
Peggy never learned to cook well, but she could manage bacon and eggs, when they had them. Archie, on the other hand, was an artist in the kitchen. On Saturdays, he spent hours making the meals for the coming week. Pies were his specialty, and flaky crusts flew from his fingertips. Tortière, a Québécois delicacy, was always on the list. His father, Octave, may have had some influence on Archie’s tastes, although the surrounding area was soaked in French culture, as well, from the restaurants to the street names.
Jessie Comerford, Archie’s mother, was having none of it. The Comerfords were a fine New England family, stretching back almost to the Mayflower, and there was no way that Jessie was going to allow any children of hers to spoil that Yankee heritage by becoming Roman Catholics like all of these immigrants pouring into the country. It was a wonder to everyone that she had married Octave Boucher, that French Canadian Catholic. Perhaps it was because her Mr. Davis had died, leaving her with four little ones to feed. Perhaps it was one look at Octave’s comely face. In any case, he had given her two more boys, Archie and Raymond.
At the end of Jessie’s days, it fell to Archie and Peggy to care for her until she died. At an opportune moment, when her husband wasn’t around, Jessie begged Archie to promise her that he would always remain a Protestant, and that he would persuade his younger brother, Raymond, to do the same. He promised, not being a very religious man at all, anyway, and when little Margaret rejoiced to join Octave at Mass, he turned away and pretended not to notice.
Nine years after Margaret’s arrival, a son was born, and they named him Ralph after Archie’s older half-brother. It was the mid 1930s, and the family was enduring difficult times, as was everyone during the Depression. Archie was too proud to sign up for handouts at town hall, and the day came when the little family of four had nothing. The weather was turning cool when Archie put on his winter coat for the first time that year and went out to walk and pray. As he paced up and down the streets, he put his hands in his pockets to warm them, and one hand touched a silver dollar. He never knew how it came to be there, but he ran to the store and bought rice, bread, and other food to feed his children for a week. Time rolled on, jobs came back, but he made sure that his family remembered that God had answered his prayer when he needed Him most.
There was nothing sweet or gentle about Glasgow. As Peggy stood out in front of her mother’s house, she shivered in the bitter cold. She wasn’t allowed in the house– her mother’s orders. Even though she could no longer live with her mother or her younger siblings, she understood. Factory work was hard at age fourteen, but manual labor was much easier for Peggy and her younger sister, Betty, to bear than the fear of their new stepfather in the middle of the night. Her mother had many mouths to feed, but she had to protect her girls somehow. Reality could be as harsh as a Glasgow winter.
This day, two years after Peggy had been forced to live apart from her family, her mother ran outside with the news that they all had longed for: Auntie Taggart had sent passage for Peggy and Betty! They were to board the ship Columbia for the Promised Land, America. As they hugged and laughed, they had tears running down their cheeks. Her mother had accomplished her dearest wish for her oldest girls, but now she might never see them again.
We don’t know what my grandmother’s life was like, living in Rhode Island with her aunt and her family, but she probably never went to school again. She’d been a hard worker her entire life, and she was expected to earn her keep at her aunt’s house. One day, though, when she was leaving the neighborhood grocery store, it started to rain, and a miracle happened. Handsome Archie Boucher stepped forward and offered to walk her home under his umbrella. She, Peggy the foreigner, with her thick brogue and pug nose, was walking home with Archie. The stars never fell from her eyes.
The last time we visited our porch progress was on December 1st! Well, after all of the excitement of the holidays, the guys got back to working on our screened porch, which was just so much more complicated than I expected. By the time they had finished the interior work, the porch had a roof and a floor, but the posts were unfinished, and the walls were still Tyvek plastic wrap!
Everyone who asked me about Christmas discovered that my wish list was all about the porch. Our color scheme will allow me to have lots of fun with our last name, so we’re going with a dark wood ceiling, dark wicker furniture, white posts and railings, white cushions, and lots of pops of teal. I picked out a set of outdoor dishware at Pier One, and between gifts and gift cards, I was able to get 8 place settings of the whole thing! They call it turquoise, but I’m saying teal. I also found a teal lantern on clearance. My friend Andrea Pearlstein of BookPearls created this beautiful collage “T” for our wall, and David gave me a tiny peacock table for between the rockers—just big enough for two coffee cups.
The carpenters built up the posts around the porch and gave them the shape I showed them from a picture in Southern Living. I didn’t expect the side trim, but that’s because the Southern Living porch was not screened. Each section of the porch has a separate section of screen, so if there is a tear (oh, no!), we only have to replace that section. They wrapped the posts in a weather-proof material so that it will look beautiful year after year. After putting new siding on the walls, they started painting. There was so much painting to do!
One of the most difficult parts of the porch was finding the right stain for the beadboard ceiling. We wanted to match the acacia flooring inside the house, so Greg gave us the Minwax brochure, and then created eight samples from the colors we chose. None of them were right! Most of them looked the same—blackish-brown—with one or two orange boards. Greg agreed that nothing worked, so he took a piece of our floor and an unfinished piece of our ceiling to Sherwin-Williams so that they could create a custom color. Beautiful. However, what a mess to apply! The guys used a sponge to wipe the stain above their heads, and it was watery and ran everywhere. This took several days, and I know they were glad when it was over. Afterward, they coated the ceiling with a semi-gloss, weatherproof sealant. It has swirls of light and dark, just like our floor. Landon then had to paint over the smears on the yellow siding and white trim.
Way back when, I had chosen a fan for the porch with tropical leaf blades. However, when the electrician came out to do the first phase of his work, he told me that I would have to have multiple switch boxes on the wall beside the back door if I had all of the floodlights on separate switches and the fan and fan light on separate switches. So, I compromised by putting two of the floodlights on one switch and choosing to get a fan with a remote control, so that there was only one wall switch for it. I had no idea that the original fan was in my garage until the day that the electricians were coming back to install it. It did not have a remote control, just chain pulls hanging down! We had to cancel the electricians for the day and go on a hunt for an appropriate fan. Perhaps it would have been easier in June, but our local home improvement stores did not have outdoor fans with remote controls in stock, even at the warehouse. Amazon came through for me, though. We found one with rattan, leaf-shaped blades that match the wicker rockers. Two-day Prime shipping, and we’re back in business.
The electricians came through and put up the fan, floodlights, and four of the ugliest outlets I have ever seen. This is the building code. They are on these little pipes because they have to be high enough off the floor that if rain hit the floor, it wouldn’t splash onto them, which is actually safe. I’ll have to arrange furniture to hide them. I was hoping to put a glass side table over one of them, but of course, the outlet is higher than the table.
We had final inspection last week! We failed. The two stairways, one from the porch and one from the new kitchen door, needed adjustment, because the code had recently changed concerning the height of the top and bottom steps. Furthermore, they needed to dig a drain pipe coming out from the breakfast room crawlspace. All that has been done, and all of the piles of lumber and materials have been removed from the yard. Mason used a backhoe to take away the big rocks and chunks of cement that were dug up when the foundation went in, and then smoothed the yard and spread grass seed and hay. Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of crows hanging around lately, and I think the grass seed may have been devoured. The backhoe is still sitting in the yard, waiting on the final inspection tomorrow.
The weekend weather forecast was so beautiful that I texted Greg on Friday and asked, “Can we put furniture out on the porch, or do we have to wait until after the inspector leaves?” He replied, “Put it out!” So we did, and I have lived out here every minute that I could. Saturday morning, I told David, “I plan to read and write on the porch as much as I can today,” and when I walked outside a couple of hours later, I saw that he had already set up my laptop, ready and waiting for me. Husband of the year.
We have a long way to go on furnishing the porch, and we have already discovered that we will definitely need blinds, especially when the weather heats up! But the woods behind my house are so peaceful. The peepers are singing, and the barred owls must think it’s spring, since their calls end in long whirr-rr-rrs. And I’ve got a rocking chair, so if you need me, I’ll be on the porch.
Somewhere during the year after my mother passed away and before probate finished watching over her little bit of money, I decided to use my third of the inheritance on something that would have made her deliriously happy: home renovations. My mom loved her house. I can remember living in three of my parents’ houses, the last one for a very short time during college vacations before I got married. Mom went on to build two more houses in rapid succession after my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the second of which she stayed in for almost 20 years.
Every house my parents lived in underwent extensive renovations, usually by my father’s own hands. My sister and I were talking just last week about the resurgence of copper in the kitchen, and we recalled our house in New Jersey, with terra cotta appliances, interior faux brick walls, and copper trim. Oh, yes, it was the ‘70s and colonial times. Mom somehow squeezed 27 eagles into her décor on the first floor alone. My father poured a flagstone patio out back by the pool that led to many a skinned knee when our wet feet slipped on the slick flagstones. Daddy also turned the basement into a prototype Man Cave (he was ahead of his time), with red shag carpeting and black Mediterranean furniture. No one went down there during football games.
The earliest house I remember was in Milledgeville, Georgia, where my mother took such pride in her pink kitchen. In the ‘60s, knotty pine walls and Pepto Bismol pink were all the rage. Mom had a pink stove, pink wall oven, pink sink, and even a pink phone on the wall. In the adjoining family room, she had a pink and black sofa and a black wrought iron table with a pink top and pink ice-cream parlor chairs. You’ve seen the nostalgic ads of housewives wearing starched cotton dresses and heels to mop their floors? That was Mom.
When my sister and I were older, my parents moved to South Carolina, and we both married when they lived in that house. Karen decided that she wanted her reception to be in the back yard. Good thing she had a long engagement, because my father embarked on the patio to end all patios. Working outward from the sunroom he had already added, vast areas of intricate brickwork began to appear, including a dance floor-sized patio, walkways, and brick flower boxes. Daddy loved plants, so he had all kinds of flowers blooming all around the yard. Later, he had a separate garage built, and then turned the old double garage into a study and a bedroom. They never stopped.
In her last house, Mom had to hire contractors to do her renovations, but she never ran out of ideas—or energy. I can remember her in her seventies using a post-hole digger to plant azaleas in the rock-hard clay soil. She fenced the yard, added more and more hardwood floors, and changed her exterior light fixtures even before I knew that brass was “out.” She had her cabinets redone when they yellowed and kept up the wall colors to more fashionable hues regularly. Her weaknesses, though, were magnolias and fat little naked cherubs. The whole house was infested with them, but she never let them go.
When we came to visit, she looked forward to sitting outside on her back deck, especially in the evenings with my brother. He took the opportunity to have Scotch and a cigar, and Mom took the opportunity to stop moving. It was rare for her to sit down, but the cool of the evening and the companionship of quiet talk could convince her to relax.
David and I live in a secluded subdivision out in rural North Carolina. Our yard is full of deer and owls, but we rarely have a chance to enjoy them, because we have no outdoor spaces. The porch on the back of our house has a roof, but only enough space to put three chairs side by side—not the best arrangement for conversation. Inside the house, we only have room for company meals in the dining room. Our kitchen’s eating area is so small and poorly designed that, even with our little table, when someone pulls out the chair behind the table, it hits the air conditioning register, and if someone pulls out the opposite chair, it hits the island counter, and no one can walk through. We would love to have more folks over to eat with us, so we need space!
Last April, we asked several contractors to give us a bid to add a screened porch to our house and to enlarge the eating area of the kitchen. We had hoped to get new kitchen cabinets, as well, but the funds could only go so far. We will be able to put hardwood flooring throughout the downstairs, though, which will be so wonderful, since right we now have developer-cheap hardwood, stained carpet, and worn-out vinyl. It is now early September, and we just started last week! We have had architectural and engineering drawings made, chosen a contractor, and hit some roadblocks, but we’re on our way!
Next time: I’ve learned so much from HGTV, and some of it is wrong!