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The Frigging Frigons...


I am a very fortunate guy when it comes to grandparents.  For most of us, our grandparents mean the world to us, but unfortunately, many people don't get to know some or all of their grandparents. Distance, family squabbles, old age with its related results and other impediments to the grandparent - grandchild relationship affect a good number of grandchildren.

I was fortunate that I got to know all four of my grandparents. In regards to my grandmothers, I had their love and companionship well into adulthood and with my paternal grandmother, I had her in my life into my forties. Sadly they're all gone now and I've missed them everyday since they were taken away.

In a previous story I wrote about grandma Eveline and some of her colourful life - and her baked beans. Oh those baked beans! I now want to introduce you to my maternal grandmother - Violetta - a very strong willed woman, devout Catholic, and cookie maker extraordinaire. We all called her "Mémére", pronounced may-may by us Anglo-tongued children,  proper French grammar would say to use Grand-Mère but we all used the familiar Mémére address when speaking to her.

More than anything in life, possibly even more than her family, she loved the Les Canadiens de Montréal, or the Montreal Canadiens for you anglophones. Les Habitants or The Habs were not just a hockey team for her, they were a religion, equal to Mother Church, and to demean, criticize or impugn her beloved Habs would unleash a fury that had no equal. A rabid fan. Her love for the Canadiens was stronger than a British football fan's love of their team and silly game. Rabid...

When I grew up and began to travel for work I would often have the opportunity to visit with Mémére and when I called on her I would bring her a rose or a bouquet of them; depending on my cash flow at the time.  One time I called to tell her I was coming by and she informed me she was going to be leaving later the next day so she suggested I not bring her any roses. Not possible...

When I dropped by for the quick visit I gave her a gold plated rose broach and attached it to her jacket. She thanked me with a huge hug and a kiss and of course, a bag of cookies. She wore that rose on her coat very often and I received it back when she died. It is now worn by Susan from time to time and it still means a lot to me when I see it.

Mémére as you probably gathered by now was French - French Canadian, which by the way is the best kind of French to be.  Her husband Pierre whom we called Pépére or pay-pay (Anglo-tongue again), was a tall distinguished man who sported a mane of thick white hair. He spoke with a slight French accent and smoked like a chimney, both of them did in fact. 

Smoking in those days was socially acceptable and practiced in a majority of households, and cars, and planes, and trains, and restaurants, at the table, under the table, doctors offices, hospitals and just about anywhere else you can think of; their home was no different. I am glad the infatuation with smoking is going away in this world...

Pépére was a carpenter by trade and could make anything out of wood and he passed that ability on to many of his sons. He also left stories (questionably truthful) behind for us about his hero Chief Sitting Bull, the Indian blood running through his own veins, his forefathers fighting General Custer and his admonishments to us little kids that we should never, ever, never, ever eat the hole in a doughnut, because if we did we would get a hole in our stomach and everything would fall out. For many years I would leave a ring of dough around a doughnut hole when I ate one; he was a great storyteller...

Mémére was a great cook and among her offerings, cookies were my favourite. She was and still is in my mind, the best cookie cooker on the planet, then, now and in the future. No one will ever surpass her ability to make the cookies that have supplied mouth watering memories to legions of people for nearly 100 years. No one. Don't argue.

They were married on February 14, 1922 and together Mémére and Pépére produced eighteen children. Yup 18. Think about that for a moment! EIGHTEEN children!!! Given that bit of information you can come to the conclusion that they did more than just bake cookies and build houses. A lot more...

The eighteen children were split evenly - nine boys and nine girls. The age difference between the oldest and the youngest was about 24 years. They had produced two baseball teams! An even split! Boys and girls! Pépére must have had a good toe hold or lousy rhythm, or both...

I didn't know all of my aunts and uncles as a few passed away before I was born, or when I was quite young. Some had moved away from the city due to work, military service or love and I only knew them slightly, meeting them at weddings, funerals and the Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration in 1972. Pépére passed away in 1972 a few months after that Golden Wedding celebration and Mémére passed in 1982, and seldom a day goes by I don't think of her.

Regardless of distance or time, Mémére and Pépére, the aunties and uncles, all showered affection on us young'uns when we got together as a clan, albeit a very large clan, like we had not been apart. We moved away when I was eight as well, so we seldom got together as a full group after that time, but when we did, it was glorious.

There were a few rivalries in the family, usually involving spouses of the Frigon children which unfortunately prevented mass gatherings from occurring unless there was a casket involved, but even then, there was often an empty chair or two in the crowd. Those were disappointing to see for many, but no different than what happens in any other family on the planet, most likely your family has a bit of dysfunction too...

Of the eighteen children, seventeen lived to adulthood and many of them had children of their own. Now, without an organizational chart I can't name or even tell you how many cousins I have or had exactly, but I think it was around 40. I think... I don't know many of my cousins well due to situations mentioned above which is a sad commentary on something or other I am sure, and sadly, some of them passed away at far too young an age. 

We all have our favourite relatives; be they aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, outlaws or weird cousin It. In my world the aunties were, and are still, goddesses to me. Not that the uncles weren't loved or idolized either, but the aunties were the ones I would have done anything within the confines of the law for, however I would have killed for Auntie Trudy, or Auntie Terry, or Auntie Lorrie, or Auntie Margo, or Auntie Rosann or even Auntie Flo (Little Flo), as well as Auntie Gloria, Auntie Jeanne (my Godmother), Auntie Flo (Big Flo) and Auntie Janette - the in-law aunties, but it never did come to that. 

Then there's the one and only, incomparable, incredibly talented and beautiful Gypsy Rose Lee; my auntie on my mother's, sister's, second cousin's, brother's, mother-in-law's, adopted sister's, half brother's barber's side. She is a doll and I love her more than life itself.  I would do time for her. Not too much time and definitely not hard time, but time none the less...

My love for these women is in no small part due to the fact they reminded me of Mémére, as they all shared many of the common traits that Mémére exampled, my mom among them too. Kindness, affection, generous with love and laughter, cooking and baking skills unmatched anywhere, and a love for card games unrivaled in the western world, are just a few of those shared traits; these fine aunties will be with me to the end of my days.

BUT! While I love all those wonderful and lovely ladies to death and they did pick up most of Mémére's traits, I am saddened to say that none of them, not one, learned how to make Mémére's cookies. A sad truth that has left a void in my being since 1982. Sniff....

A few of them tried and I will say, they came close, right down to the maraschino cherry on the oatmeal cookie, but close is only good enough in horseshoes or hand grenades, not Mémére's cookies!

Aunty Margo was the oldest daughter who took on the matriarchal duties when Mémére wasn't close at hand, and it was in the wonderful home she shared with Uncle Art and their three sons, Brian, Greg and Tom that some of my best remembered and best loved family gatherings took place. During special times Mémére was often in attendance and when she was, cookies were going to be on the table. My mouth waters as I type...

A meal was not just a meal when we gathered, maybe a little beer, brandy or other libation of your desire was served to the adults along with juice for the kids throughout the gathering, but the stars of the show for me were the cookies! Mémére's cookies.

Before and after the meal we played card games - rousing games of '31' or the 'go for the throat and peg your opponents missed points cribbage games' or BINGO. My oh my did we play bingo too. Ate cookies as we played! A win/win!!!

Being a Catholic family I guess it was a genetic disposition that compelled us to play bingo and we would win prizes at those bingo games too. It was a great distraction, while the dozens of us rugrats were concentrating on our bingo cards at those same gatherings it let the adults engage in visiting with each other, in French. I'll bet the Pope plays bingo too, and if not, no doubt he's called a game or two in his career...

An old family story has me telling someone, or rather complaining to someone, my mom maybe, that the cookie that I was eating was not the same as the one Mémére made. When told that it is the same cookie using the same recipe exactly, I told the baker that it was not! Close but not exact!

When pressed by the baker to tell her what the difference was between Mémére's cookies and her cookies I told her, "Love!". "Mémére makes her cookies with love!"

Now when cookies are made in a home they are all made with love, or arsenic if the baker is trying to hurry up a reading of a will, so the secret ingredient to Mémére's cookies couldn't be just love, could it? Well maybe a Mémére's love is unlike any other kind of love and when added to cookies, it makes them unparalleled when compared to cookies made by other mere mortals or non-Mémére's. Let's go with that...

Of the many events in my life, if I could relive again with those I have loved and lost to time, the time with Mémére celebrating life at Auntie Margo and Uncle Art's home with the rest of our family would be at the top of my list, or a mass family gathering at Mémére and Pépére's home in Edmonton - living room and dining rooms lined with tables, laden with food would be another dream come true, but Mémére would have to make cookies if she showed up and I know she would, goes without saying...


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