I have no memory of meeting my Uncle Fred — Frederic Mason Charboneau — who was born on 3 March 1918. Yet I found myself thinking about him this holiday season.
He was the youngest of my dad’s four older brothers and died after an illness on 12 Dec. 1952 when I was just a toddler.
Growing up, I remember hearing that Uncle Fred was a U.S. Army veteran who received a Purple Heart for an injury during WW II. He married Jean Bastow, but they had no children.
That was about it — until 1992 when Dad and I began exploring our roots together and went on a two-day genealogy trip to Otter Lake, Dad’s hometown, in Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.
We stayed overnight with my Aunt Aline who still lived in the area. She was French-Canadian and the widow of my dad’s oldest brother Owen Albert Charboneau. We all called her “Gig.”
After wise-cracking around her kitchen table over a Pitch card game — which Aunt Gig won as usual — we got talking about family history. Aline and Dad shared stories about their youth in Otter Lake and fondly reminisced about our mutual ancestors.
Something about that visit must have touched them both — because the next time Dad went to see Aunt Gig, she gave him a cardboard box containing a treasure trove of family photos and documents.
Among the items in the box was a stack of Uncle Fred’s letters — written to his mother (my grandmother) during the war — along with some photos of him and his obituary.
When I read his letters for the first time I was struck by two things. Uncle Fred’s handwriting was amazingly like my dad’s. And much of his writing was not about the war but about family events back home.
Somewhere in England, October 21, 1942: Dear Mom, …You should be getting my allotment some time the first of next month, which will be $40.00 per month so I should have a nice bank account by the time I get out of the Army. By the way I want you to take some of this money and buy everyone a Christmas present. Even if I can’t be there, I want to keep up the family tradition of everyone exchanging presents. I will collect mine at some future date….Your loving son, Fred
In the spirit of the holiday season, I take a moment today to remember Uncle Fred and to express my gratitude for his letters from the front — which are helping me better understand the life of my dad’s family of origin.
I will share more about Uncle Fred, along with excerpts from his letters, in future posts.
© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.