Margot, Moose and ancestral connections #AtoZChallenge

M is for Margot, Moose and ancestral connections. Thirteenth of 26 posts in the April 2021 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: “Endwell: My Early Teen Years”— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

During my early teens (1963-65), I ended up with a couple of nicknames that followed me through high school.

One was assigned, the other was an embarrassing accident — but both had a ancestral connection I didn’t fully appreciate at the time.

Margot: My French alter ego

My school taught us French from the 4th grade — so by Junior High, I was in a dedicated French immersion class with it’s own teacher.

With my French surname, the language appealed to me — hearkening back to my Quebecois ancestors. And I was even more thrilled when the teacher told us we would have to choose a French first name to use in class to connect us with Francophone culture.

French poodle. Sweeping into Junior High French class as “Margot,” I felt a certain sense of panache — and it helped that my classmates had French names, too. Image: Pixabay

My first name, Molly, was from my paternal Welsh-Irish grandmother (a version Mary). But there were already Mary’s and Maria’s in the class — so one of them got the French name Marie.

After some trial and error I settled on Margot (the French version of Margaret, my Mom’s name) — and I have to say, the teacher had a point.  Sweeping into French class as Margot, I felt a certain sense of panache — and it helped that my classmates had French names, too.

Thus during our French hour, we teens were transported to another world where we were cooler, more sophisticated versions of our Junior High selves.

Dewey see a moose?

Alas, my other teen nickname, Moose, was more unfortunate. By age 13, I was already bigger and taller than many of my classmates — and being associated, even in jest, with a huge, lumbering animal did not help!

Yet there was also an ancestral connection to this embarrassing moniker — the blame falling on my father’s Uncle Dewey Charboneau from Dolgeville, N.Y.

Moose. My other teen nickname, “Moose,” was more unfortunate. By age 13, I was already bigger and taller than many of my classmates — and being associated, even in jest, with a huge, lumbering animal did not help! Image: Pixabay

A gym teacher’s innocent question

One day in Junior High gym class, we had a new instructor — and after our exercise period, she was reviewing the roll and getting to know our names.

When she got to me, she asked, “Are you related to Dewey Charboneau?” Imagine my surprise!

So I replied, “Yes, he’s my dad’s uncle.” It turned out she was from Dolgeville and she knew Uncle Dewey well.

“A really nice man,” she summed up, which is what everyone said about him. And that should have been the end of it.

The locker room ribbing

The problem was, the other teen girls thought the name Dewey was hilarious. Add to that the fact that I’d been the focus of attention in gym class — and the ribbing started as soon as we got into the locker room.

High School hear book message (1968). Lest you think I am making this all up, here is the evidence: A message greeting me as “moose” in my 1968 senior yearbook. Scan by Molly Charboneau.

“Dewey! Dewey! Dewey see a duck? Dewey see a squirrel? Do we see a horse? Dewey see a moose?” they called out — laughing away while I stood there red-faced. Again, that should have been the end of it.

But alas, one of the girls told Frank and Tom — a couple of the boys in my crowd — and they started to call me Moose out loud in the hallway in front of everyone. And they continued to do so, as a private joke, until we parted ways after High School (as evidenced by Frank’s message in my senior yearbook above).

Uncle Dewey forgiven

Eventually, I realized my dad’s Uncle Dewey was innocent of sticking me with the Moose nickname — which I happily left behind when I went off to college.

Me with a portrait of Uncle Dewey Charboneau in his Dolgeville Masons Lodge (2015). When I looked up at his portrait, I had to chuckle. Because the first thing I thought of was, “Dewey see a moose?” — that fateful Junior High mantra from my early teen years. Photo by Amy L. Williamson

Fast forward 50 years, and I was pleased to discover a painting of  Uncle Dewey in his Dolgeville Masons Hall when my sister Amy and I visited during the 2015 Violet Festival.

Yet when I looked up at his portrait, I had to chuckle. Because the first thing I thought of was, “Dewey see a moose?” — that fateful Junior High mantra from my early teen years.

Up next, N is for Norm: My forty-something dad. Please leave a comment, then join me as Endwell: My Early Teen Years unfolds one letter at a time!

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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19 thoughts on “Margot, Moose and ancestral connections #AtoZChallenge”

  1. I just love that your teacher got you to choose french versions of your names. How much fun was that? I always enjoyed hearing the Japanese version of my son’s name Caspar – Cas-u-par – and often call him that today. Nicknames – I didn’t have one at school but I used to get called Chuck at work – kind of after Chuck Connors (Conner was my maiden name) but not because I was any good at baseball or basketball although I was a bit of an actor. I got the name because I threatened to throw up or “chuck up” before the News Bulletin went to air because I was so frightened of stuffing up my calling of the items as a Producer’s Assistant. The name stuck.

  2. I’m a distant cousin of yours, I’m from the Moose River/Old Forge branch of Charbonneaus (I’m Renee). The name Margot is lovely but so is the name Molly!! I love reading about our shared ancestors and I identify with the orange cans for hair rollers, I did the same!!!!

    1. Hey, Renee! I’m delighted to hear that another Charbonneau used orange juice can curlers back in the day — so we were not alone in Endwell. Please stop by again!

  3. In my English class we were not invited to take an English name, the same in Spanish class. I would love to, especially in Spanish my name would have been Federica, much more feminine 😉

    Allez, un cours de français pour tout le monde ! Bonjour, s’il te plaît, merci, au revoir, je suis sure que vous vous souvenez ;))

    Quilting Patchwork & Appliqué

    1. Hmmm, Egg sounds as bad as Moose. Fortunately, it was only those two guys who kept it up — and it eventually did become an inside joke.

  4. I landed on your blog for the first time, Molly. Coming from A to Z master list. Honestly, I struggled understanding most of it except the second half. Thinking of teens times makes me feel nostalgic (happily). Am sure you must be feeling the same 🙂 I have thousands of my teens’ stories, to be told someday.

  5. My Uncle taught French in my High School. My entire focus during those classes was to make sure I didn’t call him Uncle during class and to hide the fact that my French was atrocious. While my parents, grandparents and uncle all spoke French, sadly, it didn’t make it down to my generation. Weekends In Maine

    1. Wow, you have the same issue I had. Our ancestral French was lost in the 1800s — so although I have a French surname, what little I still speak/understand I learned as “Margot” in my Endwell French class.

  6. I was Professor Peter Petition (they were all mangled versions of pop stars we liked!). It was shortened to Pest….

    Great story, thanks 🙂

  7. The nicknames we carried.. . mine was Bubba Ginsu and I have no idea why I got called that. One of my friends had a guinea pig they had named Bubba Ginsu and I somehow got it stuck on me. Oh well, no one calls me it anymore and to be honest I had forgotten all about it until I read your post. I had three years of French in high school and Madame was one of those Quebec speaking French teachers and she would not let anyone speak English in the room or we would be asked to leave “veuillez utiliser la porte”. Funny I don’t remember any of my French…. I guess I had to use the door too often. Any hoot just wanted to pop in and say hello.

    1. Our French class was also immersion, where we only spoke French in class. My speaking would need a brush-up to stay current — but that French training has proven invaluable for looking at Francophone Quebec records of my ancestors.

  8. I tried French in grammar school but it didn’t last long. I like the name Margot though and I can just picture you sauntering into the classroom. Kids can be so mean sometimes with the things they say.

    1. Yes, Junior High/Middle School often seemed like a non-stop hazing process, but having made it through it now provides fuel for memoir!

  9. Awww, it must be just a tough to be taller than anyone as to what I experienced: always being the dwarf of the group.

    I like the approach of assuming French names for French class. Our English teacher let us pick a different – even totally unrelated – name, too. I kept mine, but many of my Italian friends (Giuseppina, Sandra,… ) all of a sudden listened to Shirley or Liz. It was always fun, and I agree, by doing so you assume a new persona of sorts.

    1. Yes, height was an issue in my early teens when boys my age were generally shorter. Fortunately, that remedied itself in High School. Fun to read that you got to choose French names/personas as well!

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