2005: Aunt Gig’s Charboneau family memories

Sepia Saturday 643. Eleventh in a series about family history discoveries in the 1950 U.S. census.

Aline (DesJardins) Charboneau – the wife of my dad’s oldest brother, Owen – was a card shark. Her signature game was Pitch, a popular upstate New York card game.

My entire family plays Pitch, either one-on-one or with partners. But nobody could keep up with Aunt Gig, who advocated the daring move of bidding two (out of four) on a bare ace with no point cards to back it up.

Aunt Gig and me in 2003 at a Memorial Day picnic in my parents’ back yard. Photo by Amy L. WIlliamson

Finding Aunt Gig and Uncle Owen in the 1950 US census reminded me of the last time I saw her. She was 92 when my parents and I paid a visit to her Rome, N.Y., nursing home in 2005.

As Aunt Gig and my folks chatted, she revealed snippets of her life with Uncle Owen before they lived above the Charboneau Brothers General Store in Holland Patent, N.Y.

“A three-bedroom, cozy house”

For a while, possibly in the late 1930s, they lived in a house my paternal grandparents owned at 5 Redfield Ave., Whitesboro, N.Y., near Utica – a home where Owen lived as a child. Aunt Gig said she grew petunias in pots on the steps, and she recalled their life in her distinct French-Canadian accent.

2015: The house in Whitesboro, N.Y., where Aunt Gig and Uncle Owen lived in the late 1930s. It’s now undergoing renovation. Photo by Molly Charboneau

“I loved that house,” Gig said. “It was a three-bedroom, cozy house. Real easy to take care of. But the train would go by and just cover the flowers. In the morning, when you came downstairs, you’d hear under your feet the gritty sound from the train dust that had seeped in under the doors the night before. But even still, I loved that house. Hubert and Doris lived there with us for a while.” Hubert Charboneau was another of Dad’s four brothers.

“Twenty cents worth of entertainment”

Aunt Gig also loved the convenience. “Our house was so close to the city,” she said. “For a 10-cent bus ride, you could go downtown and do all the stores and come back. That’s 20 cents worth of entertainment. I worked at Wynn’s Bakery. I didn’t make much money to spend in those days, but you were lucky to have a job.”

According to Aunt Gig, when she lived near Utica, “For a 10-cent bus ride, you could go downtown and do all the stores and come back. That’s 20 cents worth of entertainment.” Photo: Around Town Utica, NY

Sure enough, the 1940 US census[1]FamilySearch requires a free account to view records. shows Uncle Owen working at a Utica bakery, which may be where Aunt Gig worked, too, though the census doesn’t say it.

“We could dance to just about anything”

I knew Aunt Gig and Uncle Owen growing up, but by then they were already settled into a middle-age. Hard to imagine they were once young, too — and even went swing dancing at halls in Otter Lake, N.Y., and Ontario, Canada!

Lakeside Lodge, which served as a lodge, gas station, restaurant, bar, and dance hall. Circa 1930s-1950s. My Aunt Gig and Uncle Owen used to dance in Otter Lake, N.Y., at a dance hall much like this one — until heavy snow caved in its roof. Photo: Town of Long Lake Archives /www.northcountryartwork.org

“Do you remember the dance hall?” Aunt Gig asked my dad. “Oh, we used to love to dance there. We were such good dancers, we could dance to just about anything. We had relatives in Ottawa, too: my mother’s sister. We also went to Hull [in Ontario] on Saturday nights to dance; there was no dancing in Ottawa on Sundays. We used to go up and down all the time.”

The lesson here: never assume you know about your older relatives until you ask them about their lives!

During the long, meandering conversation, Aunt Gig – who also used to rise at dawn to play tennis – discussed other family members, too. There will be more about her recollections in the next post.

Up next, Aunt Gig’s memories of Charboneau family Sunday dinners. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

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1 FamilySearch requires a free account to view records.

6 thoughts on “2005: Aunt Gig’s Charboneau family memories”

  1. Molly, this comment isn’t about this post but, rather, your 2021 A to Z series on growing up in Endwell, NY (because comments are closed). I live in the Triple Cities. You may already know this but the IBM Country Club is going to be torn down in the next few weeks. Broome County, etal is working to put together a “Get a Brick” day for people seeking to keep a piece of the historic Crocker Homestead. Just FYI.

  2. Another great story, Molly, that really introduces us to your Aunt Gig’s personality. I enjoyed her memories of the dance halls as my collection includes a number pictures of dance bands that would have played at small town venues . On a recent trip last month driving through small towns in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky I started to spot the few social halls that remain, like the Odd Fellows or Elks lodges. Some looked like they might offer a bit of occasional entertainment even if its just bingo, but the days when people danced to live music are sadly long gone.

    1. We still have dancing to live music here in NYC, which is making a comeback since the start of the Covid pandemic. But I agree, this was a much more prominent means of socializing years ago.

  3. “never assume you know about your older relatives until you ask them about their lives” – So true. And yet one rarely thinks about it until it’s too late! (I guess it has something to do with having difficulties to grasp the whole span of life until one has lived a fair number of decades oneself…)

    1. Agree! I did not interview my grandparents, which I regret. So I have tried to make up for the omission by interviewing other older relatives and even family friends to gain insights on my ancestors.

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