Tag Archives: Dewey Charboneau

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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Uncle Albert and the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918

Sepia Saturday 523. First in a new series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

As we collectively live through the global Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, there is new interest in the last similar worldwide outbreak of a deadly respiratory disease – the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Surprisingly, news commentators and others generally say they knew little about the 1918 pandemic before now.

Yet I learned about that outbreak years ago because it claimed a collateral family member in the prime of his life – my paternal grandfather’s brother, Albert Barney Charboneau.

And it all started with a family photo.

The Charboneau brothers (circa 1910). From left, my paternal grandfather William Ray (b. 1888) and his brothers Albert Barney (b. 1885), George Dewey (b. 1899) and Orville Nile (b. 1892). The photo was taken at the John Mutchler Jr. Art Studio in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Charboneau brothers photo

When my parents retired and downsized to a new house, my dad hung the studio photograph shown above of my grandfather William Ray Charboneau and his brothers — Albert, Dewey and Orville. During a visit, I noticed the photo and asked Dad about his uncles. That’s when I first heard about Uncle Albert.

“Albert died in the 1918 flu pandemic,” Dad said, shaking his head. “Really a shame. I always thought he was the handsomest of the four brothers.” Sadly, Dad had to base his assessment on photographs because Albert died six years before my father was born.

The story of Albert’s untimely death stayed with me, and when I began doing regular genealogy research in the 1990s I asked Dad if he knew more. Alas, he did not.

“Well, it makes sense that the family wouldn’t talk about it,” I observed. “It must have been such a shock.”

“Oh, the family talked about Albert and what happened to him all the time,” Dad said. “I just can’t remember anything specific.”

A three-generation tale

So here was a 1918 pandemic story passed down through three generations of my family — from my grandparents to Dad to me. Yet the details remained elusive — and that got me wondering.

Why did Albert die and while other family members lived – including his wife? Who else got the flu in his area? What more could I learn about the deadly virus that claimed Albert and millions more?

In 1918, all four Charboneau brothers lived in the small Mohawk Valley town of Dolgeville in Herkimer Co., N.Y. — located northeast of Utica, the closest city. So how did the deadly influenza that was sweeping the globe arrive in this relatively sparsely populated area?

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017668638/
Infection control in Seattle, Wash., circa 1918, where passengers were not permitted to ride on street cars without wearing a mask. How did the deadly influenza then sweeping the globe arrive in sparsely populated Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., and claim the life of my dad’s Uncle Albert? Photo: Library of Congress

Time to tell Albert’s story

Over the years as I researched my family, I began gathering information about the 1918 influenza pandemic – books, news clips, whatever I could find – with the idea that one day, when the time seemed right, I would tell Uncle Albert’s story.

I never imagined that the right time would arrive this year — more than 100 years after the 1918 outbreak — as humanity grapples with a new, global coronavirus pandemic.

Suddenly the unimaginable 1918 infection control measures I read about – homemade masks, venues and schools closed, no large gatherings, social distancing – have become part of our everyday lives.  The significance of Albert’s death to those who loved him has also become all too real — with so many now losing loved ones to Covid-19.

Beyond the statistics

Today, daily briefings sum up the coronavirus toll and our progress in stopping its spread. Yet so many personal stories of individuals, their families and their communities are hidden in the numbers.

In her book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, author Gina Kolata speaks to this phenomenon:

One way to tell the story of the 1918 flu is through facts and figures, a collection of data whose impact is numbing and whose magnitude is almost inconceivable….But the raw numbers cannot convey the scenes of horror and misery that swept the world in 1918, which became part of everyday life in every nation, in the largest cities and the remotest hamlets.

In this new blog series, I hope to rescue Uncle Albert from the statistical realm by placing him in the context of his family and community and telling what I have discovered about his life — cut short in its prime by the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Up next, First born son: Albert Barney Charboneau. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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