Tag Archives: Frederic Mason Charboneau

A holiday gift: My grandmother’s voice

My parents named me after my paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau, whose nickname was “Molly.” A large Welsh-Irish woman from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md., she stood over six feet tall — as did her many sisters.

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My Welsh-Irish paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau in the early years of her marriage (circa 1910). I met her in the 1950s when I was a toddler, but did not get to know her until I inherited her diary. Scan by: Molly Charboneau

According to my dad, she met my grandfather, William Raymond Charboneau — who went by “Ray” — while she was working as a nanny for a Baltimore family that spent summers in the Adirondacks.

In those days before supermarkets, my grandfather delivered groceries to their house. My grandmother answered the door — and before you know it she had turned her back on the hot, teeming city for the handsome young man from Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y.

My dad’s recollections

I met Grandma Charboneau when I was a toddler — and still retain a vague image of her towering figure descending the central staircase during a visit to our farm in Albany County, N.Y. To my great regret,  she died when I was just 4, so I never really go to know her except through my dad’s sporadic recollections.

“My mother used to say if she could operate a sewing machine, she ought to be able to drive a car,” Dad would declare out of the blue — a prelude to a tale about her frustration that she never did get behind the wheel.

I could sense her presence in these fleeting anecdotes — animated by my dad’s sense of humor, which he picked up from her. (How I wish I had jotted some of those anecdotes down!) But it was not until I inherited her diary that I first heard my paternal grandmother’s voice.

Grandma Charboneau’s diary

In 1933,  Grandma Charboneau received a leather-covered Five-Year Diary — complete with a lock and key — as a holiday gift from her middle son. “Hubert gave me this diary for Xmas. Wet & cold today,” she wrote on 1 January 1934.

Family photo of the Ray and Molly (Owen) Charboneau Christmas tree, in the cottage at Otter Lake, Oneida, N.Y. (1942). Scan: Molly Charboneau
December 1942: Christmas tree in the cottage of Ray and Mary Charboneau in Otter Lake, Oneida Co., N.Y. My grandparents and their sons lived in this small, lakeside cottage when the Otter Lake Hotel they owned and operated was closed for the winter. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

Dad told me Grandma C. was a great storyteller. But like most diarists just starting out, she seemed unsure what to put down when faced with the blank page.

So her early entries pretty much catalog the weather — and some bitter cold weather it was up there in New York’s North Country.

But by the time the 1934 holiday season rolled around, my grandmother, 45, had warmed to the task of expressing herself and reflecting in small snippets on her life and her family members who still lived at home — my Uncles Hube, 19, and Fred, 16; my dad Norman, 9; and my grandfather Ray, 46.

Dec. 22, 1934:  Married 24 years today. Time flies, but we have lots to be thankful for.

Dec. 24, 1934:  Went to midnight mass at Forestport. Then to Desjardins. Had a nice party. Home at 4:30 am. Trimmed the tree before we left. [Her oldest son, my Uncle Owen, was married to Aline “Gig” Desjardins.]

Dec 25, 1934: Didn’t get much sleep. Boys were up at 5:30 am. Had a lovely Christmas. Was well remembered. Chair & clock from R & boys.

Dec. 26, 1934: Can’t hardly get around the place. Christmas tree and presents all over the place. Boys have their toys everywhere.

I particularly love that last entry because I can almost see Grandma Charboneau standing there — hands on her hips — surveying the post-holiday wreckage in the small, lakeside cabin where the family  lived when the Otter Lake Hotel they owned and operated was closed for the winter. And her expression “well remembered” to describe pleasure with her Christmas gifts seemed to hint at her heritage.

My grandmother closed out the old year with one last entry:

Dec. 31, 1934: Fred, Hubert, Norman, Ray and myself had a little New Year’s party. Toasted the New Year with a glass of wine and heard it on [the] radio.

So let’s raise a glass and join them! Happy Holidays to you and yours from Molly’s Canopy — and best wishes for the New Year!

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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First Blogiversary: A one-gun salute

Today is the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy — the family history blog that I launched on 24 April 2014 to begin sharing the stories of my ancestors and the roads I traveled to find them.

August 2014: Union artillery reenactors. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of Molly's Canopy -- 24 April 2015. Photo: Molly Charboneau
August 2014: Union artillery reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of my family history blog Molly’s Canopy. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In weekly posts for the past year, I have primarily chronicled the Civil War experience of my paternal great, great, grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery.

So it seems fitting to celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy with a one-gun salute by Union artillery reenactors.

This blog came to life amid the boom of cannon at my first Civil War reenactment — the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Saunders Field where my ancestor fought.

And out of that illuminating cloud of gun smoke marched ancestors who have waited patiently for years in my research files — advancing, at last, to tell their stories.

First came my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull who — despite war-related illness — was on duty for key battles of the U.S. Civil War during the 1864 Overland and Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

Soon, others joined him. Arthur’s wife, my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, their children and extended family. His 6th N.Y.H.A. commanding officer Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching and fellow artillerists Capt. John Gedney, Sgt. William Thistleton and Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds — whose writings helped animate Arthur’s wartime experience.

Then my late dad Norm Charboneau, a WWII Navy veteran, who traveled with me on many genealogy research trips and helped me discover Arthur’s story — along with numerous valuable clues about our other mutual ancestors.

Next was my Uncle Fred, dad’s youngest brother, whose letters home from his WW II Army assignment give insights into their family life — and Aunt Gig who gave his letters to Dad.

And most recently, my paternal Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and family during their years in Civil War Baltimore, Md.

For the past year this blog has taken me on an incredible, almost magical, journey back through time — as I connected my ancestors to the places and circumstances in which they lived,  the great historic events that shaped their lives, and their unique position in the evolution of my family.

Writing my ancestors’ stories also reconnected me in ways I would not have imagined with my decades of genealogy research. The process helped me identify and evaluate unexamined details in my family history files — and pointed me toward new avenues of research and discovery.

Today, as I celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy and the beloved ancestors who made it possible, I am so grateful that I went looking  for them all those years ago. They have taught me a lot during the past year — and the journey is far from over.

Tomorrow begins year two, during which new ancestors will make themselves known. My heartfelt thanks to readers of Molly’s Canopy who have hung in with me this past year. And a warm welcome to new readers — I hope you will subscribe and join me on the journey.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Uncle Fred’s letters

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.

Family photo circa 1946 of Frederic Mason Charboneau, 28, in his U.S. Army uniform. Scan by Molly Charboneau
Family photo circa 1946 of Frederic Mason Charboneau, 28, in his U.S. Army uniform. Scan by Molly Charboneau

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.

 

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