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THE LAVIGNE LETTERS
Memories from my childhood are a partial blur filled with laughter and tears, scents and sounds, and poignant moments that have some how wrapped themselves together into a foggy place in my mind called "childhood memories". However, in that long ago past, my Dad's presence weaves itself around every memory for as long as I can remember, memories of him that are mixed with the smell of pipe tobacco, cigars, Wriggly chewing gum and voices of French speaking relatives I hardly knew. My Dad was tall and thin, his brown hair was always cut short and he was very neat about his appearance. I thought he was handsome and I was proud to be his daughter. All the bits and pieces from the scenes of my childhood have him in it. Orange popsicles, dime store sundaes, baseball games, flower gardens, tomato plants, church, and stories of World War II, all recall memories of him.
My father and mother met a couple of years after World War II at the Five and Dime store where my mother worked as the manager of the lunch counter, they married in November of 1948. They had 5 children, I was the first born and eighteen months after my birth, the "golden boy" came into the world; his blond curls, sparking blue eyes and magnetic smile flashes through the foggy pages of my memories. David was born a few years later in the shadow of the "golden boy". Ruth, my only sister, was born when I was 8 years old and Mark, the youngest, who also was my mother's "surprise package", was born 3 years after Ruth.
My Dad's mother was a diabetic and died when he was only thirteen years old. Dad's father died when I was about 8 years old and I can still remember him a little, my Dad would take me to visit his father and his sister, Claudia, when they lived on Franklin Street. I remember that my grandfather smelled of cigars and spoke in French. Dad was the youngest of 8, he had 4 brothers and 4 sisters, Woodrow, Lionel "Ginger", Ralph, Julien, Sophie (who died not long after she was born), Nellie, Yolande and Claudia. However, it is Claudia, his older sister, of whom I remember the most. Claudia was like a second mother to my dad, she never married although it was rumored that she once had a boyfriend who had died. Claudia was a woman of short stature, plain looking and very neat, she always wore an apron. Claudia spoke with a slight French accent. She was very religious, a Catholic, and she was my godmother. Claudia used to take me for long walks through St. John's Cemetery and it wasn't until years later that I realized she liked to go there because it was where her mother and father were buried. Claudia was present in our lives for almost every holiday including Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving as well as many other family events throughout the years.
My Dad dropped out of school after the 8th grade, a decision he regretted later in life; to compensate for his lack of education, when we were growing up, he bought a set of encyclopedias for "his children" which he read from A to Z over and over again. He would also read the entire newspaper, page by page, there was not an article in the paper he would miss, he would even do the crossword puzzles each day! There wasn't a subject you could talk to him about that he did not have some knowledge of.
When we were young, my father would take us to church every Sunday, rain or shine while our mother would stay home and fix the Sunday dinner. In those days we did not have a car, so we walked every where and church was no exception. St. John's church was 2 miles from our home and sometimes the walk to church seemed to take forever especially when it was raining or snowing! The church was a huge, massive, stone structure with many stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ and paintings on the ceilings that rival the work of Michael Angelo. In the 1950's mass was said in French and Latin, so I never really understood what it was all about. After church services, Dad would take us to Day's Variety store where he would buy the Sunday paper and give us each a nickel to buy candy to eat on the long walk home.
Our childhood raced by in a whirlwind of activity, school days, summer vacations, holidays and 4th of July picnics. We'd spend summer evenings catching fireflies in glass jars and long summer days picking blueberries and selling them by the side of the road. When the weather was nice, Dad would play baseball with us in the backyard. And many summer evenings our family would take the short cut through the mosquito infested woods behind our house to Edward's Field to watch the "Golden Boy" play little league baseball. On Father's day and the Fourth of July, we'd often enjoy family picnics in the woods next to our house. In the fall, sometimes, our parents would take us to the Topsham Fair. And on Christmas Eve, our mother would stay up all night baking pies and cookies, cleaning and wrapping gifts.
The carefree days of our childhood faded all too quickly and one by one the five of us, like butterflies emerging from their cocoons, grew up and "flew" away. I was the first to leave home, I moved to Virginia with my husband where we raised our two daughters. The "Golden Boy" went on to college and later became a teacher, married and had two children. And David, Ruth and Mark one by one, left home, got married, and raised their own families. After many years in a small, one bathroom house full of noisy, demanding children and rebellious teenagers, my parents finally enjoyed the tranquility of an empty nest.
The years began to pass by quickly and during that time when we were all busy raising our own children, my mother found out that she was diabetic. Her health slowly declined over the next decade and one day, after 47 years of marriage, our mother passed away. I can not even begin to explain the grief and numbness I felt losing my mother. On that day a dark cloud of sadness encompassed our lives and it felt like it would never go away. I worried about my father, he was so full of grief and sorrow, I was afraid he would die too. But fortunately the human spirit has a way of coping, and couple of years later my dad remarried. However, sadly, his happiness was short lived, 4 years later, Claudia died and the following year his second wife, Pat, died and as if that was not enough, six months later the "Golden Boy" died and life would never be the same again for my father and the rest of us. It was during this time of sorrow that Dad sent the "treasure" to me, a priceless treasure that was packaged in a simple brown cardboard box. It had been removed from Claudia's apartment after her death. A treasure that Claudia had safely keep for over 60 years and was now old, frail and musty smelling. The "treasure" were the letters, the "Lavigne Letters";
Germany, June 6, 1945
Today is June the 6th, a dreadful reminder of what I went through on this day a year ago. I landed on D Day at 8 in the morning, and I never was so scared in all my life................