Much of the anecdotal details that follow are from the memoirs of his older sister Flore, noted in the previous chapter and from the recollections of family members and details gleaned from photo albums.
Roger Joseph Landry was born on 1923 in St. Valentin, Canada. He married Rita Lapierre and had four children: Ronald, Regena (alias Tina), Robert and myself Randy. Details of my father’s history are sporadic at best. Unfortunately my mother, father and my two older brothers have passed away as have all of my father’s siblings. It is too bad that I did not start writing these books earlier in life when more of my father’s family were still living. The insight they could have provided would have been invaluable. My father died too young at the age of 47 in 1970. He died doing what he loved to do, playing cards with his friends and family. He spent the last 12 years of his life in and out of the hospital due to a bad heart and even worse genes. If he had been born today, he might have lived to a much older age. He was a carpenter by trade and worked at the American Can Company until he had to go out on disability. When he was younger, he worked with three of his brothers building wooden bridges and barns and anything else that needed to be worked on, as long as it was made from wood. Uncle Oliva was the foreman and the namesake of their company, “Oliva’s Construction Company.” They did not have power tools back then, everything was made using wooden pegs and joined together with mortise and tenon joints. Nails were square and not round and did not split the wood, like the round nails tend to do. Yes, my father was a master carpenter and he was proud of it. My father , uncle Danny and Uncle Gerry all bought small travel trailers and traveled all across New York state doing odd jobs until they were able to find stable and permanent jobs. Jobs that would allow them to support families.
Since the memoirs referenced and written by my Aunt Flore were based mainly on her life, the details on my father are somewhat slim. However, the details it did provide were very helpful in painting a picture of my father’s formative years. My father was raised during the Great Depression, and life was very difficult not only for the Landry family but for a large number of people living in North America as well. As I stated in the previous chapter, several of his older brothers and sisters were able to pick up odd jobs to help provide for their large family. My father, however, was way too young to go to work at this time. It did not however, prevent him from working around the house. In one particular instance when he was just six years old while chopping fire wood, his older sister Flore got too close to him and his ax cut through her sneaker and hit her ankle. There was no money to take her to see a doctor, so they had to do the best they could with what was available.
In 1930, the family moved to Coopersville, NY, where my father was able to attend Chazy Central Rural School, which provided a well-balanced education for him and his siblings while they resided there. In large families, mishaps will happen, especially when so much of their young lives were spent in unsupervised activities outdoors. My father was a typical youngster and not to be left out, he had to have his share of injuries as well. On one occasion, my father while climbing a tall tree, fell to the ground when the top of it broke off. He was still holding the broken top when he landed rather badly on the ground. His two younger brothers Fernand and Gerard helped him walk the two miles back to their house. Upon reaching home, their father Adei, took my father to the doctor’s office to fix his evidently broken collar bone.
As is typical in all families, there is a lot of teasing and tricks played on each other, especially between brothers and sisters. My father was no different than my future siblings were. Since Flore was the closest sister in age to my father, being just one year older than him, she received the brunt of his antics. Well, my young aunt was never one to be meek about getting even with her younger brother, she on one occasion played a particularly dirty trick on him. She told him to lay down under the kitchen table where he was promised a big surprise. Once he was in position, she took a penny and put it on top of their hot stove, and when it was good and ready she picked it up with a pair of her father’s pliers and dropped it on my father’s bare stomach. Well, of course, my father let out a wail and jumped up and ran to their mother, where she soon found out all about the dastardly deed. Flore, of course, was banished to her room for the rest of the day. She was unable to deny her actions because the evidence was all too visible.
1934 was the last Christmas that the Landry family celebrated in Coopersville. On the day before Christmas, Father Adei, Flore, Dora, Alida and Fernand and my father went out in the woods near their house to look for a tree. It was an afternoon to remember, there was snow on the ground and the air was cold and crisp with a nice bite to it. There were young animals scampering about. There was an excitement and anticipation in the air when they finally came to just the perfect spot, with possible prospects everywhere. There was a stream close by that was frozen over, which provided endless fun for the younger children to jump up and down on the ice so it would make scary noises when it cracked. All the boys took a few whacks with an ax on the future Christmas tree, just to say that they participated. The wood chips flew everywhere when finally the tree toppled over. The tree was quickly loaded onto a sleigh and was joyfully towed back to the house. A tree stand was made by their father. The next day which was Christmas Eve, the tree was decorated with home-made paper decorations and strings of popcorn and cookies completed the gloriously decorated tree. A nativity scene replete with farm animals, Mary, Joseph and a baby Jesus, shepherds and the three wise men was placed at the base of the tree. The ambience was made complete with the sweet smell of pine and the wood smoke emanating from the pot belly stove. Violin music was provided by Adei, the patriarch and was accompanied by eager and youthful voices singing Christmas songs. Finally the children including my future wide-eyed father finally trundled off to bed, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Christmas day was joyful but austere, due to the fact that they were saving every spare penny for a down payment on their own farm.
In 1935, the Landry family made their final move onto a 100-acre dairy farm in Champlain, New York. At this time, Marie, Alida, Flore, Dora, Fernand, Gerard and my father Roger were still living at home. The house was primitive at best and needed a lot of work. The walls of the house needed to be plastered, wall papered and painted. The kitchen was too small for everyone to eat at one time, so that would have to be rectified as well. The water was pumped by hand. The bathroom was outside in an outhouse. Old catalogs were used for toilet paper. There was no tub to bathe in. The farm house was bordered by two porches.
Flore, Dora, Fernand, Gerard and my father Roger were subsequently enrolled at St Mary’s Convent in Champlain, NY where my father was able to complete his schooling up to the eight grade. He was unable to complete his high school education because the needs of the family forced him to take a job. Every morning after chores and farm work, my father and his siblings would walk one mile to the convent in the town of Champlain. My father like his siblings were not allowed to stay after school for any of the school events. They were expected to be home by 4:00 PM to help with the farm work. Every morning started the same, at 5:00 AM where each child milked his allotted cows which were all placed in their designated areas. It was thought that if the cow became familiar and therefore more comfortable with the milker, they would produce more milk. Some cows were more difficult to milk, so to be fair each of the children got their share of the difficult ones, including my father. The same ritual was repeated after school. Dora who only had the use of one hand was exempted from milking and had other tasks that she performed instead. During the summer and spring, all of the children assisted in the vegetable and fruit garden as well. Excess produce not needed by the family was sold to a nearby village.
Birthday parties were not celebrated and my father’s day of birth was no exception. The day was simply acknowledged and was left at that. Every night prayers were said in French as they knelt with arms folded and heads bowed. His mother could not speak English well enough to do the prayers in her new tongue. So doing the prayer recital in her native language was by necessity. Every winter his grandmother would come in from Canada to escape the bitterly cold weather. During her stay there, she would tell all the children stories, some of which were quite scary. She would also help out with the family chores by knitting and darning the socks and other articles of clothing that needed repair.
My uncle Fernand or Uncle Danny as he became known as, learned how to play the accordion at an early age. He apparently inherited his musical skills from his father. Later in life, he passed on these skills to his children as well. I mentioned him in my previous book. We used to go camping together where Uncle Danny and his family who used to entertain the campers in exchange for free lodging at the campsites. My uncle became adept on a multitude of musical instruments. He was particularly skilled in playing the guitar. If you are familiar with the guitar at all, you will know that only the most skilled guitarists can play the song Malaguena. Roy Clark’s rendition of the song is probably the best and most famous one. Well, my uncle could have given him a run for his money. He absolutely rocked that song. I know because I saw Roy Clark perform live, and heard him play that song.
While my father did not inherit musical talent, he inherited amazing dancing skills which I can only assume came from his mother’s side of the family. My mother used to tell me how he and his older sister Alida used to go out on the dance floor and just go to town. When they started dancing, every one of the other dancers left the dance floor so that they had more room to perform their magic. I never got to see him in action. When I was born, he was already starting to have medical problems.
Something that I never knew until I read his sister Flore’s memoirs was that he was allergic to bee stings. When he would get stung by bees, his face would double in size and his eyes would nearly close tight. He was never taken to the doctor’s office for this. Epinephrine had not been discovered then, neither had Prednisone nor Benadryl for that matter. So there is little that a doctor could have done, anyways. I am sure that the only thing they did, was hopefully apply cold compresses on the affected areas. Hopefully he learned his lesson and shied away from bees after that. He also experienced frequent nosebleeds. He later in life donated over 1.5 gallons of blood to the American Red Cross in an effort to reduce his nose bleeds. It seemed to help, because I never saw him with a nose bleed. He probably had some form of polycythemia. They finally did bring him to a doctor and that is where they discovered that he had a heart murmur most likely since birth. The heart murmur along with him being flat footed exempted him from the WWII draft that took place after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The doctor advised him to play quiet games, which advice he promptly ignored. There was simply no way to curb his freedom. He wanted to climb the highest and run the fastest. It was during these times that he was in his glory. He refused to live the life of an invalid. His mother tried to curtail his activities, but you could no sooner tame the mighty winds of a tornado than to curb my father’s zest for life.
One anecdotal story I am including involved Fernand, Gerard my father Roger and Flore. The three boys had been bragging about their new hideout. Only a few trusted friends knew of its location. All those allowed to visit the hideout had to make a solemn oath that they would not divulge its location. So Flore, being an ultra inquisitive person by nature took finding its location as a personal challenge. After spending a few days fruitlessly searching for the hideout, she became desperate and when approached with an offer of taking her to the hideout with her being blindfolded, she readily agreed. The blindfold blocked out all light and left her at the mercy of her brothers. They cautioned her to follow their instructions precisely and again as previously, she agreed. They took her hands and lead her on a path for a while. After covering some distance she smelled the odor of straw approaching her face. She was lead into what felt like the insides of a barn. She heard a creaking noise that resembled a door being unlatched. During this time, none of her brothers spoke a word. She became more apprehensive as she started feeling a chill and became more uneasy of the prospect of wearing the blindfold. She eventually after becoming more and more disoriented stumbled on a board or piece of wood. Suddenly she felt herself being lifted off the ground and then lowered into what felt like a bottomless pit. She began to scream out of shear terror when she finally landed on some damp soil. A door was slammed shut and then her blindfold was removed. After a few moments she was able to gain her bearings. She was in a large room with assorted items that might interest young boys, along with a table and chairs. My father and brothers then related to her how and when they found this location. It apparently was an old bootleggers hideout that was used to hide alcohol brought in from Canada. This was not the place for Flore, she felt uncomfortable, and my future father pushed her back up through the trap door where she found herself in their family garage. The three brothers continued to hang out there for several more years. Straw was spread over the trap door when they were not using it. Nobody discovered the site during their tenure there.
My father met my mother at a local dance, and they soon became enamored of each other. After going on multiple dates with his younger brothers Danny and Gerry and there dates who happened to be sisters, they tied the knot in a simple wedding in Champlain, New York on May 14, 1946. Their early years together will be covered in Chapter 6.