When Rita Flora Lapierre was born on September 25, 1928 in West Chazy, Clinton County, New York, her father Herman was 24 and her mother Cecile was 23. She had three sons and one daughter with Roger Landry. She died on January 17, 2020 at the age of 92 in High Springs, Alachua County, Florida. She lived a long and fruitful life. She outlived two husbands, three siblings and two sons. It was a blessing that the last three years of her life she suffered from dementia and was unaware of the loss of her sister Theolus and her second son Robert. The poor thing had already suffered enough loss in her life. That is one of the crosses you have to bear when you enjoy a long life, you outlive some of your loved ones. My mother was an amazing woman right up to the end even though she was not able to recognize her family members. She was still pleasant and happy right up to the end. In this chapter, I will do my best to piece her life together before marrying my father Roger Landry. I will include to a lesser extent anecdotes involving her siblings and parents as well. I, unfortunately, do not have personal memoirs to pull from for this chapter, only the memories of my sister and myself and what information I can glean from ancestry websites.
To keep it simple, I will continue to use the French variation of the spelling “Lapierre” when referencing my mother. This is how I completed the family trees as well. As I stated, she was born in 1928 and she was the eldest of five children. There was a sixth child Beverly who died soon after childbirth. I remember my mother mentioning her but I am unfortunately unable to find any documentation listing her birth year. Rita was followed by Barbara Ann in 1930, Theolus in 1932, Agnes in 1935 and their only son Herman Jr. brought up the rear in 1944. Herman or Uncle Junior as I called him was also the last to pass away in 2022.
I am sure that my grandfather and his family moved around some, however all of the stories that I remember my mother telling me revolved around the farm he owned. So, that is the time frame and location that I will key on. My mother was still living there at the time that she met my father.
As soon as my mother was old enough to do physical labor she was put to work around the farm. She did jobs from milking cows to pulling weeds in the garden, one that every farmer seemed to have. The only benefit that my mother gained from being the first born is that she was the first one to bathe in the water barrel. She was always proud of that. By the time Agnes got to bathe the water was quite dirty. As my mother got older she helped with more and more farm work. My grandfather as did most farmers had to work a second job to make ends meet. So, he relied on her for quite a bit of the farm work. Barbara Ann hated doing farm work, so she helped with chores around the house like cooking and such. By the time she became a teenager she was too “lady-like” to do chores and spent most of her time trying on different outfits and wearing makeup. Theolus was the exact opposite and helped my mother with the farm work. She, like my mother was a very hard worker. One thing of note was that Theolus was always picking her nose, something my mother always teased her for. By the time Agnes was old enough to help out, my Grandfather was able to devote more time to farming and he was able to hire help during the busy seasons. As Junior got older and the farm became more productive, there was little required of him in regards to farm work. He spent most of his time building tree forts, digging dug-outs and building ham radios. There was nine years separating him from Agnes so quite a few of his formative years he spent alone.
As did most farmers at that time, the barn and the farm equipment received the most care and attention. The house was simply a shelter, and was not meant for living a luxurious life style, it was functional at best. Until my mother married my father, the farm house did not have any kitchen cabinets and they were still using the outhouse for the call of duty. My father promptly built kitchen cabinets and installed an indoor bathroom, which was a great comfort especially in the cold winter months. I remember my mother telling me how she had to chip the ice off the toilet before it could be used during the winter months. They never got to use toilet paper, it was an unheard of luxury. The Sears catalog provided for the cleaning of the “dairy aire”. When the catalog ran out newspapers were used which left a rather irritating black smudge on said anatomy. So, of course, hoarding of the catalog became a popular pastime.
The family garden provided all of the vegetables for the family’s diet. Everything was either preserved by canning or was stored in the root cellar. There was no refrigeration as I mentioned in the previous chapter, so the Lapierres had to preserve their meat by salting it or jerking and smoking it. Potatoes stored in the root cellar would sprout buds continuously, so they would have to be cleaned. This task being the simplest and easiest and usually fell upon the youngest to do. If the potatoes were not sprouted they would get soft and mushy and eventually turn black and rot. Onions did the same thing. Pretty much any food item that got dug out of the ground followed the same pattern. Buying canned goods at the store was simply unheard of. When grandma Cecile visited my mother in her new house and she saw that she had store bought canned goods in her pantry, she cried. She could not believe how wealthy her daughter was.
Toys for the children were another unheard of luxury. The Lapierre family was simply not as wealthy as the Landry clan. Any and all toys were made by hand. Clothes was passed down from sister to sister. Clothes were also hand made. At least they could afford fabric for the clothes, so they did not have to start from scratch. I don’t believe that the farm house ever got electricity. As always the barn got all the newest advances. So, if electricity was available, the barn took priority. You had to be able to see what you were doing, so you needed light. Kerosene lamps were very dangerous to use in the barn and were a constant source of fires. So, it only made sense that electric light were a priority. If you had no barn, you simply could not function as a farmer.
Entertainment came mainly from either the radio or from singing. My grandmother was the organist for the church, so I am assuming that she had access to an organ, so she could practice. My mother would accompany the organ music with singing. It was the dream of my mother and her best friend to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. With the exception of Junior, my mother was the only child that enjoyed going to school. My mother was proud that she was the teacher’s pet. She would clean the chalk board and help with the lessons for the younger kids. Unlike my father, she was able to graduate from high school. A fact that she never lorded over on my father.
As did most farm children, my mother and her siblings had to walk to school, rain or shine. So unused they were to cars and trucks that when they walked to school on the side of the road, they would run out into the fields when cars or trucks would approach them. It was not until they came of age and started dating that they became used to being around cars.
During the off season, when my mother could be spared from the farm, she was allowed to spend some time with her grandmother, which I believe was Flora Mayo. Grandma Mayo had her own small general store. My mother loved working at the store. Other than when she was singing at church this appeared to be the happiest times she had as a child. Her grandmother would spoil her. She was able to eat an occasional piece of candy and she could eat canned fruit. My great grandmother always used to scold Herman because she thought he worked her too hard. She used to say that she was going to pay for all the hard work she did. As I am writing this second book, I am beginning to understand my mother a little better. I always saw her working, she never stopped. She did not know how to relax and enjoy life. I guess that is all she knew. Her mother never stopped working either. Even when she married my father, she maintained a small garden in the back yard and she canned vegetables just like her mother. Even though it was not out of necessity, it was out of habit. She also had developed a taste for the home canned goods. There really is no comparison from home canned beets and store-bought beets, the same goes for pickles and corn relish.
Unlike the Landry children, the Lapierre children did not seem to be quite as close. Take for instance my father, Danny and Gerry, they all remained extremely close right down to “caravaning” around the state of New York together looking for work. When my mother met my father at a local dance in Rouses Point, she quickly became enamored with him, even though she thought he was just a little over the top with his dancing. She did, however, like to watch him dance with his older sister Alida. My mother was not much of a dancer, she just did not get the exposure to it as a child to allow her to develop those skills. Her childhood was a no nonsense life, with chores coming first and little money left over for frivolity.
Eventually she became closer to her future sister in-laws Barbara and Noela than she ever did to her actual siblings. As my parents’ relationship became more involved, the three couples became inseparable. They went everywhere together. My father wanted to get married right away, however, my mother insisted on graduating from high school first. Knowing that he was fighting a losing battle my father readily agreed. They had a simple ceremony soon after she graduated. My mother was only 17 years old at the time. In the next chapter, I will discuss my parents’ married life together.