Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie

Olga S. Hardman

Clarissa Amelia Caussin - August Aristide Malfregeot
(1889-1948)                          (1885-1950)

One of the joys of my early youth was the time I spent with my Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie. Since they lived across the street at 2203 Hamill Avenue, it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to their house. Aunt Clarice was the older sister of my mother, Leah. (See "Old House, Old Friend.")

Aunt Clarice was an excellent cook. I'm sure she and my mother got their special culinary education in French cuisine from their mother, Maria. Since my Uncle Augie was a "company man" and wasn't on a time clock for the Rolland Glass Plant, he had an hour for lunch at noon. Since the glass plant was only a few blocks down the street, he came home for lunch every day. I was frequently invited to join them for lunch, which I often did. I loved Fridays because Aunt Clarice often sauteed fish in white wine, garlic, and butter for lunch. As I write this, I can taste that succulent fish still. One of the few things I have that belonged to Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie is the saute pan in which she cooked that fish. It is burned black on the bottom and pitted inside, but it gives me a warm feeling of nostalgia  just to look at that pan.

Since I have always been at least a few pounds overweight, I presume my weight problem started during these early years, when I ate a big meal at noon at Aunt Clarice's and another big meal at home in the evening. Since my father was a glass cutter at Adamston Glass Plant and was paid for each piece he produced, his time was of the essence.  So he carried his noon meal to work and took only 1/2 hour for lunch. Hence, we had our big family meal in the evening when my father returned from work.

It was at one of these noon meals with Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie, that I had my first encounter with frog legs. As I watched the muscles of the frog legs contract and thus appear to jump in the pan, I was quite reluctant to try them at first. However, being aware of just how delicious everything that Aunt Clarice cooked was, I did relent and once more consumed my luncheon entree with gusto. I don't remember that you could buy frog legs in grocery stores in those days, but I do remember our fathers and uncles going out at night to "gig" frogs. I remember once when the dish in the center of the table was a turkey platter heaped high with frog legs.

One of my most vivid memories of Aunt Clarice is of her shaking freshly cleaned lettuce in a little enclosed wire basket.   We always had lettuce salad with our big meal and after the lettuce was washed it had to be dried so the dressing would cling to each leaf.  There was a small porch off the Malfregeot  kitchen door and Aunt Clarice could frequently be seen standing there shaking water drops in the grass below as she swung the wire basket to and fro.

A monumental French culinary delight was turtle soup. The men in French families often "felt" for snapping turtles in local streams. "Feeling for turtles" simply meant that you waded in the stream as you felt beneath the water for submerged turtles. The only problem with that was that on occasion one might grab at the wrong end of the turtle and encounter that vicious and sharp beak. I remember that on one such outing, when Uncle Augie raised his hand from the stream, hanging from one of his fingers was a huge, snapping turtle. At the time, there was an "old wives tale" that proposed that if a snapping turtle bit you, it would not let go until the sun went down.  Imagine my chagrin when I contemplated Uncle Augie with that ugly beast holding onto his finger until nightfall.   Fortunately, the old wives tale proved to be untrue.  Many of the turtles I saw were large, ugly, vicious and very frightening to a child. I often watched as  my father and uncles cleaned snapping turtles in the basement of our house. First they teased the turtle with a stick until the turtle latched onto it with fury, then the holder of the stick stretched the neck out while someone else chopped off the head. The turtle was then skinned in much the same way as the hide of wild game is removed from the body. After the ordeal, when my father carried the meat to the kitchen, I remember that the meat was a pinkish white and looked very much like chicken. I also remember just how delicious it was, either fried, or cooked in soup.

After dinner at my house, we often walked over to Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie's to sit on their front porch to visit.   Since their house was on the south side of the street, the porch was shaded by the house itself in the evening.  Since our house was on the north side, our front porch got the evening sun and was never cool in the summer. During the rest of the year, we often listened to the radio together in the sun-room on the back of Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie's house. I remember well the fight we listened to that only lasted 2 or 3 minutes, when Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round. Max Schmeling was a famous German boxer who had defeated the American boxer, Joe Louis, in 1936. The Nazis took Schmeling's win as a sign that the Nazi form of government was superior to democracy. When the two boxers were scheduled for a rematch in 1938, every American was excited at the prospect of Joe Louis defeating Schmeling to prove that democracy was really the superior form of government. On the night of that fight, we all got settled in our chairs expecting an evening of exciting listening. But everyone was dismayed when it was all over after only two or three punches in the first round. Joe Louis did defeat Schmeling and thus he became a symbol of the strength of democracy.

I often carried my books across the street and did my home-work on Aunt Clarice's dining-room table. But the best thing I remember about that dining-room table are the wonderful holiday meals we all ate there together. Leg of lamb (gigot) with lima beans was always a special treat, as were escargot with spinach, white wine, and garlic. Although I ate escargot with relish at Aunt Clarice's table when I was 7 or 8,  I could not eat them many years later when I realized what they were. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, our turkey was always stuffed with chestnut dressing which I remember consuming with relish. It was made with ground pork and chestnuts. Sometimes for dessert we had fresh fruit and wonderful cheese. After holiday meals we always had mixed nuts which we had the pleasure of cracking and then picking out the rich, chewy nut meats.  Holiday dining was always a prolonged ritual act which lasted a long time and usually concluded with a rich ice cream drizzled with a liquor like creme de menthe, creme de cacoa, curacao, Benedictine, etc.

Another specialty of both my Aunt Clarice and my mother was "le petite pois." These were simply the smallest green peas available cooked in butter with a small amount of sugar, along with finely minced onion. This vegetable is still a favorite of mine, as well as of my children.

Since Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie subscribed to different magazines than we did and I was an avaricious reader, I also enjoyed going to their house to read their new magazines. I still remember reading about the original 7 astronauts in their copy of Life Magazine.  These 7 pilots were selected in the early 1940's to be trained to be the first to fly into space.  Alan Shepard died last year after a distinguished career in the space industry and John Glenn made a return flight into space as a 77 year old.

Although Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie had two sons, Albert, born in 1907, and Jerome, born in 1910, by the time I was old enough to be a visitor, their sons were married and had established their own homes.  Hence, my relationship with them was somewhat like that of an only child in the family.

During the early 40's, Aunt Clarice developed a heart problem and could not climb stairs or walk long distances. At the age of 16, after I had become a licensed driver, it was I who got to regularly drive Aunt Clarice to the beauty shop in Clarksburg in their big black cadillac. Believe me I felt like the "cat's meow" driving that big car through the streets of downtown Clarksburg. Of course, I wanted to show off my new-found skill as a driver, so I tried hard to make a hit. One day, though, as I tried desperately to miss a hole in the road, I hit it dead center. I shall never forget what Aunt Clarice said, "Honey, it takes a really good driver to hit such a little hole in the road." She was always loving, thoughtful, and kind. When I was a first year college student at Seton Hill, she wrote to me often and always enclosed a little "folding favor" in the envelope, usually a 5 dollar bill.

As I look at the picture accompanying this story, I notice the lovely blue, covered candy-dish with silver trim that always sat on a table in the living room at Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie's. It was always filled with chocolate drops - a chocolate bon bon with cream filling. That was just one more delight I found at their house and I was always made to feel welcome to anything in their home. They had nice things, shared their abundance and always had an attitude of gratitude.

Uncle Augie was congenial and a jokester of sorts.  He smoked Dry Schlitz cigars and always used Lilac Vegetal after-shave lotion, both of which gave him a very distinctive scent.  These facts also determined what my Christmas and birthday gifts to him were year after year for many years.  Uncle Augie was an avid bridge player and there was always a bridge game going on at one of our houses or the other. Since my father also loved bridge, as did Jerome and his wife, Bernadette, as well as my Uncle Danton, it was never hard to find 4 people ready for a bridge game. When we went on family picnics, which the French seem to particularly enjoy, there was always at least one picnic table with 4 bridge players either playing a hand or vociferously discussing one that had just been played.

I guess the French generally have an affinity for dogs. Every family unit in my French family had at least one dog. Spot, a white terrier with a large black spot, lived with Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie as their family pet for many years. Just one more reason for a little girl to delight in visiting there.

Aunt Clarice died in 1948 while I was a sophomore at Seton Hill College and Uncle Augie died two years later in 1950. That, of course, ended a delightful part of my youth. Fortunately though, I have been able to enjoy the progeny  of Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie down to the fifth generation. I know how pleased they would have been to know that their great-granddaughter, Dr. Ana Maldonado, recently had dinner with my grand-daughter, Lauren Hardman, and they both had a wonderful time.........

"In my Father's house, there are many mansions."  I hope yours is next to mine.

© 1999  Olga S. Hardman