Maria with her son, Danton. Picture taken in 1918
(This story was written in 1990 when Danton was 95 years old. He is now 104 (1999.))
Maria Boulanger - such a euphonious name you carried. Were you related to the famous Parisian, the piano teacher, Nadia? Did it bother you to give up your maiden name, the melodious Boulanger, to become Caussin? I have a feeling you never gave that a second thought. The Womenís Lib Movement would have said that your identity was jeopardized, that your self-hood was compromised when you gave up your family name for that of another. Yet, seventy-five years after your death, here am I, your granddaughter and a proponent of equal rights for women, assessing and esteeming the value of your being. More than once during my childhood, I felt that I had been bitterly cheated because all my friends had grandmothers and you had died before I was born. I still regret, perhaps even more than I did as a young child, that I didnít get to know you.
I feel so close to you though, as I look at the only snapshot I have of you, standing in the garden in your black cotton dress covered almost completely by a white apron. Just yesterday, when I went out to pick a tender young green onion for our salad, I wondered if you had picked the leeks for your leek soup out of the very same bed. Had those leeks been nourished by the same sod? I can only imagine Grandfather stooping low to tie them back so they could bleach white in the summer sun. I can also easily know how delicious that soup must have been because your youngest child, my mother Leah, taught me to make Leek Soup from your recipe so that she could have some during her last illness. It was one of the few things she could eat by then.
I especially wish you could share with me your secret for raising children. What caused your sons and daughters to give so selflessly and generously? What gave them all such a fun-loving nature? Made them love to dance and laugh? Caused them all to have an attitude of gratitude about everything that happened in their lives? Gave them the will to always help their neighbors?
As I walk through this house which my mother inherited from you and she bequeathed to me, I wonder what your footstep was like? Was it light and delicate? Sure and determined? Swift and eager? What did your voice sound like? French is such a lyric language, conversation in your home must have been like a musical dialogue interspersed with melodious laughter.
From Uncle Danton, I have learned that neither you nor my grandfather could speak one word of English when you came to America. That your only means of communication was a slip of paper on which was written: "I am Julien Firman Caussin. I want to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have a job waiting there for me as a glass gatherer."
You must have been about twenty-two years old then and had two young children, my Uncle Julius and Aunt Clarice. It was only later that you moved to Clarksburg to start a cooperative glass plant. As a matter of fact, it was when my mother was six weeks old that you carried her into the home I know now as my own -- the year was 1899.
Sometimes, I am almost overcome with a sense of gratitude to you and my grandfather. Not only for passing on to me through your daughter, a home which I enjoy immensely, but also for the beautiful qualities with which you imbued all of your children. Uncle Danton is ninety-five years old and we still sit together on the back porch and reminisce. The old green lattice succumbed to dry rot and the porch has since been screened all around. When the porch was rebuilt, the contractor wanted to replace the walkway, but I knew you would not want the names of your first three grandchildren to be erased. I understand Grandfather wrote them in the wet cement when he put in the sidewalk, so I insisted that the namestone remain. Although the writing is now badly worn and somewhat less legible and all of those grandchildren have since joined the ranks of the saints triumphant like yourself, rest assured that the walkway is intact and almost as you left it.
As we sit talking and enjoying the delights of the back porch (the honeysuckle on the bank smells marvelous after a rain) Uncle Dantonís lilting laugh rings out above everyone elseís. He still plays bridge three afternoons a week at the Senior Citizens Center and visits the sick at the VA Hospital every Thursday afternoon. He is the only veteran left in town from World War I. My own three sons love to hear him tell about you and Grandfather coming to this country to start a glass plant.
The story we enjoy most is the one about Grandfather and his old cronies, Mr. Malfregeot and Mr. Rolland, making wine out of two tons of grapes in 1914. To think that that happened in the very basement that my son Mark and I scrubbed and washed clothes in yesterday. (We even looked in the old cistern hoping there might be a least one bottle left -- but no such luck.) Uncle Danton tells that the wholesale dealer knew of these three Frenchmen in North View who made their own table wine. (They had brought their own wine press from France.) So when the wholesaler found that he had two tons of grapes that were getting beyond ripe, he propositioned Grandfather with the offer to sell them all for $30.00. Being the shrewd businessman that he undoubtedly was, Grandfather waited twenty-four hours and then offered the dealer $25.00, if he would deliver the grapes to his door. Grandfather stood firm on his offer and the Glen Elk dealer relented. I can envision the rickety horse-drawn cart pulling up in the alley behind the house, laden with succulent, super-ripe grapes. I can imagine the sweet, acidic aroma which must have permeated the neighborhood and especially the sounds of laughter from the three astute gentlemen as they contemplated their artful business acumen while pressing grapes in the basement. And later, perhaps, the sampling of their product added to the raucousness of their delight in having accomplished such a coup.
I do so hope there is an afterlife so that I can meet and get to know
you. Because, you see, even not having known you, I love you dearly. Although
I know only brief bits and pieces of your life story, it has been enough
for me to realize why I feel about you as I do. It is that my love and
appreciation of you come not only from who you were, but especially from
what you were.
© 1990 Olga S. Hardman