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This is the story of my maternal grandparents, Francois-Xavier Tetrault and Marie-Therese Mouflier. I never got to know my grandfather as he passed away before I was born. As I am writing this from family accounts that were written down by his children, I discovered that Francois-Xavier passed away on February 28, 1944, exactly 80 years from the date that I am writing this. I had been thinking about writing something about my own family for a while and so when I pulled out the dusty file of our family history, I was astonished to see that. I suppose that it is only a coincidence.

Francois-Xavier was born on May 1, 1886, in St. Pierre, Manitoba, the first of 14 children born to Eusebe Tetrault and Eloise Vinette. On November 21, 1911, he married Elizabeth Ann King from the village of d’Arnaud, Manitoba. Their first child Cecilia, was born on August 1, 1912 in St.Pierre. Then on June 19, 1913, Elizabeth died in childbirth along with her baby. As a result, Cecilia went to live and was raised by her maternal grandparents in another village. Francois-Xavier then married Marie-Therese Mouflier on May 4, 1915, my maternal grandmother. They had 9 children.

My grandfather was a butcher by trade and was able to ply his trade until he became ill with Encephalitis Lethargica or sleeping sickness as it was then known. The cause of this illness remains a mystery even to this day, but it is thought to be linked to the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920. But that is not altogether certain.

Unfortunately, his daughter Cecilia, my aunt, from his first marriage never got to meet or know her father’s second family. My aunt Yvette describes one of the few visits that my grandfather was able to make to visit his daughter.

He was sitting down having a meal with his former in laws and Cecilia was not allowed to sit at the table with them. She was in a corner by herself. Cecilia later contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of 27 in a sanitorium. He was unable to bring his daughter back with him to live with his family. I am sure that he carried this burden with him for the rest of his life.

His business subsequently failed and so at the urging of his brother, he decided to pick up and move the family of 6 children and his wife to Chicago in 1926. However his illness progressively got worse, as he could suddenly fall asleep anywhere and at any time. He was unable to support the family.

They moved back to St. Pierre a year later. The family was able to build a house on a piece of land that that was given to them by his father Eusebe, just across from his store. The family was to add 3 more children.  So I guess my grandfather wasn’t always sleeping.

It was basically up to my grandmother to support the family. Marie-Therese was an excellent seamstress as she was often hired to make dresses for the ladies of the village. She was also “hors pair” when it came to French cuisine, so despite the meager fare it was always the best it could be. They also had some dairy cows and some chickens, and she would sell milk, eggs and chickens to her father-in-law Eusebe who had the store across the street.

Towards the end of his life, as this disease progressed, he was able to still attend daily mass and take his meals with the family. He passed away at the age of 59. He was a man of deep faith and trust in God, despite all of the hardships. He instilled in his children the virtues of honesty, hospitality, perseverance, and a “joie de vivre”.

He was not able to provide a lot of the material needs for his family, but one time he was able to trade 10 turkeys for a gramophone and some records that the family had fun singing along to, and dance to the “Red River Waltz.”

I knew my grandmother well, as she lived into her 90’s. She became a widow at the age of 49. When she moved to the city most of her children did not live very far away from her. I remember all of us aunts, uncles and cousins crammed into her tiny 1-bedroom house at Christmas. There was a lot of music, singing and dancing when I was growing up. My grandmother and her children and grandchildren all remained very close, and we celebrated together many times over the years. I may not have known my grandfather in person, but I feel that I know his spirit and I am grateful that I was able to know my grandmother, and for the legacy that they left to us.

So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim Your might to all the generations to come. Ps 71:18

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