Chicopee author shares insight on life ‘Growing Up French’

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Chicopee author shares insight on life ‘Growing Up French’

Marie Proulx-Meder “grew up French,” and like many French-Canadian Chicopee locals, she remembers their spirit of “joie-de-vivre.”

These immigrants and their families had a strong Catholic faith, close ties to the Church, and close-knit families. Many continued their French traditions, such as attending Christmas Midnight Mass followed by Reveillon, a long dinner of tourtiere (meat pie), ragout de boulettes (meatballs in sauce), les pattes de porc (pig’s feet) and potatoes ∏ — with pies and puddings for dessert.

Her passion for French Canadian culture grew from seeds planted in her childhood through her family, school and church. “There are deep roots among those in New England with French names—deep roots that come from a long line of strong, adventurous and brave ancestors who gave us tourtiere, maple syrup, hockey and a beautiful, musical French language.”

Nearly 1 million French Canadians immigrated to New England from 1860 to 1930, with concentrated numbers in the mill towns of Massachusetts. Many came to Chicopee.

Meder’s second book, Growing Up French: A Collection of Franco-American Interviews, published this year, tells stories of courage, history, culture and heritage that she wants to preserve.

In 2013, while director of the French Heritage Center, she undertook a project called “Growing Up French” with the goal of publishing a book. Over five years, she interviewed 23 Franco-Americans, most living in Massachusetts or elsewhere in New England. “I was inspired to start the project by all the Franco-Americans who attended our (heritage center) events and by all the messages of support I received,” she said.

Most of the interviewees were people Meder met through the French Heritage Center or who contacted her after hearing about the project at events at the center. “I identified with many of the participants, especially in family life,” she said. “My parents spoke French with relatives, sang French songs and used many French expressions. The French language was taught in school and French traditions were maintained in the church.

Meder started the book project to preserve the interesting and compelling stories people have told her. “It was vital for me to try to preserve the past for future generations – to provide a personal insight into what life was like for the French in the first half of the 20th century and to acknowledge, celebrate and embrace the rich heritage of our ancestors,” she said.

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Meder began the difficult process of transcribing the interview tapes. Although the stories have been partially edited and historical background has been added (through her extensive research), she has kept the stories as close as possible to the participants’ own words.

“Our ancestors stepped into the unknown future to come to New France more than 400 years ago; the journey continued from Canada to the United States. Now it is our turn to carry the torch of French survival – the survival of culture, music and language,” she said. “It is our turn to pass the baton so that the old can give roots to the young, so that the new generations can understand who they are, so that one day they can say with pride and understanding ‘Je me souviens’ (‘I remember’). “

Meder, who contributed to the 2015 book Building a Better Life: French Canadians in Western Massachusetts, published by The Republican, is the author of Many Faces, One Mary: Discovering Home Gardens and Virgin Sanctuaries Maria”. ” She was a founding member and director of the French Heritage Center from 2010 to 2015. During this time, the French Heritage Center committee strived to provide quality events that preserve the cultural traditions of the French ethnicity.

The plan to create a French Heritage Center has been brewing since 2009, when some local French Catholic churches closed, including three in Chicopee, one of which was Meder’s favorite French parish, Assumption Church. “The Church has played an important role in maintaining the French language and culture. Now that this cornerstone was gone, the last generation of immigrants has passed into history without passing on their history to young people who have beautiful, musical, French names,” she said. “At that time I felt a spiritual calling to lead a campaign to save our church by appealing to the Vatican. In 2010, when the appeal was rejected, my sister Jeanne Hébert and I were forced to create an organization called the French Heritage Center to maintain our French traditions.

Although the committee sought to obtain donated space for a French center, this goal was not realized.

“I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all French-Americans for your achievements, contributions and most of all for your indomitable spirit of joie de vivre that lives in all of us who are proud to say, ‘I am French-Canadian. ‘” she said. Meder’s latest book, which includes color photos, details some of the “Little Canadas” created in New England, including Springfield’s North End.

It sells for an introductory price of $20 if picked up at her house in Chicopee, $27 for packaging and shipping. The paperback has 152 pages.

For more information or to order a copy of the book, email frenchconnection104@gmail.com or call 413-592-4946.

Note: The daughter of the author of this story edited Growing Up French: A Collection of Franco-American Interviews.

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