GENOT “WINTERS ELK” PICOR for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT
Pipi leaned back in his chair, shook out his kerchief and wiped his brow.
“We be takin’ a fifteen-minute break,” announced Michel La Francois, fiddler for the musical ensemble known as “Trois Bouffons.”
Pipi took a sip of his beer and turned to talk to Mimi. His natural curiosity was buoyed by what we saw in the corner of the room.
“Deez young ones ain’ dancin’ much tonight,” he said. “An’ dis is ‘réveillon de Nouvel an (New Year’s Eve)!’ Lil’ Rosanne, she look ennuyé (bored).’”
“I’m not little,” protested Rosanne. “I’m ten years old!”
“Dat you izz,” said Pipi as he stroked his granddaughter’s hair. He had hoped she was having a good time, but she looked uninterested nonetheless.
Rosanne’s older sister Mary, who was five years her senior was huddled in the corner of the room with her peers. Their conversation was subdued, and the adults kept a watchful eye on them. Rosanne had been excluded from their company only because of her age.
Mimi smiled and placed her hand atop Pipi’s. Her fingers gently caressed his wedding ring and weathered hand.
“Times are different now ‘mon amour (my love).’ Do you remember how we looked forward to music played by a full band in a ball room? You looked so handsome in your best duds!”
“Butchoo you know I like dancin’ bess’ in my flannel shirt and deez dungarees, juss’ like tonight ‘chérie (darling),’” chuckled Pipi.
Claire-Marie, the daughter of Mimi and Pipi, and her husband Gilbert were finishing up their meal. They were the parents of Mary, Paul-André and Rosanne.
Paul-André, the middle child of Claire-Marie and Gilbert and his cousin Genot were busy chasing each other around the now empty dance floor. A gaggle of giggling girls whispered secrets to each other. Perhaps they were talking about the two mischief makers, who were well known for their town pranks.
Pipi called Paul-André and Genot to the table. Both boys would turn thirteen in 1936, and the new year was now only a few hours away.
“So,” asked Pipi. “Why you sister an’ dose udder kids talkin’ an’ not dancin’? ‘Dey juss’ keepin’ to ‘dem selfs. It New Year’s Eve fo’ God sake!”
“Well, they problee’ want to ‘fade (leave).’ I think they wish they could get all dressed up and ‘put on the dog.’”
“Fade? Wut dat mean?” replied Pipi. “An’ why dey want to ‘put on a dog?’ Dat don’ make no sense!”
“It means they want to leave and go ‘out on the town,’” answered Rosanne.
“Girl, it near freezin’ outside. Why dey want to go out tuh duh town?” inquired a confused Pipi. “All duh fun in here tonight!”
“She means they want to get dressed up and go to the big city,” said Paul-André.
“Oh…..you mean like at duh Soo or Cheboygan.” answered Pipi, as if he came to a sudden moment of clarity.
“No, like Detroit, Chicago or New York. They want to bust outta here for a real clam bake (wild swing),” Paul-André replied.
“Je suis tellement confus (I am so confused). Where dey gonna fine’ clams diss time uh year? You mean tuh tell me dey wan’ tuh hack troo dee ice an’ bake dem clams on dee beach? C’est fou (that’s crazy)!” said Pipi, his voice rising. “We got plenty Ragoût de pattes de cochon (pig’s feet stew), tourtière, poutine, all kine-uh food ‘ici et maintenant (right here, right now)!’”
Paul André looked at Genot as if to ask for help.
“Pipi, Paul-André means they want to swing dance like we see in the newsreels at the movie house. The dancin’ here is ‘off the cob, (corny),’” said Genot.
Pipi was now more confused than ever. Mimi offered a translation.
“Je pense qu’il veut dire que la musique et les danses sont banales (I think he means the music and the dances are commonplace),“ said Mimi.
Pipi nodded his head in affirmation, but he still seemed perplexed.
“Well den, what kinda dancin’ you want to do?” he asked Genot.
“The Balboa and The Lindy Hop are ‘a bang (fun).’ People want to ‘boogie-woogie,’ now that’s really cuttin’ up a rug! said Genot, as he twisted his body from side-to-side. “There ain’ nuthin’ special no more ‘bout three guys playin’ a fiddle, a squeeze-box an’ the spoons.”
“That’s right! We’ve got ‘jungle fever!’” shouted Paul-André.
Paul-André pretended to play a clarinet. He threw his head back, flailed his arms, wiggled his fingers and improvised a few dance steps. What a sight to see!
“You’re a real ‘dead-hoofer (bad dancer),’ you know that?” laughed Genot.
Paul-André ceased his gyrations.
“Am not!” he countered.
“Are so!” shot back Genot.
“Well then, maybe I should throw you two fools into Moran Bay to cool you off!” chided Gilbert. “That’ll wash out the ants in your pants.”
Meanwhile, Pipi was trying to understand why anyone would want to cut a rug.
“They’re just being boys,” chuckled Claire-Marie, who was being entertained by their antics. “Let them be. They’re just acting out and repeating what they see in the newsreels and shows at the movie house.”
John (“J.B.” to the townspeople) Vallier was the proud owner of the St. Ignace Theater. Motion pictures offered some relief and escape from the economic doldrums. Why, all a person had to do was plunk down a nickel at Norm Paquin’s ticket booth and gain admittance to 100 minutes of pure fantasy! On any given week, the people could be entertained by the likes of Shirley Temple, The Marx Brothers, Bette Davis or Gary Cooper, all projected on a larger-than-life big screen.
Trois Bouffons returned to the stage and prepared to the play their third and final set of the evening.
“We’d like to start with an old favorite called ‘Ookpik Waltz,’” announced Marcel Sabot, who played the spoons. “Gentlemen, ask your fine lady for a dance!”
From the corner table where sat the teens, emerged lean and lanky Gerald Bois. He approached Mimi and Pipi’s table to formally address Gilbert.
“Excuse me sir, may I ask your daughter Mary for the honor of a dance?”
Gilbert looked across the room at his eldest daughter. She was turned slightly in her chair. Their eyes met, and Gilbert could tell from her expression that she was hoping for his approval. Gilbert hesitated at first, but then consented. Gerald returned to his table, offered his hand to Mary, who accepted his gentile request.
The moment was bittersweet for Gilbert. Mary was so graceful on the dance floor and it was clear to Gilbert that time had passed all too quickly. Mary was a young woman. He was lost in the moment. Someday, maybe sooner than he anticipated, his eldest daughter would have a family of her own. There would be grandchildren and happy times teaching them woodworking, snowshoeing and how to swim. Claire-Marie cleared her throat and Gilbert’s reverie was abruptly interrupted.
“Sir,” asked Claire-Marie, “May I have this dance?”
“Bien sûr (of course),” he replied, and he rose from his seat.
They were soon joined by Mimi and Pipi and other couples, who swayed to the delicate rhythm of the tune. Paul-André and Genot disappeared to places unknown. Rosanne remained at the table, alone, restless in a creaky wooden chair. She leaned back and gave a sigh. Nothing to do but wait to leave.
But she soon felt a tap on her shoulder. Behind her stood Daniel O’Sullivan, a red-haired, freckled boy from her class, who stood a full three inches shorter than her. Daniel was awkward but polite.
“Rosanne, I’m Daniel from your class at school?” He phrased his remark so it sounded like a question. Maybe Daniel thought Rosanne wouldn’t recognize him.
“Hello Daniel. I know who you are,” she replied. Her voice put him at ease.
“I….I….I’d like to know if you would want dance with me,” he asked.
Rosanne was taken by surprise. She didn’t know what to do and instinctively looked at her mother for instructions. Claire-Marie had been watching the exchange the entire time, and she nodded, mouthing the words “Yes! Go and dance!”
The girl shyly accepted Daniel’s request. They tried their level best to imitate the adults, and when the final strains of the waltz concluded with a gentle crescendo, Daniel thanked Rosanne for the dance and scurried back to his family’s table. Daniel’s father patted him on the back, and Rosanne watched them engage in a warm father-to-son conversation.
“See laddy, that wasn’t so hard now was it,” Rosanne imagined him saying.
And so New Year’s Eve of 1935 came and went and ushered in the New Year of 1936. There would be new hopes and dreams that had yet to be imagined. It was an evening of firsts in some ways. Mary and Rosanne shared a “first dance” with a handsome admirer. Gilbert realized his eldest daughter was now a young lady and poor Pipi, well he heard some words and phrases he still does not understand!
This story is dedicated to Mary Alban and Norma Bishop (nee Paquin) of St. Ignace, Michigan. Norma’s dad was Norman Paquin, who was indeed the ticket taker at the St. Ignace Theater in the 1930’s. J.B. Vallier was the owner.
Bonne année et bonne santé à tous !
Happy New Year and good health to you all!
New Year’s Eve, 1935 as told by Genot “Winter Elk” Picor from “Stories that Mimi and Pipi Told” © Genot Picor, 2018” Printed with Permission