Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Larry: November 4, 1916- August 24, 2009

Larry and sister Elizabeth, bundled to the ears and with a large "dolly" between them.
The house looks like the one at the Keller Farm where their father, Stephen, was farm manager. This is the only childhood photo I have of my Dad, scanned from a battered original by cousin Aggie, Lizzie's daughter. I'm guessing the date to be circa 1920--21.

In 2006 Larry and Lizzie shared a birthday celebration. Her 88th birthday was July 18, the party anticipated his 90th on November 4.

Elizabeth, Larry, and older brother Warren at a family gathering. Their older siblings, Ernest and Helen, had passed away by this time.

Larry with a trout. He was an enthusiastic fisherman.

Daddy's choice of hat style stayed fairly constant over the years. This one had been laundered and was hanging in the bathroom to dry when I entered his house the day after his death. I reached a hand to it, touched it and decided instantly to bring it home.

My father, Lawrence Gilbert Desjadon, was born November 4, 1916. He was the youngest son and next youngest child of his parents, Stephen and Maria. The family was French Canadian with grandparents first enumerated in the US census for 1870. A group of related households were located in Moers Forks, New York near the Canadian border.

Stephen and Maria were of the first generation born in the US. Although the language of their upbringing had been French, Stephen and Maria, unlike many of French Canadian background, resolved to speak English in their home so that the children would not have language barriers to overcome when they started school. My Dad, always a person who enjoyed his own company and the outdoors, stated once that when the older relatives assembled for Sunday visits they spoke French. This annoyed him, so he shouldered his 22 rifle, called his dog and went for long walks through the pastures of the Keller Farm.

There was a wry element to observing my father's birthday. He was born at home, as were his siblings. His mother lost several babies at birth. Evidently the attending doctor didn't fill out and file some of the birth certificates properly. The full name and the date on what was supposed to be his birth certificate didn't match who my father knew himself to be! It required the services of a lawyer and various affidavits presented at court before he could file for his Social Security pension when he retired.

Larry enjoyed deer hunting and duck hunting. On one memorable occasion when my sisters and I were small, Daddy packed us and our long-suffering mother into the car on a weekend afternoon and drove to a likely spot to locate ducks. As we crept [less than silently] through tall marsh grass and exploding cat tails to reach a vantage point, Mother--who had dreadful allergies and "hay fever"--was taken with a sneezing fit. Daddy glared and "shushed." Mother continued to sneeze dismally into a handkerchief. We children shuffled nervously and snickered. The ducks, quacking madly, flapped away into the sky. Thus ended the first and only family duck hunt.

Larry gave up hunting in his middle years and devoted himself to trout fishing, becoming a local legend. Driving to some out of the way spot and hiking with his tackle to a favorite stream was one of his great joys. He gave it up only when sometime in his 80's he began to fear that he might fall and be injured, unable to make it back to his parked car.

Although he claimed no familiarity with the French language, Larry's speech had some colorful oddities of expression. He read aloud to us sometimes when Mother was busy, and struggled with words or phrases which struck him as unusual. My sisters and I took advantage of this and coaxed him to read our weekly Sunday School lessons. This practice came to an end the day that he suddenly exploded, "Who the hell is Neb...Neba...Neba..chad...Nebuchadnezzar?" He flung down the lesson guide in disgust; Mother intervened. After he stomped out we were given a stern lecture regarding our rudeness and Mother explained that our Dad had not grown up in a household where books were read aloud and the English language familiar as it was to us.

I learned to enjoy my father's quirks of speech quietly and without comment. A car driven too fast down our dirt road was going "hell-i-ty toot" or "hell-i-ty ding-dong." More than one of anything was refered to as "a couple two or three." [That one bothered Mother who said sometimes in exasperation that a "couple" and "two" were the same!] The worst prediction he could make regarding something or someone going wrong was that they were "going to hell in a hand basket!"

Larry was a determined and conscientious workman. He fussed over any duty in his care, making sure that no detail was overlooked. He fussed about the weather, keeping thermometers outside several windows so that he could monitor the temperature. A heavy snowfall had him out with shovel or snowblower clearing paths, then he drove his car a few miles to "Sudbury Hill" to see if the tires were equal to taking the slippery grade after a full stop. He kept flashlights and spare batteries handy. He fed the birds, watching them through the window, cussing the ones who were too greedy. He noted when the wild geese flew south, found the first pussywillows of spring and when I lived next door, phoned me to let me know that the "peepers" were calling on the first mild April nights.

Our relationship was not one of many words or profound exchanges. When we spoke on the phone it seemed a bit awkward, yet I saved up things to tell him, small occurances to write in a letter. For the past few years I have put away his Christmas cards fearing that each one would mark the last time I would see his scrawling signature.

In late August I helped to clean the house, to sort through the surprisingly sparse belongings of a long lifetime. I attended a memorial service thronged with people from the small town where my parents spent their entire lives. I brought home a few family pictures, a faded blue cap. I cherish memories of a strong, caring, often irascible man; a man who noticed the changes of the seasons; a man who swore at the morning glories when they climbed their trellis, but refused to blossom; a man who loved robins and his cat. A man I will miss.


  1. What a beautiful elegy to your father and his siblings. He sounded quite a character! I didn't know you had French blood too. Do you know what part of France they emigrated from?

    I smiled at your mention of his sparse belongings. I was thinking only yesterday, as I lay in the bath looking at my blue and white china on the shelves, (much more elsewhere in the house), our kids are going to have one heck of a time sorting out our belongings when we've gone . . . What to do with the thousands of books, many of them much-loved . . .

  2. Hullo MM,

    Jings! This caught me by surprise and I read it so easily. it was over in seconds.

    So many commonalities with my Dad, and to my own reactions to him that I felt this could have been written by me or my brother.

    Both of them loved the outdoors - my Dad brought up with the River Ayr behind the house was a trout fisherman all his days and he too marked the seasons with the movement of birds, the changing of crops and the avid monitoring of temperature. He was happy to wander by the water lip all day with a rod in his hand, but spent a lot of time watching what was going on all around, and I remember being taught to lie still in the long grass to listen and to watch what was happening around. I never became able to identify birds by their calls like him though.

    And the hat....same style as dads fishing 'bunnet'.

    Sometimes its those little things that mean the most - his favourite cup is now mine - and your post this morning has spiked my eyes, but in a nice way.

    Thanks and regards.........Al

  3. I have to say that your choice of keepsake ...his cap.... was inspired ...I can see that it will trigger so many memories over the years, when you get it out to maybe just pat for comfort.
    I really felt I had met your dad when I read your post.

    My nan used a similar expression to your dad but it was 'hand cart' ...wonder where it came from.

    Bet your mum was glad it was the one and only family duck shoot ...Oh I could see the whole thing as I read it and had a smile right across my face. ...thakyou for that xx

  4. A wonderful tribute. Your father`s birthday this year must have been a bitter sweet day.

  5. The depth of these comments has warmed my heart. Thank you all so much. I needed to write this piece, but wasn't sure if I should publish it, so the response here, as well as some e-mailed remarks by family members has been comforting.
    Al: I reread your post about scattering your parent's ashes and there found BB's account of saying farwell to her mother.
    Angie: my Dad alternated his "hell in a handbasket" remark with the use of "handcart"--just like your Nan. How did that expression turn up in both a French Canadian and Scottish family.
    DW: I think these first anniversaries or holidays without someone are the hardest--after that perhaps the "sweet" is what we feel most deeply.
    BB: not sure where in France the family might have come from. They had been in Quebec for a long time. We believe the original of the name was DesJardin.

  6. The first year of anniversaries and holidays with out a much loved parent is always hard, my parents have been gone many years now -my dad 20 and my mum 10 - and the thing I find hardest still is not having anyone to buy a Mother's Day or Father's Day card for, that makes me more aware of my loss than birthdays etc. The happy memories always remain though and that is the main thing.

  7. Sharon, how absolutely beautiful!!!! Before I forget, according to my 'genealogy, they possibly came from Du Sel, Bourbonnais, Bourge, France. When they come to Quebec, they spent a bit of time in Point Levi and after the 'original' Charles's son Jean died they seem to head for the fur trade area. Located there are grandfather and grandson Charles ... who fathers the son with an Indian woman naming him CHARLES just to make life more difficult. No record he marries her, son is baptised, and Charles the father then marries Adelaide Perrault in 1805 !!! Enough of this for now!

    Your memories of your father will bring you years of happiness (and for a while some tears) ... but you were so fortunate to have him so long! One of these days I need to head back to Shoreham, home of my great-grandparents and their foster child, Annie. It was a beautiful place to visit and I'm sure a great place to grow up (though as a teenager you may have felt the way I did in Hubbardston, MA --- 'out in the sticks' ....

    Happy love filled holidays!
    Pat Mc

  8. A special thanks to "monky" aka cousin Pat. We share a love of family history and have g-grandparents in common. Thanks to her I have learned more about our family.