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Minnie's Diary #17: Made a Pillow, Slept with Pie Face

Monday, April 18 - Worked at my lace and pillow. Went over to see Maud (bride).

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Quiet Time to Crochet

Minnie’s younger brothers, Edmund and Willie, left home before dawn, each carrying a lunch of cold venison sausage, cheese and bread. Sawing season had begun at the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co., and today was the boys' first day back at the mill. Hundreds of men and boys walked from the town and countryside to report for work.

An unusual quietness fell throughout the house. They’d gotten used to having Edmund and Willie at home for the past few weeks, with their jokes and banter.

Minnie enjoyed the quiet. She had a project to occupy her hands and her thoughts. She busily moved her crochet hook through a string of white thread, back and forth, up and down. A white lace pattern slowly came into shape, loop by tiny loop.

Un, deux, trois, quatre,” she counted in French as she made a chain of eight stitches, “cinq, six, sept, huit.”

Lace-making involved recognizing patterns, being precise, and keeping track of each stitch, until she had created a beautiful geometric pattern out of nothing but a single string of thread and a hook.

Her hands busy, Minnie’s mind wandered. One day, she thought, I’ll place this pillow on the bed I’ll share with my husband.

She knew it wouldn’t be Ed Paquin Jr. She prayed that God would send someone even better.

Ma entered the front room, inspecting Minnie’s work and giving her approval.

Beau travail, ma fille,” Aurora said. “Beautiful work, my daughter.”

Merci, Mama.”

Visiting the Bride, Begrudgingly

As she had for the last few days, Aurora again encouraged Minnie to cross the road to congratulate Maud Raiche on her engagement to Ed. Finally, Minnie gave in, just to make her mother happy.

“Minnie, I’m so glad you called,” Maud said, hugging her neighbor and beaming with pride.

Minnie thought she could see a look of triumph in Maud’s eyes. Just there, behind the surface. Maud knew she’d caught the most eligible man in the neighborhood. And she knew that Minnie had wanted him, too.

“Congratulations, Maud. I know you will be a beautiful bride,” Minnie said, trying to hide her envy behind a fake smile.

Maud prattled on about the wedding. It would be a small afternoon ceremony at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on May 3, with dancing to follow that evening at her father’s farm. Mrs. Raiche had already ordered food to be delivered from the General Store.

Minnie stayed long enough to be polite, then she said goodbye and returned home to her crochet work.

Un, deux, trois, quatre,” she counted, forcing her mind to concentrate. “Un, deux, trois, quatre.”

Finished the Pillow

Tuesday, April 19 - Finished my pillow.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Having finished the crocheted lace cover, Minnie sewed her creation onto a rose-colored pillow case and stuffed the pillow with goose feathers. She carefully laid it on her bed, placing it just so.

She had spent many hours creating this handmade work of art, and she wanted to keep the pillow looking clean and new.

Stopped to See "Pie Face"

Wednesday, April 20 - Went to Hville in the PM. Stopped by schoolhouse to see “pie face”

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Long before she got to Hermansville on Wednesday afternoon, Minnie could see smoke pouring from the coal-powered electric plant, indicating it was running at full capacity. As she reached the village, she heard the horse-powered tram moving logs from the pond and yard to the mill. The buzz of saws drifted over the village. More than 400 men worked together like a well-trained army, sawing, counting and packing cedar shingles, pine boards and maple flooring to be shipped to cities far away.

Minnie stopped at the post office to mail a letter to the Larkin Soap Co. of Buffalo, New York, seeking information on becoming a Larkin saleswoman. After a quick trip to the general store, she visited the library, where today’s Chicago Tribune asked, “Do Souls Go Visiting?”

“New York, April 19 — [Special.] — The results of years of scientific investigation of dreams was given before a large audience … tonight by Charles W. Leadbeater of London, who is visiting in this country under the auspices of the Theosophical society. … These are some of his deductions: That the soul of a true man leaves its body during sleep and may then be more or less fully conscious according to the degree of its development and be capable of receiving impressions, moving freely, visiting places at a distance, and conversing with other souls, whose bodies also are asleep.”

— “Do Souls Go Visiting,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1904,

Minnie doubted the idea of souls leaving the body to converse with other souls during a dream. She wondered what Father Glaser might think of that.

Minnie also took to heart some advice from columnist Fadette.

“Take time while time is, for time will away.


Take time to think good thoughts, to speak good words, to act good deeds.


Take time to listen to others occasionally and to forget yourself.”

— “Your Corner” by Fadette, The Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Ill., April 20, 1904

On the way home, she saw a familiar horse and cart at the school. Pie Face was delivering some supplies.

"Mademoiselle Gamache," he said, kissing her hand. "I received your letter last week. What did you want to talk to me about?"

Knowing Pie Face was a shrewd businessman, Minnie asked his opinion about selling Larkin soap to women in the area. He declared it a grand idea, and soon he was brainstorming potential clients in his business circles.

"I know, I'll take you for a ride to meet families who live between Hermansville and Nadeau," he said. "I'm sure some of them would buy your soap. Perhaps when you have some samples to show?"

Minnie said she appreciated his offer, and would let him know. They talked and laughed together for a while, until Minnie started to see men walking back home from the mill.

"Oh my, I'd better get home," she said, taking her leave and walking back up the hill toward the farm.

Thursday, April 21 - Fixed our milk house. Del over in evening to ask me to stand with him. Mrs. Duby over.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

The Gamache farm needed a brand-new milk house. They had always separated the cream from the milk and then poured it into cans for pick-up by the creamery. They stored the cans in the milk house, which was attached to the barn. The creamery now said they must separate the milk house and the barn.

Underneath their new wind-powered water pump, Minnie helped Pa build a 6-by-8-foot building that could hold a galvanized metal tank. The tank would be deep enough to hold the milk cans, with water reaching up to their necks. All the water pumped for the animals, house or other needs on the farm would run through the tank.

“The creamery wants us to keep the temperature below 60 degrees, from the time the cream is separated until they pick it up. If we do, we’ll get a better price,” Pa said.

Minnie knew a cow fed on clover would produce a sweet-smelling butter. If that same cow got into wild onions or drank stagnant water, the butter would carry a bad odor and a sour taste.

“Just like life,” she thought. “If you surround yourself with bad-smelling people and situations, pretty soon their odors creep into your own heart and your own life.”

Minnie helped Pa shovel sawdust between the inner and outer walls of the milk house to insulate it from both hot and cold weather. After building a roof, Pa mixed some cement and poured it on the dirt floor, smoothing it with a trowel. They left the cement to dry and harden until the next day.

“[T]he farmer who is going to get the best price for his cream will have to provide himself with a place in which to keep it cool until it can be delivered to the station. Keep it as cool as possible without freezing up to the time it is delivered.”

— Bureau of Animal Industry, Washburn Times, Washburn, Wis., September 8, 1904

A Request She Couldn't Refuse

That evening, Del Paquin knocked on the front door, asking for Minnie. He told her his brother had asked him to be a witness for the wedding.

“Will you stand with me?”

Minnie gulped at the idea of standing in front of the church to witness Ed and Maud’s wedding, when she’d rather hide her feelings from a back pew. But how could she refuse Del’s invitation? After a short pause, she responded.

“Of course. It would be an honor.”

The St. Louis World's Fair

Aldia Duby, Ed and Del's sister, also wanted to talk about her brother’s wedding to Maud. Minnie didn't know how she'd survive twelve more days of wedding fever.

Aldia said Ed and Maud planned to go to the World’s Fair in St. Louis on their honeymoon, a gift from their parents.

“Won’t that be grand?” Aldia said. “How I’d love to be able to visit the World’s Fair, but with no spare money and three little ones, it’s just impossible.”

“ ‘The most remarkable display of Michigan products,’ said Commissioner Ray S. Barnhart, ‘is the forestry exhibit. It will show every kind of wood grown in the state and every feature entering into its manufacture into various commercial products, including lumber camps, mills, etc.’”

— “Ready for the Opening,” The Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Mich., April 21, 1904

Milk House Completed

Friday, April 22 - Completed our work in the milk house. Mr. Marchaterre over with Joe.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Minnie helped Pa install the milk house water tank and build a work table. They also built in space to store their cream separator and a sink to wash the equipment.

“We’ll have the best-tasting cream in the land,” she told him.

Photo Credit: Miikka Luotio via Unsplash

Joe Marchaterre stopped by with Joe Jr. that afternoon. They were returning home from a trip to the general store to pick up more hardware.

“How’s the house coming along?” Ma asked.

Tres bien,” Mr. Marchaterre said. “The house will be done very soon, but I still need to add doors, cabinets, a stove, sink and laundry room.”

“I can’t wait until Ma arrives,” said Joe Jr. “We miss her cooking.”

At that, Ma Gamache insisted that they stay for supper, sending Minnie's brother Freddie to fetch Joe's younger sons from their place up the road.

A Walk with Pie Face

Saturday, April 23 - Emily was over. Went to Mrs. J. Chenard. Rained when we came home. Slept with “pie face.”

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

It seemed as if the entire neighborhood had squeezed inside the house when Emily and Minnie arrived at John Chenard’s farm. They could hear Archie Marchaterre playing a jig on his violin. Everyone’s toes were tapping to the rhythm, itching to dance if they weren't already on the crowded dance floor.

Mill workers were tired after their first week working at the mill, while the farmers had been busy getting ready for planting season. But, mon Dieu, they were ready to have fun.

Minnie wore a light gray skirt and blue shirtwaist trimmed with lace. The shirtwaist accentuated the blue in her bright eyes.

Ma and Pa were in the front room, drinking and dancing with their friends. Minnie’s younger brothers stood by the barn with their friends, acting grown up and pretending they weren’t interested in dancing with the girls. With men outnumbering women 8-to-1 in this town, they didn’t have much of a chance, anyway.

Bon soir, Mademoiselle Gamache.”

Minnie turned around to see Pie Face, smiling at her. She nodded and smiled back, casting her eyes downward at his neatly pressed trousers and polished boots.

“It’s crowded in there,” he said. “I”d ask you to dance, but I don’t think there’s room. Besides, I don’t want other men bumping into you while I have you in my arms.”

Minnie laughed. She’d never danced with Pie Face, but she had imagined being in his arms.

“How about a walk instead?” she said.

They walked down the Chenard’s dirt driveway to the rough, gravel road. They passed the apple trees, just starting to bud, and a lilac bush, still dormant and waiting for warmer weather.

When they had walked out of sight, Pie Face took her hand. She asked about his boyhood home in Canada. While Minnie had been born in French Canada, she had no memories of it. She wondered what Quebec was like.

Pie Face told her about the little town near Montreal where he grew up. His family had lived in the area since the 1660s, when their first ancestor arrived from France. They were farmers, but it was hard for a young man to start a new farm under Canada's policies.

Pie Face's father and his first wife had eight children before she died suddenly. Then he married Rose, who helped care for those children plus five of her own, including Pie Face. Rose was only five years older than her oldest stepdaughter, creating some tension in the household between the older children and younger children.

“She was brave to step into that situation,” Minnie said.

“All things are possible when you’re in love,” said Pie Face.

By now, they had walked south past the Gamache farm and were nearing the crossroads and the school.

“We should start walking back. I don’t like the look of those clouds,” Minnie said, noticing dark clouds forming to the south.

The rain caught up with them before they could return to the Chenard farm. They quickly darted from the road to the Gamache farmhouse, standing on the covered front porch, wet from the rain.

“Come inside and take off your shirt. We can put it by the stove to dry,” Minnie said, ushering Pie Face into the kitchen.

“What about yours?”

Minnie looked down to see her wet shirtwaist, clinging to her skin. She looked up, seeing him standing over her.

He kissed her, softly at first, then with passion, cupping her face with his hands.

Minnie unbuttoned his shirt and felt his strong arms around her. His warm lips met hers.

Pie Face slowly unbuttoned Minnie’s wet shirtwaist and kissed her neck and her shoulders, slowly working his way to her corset.

She led him upstairs, where they made love on her bed, as the rain fell harder and harder on the roof above.

They didn’t even hear the thunder as Minnie’s lace-covered pillow fell to the floor.


Notes and Further Reading

Disclaimer: Minnie's Diary is part history, part fiction. Anything not in the diary is based on my own research into the history of the time and the people who lived in Hermansville in 1904, as well as a bit of imagination. I welcome your corrections and alternate interpretations.

-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter

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Characters: John and Marie Zoe Chenard, who lived just north of the Gamache farm, are new characters in Minnie’s Diary this week. Like many others in the diary, they followed the migration of families from Rimouski in French Canada to Champion and then Hermansville, Michigan.

Born Jerome Jean Chenard on July 28, 1855, in Rimouski, John may have grown up knowing Minnie's father, Pierre Gamache, who was born there in 1856. Jean married Marie Zoe Dubé in 1878 at St. Cecile du Bic Catholic Church in Rimouski. She was the daughter of Herménégilde Dubé and Anastasie Gagnon, and likely a distant cousin of Minnie’s mother, Aurora Dubé.

The Chenards immigrated to Champion in 1890, where their son Joseph was born on July 11 that year. By 1910, they had moved to Hermansville, where John found work as a laborer at the lumber mill. They had seven children, but only three were still alive in 1910: Alma, 20; Joseph, 17; and Arthur, 15. By 1920, John worked his own farm. Zoe Chenard died in July 1929 of heart disease. John died 10 years later of a cerebral hemorrhage. Both are buried in Hermansville.

John’s brother, George Chenard, also married a Dubé from Rimouski (Delia). They owned the farm just south of the Gamache farm, as well as 40 acres to the east.

1912 map showing location of characters in this week's diary. Ed Jr. & Maud had the farm north of the school.

The Brothers Gamache: I haven’t written much about Minnie’s three younger brothers, mostly because they don’t show up often in her diary. At 20, Minnie was almost four years older than Edmund, her next youngest brother, and more than six years older than Frederick, the baby of the family.

In 1904, payroll records show 16-year-old Edmund earned 75 cents a day and 15-year-old William (“Willie”) earned $1.40 a day for the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. Working 10-hour days, six days per week, they would have brought the family about $55 a month during the sawing season.

With a fourth grade education, Edmund likely could only work as a laborer in the lumber yard. Willie had completed eighth grade before he started working, so he made almost twice his brother’s daily wage.

Freddie, who turned 14 in July 1904, finished eighth grade before he began farming with Peter full-time. He later took over the Gamache farm, though Peter and Aurora continued to live with Fred until they passed away. Fred also drove a school bus for Hermansville schools. Several of my cousins remember seeing “Uncle Fred” and his wife, “Aunt Gladys,” at some family gatherings.

Top row: Edmund, Minnie and Willie. Bottom: Fred, Aurora and Peter Gamache.

Of course, we've met Pie Face in previous blog posts, but not in such an intimate manner. How do you write about your great-grandmother sleeping with a guy named "Pie Face?" While his identity remains a mystery, he continues to play an important role in Minnie's life in 1904.

Men on the WL&L Payroll: I counted the names on the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. payroll on April 20, 1904. More than 450 daily wage workers (all men) were on the job that day, 425 in the mill and about 36 still being paid for work in the lumber camps. The company also had 27 salaried employees.

Crocheted Pillow: I spent a lot of time this week wondering what kind of lace and pillow Minnie was making. Since it only took her two days to complete, I ruled out some more intricate types of homemade lace and settled on a crocheted lace that would cover a pillow. Minnie’s daughters, including my grandmother, loved to crochet. I still have several crocheted items that my grandmother made, and I wonder if some of Minnie’s work may still be floating around in family belongings somewhere.

Milk Houses: I remember the clean, milky smell of the milk house on my Uncle Jerry’s dairy farm in Upper Michigan. He was very careful about cleaning the milk machines before and after every milking. Prior to stainless steel refrigerated tanks, farmers used the old-fashioned milk cans to store milk and cream.

The cream on the Gamache farm may have been used to make cheese rather than butter. However, newspaper accounts and government records show the U.S. Department of Agriculture was working in 1903-04 to improve the quality of butter, half of which was made in seven states. “Butter is such a sensitive product that its taste or smell quickly shows if it has been subjected to unwholesome surroundings,” said a 1903 report of the Bureau of Animal Industry, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To learn more, read “Facts Concerning the History, Commerce and Manufacture of Butter” by Harry Hayward in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Twenty-First Annual Report of the Bureau of Animal Industry, 1904, accessed at Hathitrust via this link:

A warning: you will crave sweet cream butter or buttery bread rolls by the time you’re done reading Hayward’s report.

World's Fair: The St. Louis World's Fair opened on April 30, 1904. To see photos of the exposition visit this collection on The Atlantic's website. Also, here's a Detroit Free Press account from April 21, 1904, about the Michigan state exhibit.

The image and text below comes from Minnie's diary.

Page from Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904

New States: While Congress is now debating whether to admit the District of Columbia as a state, in 1904 the U.S. House voted 148-104 to pass another statehood bill, seeking to make two new states: one new state from Oklahoma and Indian territories and one from Arizona and New Mexico territories.

“Ever since the statehood question has been discussed in congress the democrats have been anxious to make four states of these territories, because a majority of the senators and representatives and electors in the electoral college would be of their political faith, and consequently they desired to gain this great advantage. The republicans, however, would not agree to any proposition which involved the making of more than two states of the four territories.”

— The Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Ill., April 20, 1904

After passing the House, the bill went to the Senate, where Republicans held 57 of the 90 seats. As we all know, Congress eventually settled on three new states from those lands: Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Here’s a list of the 45 states and seven territories in 1904 and their populations in 1890 and 1900.

Image from Minnie Gamache dairy, 1904

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