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Minnie's Diary #32: Shining Girls and Farmer Boys


Picking Cherries At Night


Sunday, August 14 - Went and pick cherries at night. Went to Mrs. Paquin. Had a circus.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904


Pa was a big believer in picking cherries at dark, when the heat of the sun wouldn’t ruin the fruit before you got it to the kitchen to make wine. As a beautiful crescent moon dipped toward the western horizon, Minnie climbed the ladder leaning against the cherry tree. Hanging an oil lantern for light, she reached high to pick the ripest fruits, placing them carefully in a pail. Pa worked another tree nearby, humming a tune.

Minnie’s earliest memories included picking cherries as a young girl. Pa remembered the day when he jokingly said to his daughter, then just three years old, “Minnie, you should go pick some cherries and bake me a pie. I’m really hungry for cherry pie.”

The adults laughed and went about their chores, not noticing when Minnie slipped away into the orchard. There she found the ladder that Pa had left leaning against a tree. By the time the adults realized Minnie had vanished, she was high in the tree top. She had already picked a quart of ripe cherries, and it was all she could do to hang onto the heavy pail. Pa climbed up carefully behind her and carried his daughter down. Minnie had no idea of the danger she’d been in.


Ma gave Pa a harsh look, but cheerfully took the pail and — with little Minnie’s help — made Pa the most delicious pie they’d ever tasted.


Tonight’s goal was cherry wine, which would help cheer them during the long winter ahead.

Peter Gamache looked over at his daughter, watching her pick the fruit and drop them into a pail. He smiled and sighed, and continued his work.


“Stem and wash the cherries and mash into a pulp with a wooden mallet. Press out all the juice and to each quart add a pint of granulated sugar and half a pint of water. Stir thoroughly; pour into a crock, and cover with a single thickness of muslin or cheesecloth, and let it stand until fermentation ceases; then bottle and seal.”

— “Cherry Wine,” Grand Rapids Tribune, Grand Rapids, Wisconsin, 10 Aug 1904



Mary Raiche Was Married


Monday, August 15 - Went to Hville and at night went to Leon Raiche. Had a fine time. Mary Raiche was married.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904


Mary Raiche entered St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church dressed in white, a bouquet of local flowers in her hands. She looked at her family and friends from the French Canadian community near Hermansville and extended family coming from Champion and other communities.


When her eyes reached Minnie, they exchanged a knowing look. Mary’s girlhood days were over. They knew that when Mary greeted a new day tomorrow, she would be a wife. Someday soon, a mother. She would say goodbye to the carefree days spent dreaming of her future. Creating illusions of life as a princess in a faraway castle. Or a traveling stage actress. Or a rich woman living in a big house in the city, servants waiting on her hand and foot.


“Who am I kidding?” Mary thought to herself. “My life is here. These are my people. And Levi will be my husband.”

Minnie watched her friend walk down the aisle and take vows to love and obey her husband, Levi Lecoursier.


“Another friend married,” Minnie thought. The third one this year, and all were younger than Minnie.


“Good for them,” she thought. “As for me, perhaps I'll always stay a girl.”


-- "I Wish I Could," by Belle A. Hitchcock, Ironwood Times, Ironwood, Mich., July 23, 1904, p. 7


Mary’s brother and sister-in-law, Leon Raiche and Marie Dubé Raiche, hosted the wedding party that night. Guests filled their home and spilled out into the yard in the warm summer evening. The bride's parents, Frank and Christina Raiche, also made everyone feel welcome. The guests came from all the neighboring farms. They ate. They drank. They danced and they danced to the old songs of Quebec, accompanied by violin and accordion.


Another young couple was beginning their life together. What’s not to celebrate?



Back to Work


Tuesday, August 16 - Worked in the garden. Alice & Joe called. Had a good time.
Wednesday, August 17 - Washed and went and picked berries.
Thursday, August 18 - Went and pick berries. Had a circus at night. Joe sat on the floor.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904


After several days celebrating Mary Raiche’s wedding, the "Camp 7" settlers set about catching up on chores around their farms. Minnie weeded the garden, picked berries and harvested vegetables while Ma did the canning and preserving. Minnie helped her carry the jars to the fieldstone-lined cellar and put them on the wooden shelves. They would be grateful for their precious store of fruits and vegetables when winter came.

By Thursday night, Minnie and her brothers felt ready for some fun. They paired up with Joe Marchaterre and his siblings for cards and games, while their parents visited outdoors on the warm summery evening.


“My feet are killing me,” Minnie said, taking off her shoe and rubbing her foot.


“They are?” Joe said. “Let’s take a look.”


Joe sat on the floor and reached for Minnie’s right foot.


“What do you think you're doing?” Minnie said.


“Ah," Joe said. "I can already see what the trouble is.”

-- Owosso Times, Owosso, Mich., Sept. 17, 1904

“What?”


“These tight shoes! These thin stockings. Your feet are suffocating. Take a look at your bruised toes. They’re too cramped in here. You need some new kicks, and soon.”

Everyone laughed as Joe examined Minnie’s feet carefully, pointing out all their flaws and weaknesses. He threatened to carry her shoes off and burn them in the wood stove, but Minnie begged him to return them to her.


“I’ll get some new shoes,” she promised. “But for now these are the best I have.”


Joe ran his fingers down the bottom of Minnie’s sole and she shrieked, pulling her foot away.


“Oh, ticklish are you?”


“Joe Marchaterre, you keep your hands off my feet. I mean it!”


Joe laughed and winked at Minnie’s brothers, who watched the entire interchange with amusement. They’d all been friends since childhood, and demonstrated no shock at Joe’s familiarity with their sister’s feet.

“Minnie has always had ticklish feet,” Willie said. “We used to tickle her until she begged us to stop.”

“She did?”

Foreseeing her tickled fate, Minnie jumped up and ran outside in her bare feet, trying to escape Joe and her three brothers. Ma and Pa and Mr. and Mrs. Marchaterre raised their eyebrows as the crowd spilled outside, then laughed as Minnie eluded all attempts to catch her.


"Boys will be boys, eh?" Mr. Marchaterre said.


"And our Minnie won't put up with their foolery," Pa said.


"No, she won't," Ma agreed. "But she could do worse than finding a nice boy like Joe to share her life."


"All in due time, Mama. All in due time," Pa said.

On this summer’s evening, the two farming families enjoyed each other’s company. Although economic troubles in Champion had forced the Marchaterres to pack up and move away, they had found a new home with their old friends here amidst the clover and hay.




-- The Farmer Boy, by C.T. Lewis, Bristol Herald, Bristol, Vermont, 21 Apr 1904,



"Pressed Our Hay"


Friday, August 19 - Pressed our hay and went and pick cherries.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904


The traveling hay press arrived early in the morning, pulled by a team of horses driven by a neighbor farmer. Farmers couldn’t afford to own every piece of equipment, especially something like a hay press, needed just once or twice each summer. So they shared and helped each other out.

Bonjour, Francois,” Pa said to Frank Raiche. The two men laughed and joked briefly in their native language before they got to work.


Pressing hay required five or six men, or, in this case, five men and a woman. Minnie helped her brother, Freddie, pitch hay into the top of the press, where a plunger pressed it into a bale. Pa and neighbor Joe Raiche, Frank's brother, threaded the wire used to tie the bales tightly. While Frank Raiche made sure the horsepower that drove the machine kept walking in a circle, Joe’s 11-year-old son, Aleck, lifted the bales and stacked them nearby. Later, they’d move the bales to the barn.


“Let’s put Clement and Beau on the machine,” Pa said, motioning to his two Percheron horses, standing nearby with their harnesses on.


“My team can manage it,” Frank Raiche said.


J'insiste. I insist,” Pa said. “My horses need to do their share.”

And so old Clem did his turn, walking in a circle to drive the hay press and compact the loose hay into bales for the winter. Beau, the younger of the two horses, also had a turn.


“He’s a good old horse,” Pa said, patting Clem on the shoulder as he led him back to the barn.



Hay Press Advertisements, Farm Journal, September 1904, p. 291, via Google Books


"Our Horse Sick"


Saturday, August 20 - Our horse sick. Dance in Hville but I did not go. It rained hard. Wrote to A.F.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904


“Clem’s not well,” Pa said over dinner. The words came out quickly and matter-of-factly, but the look in his eyes showed worry and concern.


“What’s wrong, Papa?” Minnie asked.

“He wouldn’t eat this morning. Let’s give him some rest today,” Pa said.

“The horse knows it is not best to eat when one is really sick. He understands the laws of health well enough to know that rest will do more than medicine sometimes. Wish we all knew as much. He knows when his master is proud of him, and when out on parade will do his best to show off to advantage. Finally, the horse knows a true man whenever and wherever he sees him. When he looks at you does he see one?”

— “Notes and Queries,” Farm Journal, March 1904, p. 84


Minnie worried the rest of the day about old Clem, checking on him in the barn from time to time. He’d been the family’s best horse as long as she could remember, and he worked as Pa’s indispensable companion on many farm chores. The gray Percheron could plow a straight line in the field with almost no guidance from Pa. He kept their other horse, Beau, in line when he acted up. When Minnie was a small girl, she could walk up to Clem with an apple and watch him gently take it from her hand with his huge, floppy lips.


Image Credit: Shutterstock

Minnie silently said a short prayer for Clem, sending a petition to St. Éloi of Noyon, a French bishop and the patron saint of blacksmiths and horses.


The skies opened up that evening with a wretched, drenching rain. Minnie had planned to attend the dance in Hermansville, but the rain was unrelenting. Instead, she stayed home and wrote a letter to Arthur Frechette in Marquette, updating her friend on all the news from the Gamache family.

Notes & Further Reading:


Note to Readers: Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction, based on notes written in a 1904 calendar by Minnie Gamache. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in Hermansville, a company-owned lumber town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For more about Minnie and her family, read this introductory page elsewhere on this website.


Remember to subscribe to my blog at the bottom of the page if you want to make sure you see every installment of Minnie's Diary. I'll send an email each time I publish a new post. I will never sell or share your contact information with other individuals or companies.


-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter


#DigMenominee: The Menominee County Library is a finalist for a grant that would help digitize the Menominee County Journal and make it available to the public. They need our help. Between now and Monday, Feb. 28, get on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #DigMenominee. Strong public support plays a large role in who wins the grant. Folks in Menominee County are digging out of a snowstorm this week, but here's another way you can #DigMenominee on Twitter and help preserve local history, which may involve your own family. I'm sure I'll find my family in those pages.



Characters: Mary Raiche was the youngest child of Francoise Raiche and Christine Dubé Raiche. As I've mentioned before, her family immigrated to the United States from Rimouski, Quebec, in the 1880s, settling in Hermansville, Michigan. Minnie and her parents were also from Rimouski. Mary Raiche's husband, Levi Lecoursier, was a laborer, born in Wisconsin to Eli Lecoursier and Louisa Savord. Mary and Levi eventually had 10 children. Levi worked for many years as a laborer for the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. in Hermansville, and several sons also worked there. In the 1940 census, they still lived in Hermansville, where Levi was handling gravel for a road project. He passed away in 1946. After Levi's death, she married Adolph Provancher in December 1948 and lived in Menominee for several years until her death in 1955. Both Levi and Mary are buried in the Hermansville cemetery.


Wedding Records, Menominee County, 1904

Hay Press: I thought baling hay was hard in the 1970s when we had tractors, hay balers and hay elevators to do a lot of the work. But in the early 1900s, the early hay balers required a lot more labor and time to make a bale. I don't know if the Gamache's owned their own hay press or if several farmers "shared" one, as they would have by hiring out a traveling threshing machine. If you're interested in seeing a hay press in action, check out some of the videos I found on YouTube. Here's a 1-minute 2014 video of a hay press in action. Here's a longer, nearly 5-minute video from 2010. You also might enjoy reading about the history of the hay press from farmcollector.com.


Hermansville Dance: I don't know what band was playing on August 20 in Hermansville, but I did find some nice photographs of dance clubs and bands from that era at the Upper Peninsula Regional Digitization Center, which gathers digital images to document U.P. history. Here's a photo of the Vulcan dancing club from Vulcan, Michigan. Here's the Iron Mountain Elks Jazz Band, circa 1900. And here's a photo of the Iron Mountain Metropolitan Band.



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