Minnie's Diary #5: Too Cold to Get Drunk
Updated: Jan 30, 2021
Sunday, 24 January - Cold weather. had to ride up with Mr. Duby. frozed when we got to Mrs. Paquin
No amount of wool could prevent the icy air from penetrating into Minnie’s bones. She was wearing her warmest wool hat, wool scarf, wool mittens, long johns under a wool skirt, and a wool sweater and coat. Yet she was shivering and struggling to stay warm.
Minnie and her friend Emily were huddling under a blanket on Mr. Duby’s horse-drawn sleigh, but when they arrived at the Paquin house their fingers and toes had turned white. Their faces were red. Their ears were numb. The air had frozen their nostrils every time they took a breath. It seemed their lungs would seize up.
“In colder places … it has recently become the fashion to send tuberculosis patients into the north, in high altitudes at that, rather than into enervating and tepid lands like Florida and Cuba. The sanitary of Davos, of the Adirondacks and of the Colorado and California mountains are in much favor, and patients sent there live as much as possible in the open air and engage so far as they can in winter sports of tobogganing and skating. They appear to thrive.”
— “Wintry Air as a Panacea,” Detroit Free Press, January 24, 1904
When Minnie and Emily woke up at the LaVigne household this morning, the thermometer had dipped to 25 degrees below zero. Because it was too dangerous to walk home, they telephoned to arrange a ride with Louis Duby, a laborer for the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. when he’s not farming. Louis’s wife Aldia is Ed and Armelia Paquin’s eldest daughter. Since Louis passes by his father-in-law’s farm on his way home, it’s really no trouble.
“You girls just squeeze together under this blanket and we’ll be there in no time,” he said.
When they reached the Paquins, Minnie and Emily took off their mittens and boots and huddled close to the wood-burning stove in the kitchen until they started to feel their fingers and toes again. It was too cold and too late in the evening for Minnie to go home. Besides, it was nice and warm at the Paquin house and she had her best friend and the Paquins to keep her company.
The frigid air may be a “panacea,” but it can stay outside. There was warmth, friendship and laughter inside, and that’s what they needed.
Pa and Ma Working a Quilt
Monday, 25 January - stayed to Mr. P. & came home 11:30. P & ma working at a quilt. cold
“Quilting, Pa? Have you given up lumbering?”
“I’m too old to be cutting down trees at 25 below. It’s nice and cozy here with your ma.”
Minnie chuckled at the sight of her parents huddled together in the kitchen, keeping warm under one quilt while working on another.
“Well, being under a quilt is a good place to be today,” Minnie told her parents. “Mr. Duby said it’s so cold that all the trains are delayed. They can’t work up enough steam to run at full speed.”
“I wouldn’t want to be on a train today,” Ma said. "Or anywhere else for that matter."
“There’s no one in the streets in the village. Mr. LaVigne said even the saloons were empty on Saturday night.”
“Too cold to get drunk,” said Pa. “Never thought I’d see that!”
43 Below: The "Cooler" Becomes a "Warmer"
Tuesday, 26 January - stitch a quilt
Thursday, 28 January - cold. 43 degree below zero
No one ventured outside on Thursday. Schoolchildren had the day off and the mill was shut down. Everyone with indoor plumbing was praying their pipes wouldn’t freeze. Most of the lumberjacks in the camps refused to work. They lost a day’s pay, but saved their fingers, toes, noses and chins from frostbite.
Peter’s twice-a-day trip to the barn was brutal, but it was a job that he could not skip. He has to milk the cows, clean the barn and feed the livestock. The cows and horses were suffering in cold, with only their body heat to warm the barn.
Some trains coming through Hermansville had two engines — one to move the train and the other fired up just to keep the passenger cars warm. In Iowa, a Chicago-bound train was nine hours late when two different engines broke down. The passengers had to put on their overcoats and walk briskly up and down the aisles to keep warm.
“I heard a couple of tramps got off the Soo Line this morning and turned themselves in to Officer Sullivan, asking to be put in jail,” Peter said. “I guess the ‘cooler’ is a ‘warmer’ today, eh?”
“The hardiest race in the world is the out-of-door people living this section, who are not afraid of the cold weather, but know how to enjoy it. It was life in the little huts supplied with ventilation and big fire places that made our French ancestors in this locality strong and enduring, and gave them their vigorous black eyes and hair.”
— Physician quoted in the Detroit Free Press, January 29, 1904
A Helping Hand to Mrs. Caron
Saturday, 30 January - went to Mrs. Caron
“Minnie, I’m so glad you came today. I just don’t have the energy anymore to do my house work.”
Minnie hadn't seen her friend Henry Caron since the New Year, when they danced two nights in a row at the neighborhood réveillon parties. On this day, Henry and his brother Wilfred were with their father, Joe, at the lumber camp. Joe was a blacksmith and Henry and Willy worked on the lumberjack crews.
Marie Caron, 42, had been struggling at home while her husband and sons have been away. They were expected home Saturday night, and Mrs. Caron didn’t want them to see the house like this. The Caron daughters, 14-year-old Nellie and 12-year-old Marian, have tried to help out, but they also need to keep up with their studies.
Mrs. Caron was already out of breath, just from greeting Minnie at the door.
“Doctor Kirby says it's my heart,” she told Minnie. “I just can’t seem to get my energy, no matter how much I rest. I’m tired and dizzy so often.”
“That’s OK, Mrs. Caron. Nellie and Marian can show me where things are. You go to bed and rest.”
Minnie and the Caron girls spent the day scrubbing the floors, cleaning the kitchen, washing clothes, baking bread and making ham-and-bean soup. Minnie found some apples and walnuts in the root cellar and made three loaves of apple bread, which the Carons will enjoy for breakfast for the next week or two. She stored two loaves in a bread box out on the porch, where they will stay cold and fresh. She brought Mrs. Caron a slice of apple bread with butter, fresh from the oven.
“Oh, Minnie. That tastes so good. Can you give me your recipe?”
“Of course. I’ll write it down and leave it in the kitchen.”
1/2 cup butter 1-1/2 cups diced apples
1 cup sugar 1/2 cup nut meats
2 T. sour milk 1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg 1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. vanilla 2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, 10 minutes
Before she left, Minnie checked on the cattle, pigs and chickens, to make sure the girls have been bringing them water and food. Minnie gathered a few eggs from the chicken coop and gave them to Nellie.
“Your mama is sick and doesn’t have the energy she used to have. She needs you and Marian to help out as much as you can, Nellie. Can I count on you?”
“Yes, Minnie. But I’m scared. Je suis effrayée … I’m frightened we will lose her.”
“She must have rest and sleep. Repos et sommeil. That’s what your mother needs the most right now. And prayer.”
Some Great "Fellers"
Sunday 31 January - went to Mass. Em came over in P.M. Del, Fred, Ed & Maud. had lot fun. stayed for supper went home 10 P.M.
At Mass, while Father Glaser recites the Latin prayers over the Eucharist, Minnie says a silent prayer from her prayer book for her sick neighbor.
Hail Mary, full of grace, spiritual Mother to those in need, I fervently request Your heavenly intercession for Mrs. Caron, who is ill and seeks God’s miraculous assistance. You truly care for the sick and offer them Your compassionate support in powerful acts of healing.
Stay near to Mrs. Caron with Your maternal protection. Console our anxious hearts and grant that our physical and emotional sufferings be a source of purification and growth for eternal life. Amen.
After Sunday dinner, Emily stopped to visit. The two young women caught up on how each had survived the cold weather this week. Later, the Paquin boys arrived and the real fun began.
There’s nothing more contagious than laughter in a room of single, young adults not yet burdened by family life, yet looking for a match that will someday take them down such a path. So we find this bunch gathered in the Gamache kitchen on a Sunday afternoon.
Brothers Ed, Fred and Del Paquin were falling over each other, competing at who could make these attractive young women — Emily, Minnie and Maud — laugh the loudest and longest.
“So I met a lumberjack in a pub last night,” said Ed. “Great feller.”
“How did the lumberjack know his lumber delivery was incomplete?” asked Del. “He kept a log.”
“Working with a pit saw is very dangerous. If you don't believe me," Fred said, "go ask my half brother!”
“Did you hear about the woodcutter who lost his job?” Ed responded. “His boss gave him the axe.”
“Wait, wait! I have one,” said Minnie.
A man goes to confession. "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. You know that vacant lot in town? The one with a pile of lumber on it for weeks? I helped myself."
The Priest says, "Stealing is a mortal sin, my son. Say three Hail Marys, two Our Fathers, and return the lumber."
Next Sunday the man goes into the confessional. "I know you told me to return the lumber, but when I got to the lot, well … I took some more."
The Priest says, "My son, the Eighth Commandment says 'Thou shalt not steal.' I want you to pray the Rosary, recite the Queen of Heaven, and take back that lumber!"
Next week, the man comes in. "Father, I did my penance, but when I returned to the lot, the rest of the lumber was just sitting there. I couldn't help myself. It's all at my house now."
Now the Priest is really upset. "My son, don't you know that your immortal soul is in danger? It's time for extreme measures. Tell me, do you know how to make a novena?"
"No, Father," the man replies, "but if you have the plans. I have the lumber."
Ed Paquin laughed so hard at Minnie’s joke, he fell out of his chair.
The jokes and stories continued long after supper, until 10 p.m., when Minnie’s friends said goodbye and headed out into the snowy night to walk home. They escorted Maud to her family's home across the road. Then the Paquin men and Emily headed back to the Paquin farm, where Emily is renting a room while she teaches at the corner schoolhouse. On Monday, the men and Emily will need to rise early to get back to work.
Notes & Further Reading
Disclaimer: While the diary entries above are real, the stories I've created to illustrate Minnie's life are fictional. The stories are based on my research into the history of the time and the characters, but are largely the product of my imagination. I welcome your corrections and alternate interpretations.
-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter
Characters: Louis Duby appears in the diary for the first time this week. Readers may remember that Minnie's mother, Aurora, is a Dubé from Rimouski in French Canada, but I don't know if she and Louis are related. Louis was 33 years old in October 1896 when he married 16-year-old Alida Paquin in Nadeau, Michigan. By 1904, they had three daughters, Clara, 6; Flora, 3; and Merilda, 1. The Paquins are recurring characters, but this is the first time that brothers Ed and Fred have shown up in the diary. Ed, 27, and Fred, 20, are the older brothers of 17-year-old Del, whom Minnie visited earlier in January. Maud Raiche also makes her first appearance. She's the 15-year-old daughter of Joe and Emeline Raiche, who live on the farm across the road from the Gamache farm. Maud, born in March 1888, is their youngest daughter. Another new character is Mary Filatreau Caron, the wife of Joseph Caron. The Carons don't show up in any Hermansville census, but do appear in Champion, Michigan, where Joe was a blacksmith. It's likely that Joe found work as a blacksmith in the Hermansville-area lumber camps and the family lived in Hermansville for a few years during this decade. Their children are Henry (Minnie's New Year's date), Wilfred, Nellie and Marian (sometimes Mary Ann in the records). Records show Mrs. Caron did suffer from heart disease, starting at least in 1903.
Cold Spell of 1904: Reading through news accounts of the cold weather in 1904 uncovered some interesting stories. I was not able to access any Menominee County newspapers before writing this post, so many of the stories come from newspaper accounts in Detroit, Chicago and cities in Wisconsin. This story from a railroad man, as told by the Portage Daily Democrat in Portage, Wisconsin, was particularly compelling:
“During my life as a railroad man I have run up against cold weather, but never heard of feet being frozen in the cab of an engine. This occurred, however, yesterday on a freight run between Portage and Milwaukee.” … He explains that the boiler heads on the big train engines had recently been covered to make the cabs more endurable in hot weather. But in winter, it prevented the heat of the engines from warming them as the train ran. “Both engineers and firemen are compelled to dress like arctic explorers lest they perish of cold within a few inches of a seething furnace.”
Portage Daily Democrat, Portage, WI, 26 January 1904
Tramps: The word "tramp" was commonly used in the late 19th and early 20th century to refer to certain homeless people. Depression-era writer H. L. Mencken wrote, “Tramps and hobos are commonly lumped together, but see themselves as sharply differentiated. A hobo or bo is simply a migratory laborer; he may take some longish holidays, but sooner or later he returns to work. A tramp never works if it can be avoided; he simply travels.” For more on the history of U.S. homelessness, see https://nationalhomeless.org/hoboes-bums-tramps/
Apple Bread: The apple bread recipe above comes courtesy of my mother, Verna Benson Perras. I'm not sure how old it is, but it smells heavenly and tastes delicious. The original recipe included "oleo" instead of butter as an ingredient, which would place it later in the 20th century. Families may have been more likely to eat apple bread in the fall, but I'm guessing that they may have stored some apples in their root cellars until January for such a treat.
Lumberjack Jokes: I give full credit to upjoke.com for the lumber-related jokes. Some of these jokes sounded just like the jokes my uncles used to tell in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Find more corny lumber jokes at https://upjoke.com/lumber-jokes