In The LLI Review (Fall 2011), Bill Boudreau mentioned the small fishing village of Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, as “back home,” despite having lived in the United States for decades. Intrigued, AHB asked him to tell us why.
Retired for over a decade now, and 75-years-old, I often reflect on my roots and values. These lit my journey from the small fishing village of Wedgeport on the southwest cost of Nova Scotia (Canada), where I was born, to Oklahoma City, Okla., where I have lived for more than 40 years.
I arrived in the world on Oct. 28, 1937, at my grandparents’ home on Cape Road. The Boudreau dwelling had no electricity, nor indoor plumbing. A wood-and-coal stove radiated heat in the kitchen.
“Elizabeth, it’s another boy,” Grandma called. I was the third son. My mother would have three more sons and two daughters. My arrival in Wedgeport, a rural French Acadian fishing community, caused little stir. Father Doucette logged my name in the register at Saint Michael’s Church: Guillaume Joseph Boudreau.
As a boy, I spent time on grandparent Boudreau’s small farm. I tagged along to the barn, learned to squeeze cow’s teats and squirt milk at the dog’s snout. I struggled to pull the long rake, as I helped Grandpa turn the hay. One afternoon, I hit a hornet’s nest. The hornets chased us across the field and stung us. They got me in the neck.
Following Grandma’s home-cooked meals, I often sat longer than necessary in the outhouse, studying comics on the walls – Annie Rooney, Popeye and others.
Back home, my siblings and I slept upstairs in two unfinished rooms. In the pond behind the house, I waded through algae and stalked frogs. I collected tadpoles, caught minnows and gathered duck eggs. I chased muskrats and watched them disappear down burrows on the banks. And early on, I learned to skate on the pond.
A short distance from our home, Beechwood Forest (l’Hêterier) offered a place of fantasies. I wandered in the shadows of maples, beech trees, spruce, pine and among granite boulders and decayed logs, becoming Tarzan, a hunter, an explorer, an adventurer in search of lost treasure.
At school, the nuns prepared me for my first confession. Enclosed behind a dark-glass door, I waited for the priest to open the small grid window. It seemed like a long time. Scared and unsure what to say, I wet my pants.
Not long after, I became an alter boy. The first ceremony I served in was a memorial honouring five Wedgeport soldiers, who died in the Second World War. At the sound of the Seven-Gun-Salute and Last Post, I felt a cold chill through my entire body.
By the time I was 13, our father, Cyriac, had me and my siblings milk the cows, harvest the hay, bank the foundation of our house for winter and cut and chop trees for firewood. We even pitched manure on the garden from an oxcart.
During the summer months, I worked at a fish factory to earn money for school. I dug up worms, earning a penny for each worm. At low tide, I raked rockweed, which gave me some pocket money. Early involvement in the grueling and hazardous work of lobster, herring and deep-sea tuna fishing ingrained in me a profound respect for fishermen back home.
In 1955, Wedgeport commemorated the 200th anniversary of the deportation of the Acadians by the British. I visited grandma Pothier. She recounted the tragedy as told to her by her grandmother. Villages on fire, people herded on old frigates and dumped on foreign shores. The long ocean voyages meant many of the old, young and weak did not survive and were thrown overboard. Grandma dabbed her eyes.
When the Acadians were allowed to return, some re-settled on costal shores. Today, La Butte-de-la-Croix marks Wedgeport’s birth in 1767 and the courage of Acadians.
My duties as an alter boy did not stop me from noticing the lovely Dorothy Cottreau – my wife of 55 years – during church services. I didn’t think she noticed my admiration. I was wrong.
As teenagers at the Sunset Spot, we danced to Bill Haley and the Comets blaring Rock Around the Clock on the nickelodeon. One evening, I escorted her home, and watched the fog coil her dark-brown hair into tight locks. Shy, she said little. Her family invited me to Christmas dinner. After a Rappie Pie feast, her father grabbed the fiddle, her older brother the banjo, and another a guitar and we sang and danced and laughed for hours.
When I finished high school, Dorothy and I moved to Montreal where we worked and I continued my studies. My efforts to adjust to Quebec French and become proficient in the English language left me with a sense of insecurity that took me years to overcome.
In 1957, Dorothy and I married.
Finally, I graduated with a degree in applied science and landed a job in computers. Six years later, we moved to Hull, Quebec, and I worked on navigation computers in nearby Ottawa, Ontario.
Just four years later, I emigrated with Dorothy and our five children to Burlington in Massachusetts, U.S.A., where I continued my work in computers. In 1971, the company transferred the family to Oklahoma City.
In the 1980s, while working on an MBA, I broke up long hours of study by turning to music – strumming on the guitar, singing old ballads and love songs. In retirement, I enjoy recording songs in my home studio and playing at festivals and at local nursing homes.
Today, I also write fiction and creative nonfiction. Last fall, I led a course at the local senior centre, helping older adults document memorable moments in their lives.
Those back-home ethics have never left me.
Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, is the place I still call back home.
Bill Boudreau is a French Acadian, who retired from a long career in software/computer systems and management in 2000. Bill lives with his wife Dorothy in Oklahoma City. Visit him online at www. billboudreau.com.