The Author makes use of her ancestor's personal journals and letters which have been preserved since 1918 to recount his portion of the story. Parts of the tale are told in both English and in French. This contribution to the genre of historical fiction comes at the time of the centennial of the Great War--a war that, unfortunately, did not end all wars... -J.P. LaVallee.
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So Far from Story StreetA Novel
By J. P. LaVallee
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 J. P. LaVallee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe End of a Gilded Age
Already, the flames were engulfing a great section of the city, beginning with the area of Boston Street, before enough had realized what was going on. Black clouds rose up, and the great fire was rapidly nearing our South Salem neighborhood. I ran downstairs to find my father and brother, and together we started hosing down the roof of the house and my grandfather's Barber Shop on Story Street, but this was to no avail; we knew that the encroaching blaze would soon sweep across our block, for we felt a heavy heat in the air. It was four in the morning. The Audets, across the street, started clearing out all of the merchandise from the shelves of their general store, and packing it all into boxes and then packing the boxes into their small wagon. We were all soon thereafter given orders from the authorities to 'evacuate to higher ground' at Forest River Park.
My brother and I both darted inside our rooms in the three-story house that my grandfather had built in order to gather our most cherished belongings. I immediately went for my photo albums and scrapbooks, grabbing as many as I could. Pete went for his prized train collection, stuffing each engine and boxcar into a large laundry sack. My father's voice then sounded, Joseph! René! Valère! Pete! Venez, vite! He had managed to gather up some of his bricolage tools and to find my mother and sister. We were greeted by a horse and carriage filled with other neighbors heading southeast to the public park. We rode along Lafayette Street, past St. Joseph's, the Saltonstall School, the Credit Union and Loring Square, until we reached the grounds at Forest River Park. We watched vermillion flames and blackness spread through South Salem down to the mills at Congress Street, then on through the Waterfront district, near Pickering Wharf, and my heart pounded.
The devastation left almost all of my friends and family members homeless. I later viewed this apocalyptic event as my induction into adulthood, for we celebrated my eighteenth birthday at the Forest River Park refuge, among the tents and makeshift beds, among many friends and neighbors who also managed to escape the flames. The Audets, our neighborhood grocers, made the occasion even more special by donating a bag of penny candy to every child encamped there.
Three days laterin the midst of this time of crisissome folks there had heard news hailing from the Continent that there had been an assassination in a place called 'Sarajevo'. Someone from a noble family and his wife had been shot by a group of six assassins while traveling in an open-topped automobile. They were thereit was saidto observe military maneuvers in the city and to open a new museum. It seems as if it is all due to something called 'nationalism', which seems to me to be some kind of new disease that is making its way around Europe.
* * *
A week after our displacement, we received a load of statistics from the local officials: due to the Great Fire, over 3,500 families lost their homesthat is about 20,000 people in all; and 253 acres were burned along with 1,376 buildings. The damage in dollars has yet to be calculated, but it must be some unfathomable number.
A storefront on Rantoul Street in Beverly eventually became our family's new, temporary home, after two weeks of living in the small tents. My siblingsFlorida, René, Pete, and Valèreand I helped make the place feel cozier by putting up family daguerreotypes on the walls of the two large rooms that we occupied. Meanwhile, even while embers were still smoldering, there was already some rebuilding going on back in South Salem. We all made the daily trip by horse and buggy with other displaced Salemites, along Rantoul Street Bridge over the Salem Sound, to Story Street to pitch in our efforts. Since we had also lost the hub of the wheel of our community, Saint Joseph's Church and Rectory, that's where we began.
Our relatives up on Castle Hill were not troubled at all by the blaze, thank goodness; Uncle François said that the wind changed direction, and although they were ready with hoses to wet down the roofs of their homes and Sainte Anne's church, the flames never traveled that far south.
This demon fire had begun, we learned, with a series of explosions caused by a mixture of stored chemicals that are used to make patent leather on shoes, at the Korn Leather Factory. The explosions went off a little before two in the morning, and then the fire quickly spread down Boston Street and across the city while we were all asleep. Ten thousand people lost their jobs, including my father who worked at the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company. We had never seen such devastation; most of our city was a ruin, and the sight of it reminded me of the pictures I had seen of Ancient Rome and Pompeii in our Latin textbooks. The only collective thought now was how we were to recreate our beloved neighborhood as soon as possible. We were starting from scratch.
Summer vacation is now in full swing, and the duties of school are behind me, at least for the next eight weeks. These weeks stretch out like a vast, inviting meadow before me. The final days of June are a festive time in Montaigu and in every other village, town and city, every year. Preparations began today for our celebration of La Fête de la Bastille, my favorite holiday. The Day, which turns into a week-long party, is also a time when I have the chance to see my cousins from the south, whom I usually see only twice-a-year. I like the tasks designated for me and my younger brother at this time: Henri and I are charged with organizing the decoration of the barn with the tricolored banners, and also the fireworks displays for all of the Pasquiers and our friends. The company of my immediate and extended family is welcome; and I like to work in tandem with my mother and aunts who take care of the cooking. The family banquet is a meal that I look forward to for weeks, and one that me and my large family savor all together on the lengthy picnic table located under the shade of large chestnut tree in the yard beside our long, two-story stucco house. My mother combs the marketplaces of the commune to gather what she discerns to be the very finest herbs, vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses and wines to be consumed. My task is to provide an accompaniment to these delights by preparing a feast for the eyesthose bursts of rainbow-colored lights in the sky; so today, Henri and I went off to procure fireworks from the regional distributor's in La Vendée's préfecture, La-Roche-sur-Yon. This year, the family's plan was to ride to Challans and to launch them from the nearby Ile de Noirmoutier, accessible only during low tide, when the single road to the island is no longer submerged. We did so two years ago when I was sixteen, and my brother and I agree that the feux d'artifice were more spectacular-looking that year. From the mainland, it appeared as if the colors and lights popped up from the great Atlantic itself, and so we think that it would be splendid to repeat such a spectacle in a fortnight. All of my aunts and uncles will be so pleased, and this thought makes me very happy.
La-Roche-sur-Yon is a good thirty-minute horse and buggy ride from Montaigu. The poplar tree-lined dirt roads are best to travel during the late morning hours, when there is the least amount of travelers on them. So, after breakfast, Henri and I harnessed our two favorite mares from the stable, and made our way to the capital, making good time, over the slightly hilly countryside. It was brilliantly sunny day, with only a hint of a cloud in the distance, to the southeast.
The préfecture is a bustling place, that is, in comparison with our little village. One can find a central post office, a large market square adjacent to the Hotel de Ville, a police station, a small hospital, and many, many shops. My favorite is the LaGrange's Smoke Shop that houses hundreds of boxes of cigars, bags of tobaccos, and several kinds of pipes, organized on mahogany shelves which cover three of the four walls. Every time I am in town, I stop in and ask the proprietor, Monsieur LaGrange, for any spare cigar boxes that he may have stored away. These are perfect for storing my various collections, which include rocks, shells, centimes, and my lucky rabbits' feet. I usually come away with one or two boxes, as well as a small bag of tobacco and some cigarette rolling papers that I share with Henri.
A trip to town is also not complete without stopping at the neighboring news kiosk for the weekly France-Dimanche. Today there was young vendor who stood next to a sandwich board posting the paper's front page, and who called out loudly, "Supplément de nouvelles! Supplément! Assassination à Sarajevo!" From the ruckus the boy was making, Henri and I knew that there was some major calamity somewhere, probably in Paris. But after purchasing the newspaper and reading the headline for ourselves, we found out that a nobleman from Austro-Hungary was killed by a young Serbian terrorist. We learned that Sarajevo is located in a place called Bosnia. Why, we both wondered, did such a faraway event seem to matter so much to the likes of the folks of LaVendée? I supposed that they were trying to sell more papers. We purchased a newspaper for our family, as we usually did, and when we left the scene our thoughts returned to our errand-running.
The next stop was Monsieur Defarge's Bastille Day Bastion, a large warehouse which we patronize to supply our family with the fireworks needed for the big day. Today Mr. Defarge, wearing his patriotic blue, white and red work apron, was at the counter himself, extremely busy with several customers. His three sons were in the back, stuffing cardboard boxes with orders, and loading them onto the company wagon for local deliveries. After exchanging greetings with the proprietor, and catching up on family news, Henri and I ordered several rockets, sparklers, Catherine wheels, fiery fountains, and aerial mortars, and loaded everything into our wagon with the help of the Defarge brothers.
We finished our errands, mounted our buggy, and went back home; the only real difference from earlier in the morning, we noticed, was that the small cloud looming in the southeast had grown a little bigger.
Chapter ThreeThe Aftermath
Roland and his family moved in with friends in Lynn, and I miss him terribly. We have had no way of visiting each other or of talking to each other for many days, which seem like years. I suppose that he is doing as well as can be expected, and that he has found a job at the General Electric plant in South Lynn, like many of the other displaced citizens of Salem. If I know him, he is riding a bicycle around the city, and back-and-forth to work on fair weather days.
My father and I make daily trips over to South Salem to help the construction workers rebuild Story Street. Clearing away the debris of the burned structures is the business of each day. It is a massive effort on the part of city workers and denizens of the area, as we are all eager to begin the rebuilding process. My mother, the 'business woman' of our family, has the biggest hand in making the plans for the construction of a multi-family house in our neighborhood a reality, as she isin a headstrong waynegotiating the cost and choice of building materials with the municipal folks. Our aim is to be able to finish most of the outdoor work by Thanksgiving, before the bitter cold of the mid-winter months grips the region. A grand, coordinated effort on the part of governments to rebuild our city helps a great deal. Even President Wilson wrote: "I am sure I speak for the American people in tendering heartfelt sympathy to you to the stricken people of Salem. Can the federal government be of service to you in the emergency?"
Local newspapers, each day, print new ordinances for the reconstruction of the city put forward by the City Council and the newly-formed Salem Rebuilding Commissionmade up of five local men. For example, it was written: "Hereafter all roofs that shall be constructed, altered or repaired shall be covered with slated or other incombustible material, and that the gutter shall be of metal or covered with metal." The first building permit was granted on July 13th to a Mister J. Dube for a permanent building, a two story brick bakery at 16 Leavitt Street. On that day the newly-formed Commission held its first public meeting at Ames Memorial Hall, where many prominent citizens spoke out on the laying-out of streets. And on the next day, the Commission gave a hearing to the Lafayette Street residentswhose properties abutted our neighborhood, who had a live committee made up of five members, including our friend, Mister Poirier. These members called for: "Wires underground or on ornamental poles; trees planted along Lafayette Street; three-deckers prohibited in this district; no stores or shops of Lafayette Street from Harbor Street up; park bounded by Harbor, Lafayette and Washington Streets; no courts or private ways off Lafayette Street." The Commission also ruled that "no wooden structures of any sort" could be built within the burned district. But later it was stated that the wooden house matter was being considered, as the cost of brick far exceeded that of wood; and then a Mr. Sullivan won out his contention for wooden buildings "with a covering of incombustible material". At these meetings and in the air in general we felt, despite some periods of negotiation, a splendid spirit of optimism which carries us over the hard places, with the belief that we will prevail in the future and that a cityfar better than the Salem-of-the-pastwill rise from these ruins.
I am not able to return to my job at the A. Goos Factory in North Salem, where I drive the company horse and buggy; for it, too, has been devastated by the Fire. Instead, I am now delivering groceries in Beverly for the grocer on Cabot Street. My brothers and sister have also found odd jobs in our adopted town, as we patiently await our return to the neighborhood. The days do not seem to pass quickly enough in this state of limbo, as I have a constant yearning to see Roland and my other friends and the familiar faces of Story Streetthe Audets, the Blanchettes, the Lesveques, the Moreaus, and the Pelletiers.... I am also eager to help out with the rebuilding of our 'Little Canada'.
* * *
The Fourth of July was soon upon us, and its festivities were a welcome respite from the work of debris-clearing and rebuilding. There was no cookout on Story Street this year; instead, we all went down to the Willows for some fried clams and to watch the fireworks. René and I went ahead, and then at nightfall we were joined by the rest of our family, and also some neighbors. The best part for me was that, at last, I was able to see Roland, who met us there later in the afternoon.
It was a clear day, but hot, so the Willows Park was the place to be. We had a grand time eating seafood at Swenbeck's, savoring an ice cream cone from Hobbs' while walking along the pier, and we even took a ride on the flying-horses carousel. The sound of the band instruments playing "By the Beautiful Sea" at the Waterfront filled the air, and a cool breeze blew from the ocean and made the branches of the willow trees sway. Refreshment came in all forms that day.
The fun came to an end all-too-soon, and we were back at work the very next day. Builders were at work on several three-family houses and small apartment buildings that lined Story Street. My mother was right beside them, giving instructions. There was also a lot of progress made on the church and rectory, with the priest and sisters feeling confident that structures would be ready to house school children by summer's end for the start of a new school year. The church had sustained terrible damage in the Fire, including the destruction of the valuable stained glass windows and the sacristy. Now we could see some progress being made on its reconstruction, with the use of white brick, instead of wood. There would be a structure in place for a school, come September.
Excerpted from So Far from Story Street by J. P. LaVallee Copyright © 2013 by J. P. LaVallee. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter One: The End of a Gilded Age....................1
Chapter Two: Préparations....................4
Chapter Three: The Aftermath....................7
Chapter Four: Bastille Day....................11
Chapter Five: The Guns of August....................15
Chapter Six: A Letter from the Marne....................17
Chapter Seven: The End of Innocence....................20
Chapter Eight: The Bivouac....................25
Chapter Nine: Entrenched....................30
Chapter Ten: A Letter from Montaigu....................32
Chapter Eleven: The Return....................35
Chapter Twelve: The Toll....................43
Chapter Thirteen: Family....................46
Chapter Fourteen: The Call....................51
Chapter Fifteen: Training....................56
Chapter Sixteen: Epiphany....................61
Chapter Seventeen: In the Trenches, Over the Top....................65
Chapter Eighteen: Cowboys and Indians....................69
Chapter Nineteen: A Letter from France....................77
Chapter Twenty: No Man's Land....................80
Chapter Twenty One: Hope....................86
Chapter Twenty Two: Fear....................89
Chapter Twenty Three: Letters from Home....................95
Chapter Twenty Four: Zero Hour....................98
Chapter Twenty Five: Saying Adieu....................101
Chapter Twenty Six: 'With Profound Regret'....................104
Chapter Twenty Seven: No Possible Peace....................107
Chapter Twenty Eight: From Rosario....................110
Chapter Twenty Nine: Henri Pasquier's Farewell to Arms....................113
Chapter Thirty: Gold Star Mother....................118
Afterword: The 'Necklace'....................125
Thanks & Acknowledgements....................146