As my novel, the long shot, described, the early 1900s were lean years for everyone in Quebec Province, including Raoul Poulin and his family. Although he made a great deal of money, the time away from his family also leveled a price on his heart. He longed to be on his father’s farm, and saved every penny earned in Dawson to one day get his own piece of land.
Moving from Quebec to Vermont in the 1920s gave rise to many challenges for Raoul Poulin and his family. New language, currency, units of measure, yards instead of meters – what a lot of changes.
It took courage and determination to leave all that you had known in your life, and thrust yourself into a different and uncertain environment.
Raoul’s children all worked off the farm and saved as much money as possible, sending some home in a real attempt to “save the farm”, which no one could. The 1927 flood in Vermont coupled with the meandering of the Mississippi River caused 1) the U.S. government to establish the Army Corps of Engineers throughout the country, or where Washington deemed it should be active and budget monies appropriated for its activities, and 2) rolled out a new law that ALL containers used to transport raw milk now be made of some new steel rather than the well worn galvanized steel containers used for decades. Overnight, this new change in law put hundreds of farmers who sold their raw milk and cheese out of business in Vermont, parts of New Hampshire and Maine. The new steel containers’ uses aligned with the newer refrigerated rail cars that carried milk as far as Newport, Vermont down to Boston 2 to 3 times a week.
The era of the Burton Hotel and the Regis Hotel
At some point, Hervey Poulin, the oldest son and first man, or business manager for Raoul, discovered that two old style rooming houses in downtown Worcester needed managers. Each hotel manager job came with a free suite of rooms. The Burton Hotel included many more ladies, so Lucia Poulin opted to run this establishment. Most roomers had been steady tenants anywhere from 1 year to over 10. That establishment also had about 5 rooms which were free to be rented out by the night.
Hervey opted to run the men’s only Regis Hotel where himself, his father, Raoul and brother, Regis could also enjoy a suite of rooms and trade off shifts of answering the bell if someone needed assistance. That establishment also had many long-term tenants but the turnover for nightly rooms was much higher, and so was the broken glass, men urinating on the floors or in their rooms, some vomiting from the liquor. Between the older Raoul and Lucia and two of their bachelor sons, Hervey and Regis, they had established a break from the factory town of Gardner, Massachusetts and were building their nest egg once again, living in the big city.
Most of Raoul’s children, like a flock of hens, all lived nearby. Most had established themselves in marriages and fruitful employment. But the city was hot and unforgiving in the summer. House lots were for sale in nearby Spencer on fresh water, Thompson Pond.
Hervey bought one lot and the building of a good-sized summer home started. With so many sons, six of them, and 4 sons in law, many of them skilled carpenters, painters, plumbers, roofers, the first camp was built. Anne-Marie and her husband bought another lot and their summer home slowly rose. Between the two, a small lot existed, but really too small to allow privacy and so between both summer homes, a great depression was formed and a large fireplace was built, it’s sides and top rising two levels. In front of the fire, one long picnic table sat. The fireplace was more stone and cement than anything, but shelves on both sides formed three steps which all the grandchildren one-by-one mastered either leisurely jumping down from the upper level or running up if someone was chasing them.
The best meals were corn in the cob wrapped in foil and buried under hot coals where they simmered for a good 40 minutes or more.
From the pond, there was usually someone who had caught hornpout or eel or small bass. Right outside the front door, Raoul had built up a retainer wall against a portion of the cottage which he enclosed, to forever be home to his worms. Every morning, coffee grounds were heaped into the worm pit and slowly, a great collection of bait grew for the many, many fisherman who pilfered the worms for themselves.
In cal, quiet nights when it rained, I was often ordered to go out and pick some fresh nightcrawlers, giving new blood, I suppose, to the siblings that lived in the worm pit. The best part of picking worms was the great search for a working flashlight, or as a last resort, using someone cigarette lighter. My cousin Dolores often chumed with me on these reconnoiters, and most often, we were rewarded with wonderful smiles and praise form the beer-drinking men folk playing 3-card-stud inside.