My memories of my paternal grandmother are of a gregarious, lovely, warm woman who would have to run through every one of her children and grandchildren’s names before she got to yours when you made her mad (her English was also impaired by anger). She loved John Kennedy and Shirley Temple, almost as much as she loved us. I remember that when she and my grandfather addressed each other as “mon cheri,” I was confused as to why they called each other “my shitty.” Especially because I recall they had tremendous affection for one and other.
In writing this post, I realized that almost everything else I knew about my grandmother were memories belonging to and information from my father and aunts. It made this post very difficult to write, because her history is…complicated. By kicking off the blog with posts about my most recent deceased ancestors, I quickly realized the impact this could have on my living family. I called my father to talk about it at the eleventh hour, and then called one of his sisters. What follows is what I know from a few documents and memories I have of Louise Eugenie Martin, and some of the myriad questions I have. I will have to write about her again because, although she died when I was 16, her story is still unfolding.
In 2010, I visited the mairie (city hall) in Noumea, New Caledonia, to get a copy of Louise’s birth certificate, marriage certificate, and the original birth certificate of my father, all of which helped sort out some chronology (please email if you want copies). Louise was born on October 14, 1922 in Noumea, to Eloi Eugéne Martin and Clémence Louise Vedel (who I will write about in future posts). I have a few early photographs of Louise courtesy of her sister, Thérèse (now in the custody of my Aunt Joelle), and from a photo album belonging to my grandmother (in the custody of my Aunt Linda). I now realize I know almost nothing about her childhood and will have to return to Noumea so that Aunt Jeanette and Aunt Thérèse can fill in the blanks!
The next I know of Louise’s story, she had a relationship with my biological grandfather, Henri Sarso Stumph. Henri was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s when I met him, and my French wasn’t strong or delicate enough to ask anyone else about the circumstances of their meeting. How did they meet? Why didn’t they pursue a relationship? Louise gave birth to my father, Gerineldo Manuel Aponte, on December 2, 1942, as a result of her relationship with Henri (more on Henri in a few weeks). A little more than three months after my father was born, on the 29th of March, 1943, she married John Gerineldo Aponte, an American GI serving in the South Pacific during WWII. My wonderful cousins Thierry and Kathy, along with Aunt Thérèse, took me and Louise’s second daughter, Joelle, to the church in Noumea where Louise and John married (not the church we had always assumed). But when and how did she meet John? Are there any wedding photos? Again, we have to get back to Noumea for some answers!
Following the end of hostilities in the Pacific in 1945, Louise boarded the U.S.S. President Polk with her three year old son and 5 month old daughter, Linda, bound for San Francisco. Hers was not an uncommon story; the number of young mothers on the same trip suggests that more than a few GIs left New Caledonia with families. [My friend Julie Harris blogged here about a similar story…more about Julie in a later post.] Louise then made the long trip by train across the U.S. to Yonkers, New York to reunite with John…a courageous 23 year old woman to be certain. Her life in Yonkers was not, I imagine, what she expected. I am told there was domestic violence, but that it abated following the birth of Louise’s third child, Joelle, and after the family moved to Ocean Grove, a quaint New Jersey seaside town. Sometime between late 1957 and early 1958, the family moved back to Noumea at John’s wishes (you’ll understand why when I post about John in a couple of weeks). Louise, however, very much wanted to return the United States and within a year, they were back in Ocean Grove. Louise’s last child, Carlyn, was born there in August of 1959.
I have to collect more stories of life in Ocean Grove, but I do know that it was characterized by the number of properties the family lived in. They were not well off and always one step ahead of the rent. I only remember two houses after I came on the scene in 1961 – on Olin (?) and on Main. I remember them as happy places, contrary to the stories of Louise being unhappy. I particularly remember her and John in the kitchen, together or separate, cooking. Recently, Joelle has reconnected with my grandmother’s best friend in the United States, Lydia. Lydia may be able to help fill in some of the blanks for us. Despite a rocky relationship, why did Louise and John stay together all those years? Did they love each other? Joelle and I believe they did. Perhaps this is fantasy, but we’re sticking with it for now. (To Joelle: Lydia. Voice recorder. ASAP.)
Louise returned to New Caledonia once more, not long before her death in 1977. She looked very happy there, but only her sisters (and perhaps Lydia) could tell me now how my grandmother may have felt about life at that point in time. Louise died during the night on May 15, a result of an ‘enlarged heart’. She was only 54. One of my last memories is of my grandmother happily riding a bicycle to help get her weight and health under control.
Writing this first post about a specific family member has been fraught with uncertainty. Who might I upset by saying too much? Am I doing a disservice by saying too little? This post lacks in verifiable facts, but relies on hearsay and memory. In that regard, it was a great exercise in defining my next research steps. For example, I need a copy of Louise’s death certificate for my files. Although I could get a copy through the state, we’ve lost track of other papers related to Louise and John following John’s death. So, on my to-do list is finding and reaching out to John’s second wife in hopes of locating some of these papers. My family will see the many questions above and hopefully comment below or email me. More important, I need to sit down with my Dad, Aunt Linda, and Aunt Joelle and a voice recorder. A trip to the home state is in order.
While I might be able to sum up what I know about some ancestors in a paragraph or two, it was impossible to even skim the surface of my grandmother’s colorful life. What I’d give to know about my earlier ancestors what I know about Louise! To my family, let’s get this down on paper/audio/video soon…
What are your memories of Louise?