Norman Fleury: Part 3 Video Transcript
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My grandfather used to sing a lot of the older songs; I think they were Voyageur songs. They used to sing a lot of songs at New Years and different festivities, but mostly New Years and sometimes at Christmas times they would sing different songs, cause those…and they were Voyageur songs. They also were songs that were put together like ditties and maybe drinking songs or…but a lot of wedding songs. And most of those songs, except for the ditties and stuff were in Michif some of them, or most of the songs were in French.
When I was a child, I would hear them, the older people would sing, especially during New Years, that was one of the biggest celebrations for them…it was a Métis celebration, more so than Christmas. At midnight, people used to have what they called a revillion, at midnight, feast, and people started celebrating right at midnight and they’d start shooting their rifles off to celebrate, and then you’d have…
Nobody was invited to any home. You went visiting all your older relatives, your grandparents, uncles, aunts, and the table was set all the time, all day. When you walked in, people fed you, right away, you sat down and you ate. This is where they would have all the traditional foods like lis boulettes and lis tartes, like pies and they’d have potatoes and some vegetables, turnips, people loved turnips, carrots, and whatever you had, but…
And some people that couldn’t afford making too much, they saved for a long time, like if they caught a bunch of rabbits, or a whole lot of rabbits, they’d take the best part of the rabbit, grind it down to burger, mix it up with pork, and they’d make their, lis boulettes.
And they’d have pork. Pork was a very common meat; people could afford to buy pork. You didn’t have much beef because you didn’t have very many cattle to butcher, and you didn’t have any of those, what do you call them, Big Stores, that you could go to, to go get food whenever you wanted…cause I remember my grandfather would raise a few pigs, he’d buy about three or four pigs in the spring and feed them all summer. Then when winter came, they’d be butchered, and this is where I was telling you the story that they wasted nothing on the hog, like they’d make blood sausage, they’d make head cheese, and they’d cut all the meat up and package it up.
I remember my grandma and grandpa. They used to give the share of the meat to their kids, their daughters and their sons. So like it was, it was a sharing world. People shared in those days, and there was not many takers, most people were givers, people shared…that was part of the Métis culture, to share. And I know today, that even my mother that’s 104 years old she’d rather give you something rather than you give her something. If you go visit, she’d say “you hungry, would you like to have tea?” And most times when she was younger, you never did ask anybody, they just automatically put the kettle on and you’d serve whatever you had.
I remember at New Years, another thing they did and was practiced in my grandfather’s home was that when his kids walked in the house they knelt down in front of him and he gave them a blessing, and then they stood up and shook hands and hugged. It was like a renewal of a new New Year and sort of, letting the past go and starting off with a New Year.
The guitars were out, and the fiddles were out and whatever instrument you had and they’d clear the room, and first thing you’d know there was a dance going on. I know my grandmother’s brother, his name was Peter Lepine, and he had his birthday on January the 7th which is all King’s Day and they would celebrate right from New Years to his birthday, and his birthday was the last place you celebrated. They went to his place and had a huge party there.
You were always busy. There was never much time in those days, like I said, I was fortunate to grow up besides my grandparents and you were never idle. I remember going to grandma’s and she was either sewing clothes or she was mending and my grandfather was outside, he’d go hunting, he go trapping, and I remember him bringing those frozen rabbits home, they’d hang them behind the stove to thaw. Fresh ones you skinned them right away and that’s what you ate.
You always ate fresh food. It was always fresh, you never had no refrigeration so everything you ate was fresh and my grandfather always had a beard and his moustache would be all frozen with icicles and we’d see him coming and he went for miles to go set his traps…he had his own trap line. And he never used the horses because it was too much work to hitch up your horses and you couldn’t just go wherever he went a team, like I mean on foot, you couldn’t go with a team because…
So he walked, and they were always in good shape. Everything they did it was physical. I remember my grandmother, she always had a .22, she had a gun, and we’d go with her, like my cousins and I and we go setting snares as we kept going and also, she was gathering her medicines or herbs cause she was a medicine woman…she was a healer. And she’d teach us the names…
There were always teachings when you grew up as a child. Any thing that you did, there was a reason, there was teachings all the time, like she’d say ‘ok now we are going to pick these herbs and these medicines so we gotta be conscious of what we are doing…it’s a spiritual thing…you just don’t grab things are tear them apart and pull them out, you have to do it with…they’re sacred, so you had to do it with conscience, of thinking about God while you are doing it,’ so…those were some of our teachings.
And then she’d teach us how to hang snares. She’d teach us different things, how to recognize things that were edible and things that weren’t edible. So those were all rich, rich teachings that we had when we were young kids…and they’d teach us the dangers also, just, don’t go there, don’t go there, you could get hurt, so they’d always tell us what to watch and there was always bears around our area so you don’t go to those dens and when you are picking berries you make sure that your neighbour is not a bear when you are picking berries [laughing]
We also used to dig coyote dens, coyotes were on bounty so they’d sell those coyote pups, so we did all that. And you did that while you went doing things…like if you were going out hunting in the Spring, so you always did two three things at once so you never were missing out on something…you always were able to bring something back home.
And you’d get wood at the same time. If you went, you’d bring wood, you’d get some deadfalls and just carry them and haul them home and that was your heat for your supper so there was always something going on.
Picking berries was another thing. Like my grandmother would pick saskatoons, chokecherries, and she’d crush those chokecherries and she’d make what you call the torreau which was like a pemmican but it was edible like right now, you didn’t have to keep it. She’d crush these chokecherries and she’d render fat and she’d mix the fat with that and put a little bit of sugar, brown sugar…it was a dessert, and if you had cream, you could eat those fresh saskatoons with cream.
Then she’d put a canvas out on, they used to call these little buildings lis hangars, it was like a place where you kept the meat and kept the…so she’d put the canvas on the roof, pour her saskatoons there and dry them out. She’d dry her saskatoons. And in wintertime, she’d put these dried saskatoons in bags so when she was going to make pie, I can remember seeing her taking those saskatoons, some of them, putting them in a pot with a little bit of water and they’d get all puffed up and she’d make her pies like that.
They’d always preserve and they’d conserve too. You’d have a big garden so you’d pickle, make your jams, so there was a lot of things that happened. In our life, like I was saying, I lived in an era when everything was still part of the Métis lifestyle…going with my grandfather to cut wood for instance, or posts, fence posts and selling them, they’d be cutting cordwood.
I remember neighbours, Métis people, coming with teams, four or five teams, sometimes they’d stop in at our place just to warm up and have tea and they were going to town with loads of cordwood, selling them to the convent or the church, because they heated in town, and there was a creamery, they’d haul that wood in town.
Then summertime was another big thing cause you’d go, actually when it was fall time, summer also you did things at home, those were the important things, in the fall you’d be out, I went threshing and stooking with my grandfather, I was maybe seven years old, but they’d let me drive the horses when they were stooking but them horses knew better than I did cause they’d follow the stooks when you were threshing…and stooking I learned how to stook.
So we did a lot of things and the Métis celebrated really hard when they celebrated because they knew, hey, you’re going to work for a long time so now it’s time to have a good time.
So there was also initiation too, like when I killed my first rabbit, my grandmother said ‘well, we’ll invite some young kids because now you’re getting older and you’re becoming a hunter, so we got to celebrate becoming a hunter.” So there was always things of initiation. It was the same thing with the women, the grandmother would tell them certain things about ‘well now you’re going through this phase in life’ and it was the same thing with everybody.
So there was all those teachings and like I say, my grandparents, well my grandfather went to a bit of school but my grandma never did but there was still schooling and education in your own home. So everybody learnt, but in every family you’ll have a historian, you’ll have someone that’s a genealogist, you’ll have somebody that’s interested and I happen to be one of those people. I’ve always was a, always was asking questions and I knew my teachers were my grandparents and they were living next door so the family, the extended family unit was very important, so we grew up going to visit grandma and grandpa all the time and you’d stay there…you could sleep there whenever you wanted, you could eat whenever you wanted but you’d have to bring the wood in for them, cut wood, you were always helping. They’d say, could you do this, could you go get this, so they knew when you were there, you were valuable to them, and as grandchildren, you were always precious anyway.
They taught us how to play different, how to socialize, how to play different games like card games, la baroche, owis, yuker, all these different games, and la cotchie, and then when Lent time came then they’d teach you all about Lent and what it means.
And they had different fairy tales, wintertime you learned your stories, your history, your legends, like djisahn nanaboush we gay shey jlats, and in Lent time, they’d tell you not to go dancing or you’d meet a ghost, or meet a skeleton. Or if you see a dog, well it could be loup garoux, we talked about the werewolf, and they’d teach us all these things, so
But there were good teachings to all of that, like there was, they were trying to protect you and they wanted you to respect things and they wanted you to live a good life.
So I was very fortunate to live and there’s so many things, like the stories that I’m telling you, the songs and different songs that my grandparents used to sing, and my uncles and aunties, and like I say, those songs came from someplace.
And, my grandfather told us to go to school, but my grandmother said ‘ah, they don’t have to go to school, you didn’t go to school, you cut cordwood, you cut posts, you trapped, you worked for farmers, you had a little farm so you could live’ so they would just say, you could rely upon your own resources.
So anyways, a lot of that goes on and on and I could tell you more stories.