What didn't we hear in the debate on the Duplessis' Orphans? It is the Government's fault! No, it's the Church! What about the Doctors? From strategic withdrawals to awkward pleases, at one point the debate gave away into a reckless generalization; didn't those abandoned children have a father, a mother or grandparents? Yes, and one of those unmarried mothers, Pauline L.F. assists today painfully, like so many other involuntary actors in this dark episode of heart rending in Quebec's selective memory.
"Let's start all over again OK?" No problem, do you wish to leave out certain details? "Maybe my surname, for respect for my children, otherwise I have nothing to hide. The other day I was tired, I jumped from one year to the other in disorder; we must start afresh."
Re-do the interview cassette, because Pauline insists to send a copy to her daughter who lives in France.
At almost 82, Pauline arrived at this state of grace, by a total indifference towards tittle-tattle and slander; more so she feels intrusted of the mission to tell her story. She thinks without false modesty, that her little story "must equal a few pages of Canada's History."
So, TAKE 2, it is. Always sitting on small straight chairs, in the kitchen of a Pointe-aux-Trembles house, Pauline this time, has five or six pages of notes written in a dense and fine writing, which she will read without her glasses, but with difficulty, because of her cataracts.
"I was born in 1917. I was told that at my birth, the doctor said to my mother that I shouldn't live 24 hours."
Born prematurely, Pauline, daughter of a police officer, will be frail of health. "I lived most of my childhood and teenage years in bed. I never knew boy's company. It is not because I was prim. When you are sickly-looking, you are not very attractive! At the end of my 5th grade, accusing a lot of delay, I told my mother I didn't wish to pursue school; she didn't insist. Five years in school seemed to be quite enough in those days, for a girl to wash diapers!"
1942, Pauline, 24 years old is on her way to meet a girlfriend. On her route she crosses a young man that looks at her with insistence. He reminds her that in their childhood they use to play at the skate-ring. He asks her where she is going, then proposes, to walk with her since he is going in the same direction, to go and pay back a friend for a loan. "We arrived at the door step of a rooming house, he tells me it is starting to get dark, you should come in, I will only be a minute." I accept, I stay near the door, but I just made the fatal gesture that will mark my youth, my married life and also my older years to come. He grabs me by the arm leads me to the second floor telling me to shut up, warning me that otherwise, " the other four men you saw downstairs will come and do to you the same as I will do."
On the second floor of an old rooming house, in 10 minutes......."The word "deflowering" is a too much soft a word. To stave in or to smash in is the right word. He staved in me, he smashed into me. I felt soiled, I washed and washed. Nothing could clean me. It was like a thick coat of tar on my body."
Absolutely ignorant about the "things about life" Pauline imputes the absence of periods and the nausea to the shock she as undergone. " Go and ask my children today, if they were well informed! One does not have the right to raise children in complete ignorance. My husband was shy to talk about those things, so I undertook to inform my two children! And most of all I taught my son to respect all women."Two months later, Pauline passes by her rapist on the street. "He approached me with an engaging smile. " I think I am in trouble" He looks at me furiously. "If you think that you will stick me your kid! Go and find a father elsewhere."
For seven months, Pauline stays in her room most of the time, in a nightgown that gets more and more large. "You know, in the family album, I was never in those wedding pictures, on the church steps, I was always sick in bed. So, once pregnant no one in the family had any doubts, they all thought I was sick as usual."
In 1942, everybody went to confession,....... even for rape. The parish priest will be the first to be informed of the drama, and he insists that Pauline must tell her mother. The last month and a half of the pregnancy will be in a private hospital. "Instead of holding out a hand, my brother and mother hid me, it was mostly to protect themselves. The main wish of my mother was to hide my pregnancy from my father. Yet, my father would have been the person who would have helped me the best."
Even before childbirth, Pauline is asked to give up the baby by written agreement. She asks the nurse to leave the delivery room with the baby as soon as the child is born, and above all before his first cry. "But when he was born, I could not resist, I asked the sex of the baby. I was really talking for nothing! What difference did it make, when you know the end of the drama? I remember the nurse in ecstasy, my son was beautiful and strong. It relieved me, hoping he would be adopted quickly. Fifty-four years will pass before I will meet with my son again."
Pauline does not bury her head in the sand, the rape made things easier to abandon the child. " I was afraid of my reaction, I feared that every time I would look at him, I would remember the scene of his conception."
Back from the hospital, Pauline goes back to her room, she is told by her eldest brother that she could have defended herself that dammed night......She remembers that crying her heart out for the rest of her life was the only thought in her head. But worse of all was her mother's bitter remark: "No man will ever want you" " "I didn't expect more from her, stung by her words, I got out of my stupor and I said to myself: Girl! you must find a husband! Thanks, Mom you will not have the chance to watch your daughter fail her life!"
A honeymoon in Quebec City for instance......
-Are you crazy! It was much too far!, answers Pauline laughing out loud.
-Still too far! No, Ste-Adele!
Anyway, a honeymoon to forget, the young bride traumatized by her first sexual experience, is in a hurry to get over with her conjugal duty. "Later on, progressively, I fell into the trap. Yes, I fell in love with my husband, he won my heart with his kindness."
Never will the Irishman know about the first child, never will he earn more than 80 dollars a week.
Then came Pauline's first "Official" child. "I thought he would make me forget. I was wrong, you can't replace a child by another one. I imagined his first steps, his first games, I imagined him clean, adopted by a rich family, his first day at school, his first communion......"
Years pass, the Irishman breaks a hip, and never recovers. Then 21 years ago their daughter is pregnant. Pauline, however happy, breaks up in tears.
" My daughter was so surprised, she insisted to understand my tears. I made her promise not to ever tell her brother, her father, or anyone else and I told her my whole story. She kept my secret ....18 years!"
Three years ago, the Irishman passed away. "The night of the funeral - simple funeral we are not richer in death then in life! -, before going back to France, hugging me, my daughter whispers "Will you try to find him now?" I say I will probably do it, we will talk about it later."
And one morning, the phone rings, this is the part Pauline likes best. " My daughter always says to me: You know Mommy, all of France knows about your story!"
It was 5 minutes past nine, continues Pauline. "A lady asked on the phone: are you Mrs F.? Are you really Mrs F.?" I answered yes. Then the voice said: "In 1942 did you give birth at Bellevue Hospital?" I became mute, and I dropped down the telephone, and I heard: "Mrs F? Mrs F.? Did you fall?" I gathered up my thoughts and I yelled "You will tell me that he is dead, I suppose!" I was stupid to say that; imagine if they would have called me to announce his death! "No, the lady said he is looking for you!" Those words I would have them embroidered in gold thread! And you can write any other beautiful things in your newspaper, never never again will you have the chance to write anything more beautiful in all your life! Those words made me melt like a marshmallow in the sun."
By pure coincidence, the night before meeting her son, Pauline watched Jean-Luc Mongrain's television show; the theme: Duplessis' orphans. " I never heard about them, so I listened."
Pauline goes to the hairdresser - "I am going to meet my son!" - on the way to the meeting accompanied by her son and daughter, she swears to herself to accept him as he is, without judgement.
A few minutes later, just before meeting her son, without any knowledge on the subject she dares to ask the social worker:
"My son is not a Duplessis' Orphan?" The social worker tilts her head and answers yes. Then everything went very quickly, I hear; "Here is your son." He enters the room; he leans on the door, I am looking out the window, I feel so embarrassed. He throws his arms around me and says; "It's been so long, I was looking for you!" He is holding me so strong, I am choking. I ask for his forgiveness, he tells me that it is not my fault; I say I am partly responsible, he swears his forgiveness. A few minutes later, my son asks me: "What are we doing here? Let's leave....together?"
Pauline announces to her new found boy, that a surprise is waiting outside, his brother and sister are waiting for him. He tells her that he also has a surprise for her and in a wink.... tells her she is a great-grandmother.
Little by little, Pauline will catch up with the lost years. She will learn that her never adopted son, never knew how a mother can cajole, love and comfort. "He never knew what a mother was! Rather he was threatened to be sent to St-Jean de Dieu if he was turbulent. Those children did not know what St-Jean de Dieu was all about, it only scared them. My son was labeled mentally retarded, he spent one year in this psychiatric hospital according to his file; he does not remember anything, his medication was so strong, it left him numb all day long. He was then transferred to Mont Providence." When told about the "Corrections" received by her son, Pauline dreams to be in front of that nun, to "strangle her!" "Fortunately, my son reminds me that a nun was nice to him, and protected him. I am not the one who lived this hell, so I must keep a cool head and make concessions. If I did not keep my son, well, there had to be people to take care of him and I thank the good nuns that did so. And maybe it was asking for too much to have them love each and every one of those children. Would I have done better? I can't say. But I am sure of one thing: there are certain things that I myself would have never, never done......"
Today, Pauline's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren come and go in this house in Pointe-aux-Trembles. And even more, sometimes Duplessis' Orphans; misfortune friends of her "little last born" as Pauline's daughter affectionately calls her new found brother. "Something ironic, is that those Orphans realized that it sounded awkward to say they were raised at Mont-Providence. So, when they talk about their childhood, they say at their "college"! Yep! Their "college years"!! Very good college where they never learned to read nor write!"
Pauline explains that she now shares her happiness with her loved ones. But growing old, she is scared of only one thing; the lost of her memory." I write everything down, all my thoughts. And if I am talking to you today, it is to have everything printed forever.