Barney Boisvert 1912-2007

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Marcus Bernard Boisvert, our direct ancestor, was born January 22, 1912, in Detroit, Michigan. He was christened at St. Peter & St. Paul cathedral in Detroit. He was the son of Felix Narcisse Boisvert of Lewiston, Maine and Lillian Verrette, of Amesbury, Massachusetts.

 

Around the world

World War I begins in 1914, with the United States entering combat in 1917. Women’s suffrage (19th) amendment ratified m 1920. In 1925, Hitler publishes Volume I of Mein Kampf. The Jazz Singer, with Al Jolson, first part-talking motion picture was shown in 1927. 1929 brought the  U.S., stock market prices collapse, with U.S. securities losing $26 billion—first phase of Depression and world economic crisis. Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933

World War Two begins in 1939. The Japanese attached the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The United States declares war on Japan. Germany surrenders in 1945. U.S. drops atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9). Japan surrenders. In 1947 Jackie Robinson joins the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl published. The Korean War begins in 1950-1953. U.S. Supreme Court (in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka) unanimously bans racial segregation in public schools in 1954.

In 1955 Rosa Parks refuses to sit at the back of the bus, Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof wins Pulitzer. Russians launch Sputnik I, first Earth-orbiting satellite—the Space Age begins in 1957. 1960, American U-2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, shot down over Russia. 1961, Cuba invaded at Bay of Pigs by an estimated 1,200 anti-Castro exiles aided by U.S.; invasion crushed. East Germans erect Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin to halt flood of refugees. The beginning of military build up in Vietnam.

1963, President Kennedy shot and killed by sniper in Dallas, Tex. Lyndon B. Johnson becomes president same day. The Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. 1965, Malcolm X, black-nationalist leader, shot to death at Harlem rally in New York City. 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader, is slain in Memphis (April 4)—James Earl Ray, indicted in murder, captured in London on June 8. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is shot and critically wounded in Los Angeles hotel after winning California primary. 1969, Woodstock Festival (Aug. 15–17). Sesame Street debuts. Internet (ARPA) goes online.

1974, Richard Nixon resigns when facing impeachment because of Watergate Conspiracy.  1976, Nation celebrates bicentennial. 1978, Jim Jones’s followers commit mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. 1979, Iranian militants seize U.S. embassy in Teheran and hold hostages (Nov. 4). Soviet invasion of Afghanistan stirs world protests.

1980,  John Lennon of the Beatles shot dead in New York City. 1981, President Reagan wounded by gunman, with press secretary and two law-enforcement officers. 1984, Soviet Union withdraws from summer Olympic games in U.S., and other bloc nations follow. 1985, Reagan and Gorbachev meet at summit (Nov. 19); agree to step up arms control talks and renew cultural contacts. 1989 Ruptured tanker Exxon Valdez sends 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. After 28 years, Berlin Wall is open to West.  U.S. troops invade Panama, seeking capture of Gen. Manuel Noriega (Dec. 20); resistance to U.S. collapses.

1990, World Wide Web debuts, popularizes Internet. East and West Germany reunited. 1991, U.S. and Allies at war with Iraq. 1993 Two police officers convicted on federal civil rights charges in Rodney King beating 1994 Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan attacked. Clinton accused of sexual harassment while governor of Arkansas.  O. J. Simpson arrested in killings of wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and friend, Ronald Goldman.

Princess Diana, 36, killed with two others in Paris car crash. 1998, President accused in White House sex scandal; denies allegations of affair with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Russia fights to avert financial collapse.

2000 Presidents of North and South Korea sign peace accord, ending half-century of antagonism. U.S. presidential election closest in decades; Bush’s slim lead in Florida leads to automatic recount in that state. 2001 Bush allows stem cell research, approving federal funds for studies using existing strains of stem cells. Terrorists attack United States. Hijackers ram jetliners into twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane crashes 80 mi outside of Pittsburgh. Toll of dead is more than 3,000.

2005 Hurricane Katrina wreaks catastrophic damage on the Gulf Coast; more than 1,000 die and millions are left homeless. Americans are shaken not simply by the magnitude of the disaster but by how ill-prepared all levels of government were in its aftermath. 2006 The International Astronomical Union reclassifies Pluto  as a dwarf planet.

 

Life in Detroit

At the time of Marcus Bernards (Barney) birth, Detroit was on the verge of an industrial, economic and population boom. The auto industry, lead by Henry Ford, was taking off. This brought demands for labor, and the flood of newcomers from Europe and the Deep South. The city began to spread out, and grow up and around the two small communities of Hamtramck and Highland Park.

When Barney was born, his family was living on Russell street in Detroit. Russell street today runs parallel to I-75, from the Detroit river to the suburbs. Because of his mother Lillian’s battle with Tuberculosis,

Barney and family moved many times before he was four years old.

At one point, Barneys father, Felix, moved his family out to Grosse Pointe Farms, which was considered farmland in the early 1900’s. They lived by a stream, where Barney would watch the farmers soaking the wheels of their wagons and carriages. If the wooden wheels weren’t saturated with water, they would dry out, shrink and fall apart.

Another time, Felix moved Barney, Millicent, Jeanette, and Lillian to the Ozarks, in Missouri. The clean, dry air of the Ozarks was supposed to cure Lillian. When it did not help, Barney, his sisters and mother where brought back to Michigan by Felix. Back home, they settled on Cameron Street. Cameron Street is on the fringe of Hamtramck.

At the age of four, in 1916, Barney received a puncture wound from falling out of a tree. He tried to pull the imbedded stick from his side as he walked home. Unable to do so, he was admitted to the hospital. This wasn’t Barney’s first experience with the hospital. He had already visited when he needed his toncils out.

 

Lillian’s sickness

Barney’s mother, Lillian, continually battled Tuberculosis. Her health would recover and then relapse. At times with Lillian’s health was worse, her sisters would come and take care of her and the children while Felix worked. Growing worse, Lillian was placed in Eloise Hospital in Wayne County (near Inkster). Eloise Hospital was hundreds of acres out in the country. Included on its property was a general hospital, a housing unit for the poor of Wayne County, and a facility for mentally disturbed patients. In 1914, a Tuberculosis Sanitorium was built. It was here, Barney would visit his mother. Lillian.

On October 26, 1917, Lillian was unable to recover and died at Eloise Hospital. She was 36 years old. She is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, located at 17110 Van Dyke, in Detroit. Location: Section 55, Tier 2, Space 283

 

What Now?

The illness of Lillian distressed Barney tremendously, and her death had left behind a grieving family, wondering what to do.

Felix moved his family out of the house they were in. He sold off items and gave Lillians valuables to her sisters for safe keeping. While the girls were already staying at school, he placed Barney in an orphanage. Within two weeks, a nun at the orphanage told Felix to take Bernard out before the little boy died.

He then moved Barney in with Alphonse (Jules) and Matilda Pellerin, who lived at 298 Clay St, Detroit. Jules had an adult son from his first marriage named Oliver. Matilda never had children of her own and doted on Barney. Felix then took a room as a boarder at a house on Horton Ave., owned by Philip and Alexis Cote. The two properties were about one mile apart, which kept Felix close to his son.

 

Prohibition

Prohibition made Detroit a bootlegger’s dream town. In 1916, under the growing influence of an anti-drinking movement, Michigan approved a statewide prohibition of the sale of beer, liquor or wine, to take place beginning May 1, 1917.

The fervor for prohibition was sweeping the country, though, and in 1917 the 18th amendment was passed and by January of 1919 had been ratified by three fourths of the states. The Volstead Act provided the federal vehicle for enforcement, and prohibition officially began January 16 of 1920.

With the Detroit River less than a mile across in some places, and 28 miles long with thousands of coves and hiding places along the shore and among the islands, it was a smugglers dream. Along with Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River, these waterways carried 75% of the liquor supplied to the United States during Prohibition.

Ingenuity carried the day: cargo was dragged beneath boats, old underground tunnels from boathouse to house were reopened, sunken houseboats hid underwater cable delivery systems, and even a pipeline was built. Between Peche Island and the foot of Alter Road, an electronically controlled cable hauled metal cylinders filled with up to 50 gallons of booze. A pipeline was constructed between a distillery in Windsor and a Detroit bottler. In winter, with the ice frozen, anyone from a single skater towing a sled to a loaded caravan of 75 cars could be seen.

Enterprising individual efforts and congenial business relationships soon gave way to more organized, and more lethal groups ready to reap the profits.

The Licavolis, Bommaritos, Lucidos and Zerillis brought a Sicilian flavor to east side efforts, while the Tallman gang led the west side. The Purple Gang had the run of the town and were unmatched in ruthlessness. Corruption became commonplace and payoffs to police, politicians and judges were rampant. On the day of a raid it was not unusual for half the scheduled squad to call in sick. State and federal forces were slightly less corruptible, but there was so much illegal activity that it was impossible to stem the tide.

Illegal liquor was the second biggest business in Detroit at $215 million a year in 1929, just behind automobiles. Public opinion was against the liquor ban and no mayor was elected in Detroit who expressed favorable views of prohibition. There were as many as 25,000 blind pigs operating in the Detroit area. People drank everywhere, from speakeasies to private clubs to established restaurants to storefronts, and of course they drank at home.

The gangs meanwhile grew increasingly violent and brazen. Hijacking and kidnapping were rampant, as was murder of rivals. Innocent pleasure boaters or fisherman could hardly go on the river or lake for fear of stray bullets from the Customs agents or gangs. The innocent as well as the guilty were subjected to searches of their property, homes and persons. Prostitution and gambling went hand in hand with the speakeasies.

 

Old man Pellerin

Jules Pellerin owned a saloon before prohibition, and when

the dry season was in full swing, he ran a blind pig out of his house. The same house that Barney lived in growing up. Jules was never short of money. In addition to the blind pig he had skills as a wood worker. Both he and Oliver were bodymakers at Ford Motor Company.

When Barney got older, he helped serve the beer and liquor. Jules made the beer himself and the liquor was purchased from a supplier. Barney was often sent out to pick up the liquor from the supplier, who was just called “The Jew”. Once given the supply, he would carry it in a plain brown bag back to the house.


–“not if they stayed on their side of the bed.”

The blind pig would attract all sorts of characters. On more that one occasion, Bernard would wake up to find a drunken patron passed out next to him. Asked if this bothered Barney, his response was,

“not if they stayed on their side of the bed.”

Prohibition was the time of Al Capone in Chicago and the Purple Gang in Detroit. These high profile mobs were not a concern for Jules. Blind pigs were on every corner and he was small potatoes, thus no threat. Prohibition was considered more of a nuisance than law.

A businessman, new in town standing at a corner looking lost. A policeman comes up asks if he needs help. The businessman says he really could use a drink. The policeman points out the church and says, that’s the only place you CAN’T get a drink.  ~ Barney Boisvert

Tuberculosis and its side effect

Barney started in the public school systems before going to Holy Rosary in Detroit. He stayed there until the 5th grade, when he was hospitalized for tuberculosis. He was first admitted to Herman Kiefer Hospital in the city. He was then sent, along with other Tuberculosis patients out to Northville. The same institution where his sister died a few years later.

The ten year old was to spend the next 22 months at the Northville sanitorium. The hospital was out in the middle of a field. Living out there in the country effected Barney and he started to get a taste for being out of the city. As a result, whenever it was possible, Barney tried to live in the country.

An appetite for knowledge

When released from the hospital, the school system placed him back two grades. He always had is homework done before he left school, was an excellent student and a voracious reader. But school uninspired him. His love of books, would be a theme througout his life. As a young boy, he would read books with words he didn’t understand. Writing down the words, he continued to read. Later on he would spend the time to look up definitions.

Bernard loved the times when Millicent would take him to the library. Being older, Millicent took him to the adult section. Having read everything in the juvenile section of the library, he wanted to check out the other books usually not available to him.

Besides reading, he enjoyed going to the movies to see the first cowboy stars such as William S. Heart, Walter Reed, Jackie Kugan. He would have to wait a few more years before technology would add sound and color to the movies.

Every once in a while a bunch of kids would take the street cars down to Navin Field (Briggs Stadium then named Tiger Stadium) to see a baseball game. It was there he got to see the Babe Ruth play.

Though he hung out with other kids, he never had any close friends. The odd situation of having a blind pig in the house negated any change of Bernard inviting anyone over. Always playing on another kids turf, he had to be secretive.

 

Ferndale, Michigan

Barneys father, Felix remar-ried in 1927, to Lemina Biron. Both Felix and Barney knew Lemina and her husband. Lemina helped out the Pellerin household when Barney was living there.

After the marriage, Felix and Lemina moved out of Detroit. He rented a house out in the farmlands of Ferndale and brought Barney with them. Barney wasn’t to pleased with moving. Being a city boy all his life, he didn’t want to go live out in the sticks.

Felix and Lemina were married when Barney was 15, Lemina was a take charge woman and whatever structure Bernard had was because of Lemina. It bothers Barney that he wasn’t given any parameters growing up in the Pellerin household. There was no structure. He did things because they felt good. He should have learned to take a job and stick with it.

Barney was an active student at St. James in Ferndale. He played football and baseball as well being elected vice-president of his class. Barney was an extraordinary student and the girls seemed to be fond of him. As the story plays out, when Barney ran for class president, there were 20 kids voting, 12 boys and 8 girls.

When the teacher asked who would be voting for Barney all 8 girls raised their hands. In retrospect, Barney believes if there were more girls in his class he wouldn’t of settled for Vice President. He wasn’t aware of this admiration, being intent on his own business, he was a quite blind to that fact.

The Great Depression

The October 1929 stock market crash and following Great Depression dramatically effected Barney, and his family, as well as but every family in America.

The economic slump called “The Great Depression” began in North America, and spread to other industrialized areas of the world. Lasting from 1929 to 1939, it was the longest and most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world. By late 1932, between 12 and 15 million workers, or 25-30% of the work force was unemployed.

Barney recalls the newspapers writing about suicides. People jumping from windows, heads in gas stoves. “After that, money was scarce, we became a bunch of string savers. You never threw anything out.”-Barney Boisvert

Barney and Felix searched for odd jobs. They would wash cars, run errands, hand out political flyers, anything that would make money. With money scarce, they would cut down the trees in their yard for use during the winter. The Great Depression had an effect on Barney that lasted longer than the official time line of 1929-1939.

 – I never felt like we had a whole lot. Coming through the Depression, you had a poor feeling. You just felt poor. I also absorbed quite a bad attitude in life. You can’t do this….You can’t do that… –Barney Boisvert

 

After graduation

Barney graduated from St. James in Ferndale in 1933. He was interested in Archeology or Paleontology. He mentioned to Felix, who told him there is no money in it,…there’s no jobs! You have to be rich to do that. Barney dropped the idea.

Shortly after getting out of school, and looking for something to do, Barney and friend Bob Forton (brother of Edith Forton), went to sign up in the Navy. The Navy denied them, saying they were filled. They moved on to the Army which would have accepted them and shipped them to Kansas for boot camp. Bob and Barney said forget that, they weren’t going to Kansas.

Barney and Bob got together after graduation and tried to make a club house for the high school alumni. The priest heard of this and nixed the idea. He thought they would get into trouble, when Barney thought it would keep them out of trouble by giving them a place to hang out.

The last thing Barney and his friend Bob did together was go to the Worlds Fair in Chicago, they hopped the railroads in 1933. The fair opened on May 27, 1933, when the lights were turned on with energy from the rays of the star Arcturus. The rays were focused on photo-electric cells in a series of astronomical observatories and then transformed into electrical energy which was transmitted to Chicago. The “A Century of Progress Exposition” was a unheralded success and hosted over 48 million visitors in two years it ran. It provided an uplifting glimpse into a future of embodied by technology while honoring the achievements of past.

Barney got his first permanent job in late 1933, early 1934. He worked at the Chrysler Plant on the line making Plymouths. He also worked in the refinish hole, where he would do light repair, repaint, sanding and spot paint the cars coming off the line. He was used to being laid off 2-3 months a year while they changed models.

– This was frustrating because just when you think you’re getting a bit ahead financially, the 3 months of unemployment brings back to the brink of poverty. – Barney Boisvert

This wouldn’t change until the labor unions stepped in. During those layoffs, he would take the street cars down to Milwaukee Street. where he worked at Standard Tube. At Standard Tube, he made parts for the automotive plants.

 

Spouse: Theresa Edith Forton

Marcus Bernard Boisvert, 25, marries Theresa Edith Forton, April 8, 1937, at St. James in Ferndale. She is daughter of Clarence Bernard Forton and Theresa Heldman. Theresa Edith Forton (Edie) was born in Medford, Massachusetts on August 29, 1915.

Barney had first noticed Edie back in school. The school had merged to classes into one room. She was in the other class. One day,  Edie had an argument with a Sister. She got up and stated her peace. She was wrong, you always are when you argue with a nun, but Barney felt she gave a good account of herself. He admired her for doing that. Barney remembered her when he was hanging around with Bob.

Barney had known the Forton family for awhile. He played football with oldest son Bob, and after school, they bummed around a bit. Having lived only 3 or 4 blocks from the Fortons, Barney was over quite a lot and was invited to go with the Forton family to dance classes hosted by the WPA (The Work Project Administration).

It was there Barney started to focus his attention on Bob’s younger sister Edith (Edie) Edie became Barneys dance partner at the classes. Soon they began to go to dances on their own. Edie loved to dance, and Barney danced to be with her. Those first classes were Bernards first dates with Edith.

– I believe there were several girls interested in me, but I was blind. I didn’t see Edie for awhile, but then I began thinking, hey, she’s kind of a cute kid. I can’t say that I made a dashing hero of it,…I was just there and the Lord put her in front of me. Thank God he did!  – Barney Boisvert

Barney and Edie dated for 1½ years before getting married. At that time, their big date was going to Our Mother of Perpetual Health every Tuesday night at St. Benedict’s Church. There, they would pray that they could get married. Like a lot of people during the Depression, they had a defeatist attitude. Making a living was tough, and with much trepidation did they approach the idea of marriage.

No one in the Forton family said much about Barney, in favour of or against. There was one incident when Edie’s dad, Clarence Forton, would have two beers before bed, in that time Bernard drank six. Clarence didn’t seem to approve of that excess. The Fortons just didn’t do that sort of thing.

 I didn’t really know what my parents felt about Barney, nor did I care. – Edith (Forton) Boisvert
Married Life

Barney and Edie got married at St. James in Ferndale on April 08, 1937. St. James is also where they graduated and is being used today. Their pictures are on the wall. Barney’s best man was Frank “Scotty” Muldoon and Maid of Honor was Edith’s cousin Myrtis Forton. Felix and Lemina were at the wedding as well as Edies parents, Clarence and Theresa Forton. It was a simple wedding at 6:30 a.m. Afterward, they headed out to Barney’s Aunt Eugenies (Eugenia Verrette) cottage on an island in Lake Orion for their honeymoon. It was April, and in typical Michigan fashion, it snowed.

After their marriage, Felix assumed that Barney and Edie would move into his house on Woodruff, in Ferndale, and he and Lemina should look for a place to live. Barney thought that was nonsense and they rented a house on Hazelhurst, in Ferndale.

On January 17, 1938, Barney and Edies first child arrived. Born at Providence Hospital in Detroit, Barbara Ann Boisvert was the first of six children to be born in a nine year period.

On December 28, 1938, a son named Michael Bernard Boisvert was born at Providence Hospital in Detroit.

When Lemina died in the spring of 1939, Barney and Edie moved into Felix’s house. Felix stayed with them in the attic. It wasn’t the greatest situation in Ferndale. The attic was hot and stuffy in the summer and cold in the winter. Also access to the stairway was through the bathroom.

On February 1, 1940, their third child, Robert Boisvert was born. In late 1940, Around this time Barney and Edie sold their house in Ferndale and bought a 20 acre farm out in Walled Lake. Once again Felix lived with them, this time in the upstairs.

 

Walled Lake

World War II began in 1939, with the United States joining in 1941 after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. During the war, the government found it necessary to ration food, gas, and even clothing during that time. Americans were asked to conserve on everything. Also, all of the auto companies converted their factories in short order to production of planes and tanks.

The war effort was centered around Willow Run Airport, and the Edsel Ford Expressway was built between downtown Detroit and the airport to facilitate that work. Barney moved from Standard Tube to the Willow Run plant down in Ypsilanti. They made the Liberator Bombers.

On February 3, 1942, Barney and Edie welcomed their fourth child into the world.  James Bernard Boisvert was born in Northville, Michigan.

Less that a year later, on January 02, 1943, Judith Marie Boisvert was born in Ferndale, Michigan.

For Barney and Edie, World War II wasn’t a huge factor in their life. The rationing of goods never affected them, because by 1943 they had five children. They had plenty of coffee, meat, and sugar coupons. They would give their extra coupons away. Gasoline was easily obtained since Barney worked at the plant. The rationing only affected Barney once. The tires on his car were flat, but because of the war, he couldn’t go buy tires. Once he told his boss his predicament and reason for missing work. He was given four new tires

Barney did not enlist during World War II. Working in the plants was a way to stay out of the war. He also had 5 children. The government classified Barney as 1-A once. 1-A meant that he was now draft eligible. This was caused by a strike at the Willow Run plant. They cancelled everyone’s deferments. As soon as he found out, Barney went to his representative, who said he would fight this all the way to the top.

World War II ended for the United States in 1945. On May 8th, the war ended in Europe. Followed by the August bombing of Japan and subsequent surrender on August 15, 1945.  With the war over, industrial plants, such as Willow Run where Barney worked slowly turned back into civilian life and manufactured products such as automobiles.

On February 20, 1946, Barney and Edie welcomed their sixth child. A girl named Margaret Louise Boisvert (Peggy) was born in Walled Lake, Michigan.

Edith’s parents Clarence and Theresa where a bit shocked and concerned with them because of the burden of have six children under the age of eight years old. They also weren’t happy with Barney because he didn’t have a trade. Clarence worked his way up in his job at Borroughs Office Equipment, while Barney bounced around from factory job to factory job.

I would get up in the morning, put on my work clothes, and pack my lunch. I would proceed to drive to work. More often than not, I would stop by the side of the road and stay there all day. When it was time, I would turn the car around and drive home. – Barney Boisvert

During the mid to late 1940’s Barney was struggling with depression and his family responsiblities. Just in his mid 30’s, he felt like he needed a change.

 

Boyne City 

Around 1947, Barney moved his family from Walled Lake to Boyne City. Edie’s parents had already retired and moved up to Boyne City, leaving Barney and Edie in the Detroit area. By this time in Walled Lake, the pressures and responsibilities of being a husband and father of six were unbearable for Barney. He didn’t know how to handle it, and he didn’t know what he wanted.

– “I was running away from my family, and Edie and the kids came with me.” –Barney Boisvert

Barney, Edie and the children lived on Edie’s parents farm while in Boyne City. During that time, Barney was often out of work, but did have a series of short lived jobs. He drifted from one job to another.

–“Edie had 8 dependent children. Her 6 children, Barney, and Felix” – Barney Boisvert

He worked on the six mile railroad up in Boyne City for a week. He made fifty cents per hour. He worked 40 hours and came home with 20 dollars. He also worked at a tannery for a short time, until he couldn’t take it anymore. The tannery was a dark, filthy, cockroach infested and rancid smelling. His first day of work, the workers took him to the great big drums where they pull the hair off the hides. The smell was too much, and he would get sick to his stomach everyday.

One day, he was repairing the wood floor, on his hands and knees tearing up old boards and laying new. In front of him was a large door where the railroad cars came in, at that time the doors where open showing Lake Charlevoix. The more he hammered, the more he would look at the lake. Finally, he laid his hammer down, walked out and never came back. Not even for his pay.

The years spent in Boyne City weren’t happy times for Barney and Edie. Financially stretched and mentally worn, Barney would drink. He was not physically addicted to alcohol, but he would imbibe to escape.

– “I remember going out one night thinking I’m gonna get drunk, I’m gonna get so damn sick.” “I’ll get sick to forget where I am now,”  I do remember thinking, what I’m doing is hurting the family, and it’s hurting me more than anyone – so why am I doing this?”

– Barney Boisvert

 

Traverse City, Michigan 

He met with a counselor at the state hospital in Traverse City. It was there, Barney started to get help dealing with lifes pressures.

Barney and Edie, now in their late 30’s, were really struggling. Edie had a real hard time while Barney was out of work. They needed help from church and neighbors, and they went on child welfare. The counselor helped Barney get a job as the auditor at the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City. With the Hotel job, they were able to move to Traverse City and rent a small house. The landlord didn’t like the idea of children, so once again they were looking for a place to stay. Their church helped them buy a little place that was actually a two car garage. As of 2002, it was still being used as a house.

Because the job at Park Place Hotel didn’t pay well, Barney worked 8 shifts a week. He also started working in the bar to make extra money. Management didn’t approve of that because he was auditor and bartender, it just didn’t look good.

Even though it seemed their darkest days were behind them, it was hard scrabble up in Traverse City. Barney couldn’t make a lot of money, even with other side jobs. When he was offered a job in the tool room in Traverse City making $1.42 an hour, he know it was time to leave town. There just wasn’t any money there. In 1952, he quit the Park Place Hotel and traveled back to the Detroit area.

 

Utica, Michigan 

Barney traveled back to the Detroit area while Edie and the children stayed in Traverse City. He worked and stay with a buddy named Dusheim, who had a used car lot back in the Detroit area. This was followed by a job at the Chrysler Tank plant.

Meanwhile, Edie got a job in the Park Place Hotel working as a waitress and service.  Barney would work 8 hours a day at Chrysler then go over and work another shift at General Motors at Warren and 13 mile. Whatever he earned, he would send up north and add to Edies wages. Because of this they all were able to move out of Traverse City within 8 months.

By 1953, Edie and the children were moved back down. Barney quit his job at Chrysler, keeping his General Motors job.

At one time, Barney was working 8 shifts a week. When he started working for General Motors, he transferred into the maintenance department. Barney became the committee man for the department concerning union issues.

Every time he would go down to an union affair it would be at a bar. He wasn’t adverse to it at the time, and partook of it enthusiastically. He grew up in a blind pig mentality, If you go to a party, there better be drinking, if there wasn’t any drinking, there wasn’t a party.

Edie became angry. She would go to the union parties which would be men and women dining and afterward there would be a lot of drinking. She didn’t drink, so she would look around and wonder what was the deal.

–“Edie was the reason I didn’t become a straight up alcoholic” – Barney Boisvert

One day his boss said, Barney, I can’t do a damn thing with you, tell you what, I will move you up to salary. He then moved out of the Union. Though he took the salary job, Barney is a union man all the way.

They bought a house with a $100.00 down payment. At the time, they couldn’t afford rent, so they bought a little red house. It was cheaper to buy.

The house was at the south end of South Boulevard in Utica. They moved to Utica because it was fairly close to Barney’s work and it was within their budget. By this time all the kids were in school, the older two, Barb and Mike were in high school.

They fixed up the small house. It had two bedrooms and no bathroom, there was only an outhouse. The three girls were sleeping in the living room, Barney and Edie had one bedroom, and the three boys, the other bedroom.

–“We slept where we fell, until Barney added another bedroom. Its the dardest living ever. That house was terrific, it was enough for a woman to say, my god, I’m a mess, my family’s a mess. Somehow we were enjoying life, I think, and we added another room which made life easier.”  – Edith (Forton) Boisvert

At the red house on South Boulevard, Barney, not having money for a Christmas tree, built the family a tree out of a cone shaped screen, and added branches. This creation of the fake tree reflects who he had become. A self-professed dreamer, and impractical sort, Barney fell into some practical skills.

Along with his occupations in the automotive industry, he was self taught at handling tools, doing electrical and plumbing. The mixture of layman skills he acquired through necessity, compounded by book knowledge and a natural curiosity, culminated that Christmas in the cone-shaped icon standing in the corner of their living room. Unfortunately, their children never did like it. Perhaps it lacked tinsel. They were at the red house for a couple years. After Barney fixed it up, they sold it and bought a better home. They then moved to a house on Greenview Street in Utica. They stayed there until the children grew, moved out. Then they moved again to a little house on Janis street. While living on Janis Street, Barney retired. By that time, Barb, Mike, and Bob were married.

 

Barneys letter to Edie

While living on Janis Street, during the Christmas season of 1973, Barney (61) wrote a letter to Edie.

Christmas is almost here yet I find my preparations consist mostly of the consideration of past Christmases and the trees hat graced them.  I find myself being transported by the “Spirit of Christmas Past” and hope that like his earlier subject I may be the better for it.

The first Christmas I recall had a tree that towered above me. It had many glass balls and I get an impression of shininess. There were long strings of popped corn and cranberries draped around it, pieces of ribbon candy as well as candy canes helped decorate the branches. I never cared for the peppermint canes but have always had a passion for the ribbon candy that I seldom see any more.  I am not too sure of details, I was either three or four, but I remember my father’s arm around me. My only other recollection of this tree is when after I emptied a wine glass left on the dinner table, I crawled under it’s branches to be sick.

I recall incidents from two other Christmases but no more Christmas trees until we started to have our trees. Having grown up without them, I was quite surprised to find that you envisioned them as the very backbone of Christmas celebration. When I took a wife, I did not know I was marrying Christmas trees.

Those first years you had to buy and decorate the tree almost single handed. My contribution was to stand the tree up straight on a base that would not tip over, and even this was done somewhat self consciously.

Our first tree was on the small side and rather sparsely decorated. You said we would gradually acquire a supply of decorations and lights as other Christmases came to us. Well, we did that, some ornaments were broken when still new, some lasted a year or two; some became old and treasured pieces that were handled reverently, placed carefully and artistically on the trees and mourned over when broken. It is a pleasure to remember how each family member would have a favorite and want to decide just where it would be placed.

Our second tree is fainter in memory than the first. With the first you were eight months pregnant but this next Christmas found you only three days from delivery. You needed help and I was not yet sufficiently indoctrinated to do more than stand the tree up in the bucket of sand.

I remember one tree and Walled Lake when you got me up early and we went downstairs, lit the tree and waited for the children to come down. First, we heard them in their room, then on the stairs, then they pushed the stair door open and stood there awe struck for a moment, their eyes as bright as the lights on the tree.

There were two Christmases when the price of a tree was just on expense to many. Those years I waited until the tree lots closed Christmas Eve and the lights were turned off. I would pick out a tree in the dark and hurry home felling like a thief.

There have been tall trees that we cut down; short trees that we placed on raised bases to give them height; trees that had additional branches tied on or poked into holes drilled in the trunk; trees thick and trees think. Trees that blend in memory to form a composite tree for “Christmas Past”.

There were distinctive trees like the little crooked one that had been pruned to look straight but had to stand on a base about forty-five degrees from the perpendicular. Even the boys groaned at that one.  There was the tree a tomcat had sprayed the seasons greetings on and at which we turned up our noses as the tree slowly warmed in the house.

One year we lost our angel, the one that went at the top of the tree to recall the first Christmas. Our angel was either lost or had flown back to heaven and in its place, after the tree was up and completely decorated, a large, shiny, golden dollar sign mysteriously appeared.

The biggest tree we ever had came all ready decorated from the Park Place Hotel lower ballroom. It was to be thrown out Christmas morning and I was told I could take it home when I left work Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve there was no one about to help me and we made no provision for another tree. We had to have that tree. I took a firm grip, a very firm grip on the base and lowest branch of the tree and pulled and over it went.

I dragged it through the ballroom, across the lobby, down the hall, up the stairs, through the entry and out the door; leaving a trail of needles, artificial snow, tinsel and broken ornaments every inch of the way.  When the cleaning crew came to work in the morning, it must have looked as thought a defeated army of Christmas elves had retreated through the hotel to the north pole. How I got that tree home in the car and managed to cut it down enough to fit in the house, I don’t quite remember.

The smallest tree we ever had was made of hardware cloth and twigs from the branch of a fir tree. It stood on a small table in a small house. A tree I was rather pleased with and everyone else got the “Yuks” over.

I think it was right after this that we began to receive some pointed advice on “What you should look for when buying a Christmas tree”. Since my method of buying a tree was to carefully examine the price tags and say “I’ll take this one”, there may have been room for improvement. At any rate the girls started to help then took over the tree buying. They would come home red cheeked and sparkling more or less pleased with themselves. Great animation and bubbling gayety always attended their more successful expeditions.

As the tree buying became the children’s project so too did the tree decorating gradually slip over into their domain. It reached a peak shortly before they left home and would be two or three days of meticulous arrangement, change and alteration. You assumed an advisory role and I retreated to setting the tree up straight on a base that would not tip over.

On recent Christmases with the children grown and married, the trees have again become our responsibility. They have grown smaller and we talk of getting one to fit on the table. They do not last until New Years as they once did. They seem to be on the way to becoming a custom instead of an event.

These are the scenes shown to me by the Spirit of Christmases Past and like Scrooge I am very glad to have been visited before it is too late. Now I realize more fully the wealth you have brought in my life.

I want to thank you for bringing Christmas trees and the spirit that wished to give happiness to others to our Christmases. I want to thank you for the example of love that in the difficult times struggled so hard to make something worthwhile for others. I want to thank God for you and for our Christmases together.

It is now “Christmas Present” and time for a new tree. It cannot be a “custom” nor insignificant. It must be a worthy successor to thirty-six unusual, lovely and loved trees. In “Christmas Future” it will grow brighter an more beautiful.

Merry Christmas – Barney

 

Imlay City, Michigan 

They sold the house on Janice Street to go to Imlay City. The idea of living in the country, which germinated while staying in the Northville Sanitarium as a youth, drew him to Imlay City.

Located roughly 30 miles north of utica, it was isolated, he was retired, so he decided to farm. He bought 40 acres. Later, he sold property to son Robert (Bob) in 1975, and the land to the north to Edie’s brother Tom.

Imlay City was a small manufacturing and farm town surrounded by acres of corn, sugar beets and sod. It was perfect.

 

Sherry and Edie paint a picnic table

While living in Imlay City, Barney documented a whimsical situation on August 23, 1978.

Yesterday was a beautiful day in what has been a dry August. The sky blue with a few feathery clouds accenting the vividness of the sky. A fine day to paint our picnic table, says my spouse, and the eruption was under way.

Our daughter-in-law, who chanced over at the moment, was drafted as was I, to carry the table to a more advantageous spot. There it sat, dull, dingy and dirty. A dull red from the faded red wood paint that had been applied several years previously. A beaten artifact begging for rejuvenation and recognition.

Edie had selected an olive beige for the new color. She opened the can and placed it on the table to seek out the proper brush. Daughter-In-Law, Sherry, said “You have to mix the paint first.” and helpfully picked it up and shook it vigorously. The table top received the major portion of flying paint. Sherry’s shoes received some of the balance, while the grass turned and unexpected hue.

“Just grab a brush and spread it.” says my imperturbable wife. So armed with the first brushes to hand they swabbed, daubed, and spread the paint over the top of the table.

With the paint spillage, it soon became evident that there would not be enough left to cover the entire table. “Perhaps we should put an undercoat on first so it will soak up less of this green paint.’” Opines Sherry.

I, at this point, am redrafted to provide paint for an undercoat. Having a goodly supply of white house paint, i give them a half gallon of flat white. And the undercoat is applied with no further problem. A coffee break is called to give the table time to dry, a matter of twenty minutes as this is all latex paint.

Upon resumption of work, it is decided that there will not be enough paint…even with the undercoat. Edie, the soldier of difficulties, says,“We’ll mix the white paint we have with the green and we will have a lighter color. I think this is way to dark anyway.”

The green paint is poured into the remains of the white, stirred and voila, a pastel green that is quite pleasant and is more suitable for such a fine table.

Work goes on. Again we are threatened with the shortage of paint. Sherry is concerned. So much done and unable to finish. Edie, into the breech,“ Add water” she says. Water is stirred into the paint, the thinned paint spreads more easily and the attack continues.

“We still won’t have enough paint.” Persisted Sherry. “Add more water” rebuts Edie.

Slosh, in goes the water. Stir, stir with the paddle and paint flows and flows.“You won’t have any color Mom, you can’t put that much water into that paint and still cover that undercoat.”

“Stir it up” says Edie. A sudden thought occurs to Edie. “Say Sherry, are you a perfectionist?” “I don’t think so, but I don’t think you can keep adding water and have anything left” “Well I’m not a perfectionist, in fact, I’m a slap-dash worker.” With this observation, the work continues until two of Sherry’s boys happen by and demand a hand in the work. I am required to provide brushes for the young Rembrandts and a four handed assault is made on all unpainted surfaces of the table. Finally, each plane, angle, hole and crevice poked and painted beyond question and a smidgen of paint remained in the various containers. This is success. The table a pleasure to behold. The paint sufficient and all judgements vindicated. – Barney Boisvert


Lakeville, Michigan

In 1983, Barney now 71, Edie was 68 decided to move.

By that time thier son Bob had moved to the town of Rochester, Michigan. Edies brother Tom had moved back up to Boyne City area. They thought the timing was right to move closer to family.

Their eldest son, Mike had settled in the town of Leonard, so they were looking close to that region. They contacted a lady who was living property in the town of Lakeville, just a few miles south of Leonard. She wanted to visit her children and  asked them to look after it for a couple weeks. Barney fixed up a few things while there.

She told Mike and Ada to come and talk with her, she would make a deal on the property. Barney thought there was no way they could afford it. But she made them a deal. The property was 4 acres, just the right amount to manage. There were 2 houses, a large garage with a flat roof and a pond on the property.

Barney would spend hours working outside, planting large gardens, nut and fruit trees. After his time outside was done, he would sit and dig into a new book. During this time, Edie got involved in pastel painting. She would take classes with her daughter-in-law Sherry.

In the year 1990, Barney and Edies son Bob came to live on the property. An apartment was built on top of the garage, in which Barney and Edie made their home. Bob and Sherry lived in the main house.

 

Grand Blanc, Michigan 

During the late 2000’s, Barney and Edie were having health issues brought on by age. Because of the increased need for around the clock care, they moved in with their eldest daughter Barbie.

 

The Burial of Marcus Bernard Boisvert

Marcus Bernard passed away in Grand Blanc, Genesee, Michigan, USA, on 31 Jan. 2008; he was 96. He is buried in Lakeville Cemetary. Lakeville, Oakland County, Michigan. Plot: Section F, Lot 61, Grave 1

 

The Children of Barney and Edie

Barbara Anne Boisvert
Born January 17, 1938 in Ferndale, Oakland County Michigan. Married Lawrence Daly on June 11, 1963.

Michael Bernard Boisvert
Born December 28, 1938 in Ferndale, Oakland County, Michigan. Married to Ada Lee Yaste.

Robert Boisvert
Born on February 2, 1940 in Ferndale, Oakland County, Michigan. Married Sharon Jean Olek on July 22, 1961.
Married  Rebecca Anninos on September, 10, 2005.

James Bernard Boisvert
Born on January 2, 1942 in Northville, Wayne County, Michigan. Married Patrica Turner. Married to Debra Gruzinski.

Judith Marie Boisvert
Born in 1943 in Northville, Wayne County, Michigan. Married Robert Steward Hunt on January 20, 1967.

Margaret Louise Boisvert
Born in February 20, 1946 in Boyne City Michigan. Married Joseph Konski

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