“Mr. Francoeur was a Good Man”

“Mr. Francoeur was a Good Man”

All the despairing talk of the financial markets has brought memories of my grandparents’ stories flooding back.  As a child I spent many hours with my Mèmére and Pèpére, my paternal grandparents, who babysat for my sister and me.

My grandparents used to regale us with how difficult life was for them growing up during the Great Depression.

My Mèmére explained how her mother occasionally had to make extreme decisions in order to keep their home afloat. For example, because her husband was sickly, my Grandmèmére (great-grandmother) had to work long hours at the factory just to support herself and her husband.  She couldn’t afford to feed her kids regularly, let alone hire daycare.  This meant putting my Mèmére and her three siblings into an orphanage for extended periods until she could catch up. 

My grandfather’s family was larger – they had ten kids – so, you can imagine how much scarcer money and food were in that house.  My Pèpére told me about what his siblings did for fun, including taking old wood and boxes to make sleds in the winter. As he used to say, they had to “make their own fun”.

My Pèpére also used to like telling us about Mr. Francoeur.  And, he always used the same line: “Mr. Francoeur was a good man.”  (This is the same way he used to talk about FDR.)  Though he was not a national figure, Mr. Francoeur was famous in his own corner of the world.  He was the neighborhood baker in my grandparents’ French-Canadian neighborhood in New Hampshire.  As my grandfather explained, Mr. Francoeur made special arrangements for folks who couldn’t pay their weekly bread bill.  Mr. Francoeur would treat each customer as an individual; he would let them pay what they could each week, but always let them take home the bread they needed to get by.  If the neighborhood families couldn’t pay at all, he started a running tally, looking ahead to better days to come. That bread was their lifeline. Literally.

These days, I’ve been wondering how folks in dire straits have been faring here in the US.  Though we haven’t hit rock-bottom with the financial crises, many people are suffering.  Childhood poverty, the use of food banks and soup kitchens are on the rise here in Massachusetts, as it is most other places around the country.  This is a new phenomenon to the baby boom generation.  By and large my parents’ peers, post WWII, grew up in an unprecedented time of economic growth and job security.  Those I know never dealt with the penny-pinching and hard times that my grandparents grappled with.  Though I sincerely hope that we don’t face another Great Depression in my lifetime, I’m starting to wonder if I’m going to have that in-common with my grandparents. All current indications seem to be pointing in that direction.

It does makes me wonder, too: Are there any Mr. Francoeurs in the world today? Though I never met him, I feel like I know him.  And, I’m so thankful for his generosity to my family in hard times.  I will be keeping his memory alive into the next generation, to my kids, as an example of common decency in a world blighted by blind greed.  In a way, we’re only here because of him.

Mr. Francoeur was a good man.  Indeed.

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