A “One of a Kind Lady”: Profile of Genevieve (Paquet) Roach 1913—1992Jul 15th, 2009 | By Elizabeth Roach | Category: Uncategorized
A woman in the year 2009 multi-tasks on a daily basis: she cares for multiple children, works outside the home five days a week, does laundry and housecleaning, packs lunches, cooks meals, bakes bread and other goodies, grocery shops, attends parent-teacher meetings, volunteers in the community, and still has time left over for hobbies whether it be sewing, furniture refinishing, furniture upholstery, exercise, or travel. Whew!
What would you say if this description applied to a woman I knew, born in the early 1900s? Would you be more surprised? Less so? Well she did indeed exist. It is with great pride and pleasure that I introduce you to Genevieve (Paquet) Roach (1913-1992), my late mother-in-law. On any given day, you could enter Gen’s kitchen and see pots boiling on the stove, biscuits in the oven, bread cooling on the racks, a washing machine and clothes dryer going, and Gen hunched over a sewing machine, lips pursed in concentration, a cigarette burning down in an ashtray nearby, a TV blasting loudly in the living room. She would calmly look up, flash her smile, and invite you to sit while she finished one last stitch. A surge of guilt would hit me on such visits as this would be only mid-morning! Gen would have been up since 4am preparing breakfast, and packing a lunch for her husband before he left for lobster fishing. So a “multi-tasker extraordinaire” she was – and try as you might, it would be a daunting task to out-do her!
The Roaring 1920s and Starving 1930s
Genevieve was born and raised in Souris, a little seaside town in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Genevieve was married in 1931 at the age of 18, to a fisherman who was a devoted husband and father. Together, Genevieve and Fee began their life together during very tough times: The entire world was starving, and Genevieve and Fee had to raise a family on a fisherman’s income. But starve, they did not. Genevieve believed in the concept of bulk buying. She would often take the car ferry to the mainland and return with a trunk laden with goods that were either cheaper or not available on the Island. She would purchase fabric in bolts, and dress patterns for her girls that would be used more than once. The pattern pieces were mixed and matched creating a totally custom look. Versace would have been envious!
The 1950s and 1960s, or “The ‘Growing Years’”
In the mid 1960s Genevieve decided she needed a car—so off she went to purchase one, ignoring the insignificant little fact that she didn’t know how to drive. Once she had taught herself how to drive, she would loan her car to family when they had special dates with one caveat: it had to be returned cleaned inside and out. Genevieve could instill motivation with a small dose of bribery, which didn’t hurt either!
Gen’s first ten children were born at home, and the last five had comfort and convenience of being born at the local hospital. Many of Gen’s later babies were born in the winter, and as a result, she frequently required a horse and sleigh to plow through the snow drifts to make her way to the hospital to give birth. The last baby arrived in 1964: Genevieve was 51 and had been having children since the 1930s. When Gen turned 65-years-old, she boasted that not many women could receive an old-age pension and a baby bonus at the same time, which she promptly laid out on the table and snapped a photograph to prove it (giggling all the while).
During the 1950s and 1960s, with her family still growing in numbers, Genevieve worked full time as town administrator, which was a typical male role. She graduated from Prince of Wales College in the 1930s at a time when not many females attended college, let alone finished, so Genevieve was not easily intimidated. Genevieve would show up for work in her pearls and perfectly coiffed hair emphasizing her femininity in the all-male work environment of the time.
It was during this time that she also assumed the care of her elderly mother who had become blind as a result of glaucoma. Taking “Gram” into her home meant Genevieve would be now providing 24-7 care, adding an extra challenge to the already 24-hour day that was being stretched to the limit. Never complaining, Genevieve moved Gram into the home and lovingly cared for her for over 30 years before Gram passed away at the ripe age of 96. Never missing a beat though it all, Genevieve retired at 65 only to pursue her life’s passions—looking after her family and enjoying her 26 grandchildren.
With Open Arms and an Open Door
This lady, so vibrant with life and boundless energy could appear intimidating, but in knowing her, I was soon to be enlightened. There was always a place for one more at her kitchen table, so it might be more than a coincidence that people would pop in at mealtime knowing that they would be greeted with open arms and a hot delicious meal. On one such evening, just before Christmas of 1969, I was escorted to her home to meet the family of the man I had been dating. Coming in the front door, nervous and shy, I was immediately overwhelmed by the noise level The walls were vibrating from the countless energy fields of the family, their spouses and children, and the grandchildren. Out from this crowd of people trying to out-shout and out-talk each other, emerged this smiling lady. To my immense relief, I immediately recognized her as that friendly lady from the Town Hall that I had met as a young girl years ago. Whether she sensed my anxiety didn’t matter: I felt instantly welcome. A friendship was born that night, on that continued to nurture throughout the next 30 years.
Genevieve accepted people at face value with a “what you see is what you get” philosophy. People were attracted to her like a magnet. A perfectionist herself, she was uncommonly non-judgmental, and seemed to revel in the uniqueness of others’ imperfections (which only made the person more interesting to her). A compassionate and generous soul, Genevieve could be counted on in the community to provide solace whether to grieving families, or young women in trouble. Richness to Genevieve was more than a bank balance, and abundance took on many forms in her life.
Vices and Virtues
Genevieve was a role model to her family and friends alike. Meeting her in my teens with all the expectations of youth, she was as instrumental in my personal development as my own mother was. As a mother myself, I can only hope I have paid it forward. She was an extraordinary parent, although she would be the last to admit this. While fiercely protective of her family, she allowed her children to make their own mistakes, striving to reach the fine balance between teaching them about danger and over-protectiveness. Sometimes she fell short of the latter: with one kid having fallen over the 40’ embankment behind their house and almost freezing to death, and another falling into a cesspool nearly drowning in excrement while on at a family outing to a pig farm. These experiences only meant Genevieve had more stories to tell. Never dwelling on the “what ifs,” she celebrated the “what is” and never looked back. Discipline was usually swift, and like a bad thunder storm, was over as sudden as it started.
In the early 90’s, Genevieve was suddenly forced to part with her best friend and soul-mate, Fee, her husband of over 50 years. A mere six months later, Genevieve gave up her struggle with emphysema; her zest and passion for life seemed to have died with Fee.
Among countless others, one of Genevieve’s legacies to her family was a slight “dusting” of her humor. Genevieve’s sense of humor was with her always, even in her last days. Now that she is no longer with us, if I watch and listen closely I can still hear her giggle and charming wit reverberating in the voices of her sons and daughters.
1. Genevieve with firstborn baby girl – Belle circa 1932
2. Genevieve’s mother/daughter matching outfits
3. Genevieve (seated) with Souris town council