My great-grandfather, Louis Martell, emigrated to the United States from French Canada following the American Civil War, searching for fame and fortune. He never found either one. But he did discover a petite and pretty French teenager named Mary. Born near South Bend, Indiana, she was living with her family in Lake County, Michigan, at the time Louis spotted her. They were married in January, 1872. I still own a formal, tintype wedding portrait of the two of them. He was a handsome, swarthy, rakish-looking character.
Louis and his teen-age bride settled in Berrien County, Michigan, in a Catholic district colonized by French-Canadian émigrés. He felt right at home. Their first of six children was born October 27, 1873.
The eldest was Josephine, who later became my grandmother. She was followed by Fred, Lillian, Elizabeth, Phoebe and Noah, the youngest. There was a span of almost 20 years between the birth of Josephine and Noah. (The family pronounced the name Noah as NU- WEE—a French-Canadian corruption rhyming with Dewey—which I always found pretty funny.)
Josephine grew up to be a plain but passionate woman, still unmarried at the mature age of 22. She did much of the cooking for the entire family. Then, she met my future grandfather, James Thad Dewey, a lusty, hard¬working, French-speaking, ranch hand from nearby New Buffalo, Michigan. She’d found her man.
Born August 2, 1874, Jim Dewey came from French and English stock. His mother was Margrit Gugine, a French-Canadian. His father was Phelix Dewey. He had two brothers, Albert and Sam. Albert eventually married and had three children—all boys. Sam remained an untamed bachelor all of his life.
Jim Dewey and Josephine Martell (he called her Jo) were married in the late summer of 1896—and my mother was born some three months later on November 24. She was an only child. But she was not truly alone. My mother and Aunt Phoebe Martell were both about the same age. They played together as children. And they remained close throughout their lives.