“It will never last,” people said. He was French, Catholic and a “town” boy; she was English, Protestant and grew up on a farm. That was 1947. Last summer, the couple moved into Boyd Place in Bangor, still very much together.
Lawrence and Maurine Michaud’s story is not just a testament to marriage; it is a window into history. In speaking with them, I am reminded of the rapidity of change in both technology and in human lifestyles over the last eight decades. The ways that we work, live, encounter and interact with other people have seen dramatic changes, for better and for worse. The perspective of history — alive and accessible in so many elders around us — is too often lost in this fast-paced world. It has so much to teach us.
“Start with her,” Lawrence said as we sat down at their dining table. “She’s a farm girl, you know. I lived right downtown.”
“You mean in Bangor?”
Maurine’s home, outside of Ashland, was a family farm in the truest sense. Their animals and crops were strictly for their own subsistence. Her grandmother taught her to knit and cook while her brothers worked outdoors, but she had to do her part in the fields as well. Once she complained to her father about weeding, but he insisted, “Young lady, you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You have to work.”
School was Maurine’s greatest passion. She had to walk two miles to get to her one-room country schoolhouse, “but I would have walked 10 miles,” she said. In the winter, the children rode in an enclosed box with straw on the floor and a woodstove in the corner, pulled by a sleigh. For high school, Maurine paid 25 cents to ride a bus into Ashland. That was where she first met Lawrence.
“Here was this little fellow — little necktie and sweater. His mother kept him dressed right up to a T.” It was not love at first sight.
Lawrence had spent his early years in the mill town of Portage. Their family spoke only French at home, and Lawrence remembers his daunting first day of school. He couldn’t understand anyone and ran home during recess. His mother sent him right back.
Lawrence’s father butchered and sold meats, which they kept on ice harvested in winter. When Lawrence was 10, his father bought a grocery store in Ashland and began a delivery service — Michaud’s Rolling Market. Later in life, Lawrence and one of his brothers bought the business, which became an IGA store. Lawrence worked under the same roof for 48 years, but not until after he had seen a bit of the world.
After high school, Maurine went to college in Massachusetts, and Lawrence went to war. During his 18 months of service as an artillery man, he saw six countries and survived the Battle of the Bulge. It was after the war, back in Ashland, that Lawrence and Maurine started dating.
Some claimed that their cultural differences — which seem small to us today — were insurmountable. Perhaps their shared work ethic from childhood brought them together, or their experiences “away.” Or maybe it was their determination to prove people wrong.
“We’re both stubborn,” said Maurine. Among other things, they stubbornly insist upon facing hardship without excuses or self-pity. They have seen their share of hardship: their son died from cancer attributed to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam; they worry about their grandson in Afghanistan; Lawrence had heart surgery (“five bypasses”). Nevertheless, at 85 and 83, they left their lifetime home and started anew with enthusiasm.
Lawrence walks three miles a day. Maurine’s handiwork projects fill their apartment. Their conversation recounts the past, but does not dwell there. Their daughters, their grandchildren, the present, and the future — all still infuse their lives.
Lawrence and Maurine’s story is both straightforward and profound: Life is hard, you have to work at it, but it’s worth the effort.