FORT KENT, Maine — Sundays are a big deal at Raoul and Lou Caron’s house.
Every week, around 11 a.m., pickups and cars begin pulling into the couple’s farmhouse near Little Black Lake.
Out tumble three generations of the extended Caron clan as children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even a family dog or two all make a beeline to the side porch door leading into Lou’s kitchen.
Raoul and Lou raised four children in the house that is the heart of what is commonly known around town as “Caron Village.”
At one time, Raoul’s father, Minal Caron, ran a potato farming operation covering 1,000 acres in and around Fort Kent that employed entire families during the annual harvest.
These days, the farm is run by Minal’s grandsons, though Raoul is a constant presence in the garages, barns and fields where he works side-by-side with several generations.
“Family is the most important thing,” Raoul said. “It’s what it’s all about.”
“Getting together like this means the world to me,” Lou said at a recent gathering.
“If you don’t believe her, just watch what happens when one of us misses a Sunday,” her grandson Kris Malmborg said as he balanced his 2-year-old son Preston on his knee. “You can expect a call later that day from her asking, ‘Where are you?’ and then telling us, ‘Oh, you couldn’t come? Well, I made your favorite.’”
That comment drew laughter and nods from around the room.
“And of course, anytime you are not here, she’s always made your ‘favorite,’” laughed granddaughter Lee Babin.
“Yeah, she tries to make us feel guilty, but that’s what grandmothers do,” Kris said.
There is nothing quiet or calm about these Sunday meals in the Caron farmstead.
Young children — all cousins — run around or bounce from adult lap to adult lap as doting parents, aunts and uncles look on.
“Do your ‘Minion’ impersonation Uncle Ryan,” Kris said to his brother.
After a bit more encouragement, Ryan Malmborg soon had young and old shrieking in laughter as he mimicked the little yellow characters from the cartoon movie “Despicable Me.”
Lou rarely stopped moving as she ladled chicken stew into bowls or refilled bread bowls and coffee mugs from her kitchen.
“You want more?” she said, holding a pot of the stew at the table. “There’s plenty, or you can have some soup, we have more of that, too.”
Never let it be said anyone goes hungry when Lou is around.
The eye of this family storm is Raoul, who is content to sit in his rocking chair and let the chaos come to him.
When someone let slip the patriarch would celebrate a birthday in two days, a rousing round of “Happy Birthday” broke out.
“You can bet if it were one of the grandkids birthdays, there’d be cake,” grandson Ryan Malmborg said.
“Oh, I wanted to,” Lou said.
Two nights later, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren surprised him with a cake.
“The look on his face when four great-grandkids rushed in followed by me, [my wife] Beth and my brother was priceless,” Ryan said. “They had no clue we were coming, and let’s face it, how many people can say they have four great-grandkids they can actually enjoy and, in turn, the kids are old enough to enjoy them back?”
During the harvest, all the generations are at work. From son Dale driving the harvester to 5-year-old great-grandson Ethan “working” in the potato shed, everyone works to bring in the annual potato harvest.
“Oh, he’s a farmer, no doubt about it,” Kris said of his son, Ethan. “I got up one morning at 3 a.m. [during harvest] and found Ethan sitting in the recliner, fully dressed. He told me, ‘Daddy, don’t forget to wake me up at 5 [a.m.] to go into the fields.’”
Ethan was even a regular at this year’s harvest, from helping his father grade harvested potatoes to riding along in one of the farm trucks.
“I know everything about harvest,” Ethan said somewhat matter-of-factly.
“He’s not kidding,” Kris said. “He was telling the [potato] truck drivers where to unload, and he had it right.”
Each morning of harvest, Kris helped his young son get into his special famer coveralls to begin the day.
“What’s really great,” Kris said, “is they used to be mine.”
Standing next to one of the fields and watching the harvest after delivering a hot lunch to the crew, Lou remembered those coveralls.
“I was looking for denim material to make a pair for Kris,” she said. “I couldn’t find it anywhere, and then one day, I was at the Good Shepherd [thrift store] and saw some old jeans, so I took them and made the coveralls.”
Nothing has made her happier than seeing them passed down to the next generation.
“Oh yes, he’s a helper,” Raoul said as he completed a quick repair on a piece of harvest equipment, seconds later calling out to the youngster, “Ethan, is that where all the wrenches went?”
Grinning, Ethan cheerfully surrendered the four or five wrenches he’d collected and stored in his pockets.
It was Raoul who taught most of his grandchildren how to drive on the farm.
“We all learned to drive the potato trucks,” Lee Babin said. “How many kids can say that?”
By 1 p.m., the last of the Sunday lunch dishes were washed and put away, and the families had departed into their afternoon activities.
And while peace and quiet was restored to the farmhouse, it was easy to see Lou and Raoul already missed the chaos.
“Food and noise, that’s what family is all about,” Lou said.