Napoleon and Catherine (Clark) Gallant

 

Taken from a letter written to me by Miss Cecilia Gallant, grand­daughter of Napoleon and Catherine Clark Gallant, - May 1993.

(Sister Muriel Gallant, M.M.)

 

Catherine Clark Gallant was called "Kate" by her friends. She was a tall, slim aristocratic-looking woman about five feet, six inches - in fact she was much taller than Napoleon. His name, Napoleon, was shortened to “Poleon”. His friends and neighbors settled for "Paul" and it stuck. It used to infuriate my father, his son Jim, when they called him "Jim Paul”. Now they call his grandson, Mark Jim Paul. They lived in what is known as the Old Homestead in Nail Pond on a hill, overlooking the sea, Northumber­land Strait and North Point or Cape.

 

Napoleon had a post office in a large room off our large country kitchen. The post office in Tignish was already built be­fore my time; so, the room thereafter was known as the post office. It served for many uses, including a sick room where I spent many days when I was ill with rheumatic fever at the age of eight. By the way, Grandma Gallant was firmly convinced of the power of prayer. So convinced of the power of prayer that she spent all night in prayer when Dr. Johnson of Tignish gave up hope of my re­covery. After her vigil, the doctor returned. He judged that the crisis had passed, and I would live.

 

Grandpa and Grandma occupied the large bedroom above the large kitchen. I remember it was quite well furnished with a huge spool-turned bed of pale wood. They had a huge clothes press run­ning the length of the room. It was topped with a shelf which held souvenirs and a beautifully carved clock also of wood. It chimed on the hour. Grandma left the clock to Frances, my sister; it was burned in the 1978 fire.

 

There were also two large screens which were covered with pale rose padded satin upon which large swamp birds were embroi­dered. They also had two carved chairs and a few chests. I remem­ber there was a toilet, with a bowl like a modern toilet with a pipe which led upward to the chimney. I don't know how it worked, or if it worked, but it was there.

 

I remember Grandma having two different kinds of spin­ning wheels: one, small, worked by a pedal; the other huge. Both were operated while the worker was standing. There were also all kinds of carding equipment, as the family had a flock of sheep. The machines looked as if they were much needed.

 

In the old shop (which Mark still has, although only a semblance remains), there were all kinds of interesting things to "discover." I enjoyed every piece while I was recuperating (just well enough to get into trouble!). This old shop had been former­ly owned by Captain Frank Gallant and was used for storing liquor (probably from rum-running). There were all kinds of interesting sea chests, old beds, spinning wheels and old chairs that were or­nately carved. There were huge boxes built into the walls filled with feathers, flax-seed and other things. The geese were always around. I would avoid them at all costs, because the gander was usually vicious. There were also harness pieces which were mended in the winter. Because there was a lot of horse-racing at that time, traces of equipment were to be found. Although I did not see any actual weaving, there were traces of weaving in supplies of huck toweling.

 

Grandpa always had a small patch of buckwheat down by the brook. I only saw it growing, but never saw it actually put to use.

 

Mrs. Abe Gallant (Maggie) did our weaving when we came along. Abe was a son of Maurice Gallant. The homespun was rather pretty, but it sure was “itchy".

 

In Grandpa's time there were always some hired men to help, along with his sons. All the daughters could sew, quilt and hook rugs. Their daughter Clara was an excellent seamstress. Grandma and her daughters were also good cooks. They used some of the old Acadian dishes. Grandma said she had learned the recipes from her mother-in-law, Napoleon's mother.

 

One of these recipes was for a delicious raisin bread which they made in three-loaf pans. I don't know where they got the name but they called it "Plum Loaf”. There was also a deli­cious "pate" which none of our relatives seem to remember how to make. This is what I remember:

1.  Cube large quantities of lean beef and pork.

2. Blend in an assortment of mixed spices.

3. Place the pot on the back of the wood stove and simmer for

several days.

4. When the mixture is ready, prepare the dough. (The hops, used for yeast grew in Uncle George's swamp.) Before the dough rises, a small amount of dough is needed to line the bread pans. The meat mixture is then added to the pans. After that the rest of the dough is used to cover the meat mixture.

5. After it rises, it is baked. When it cools, it is frozen.

 

At Christmas time, it will be roasted and served. Delicious! To make it correctly, you must know the exact amounts of the in­gredients. (Perhaps the Cajuns in Louisiana might know!)

 

We always had goose for Christmas and other special feasts. Several fish dishes were family favorites too, especially fried herring. During the fishing season, we had mackerel stew and herring roe. Sunday dinner would be a feast of lots of chick­en with big dumplings. In season, we had boiled dinner with pork, potatoes, turnips and cabbage. Although we had sheep, we seldom ate lamb or mutton. Usually there were pies made from berries which had been picked by the adults and children. We didn't have very much fruit except blueberries, apples and exceptionally delicious gooseberries. Those hundreds of little gooseberry bushes no longer exist now. They disappeared when we brought in the white pine (some kind of disease, I'm sure).

 

Grandpa Napoleon Gallant always had a terrific garden after he was too old to do any actual farming. Before the ad­vent of commercial fertilizer, gardens were raised beds so as to make them easier to work. They were long and narrow, a practice which is followed today. To get a good yield plenty of manure was used as well as kelp (seaweed) and fish bones.

 

Our neighbor, Joe Bernard from Nail Pond, told me a tale which holds some credence. When the Acadians (they were not all French) decided to remain on Prince Edward Island, they dug themselves habitation or homes beside the pond (Nail Pond). He pointed out several indentations in the tall grass surrounding the pond. It did look as if there had been something dug or built there. It seems that they had been built or dug in there because that was clearly a way out to the sea in case of attack. Shortly after that a ship came into the pond through the "run" and went aground. The ship was filled with kegs of nails. Since no nails had been available before, the settlers were able to build them­selves reasonably secure homes. Because of this “ship of nails" the settlers called the surrounding countryside "Etang des Clous" which means Nail Pond.

 

Grandma Gallant always told us that her parents, John and Mary Clark, came over to Prince Edward Island on a ship dur­ing the Great Famine in Ireland. A child was born and died during the crossing, a tragic experience for the family. Grandma also told my sister Frances that when she was growing up, she preferred Captain Frank, but she was happy she had married Napoleon.

 

My Dad, Jim Gallant, went fishing in his youth in a sail boat usually with Joe, son of Jeremiah and Ellen (Clark) Perry. There were no harbors and I wondered how he was able to maneuver a sail boat into the breakwater and out again to the sea. My Dad explained you first had to use geometry, and plot your course accordingly. I remembered thinking that he must have been very clever, because I used to avoid geometry like the plague. ­

 

Uncle Frank (Francis Gallant) son of Napoleon and Ca­therine Clark Gallant, used to tell me about escapades while working in a lobster factory at Phee Shore, which is just beyond the “run” of Nail Pond, on the way to Norway, P.E.I. Mother's home (Bridget Ahern). You could walk across the "run” in the summer, but at other seasons, it was a raging torrent. Uncle Frank used to sleep in the cookhouse during the fishing season. A bunch of workers used to gamble and raise Cain all night, keep­ing others awake. Uncle Frank rigged up a series of hoses and pipes when no one else was around, perhaps on a Sunday. He practiced and finally perfected a series of hideous groans and cries coming from a place in the cookhouse where no one could possibly be. It worked like a charm! To this day, everyone thinks that the place is haunted. Needless to say, all the noise and gambling at night stopped. Uncle Frank was quite a character! He gave me my first lesson in working crossword puzzles. He used to visit us quite regularly especially at Christmas time and trout-fishing season. He provided Grandma, Grandpa and us with some choice specimens of trout.

 

Grandma and Grandpa spoke French a lot among themselves. My mother did not learn French though Grandpa tried to teach her. The neighborhood women tried to teach her their version of French with mixed results!

 

Grandpa and Grandma went on short trips to Tignish to visit friends and relatives. They traveled in an old buggy known as a surrey drawn by Grandpa's favorite old brown mare. They always brought back a treat for the children.

 

Frances, my sister, was Grandma's favorite. When Grand­ma was quite old and had difficulty going upstairs to bed, she would call on Frances to help her. (She called Frances "Nancy," but it did not stick!)

 

Grandma's favorite son was George. Grandpa referred to Uncle George as "the other fellow" and he was decidedly par­tial to James (Jim), my Dad. Grandpa was heartbroken when his youngest son William (Will) died. The neighbors told me Grand­pa screamed so loudly when he heard the news, that he could be heard by the next-door neighbors a long distance away.

 

They also had a blacksmith shop which was stocked with a lot of equipment. Just once in awhile it was used. When my father, Jim, was older, he sold the equipment to a cousin of ours, Emile Gallant, son of Sylvain Gallant. The building was a very interesting one as it was used for a multitude of purposes.  One side was boarded up to make a pig-sty to house some pigs. The fireplace was used to cook up the pig-feed, especially potatoes. The children watched the fire and the pig-feed in the process. Many hours were spent there, watching and reading.

 

There was a trap-door leading to a small attic in this blacksmith shop. The pig carcasses were always hung there wait­ing to be shaved and cut-up. But, before that could take place, the pig had to be killed. Delicate people like me had to be banished from the scene. It was necessary to enlist the aid of a small person to stand and catch the blood as the pig was slaughtered. My sister Ethel or Frances would do this job! This in­gredient made delicious blood sausage.

 

Grandpa and Grandma used many herbs and weeds in treat­ing colds and fevers. Wormwood was steeped for hours as a reme­dy to relieve nausea. Wild cherry bark was used for colds. One side of a plantain leaf was used for drawing out the poison in a wound or a boil, while the other side of the leaf was used for healing it.

 

Grandpa died of a possible stomach complication on February 20, 1926. Though he was not sick very long, he was seri­ously ill, and we children were not allowed near his sick room. I was about eight years old then.

 

Grandma died in 1933 from old age. She was ninety one years old. It was early evening when she started to die; it was midnight when she died. I (Cecilia) was with her. For a few hours, she spoke of a great white bird hovering over her bed. Every once in awhile she would cower as if to escape it. Two of the neighbors were with me when Grandma became very quiet, sighed deeply and shuddered. The neighbor nearest her handed her her cru­cifix which she grasped eagerly. We began to pray together. That afternoon she had received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction; so she was ready to go to God. I often wondered what the white bird signified. I kept thinking it was the Angel of Death, if there were one, or perhaps her Guardian angel.

 

 

 

 

 


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