Archive for #orphanage #greatdepression #brooklyn #starbucks #collies #sabbatical #writing #canadianadventure #dogpark #letchworth #1920s #1930s

How I Came to Quebec to Write in Starbucks

Posted in Quebec!, The Blog with tags on September 28, 2019 by chateaucone

This is kind of a nice Starbucks. And there’s something to be said for the comforts of the familiar. I’m eating the same breakfast I get from the Starbucks drive-thru in Selden, NY, right here in Quebec City, on the Rue Grande Allee E, which I think I can pronounce, but probably can’t. The GPS lady pronounces the French word for south as “sud” like “thud”, and it makes me laugh every time. I think it’s more “sood.” She does some brutal things to the French language. *


(In a sideways tangent, (Do I need parentheses if I actually state in the text that I’m going off on a tangent? Probably not. But I love a good parenthetical remark. I guess I could delete “In a sideways tangent” which is repetitive anyway, but I don’t want to.) I’ve been practicing French. I’m kind of stuck on remembering how to conjugate the verb être. To be. I chant as I’m walking the dogs, and for some reason, Dill gets as excited as when I open the Milk Bone box when I say, “je suis.” I don’t know why. But now I say it all the time just to make her wag her tail. Also, Babbel won’t accept my pronunciation of “C’est Jérémie,” no matter how many times I listen to it and try to say it correctly. Enough times that I am eventually yelling at Babbel much like I yell at Siri. Enough times that when I chat with the owner of my Airbnb, I have stopped trying to say his name, which just happens to be Jérémie.) (And in another tangent, I was wondering how one might type all the accent marks in French but I discovered, right after copying and pasting être from Google, that the keyboard on my Mac automatically changed to French, and then it started doing weird things that I assume are useful to people writing in French. Like replacing “ with « no matter how many times I corrected it. (I swear just typing these blog posts generates the actual topics of the posts. Kind of meta.))

What the hell was I writing about? Nothing. I was procrastinating from writing my sort-of grandmother essay.

I will soon be an expert on girlhood and orphanages in the 1920s. Turns out, Louise (my sort-of grandmother) and her brothers and sisters were in and out of orphanages when they were kids, as were many children from working class families who needed emergency child care. (Their mom, Ada, was in and out of state hospitals; thus the emergency need.) The adoption agency optimistically called them “child caring institutions,” but they always choose the euphemism when the truth might be distasteful.


The Louise essay is one of those essays where you spend a week researching something that will end up as one small paragraph in your essay. I have purchased, and sort of read, no fewer than three books on life for girls during the 1920s, from their education to their family life to what movies they watched and who they idolized. And in Louise’s case, what the orphanages she stayed in sometimes might have been like. And then there are the articles—peer reviewed articles like, “A History of American Beds and Bedrooms,” from Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture.  I’m trying to write this imaginative section–one small segment of an essay that’s already too long–where we see Louise as a young girl and a teenager and even though, clearly, I’m making most of it up, I want it to be at least true to the time period–at least possible. And since Louise grew up in an apartment with three sisters and two brothers and two nieces, the sleeping situation has to have been creative, at least.  So far I’m pretty much channeling my Aunt Tootsie’s house in Brooklyn. She had 11 or 12 children, and my Auntie Ann told me that her house was always spotless but that at night, they opened up sofas and trundle beds and got out mattresses stored during the day so that everyone had a place to sleep. There’s sleeping at home, and then there’s sleeping in an institution.

I’m also reading an article that “draws on the thinking of Michel Foucault (he’s French so it’s like totally relevant), to explain the physical representation of authority within [a California orphanage], and of Henri Lefebvre, to show that, even in an institution, children create social spaces and invest them with meaning through everyday uses and interactions” (Gutman 586).  Because every blog post—and every piece of creative nonfiction—should mention Foucault. And have parenthetical citations.

But this is a really interesting article, and it might just tell me what everyday life was like in the orphanage for children from working class families, which is the population it actually focuses on. Even though it is based on a completely different orphanage. In a completely different state. But whatever. And while I’m reading I can feel like I’m working, even if I’m not actually writing.

And now I have to take the girls to the dog park because I accidently left them shut in the laundry room for about an hour today when I thought that the exterminator was here. We’re having a little yellow jacket problem. They seem to have built a nest right outside my bedroom window, sort of in a space in the outside wall. And they like to come in the house. No matter how many of their little friends I kill, they keep coming. The exterminator actually never made it, but then the girls were so quiet I forgot they were in there. I owe them.

Back to Louise for a sec. So, hive mind, if anyone out there wants to share stories about their grandmothers growing up in the 1920s and 30s, I will be happy to appropriate them. Also, if anyone had a grandparent or aunt or uncle, or even great grandparent who spent some time in an orphanage before and during the Depression and who told stories, I’ll happily appropriate those too.

Wow. This blog post really is about nothing. And not in a cool Seinfeld kind of way.

*I just Googled the pronunciation of “sud” and the GPS lady is in fact correct. Maybe I can learn French from her after all.