On All Saints Day, I met my great-grandmother. That would be fairly unremarkable, except that she’s been dead since 1908 and our meeting took place online.
I’ve always known her name, Aimee Pena Dubuisson. I’ve seen her grave in Dubuisson Cemetery on the banks of Bayou Bonfouca in Slidell. I knew that she was the wife of Francois Dubuisson. But I never connected to this woman, who died before my father’s birth, until I found a copy of a page from her family bible on the Internet on All Saints Day. Here she recorded the births of each of her 13 children, including my grandfather, and all of my father’s aunts and uncles.
Her elegant script, all in French, neatly notes each baby’s name and date of birth.
I was drawn into her life as I pored over her delicate penmanship. I imagine the attentive mother, lovingly writing out the names of each child. Two children predeceased her. Did her two little ones die at birth or succumb to childhood diseases from which my own children were protected by routine immunizations? Was she too heartbroken to record their deaths in her bible as she did their arrivals?
We have much in common, this woman and I. Did she sit up all night with a sick child as I have? Share a laugh and a cup of coffee with a friend? Tell her children stories and hear their prayers? Take them to church on Sunday? Did she help with homework and teach them to tie their shoes? Did she like to dance?
Common blood flows in our veins and only a few generations separate us. Yet, I live in a world she could not have imagined. At my disposal are devices that would seem magical to Aimee. What would my washer and dryer, even my iron, mean to a woman tasked with laundry for 13 children using a washboard and tub? My stainless steel gas range with the built-in griddle would be a fantasy for Aimee, whose dinner preparation likely included starting a fire in a stove and going out back to kill a chicken. Buying anything not available at the general store must have involved a months-long exchange of letters or a journey to far-away New Orleans. I use Amazon Prime, and anything I want is on my doorstep in two days.
Aimee was a 26-year-old wife and mother when the Civil War began. What would she think of the lunar landing, smartphones (or any phones, for that matter) and the civil rights movement?
I wish I knew what she looked like, this great-grandmother of mine, but no picture exists that I know of. The bible that provided a tantalizing glimpse into her life may itself be lost. The woman who provided a copy of the page to a distant relative has long since died.
How I wish I could talk to Aimee and have all my questions answered. Perhaps she, too, would have questions for me.
I will go back to Dubuisson Cemetery and lay flowers on her grave. My great-grandmother, Aimee Pena Dubuisson, whom I met on Facebook.
Margaret Dubuisson Blitch lives in Baton Rouge.
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