Tag Archives: Bernier

Eileen and Muriel at Salisbury – 1955

eileen-muriel-salisbury1webEileen Morey and her mother, Muriel Bernier Morey, at the flying horses, Salisbury Beach, MA (Probably around 1955)

I like this photo of my mom. It shows her still wearing her hair up, sometimes in a snood, the way she did during “the war years” when she worked at M.I.T.  She wore sharply tailored suits with very square shoulders (slightly padded), and slim skirts.  I always thought she looked very stylish.  (She didn’t cut her hair short until the very late 1950s or early 1960s, as I recall.)

On the other hand, this looks like it wasn’t one of my better days.  Bored..? Impatient..? I’m on the carousel horse. My mother is standing behind me, making sure I didn’t fall off. (I’m not sure if they had seat belts on attractions back then…)

I remember loving to go to Salisbury Beach, MA, just south of Hampton Beach, NH.  We’d go there early in the summer or very late in the season, and going on the flying horses was a major treat.  I was far too little to even try for the brass ring. (If you were able to grab it without getting off the horse, you’d get a free ride.)  Tickets were around 25 cents per ride, and that was a lot of money for my parents in those days, so if we went to Salisbury more than once or twice a year, it was a very big deal.

But, on this particular day, it looks like I wasn’t enjoying myself. And, now that I think about it, my father was probably behind the camera. I was uncomfortable around him from an early age.

In addition, I pretty much hated getting my picture taken.  Light meters, lens adjustments… neither of my parents had a “point-and-shoot” camera in those days.  Photos were always an ordeal.

By the time I was about 10 years old, Salisbury Beach had lost its charm.  The people who went there… they weren’t very nice, or so it seemed when we were there in the off-season.  So, my family stopped going to Salisbury at all.

Plus that, polio was at an epidemic level in the 1950s. My mom was on the picket line regularly, or at city hall, trying to get them to spray the swamps and marshy land at Hampton (NH) with DDT.  (DDT was controversial, but it was one of the only “sure things” to kill the mosquitoes that spread polio.)

The Salk vaccine wasn’t really popularized until around 1957, and parents kept their children at home, isolated from other (possibly contagious) children as much as possible.  Though most of us received the vaccine in school, people (including my mom) weren’t confident that the vaccine was full protection.

Polio was pretty scary.  So, a lot of my early childhood was spent at home or nearby.

Margaret Tormey Bernier – Age 20

Margaret Tormey Bernier, age 20

Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier (1898 – 1972)

This is a photo of my grandmother, Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier.  She was born 3 August 1898 in Somerville, MA, to John Tormey (of Dublin, Ireland) and Margaret Cronin Tormey (of Glenanair, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Ireland).

Margaret was called “Maggie” and she was raised — along with a sister, Mary Ellen, and a brother, James Earnest — by relatives and the nuns, after her mother died (of TB) and her father was hospitalized for several years before his death.

Margaret married Napoleon Mark Bernier, literally “the boy next door.”  They dated when she was in high school, and she always said, “I was the first married and the best married.”

She also like to say that she was related to entertainer Mel Torme. She said he spelled it differently than her dad had, but she either met Mel Torme or someone close to him, and she said his actual ancestry wasn’t French but Irish. Tormey, Tormay, Tornay, Toomey, and Torme are among the many spellings (and misspellings) for the same last name.

In this photo, my grandmother was about 20 years old.  Her hair turned grey early, and was almost fully white by the time she was 25 years old.  Her nose wasn’t her “real” nose. She had a deviated septum and so she had a “nose job” early in her marriage.  My mother remembered seeing her mom with a pile of bandages on her face, after the operation.

Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier died 25 Aug 1972 of heart complications following an intestinal blockage.  She always said that the doctors told her that one side of her heart had never developed completely.  (She also had the tiniest throat I’ve ever seen.  The opening was about the size of a nickel. She had to crush pills and vitamins to swallow them.)

She’s buried with my grandfather and her brother (Jimmy), in Belmont Cemetery, Belmont, MA.

Oldna Elizabeth Bernier Daykin (1898 – 1925)

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Oldna Elizabeth Bernier Daykin (1898 – 1925)

Oldna was the younger sister of Napoleon Mark Bernier.  Her parents were Francois Napoleon Bernier and Margaret DeCoste Bernier.

Oldna was born 22 March 1898 in Somerville, MA, and died of tuberculosis on 25 August 1925, also in Massachusetts.  (Some records place the Bernier home in Somerville, others put it just over the line into Cambridge.  My mother sometimes talked about the home being in Somerville, but mostly described it as Cambridge.)

Oldna Bernier DaykinAccording to my mother, Oldna was sweet, kind, quiet, and very musical.  In her teens, Oldna had been a little wild.  My grandmother said that Oldna fell in with “a wild crowd in Fall River.”  (I later found out the “wild crowd” were her Crispo cousins, and they weren’t especially wild… just normal teens.)

Oldna’s mother brought her back to the Boston area, and Oldna went to work at a store in downtown Boston, playing the piano.  I got the idea it was the Kresge department store, but it may have been a Woolworth’s.  Either way, Oldna played piano to entertain shoppers.

Unfortunately, Oldna fell in love with her cousin Louis… her first cousin, as I recall.  Her mother put a stop to that romance, and married Oldna to Harold Daykin.  Harold was, by all accounts, handsome and charming, but my mother said Oldna wasn’t really attracted to him.

The marriage was okay but not great.  Oldna soon contracted TB — supposedly because a fan was at her back when she played the piano at work — and died.

Harold moved in with his widowed mother-in-law and they created their own family legends… but that’s another story for another day.

In the 1960s, we met Harold’s widow when we were staying at the Farragut Hotel in Rye, NH.  I remember her as a gracious woman who was very much in love with Harold. She spoke kindly of Harold’s earlier associations with our family.  I’m glad he had a happy life.

Francois Napoleon Bernier (1861 – 1918)

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Francois Napoleon Bernier (1861 – 1918)

Francois Napoleon Bernier — called “Nap” or “Napoleon,” like his son — was born in Matane, P.Q., Canada, on 8 Nov 1861.  He’s kind of a mystery man for many reasons.  He’s one of several children born to an interesting couple, Susan Cote (born 1845) and Joseph Bernier (born 1820).

According to the stories, Susan (also spelled Suzanne) was a headstrong child who wanted to marry the richest man in town… so she did.  The problem was, he was at sea a lot, and… well, there are questions about the parentage of Susan’s children.

Apparently, when Joseph died, Susan and her children were basically run out of town without a cent.  Most went to Fall River, MA, where they lived in a boarding house and worked in the mills.  So, I’m not sure what the real story was, but Susan definitely went from being the wife of the richest man in her Canadian town… to severe poverty and a difficult life in Massachusetts, as a widow.

But, getting back to Francois Napoleon Bernier, my great-grandfather:  According to my grandmother (Francois’ daughter-in-law), when he was young, he was sent to live with the Indians and lumberjacks.  There, he worked as a cook, and mingled with the Indians.

According to my grandmother, her father-in-law lived at Perce Rock… or with the Nez Perce Indians.  I do know that he had a secret box — it had a hidden opening — and, inside it, he had a handmade book. It was very simple, and I’m sure he made it himself.

In that book, he had what he said was the Chinook alphabet and a bunch of Chinook words.  (Chinook Indians were well-known as traders who mixed well among the various Indian nations.  According to the stories, Joseph Bernier hired several Indians to act as translators for trading expeditions.)

The box also included some glass beads and some leather work. (I recall it being a very soft leather, smooth and the color of butterscotch, with beads embroidered on it.)

Unfortunately, when my grandfather (Napoleon Mark Bernier) died, my grandmother was so distraught, she had St. Vincent de Paul haul away everything that might remind her of my grandfather… including the little box made by his father.

But, the story doesn’t end there.

According to my mother, there’s a secret to our ancestry.  It involves Francois actually being the son of an Indian, which is why — at age 8 — he was sent to live with them.  It also explained why Francois’ wife was frantic if my mother was out in the sun.  Mum (my mother) said that it was something about how her skin might turn dark and she’d look like an Indian.

Ollocut-NezPerceWhether there’s any truth to that… well, it’d take a DNA test to be sure.  I’m not sure if DNA tests can differentiate between Indian nations; that would be key, since our ancestors also include “Marie Therese, a Mic-Mac” on the Bernier line… maybe. (That’s another issue.  If Joseph Bernier wasn’t the father of Francois Napoleon Bernier, my further research into the Bernier line was kind of pointless.)

However, my grandfather (Napoleon Mark Bernier) looked remarkably like Ollicut, brother of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.  That’s Ollicut in the picture on the right.  So, Mum seemed pretty happy to think we have Nez Perce ancestry.

And, of course, there’s still more to the colorful life of Francois Napoleon Bernier.

Francois, called “Pup” by my mother, worked as a plasterer… applying stucco and plaster to homes and other buildings.  He had a successful business, Napoleon Bernier & Son.

Pup hired a bunch of his mother’s relatives to work for him.  They’re the Crispo family.  (When my grandfather took over the business, I guess he wasn’t as polite as the Crispos had in mind.  From what I heard from our cousin, Bella Crispo, it was kind of a “you can’t quit, you’re fired” situation.  After that… well, I didn’t even know we had Crispo cousins until I was in my 30s.)

In addition, Pup invested in real estate, and owned a few houses on his street.  Generally, they were two-family homes.  Pup’s brother-in-law (Pup’s wife’s brother), Mark DeCoste, lived upstairs in the house where Pup lived.  I’m not sure which house was where my mother was born, but it was on the same street, in a house owned by Pup.

Pup was ill in 1918 during the influenza epidemic.  He died later, in Geneva, Ontario Co., NY, on 23 Sep 1918.  My grandmother didn’t like to talk about that. It was clearly a closed subject.

In later years, when I was researching our family history, I found the Geneva street address and saw that the tenant had been Martha something-or-other. My mother said that Pup had been visiting his wife’s sister, Martha. Martha was — according to my grandmother — a rather wild woman.  I think Martha left her husband or something. (That was scandalous, back then.)  So, my mother had the idea that Pup’s death at Martha’s apartment was… a little indiscreet.  But really, we haven’t a clue.  In photos, Pup looked pretty conservative, so I’m not sure what to think.