Adrienne Valcourt; mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, 88 Years old
After delivering the eulogy for my grandfather's funeral service, my aunts and uncles once again asked me to prepare a few words about my grandmother when she passed away.
A little over two years ago, I stood before this congregation recalling the life of my grandfather, Eugene Valcourt. I began a story of my grandparent’s lives, sharing 3 simple lessons I had learned from my grandfather. I shared the lesson of learning about an individuals life before it was too late. I spoke about passing on knowledge and skills, and being resourceful. Finally, I spoke about leaving a legacy to those once you pass onto the great unknown.
As we gather again today to remember the life of my grandmother, Adrienne Valcourt, I would like to complete this story I started. This time sharing with you three traits my grandmother idolized and passed on to us throughout her lifetime.
During my life, I have come to the realization that one must sacrifice individual wants in order to help others and the greater society advance. My grandmother exemplified this throughout a number of times during her lifetime.
When Memere was only 19 years old, the United States entered into the Second World War. At that time, the United States was still recovering from “The War to end all Wars” and the Great Depression. With many of the men off to war, my grandmother became a mechanic’s helper at Fort Devens. She joined a growing domestic workforce of women helping the Alies win the war from home. With victory in Europe and the Pacific, Pepere returned home, and soon they both started a family.
As I spoke a few years ago, Memere was a member of what news journalist Tom Brockaw spoke of as “The Greatest Generation”. Those men and women who came of age during the Great Depression, who then answered the call to serve our nation at the world's darkest hour. Fighting the greatest military machines ever assembled, on a war fought on 6 of the 7 continents, and all the seas, and all the skies. When it was over 72 Million had perished, but the world was saved from Japanese Imperialism, and German Fascism, and the men and women of this generation returned home quietly and built the country we have today.
Her sacrifice, along with the sacrifice of many others, helped to support the war domestically, and ultimately gain victory for the Allies. This quality of self sacrifice continued on through out her lifetime in many ways. When I was growing up, I had the fortune of having my grandparents live in an apartment within my house. On a daily occasion, my grandparents would care for me when I returned home from school, or when I was home during my summer vacation. Memere insisted that I finish all of my homework before going outside to help Pepere in the garden, or watch a Red Sox game that night. She would always be the loving grandmother one would expect. It didn’t hit me until a number of years later that she was not only being a grandmother to me, but also sacrificing by helping to care for me.
My grandmother best exemplified this quality of sacrifice in the final years of Pepere’s life. Even while her health continued to deteriorate, she made it a point to visit my grandfather each day at the nursing home. Spending time with him and making sure he was being cared for. For over two years, she put herself before others, even when she may have needed help herself.
In the course of the interactions with my grandmother over my lifetime, I have learned that caring is one of the most important qualities once can impart on interactions with others. A simple hug when saying good bye, or a “good job” when I came home with a good grade on a math test, said more than any amount of words could ever have. She cared for us when we were sick; after-all, who can forget “Memere soup”. It seems so simple and basic to us today, but as kids, we thought it was the best thing in the world.
As I spoke about my grandfather last time, I reminded everyone about his resourcefulness; always planting a garden, or fixing and caning chairs. Memere too was resourceful. While Pepere was sitting in his chair caning a seat for a chair, Memere was knitting an afghan for someone. Every kid, grand kid, great-grand kid, and many other family members received one or more afghans.
Memere’s caring didn’t stop with just giving afghans to family members. Neighbors, extended family, and even people who she only interacted with for a short time received one of Memere’s prized afghans. After Pepere passed in 2009, my Mom convinced Memere to try an adult day care service in West Groton. At first, Memere was reluctant to go, but after two days, she loved it, and looked forward to going each week. She met many friends, both other participants, as well as people on staff. As the weeks went on, Memere started bringing her knitting materials with her, and eventually started to gift afghans to her new friends. She eventually made hundreds of afghans and gave them away to everyone she knew. When all of the immediate family members had received at least one, and she knew the next generation of Valcourts were on their way, she started to queue up blankets for the great-grandkids on their way.
Her knitting didn’t stop with afghans though. My cousin Mike is on his third deployment to the Middle East as we speak. Though he couldn’t be here today, I’m sure his thoughts and prayers are with Memere and our family today. But Mike isn’t the only person in that part of the World thinking of Memere. Over the course of Mike’s first deployment, Memere found out that the nighttime temperature is very different than the daytime temperature in Iraq. Memere did what she did best and started caring for others. She began making knitted booties for the soldiers to wear at nighttime to keep their feet warm. The first time she sent a box over, she included over 50 pairs of booties. The troops loved them, and she got such joy knowing it helped them through a difficult time.
We always joked that she wanted to make sure everyone was always staying warm. In reality, she loved seeing the reaction of someone receiving an afghan or hearing the reaction of the soldiers to her gift.
Overall, the biggest quality Memere exemplified over her lifetime was the pride she had for her family, and friends. Memere always enjoyed a visit from the grandkids, family gatherings, and the nightly phone calls from her siblings. Family was very important to her, and she recognized what we became.
What started as a marriage to my grandfather in 1944, has resulted in a large and successful family. Looking across this congregation today, our family includes multiple tradesmen, business owners, teachers, health care workers, United States Servicemen, artists, mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Memere was extremely proud of everything each of us has accomplished in our lifetimes.
Family and friends were not her only source of pride though. Memere’s biggest source of pride though was following sports teams. She never missed a game for the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, or Patriots. If there were two games on in one night, she would make sure to know which channels had what game, and she would flip back and forth between the games to never miss a piece of the action. When a fight would break out in a hockey game, she would talk to the TV and say how dirty the players would fight. Memere even made it a point to get out and watch her grandkids in a sports game. As soccer swept across Central MA as the “new sport in town”, Memere enjoyed visiting us on the soccer field, and eventually started watching the occasional New England Revolution game on TV.
Her best sports moment though came in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series. She was proud of finally seeing the Boys of Summer win it all, but the biggest smile she had came the next morning when my mom went downstairs to see her and she uttered just two simple words; “I won!”. Confused at first, Memere quickly reminded us that she purchased a new couch, chair, and bed that spring from Jordan’s Furniture, and if the Red Sox won the series that fall, everyone who purchased something would get it for free. Sure enough, Memere received a check a few weeks later for her free furniture, smiling from ear to ear.
So that’s it. Just three simple qualities. Self sacrifice; caring for others; pride. Qualities which resonate though each one of us today. Memere was the cornerstone of this family for so many years, and none of us will forget the love and care she gave to each of us, the laughs we had, or the memories we shared together. Memories which we will remember for the rest of our lives.
As we depart from the hall of this sanctuary later this morning, I am reminded of two quotes on this occasion. The first comes from the Mitch Albom book “Tuesdays with Morrie”.
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Memere had so much meaning in her life, devoting herself to each one of us, and even complete strangers. Caring for others and sacrificing as described in the book could not define her any better.
The second is a quote which a friend of mine sent me earlier this week to comfort me in what has become a very difficult month for me. It’s a quote from the TV show “The West Wing”. In a particular episode, a college campus is hit with an act of terrorism. The President addresses the nation to recount the events which took place. In the course of his speech, he says:
“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers, and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.”
Memere is resting in heaven today along with Pepere looking down on her family and all that we have accomplished. No challenge is greater than overcoming the loss of someone close, but together we will continue on with the memories and photographs of her.
Thank you Memere for the lessons you have taught us, the care you gave to us, and the memories which we will never forget.