Not many people can boast of an honest to goodness hermit in their family but I’ve had one. My great uncle Emile (which we pronounced “e-mill”) Duguay was my maternal grand-fathers brother and born in the late 1800’s. As typical of the day, many French-Canadian catholic families in Maine were very large. My grandfather Valmore Duguay was one of the younger children within his family when their mother died. When Valmore’s father re-married, the new wife arrived home after the wedding and pointed out to the older children “you – you – you and you….Out!” My grandfather Valmore was then young enough to be able to stay home while his older brother Emile was one of the older ones sent out to fend for themselves. As a teen-ager he made his way doing small jobs and ultimately carving out an existence as a lumberjack.
As years went by he remained unmarried and lived this simple life as a man of the woods.
When my own grand-father became more successful as an adult and owned many acres of rural land in Fayette Maine he wanted to help his older brother out and let him live on this land. Emile had a very small shack no larger than the average person’s tool shed in their back yard. My own memories of this tar-paper shack was that it included a small bed a pot-bellied stove a small table and a few hooks around the room to hold his meager wardrobe.
Surprisingly, Emile was a very talented folk artist. He would carve out these wooden doll figures with movable parts. I remember him demonstrating one once where you just turn a crank at its side and it was able to walk. There is a story however that he had life-sized carvings as well situated out by the dirt road that ran past his shack. As the story goes, two young ladies were driving down this dark lonely road at night and became lost. When their headlights came upon these life size figures they became so afraid they drove off the road. As a result, the local town authorities made him remove these figures. I sure wish I could come across ones of these figures today. It would be a real treasure to me.
My father took on the responsibility to checking in on Uncle Emile occasionally. Emile had little visitors out there in the woods so was always eager to show off any accomplishments no matter how small. On one visit, my father brought along myself and my younger twin brothers who where perhaps around four at the time. He was quick to share that he had spent many hours cleaning out his well and lifted the top lid of the well to show my father. My young brothers who where eating apples from one of his many apple trees peered in and quickly threw in their half eaten apple cores. Poor Uncle Emile had little patient with the antics of little boys and threw a fit. My father being the diplomat was able to calm him down quickly enough.
Uncle Emile spent the rest of his days living as a hermit in this little shack. His life was one of simple pleasures but in some ways it’s a life to be envied. He didn’t have the trappings of possessions but never cared to dream outside of what his world was providing for him. It sounds in some ways to have been a sad life but I wonder if his life wasn’t richer than any of us can boast. What I personally remember walking into his abode was on the left when you first walk in there was shelves with many cans of tobacco, Price Albert in a can. I remember they were all red. The remains of this shack are still there, but was modified through the years. It now has two stories but still a shack. Emile was around 83 when he died. I also remember my uncle bringing food to him on occasions.
This story was written by my older brother Steve Guy Bilodeau.