Maybe you can go back home again

20 July 2011

By Monica Pettengill Jerkins

ST. DAVID - In an area where pride in heritage and culture works to strengthen the ties that bind, it might come as no surprise why the Sirois family chose to hold their first family reunion in 23 years at their family's former homestead.

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WE GREW UP HERE - Monique Sirois Cyr, Marcel Sirois, Gerald Sirois, and Therese Sirois Guerrette are the four children (grandchildren of the people who built the house) who were the last of the family to grow up at the farm. They organized the reunion and hold pictures of the grandparents and their parents who took the farm over, and an old picture of the farm when it was still the Sirois homestead. - Pettengill Jerkins image

In 1926, Eddie Sirois built the original farm that is now Countryside Retreat, a vacation rental property which Pamela Pennington owns and operates at 17 Gendreau Road in St. David.

Eddie lived there with his wife, and together they farmed the land and raised 12 children. With babies being born nearly every year, the family expanded the farmhouse to the size it is today. Their son eventually took over the farm with his wife. They had four children, Therese, Gerald, Marcel, and Monique.

It was those four children, all of whom grew up in the house and still live in the St. John Valley, who decided the family should reunite at their former homestead to experience a bit of history and a whole lot of nostalgia. Gerald Sirois took the helm at organizing the weekend. Thanks to Pennington, who purchased the house 20 years ago, and turned the home into a lodging house after raising her own family there, they realized their dream of going back home again.

Last Saturday, three generations of Sirois descendants gathered at the farm for an overnight reunion filled with food, family, and plenty of reminiscing and story telling.

"It's more meaningful to be here," said Therese Sirois Guerrette, the oldest of the siblings. "It gives us a chance to tell stories."

And tell stories they did. The phrases, "Do you remember the time," or "I remember when," were heard around every corner during the reunion.

"I remember the old fashioned ways of farming, canning and gardening. We had everything we needed." said Therese. They raised their own cows, pigs and chickens and planted a large garden from which they canned vegetables to last them through the winter.

"I remember our mother would go to town once a month and come back with fresh fruit," she added.

By the time the youngest sibling, Monique Sirois Cyr, came along ten years later, things had changed. The farm was no longer as self-sufficient, though they still farmed potatoes without the aid of the large farm machinery used today.

"I always thought she had it easier," admitted Therese.

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"In those days, it was hard. You worked hard, but it was a good life."

Of course, some things have changed. The trees in the yard are a little taller. Most of the original land has been sold to neighboring property owners. Potatoes no longer grow in the acres of fields that surround the home. The old chicken coop where Therese used to play dolls still stands, though the fields are doing their best to reclaim the sagging structure. The current owner has remodeled the house, but for the most part, the character is the same. The four Sirois children couldn't be more pleased with how Pennington has cared for the home.

"We're so very grateful that it's been given to good hands," said Therese. "My parents would be so happy because they were proud people."

"The kitchen is the biggest change," said Monique. "The rest is pretty much the same, with new floors and fresh paint. We love it."

Sometimes the faintest smell or sound can recall a memory, and being back at their childhood home had the entire group of nearly 40 Sirois descendants smiling at even the smallest recollections.

"They left the squeaks in the floor," said Charlie Cyr, Monique's husband, who spent a lot of time at the house while courting his future wife.

Even when the four Sirois children grew up to raise their own families, visits to the house while their parents still owned it remain cherished memories.

"I remember coming to visit on weekends and my mother was feeding Kool-Aid to Ryan," said Marcel Sirois, recalling a memory with his son. "By the end of the day he was running back and forth, back and forth."

Descendants and their families from 18 months of age to 75 years old attended the reunion. Marcel's daughter, Katia Sirois, brought with her the furthest traveled to the event. Fresh home from her term in the Peace Corp, Katia shared the experience with her friend from Botswana, Africa, Mpumelelo Ntogwa, who marveled at how big everything was.

"I look at the kids and I think, that was us running around the trees and having fun," said Therese as she watched her grandchildren and her great nieces and nephews playing in the yard.

As a special treat, the final four Sirois to grow up in the house spent Saturday night sleeping in his or her old bedroom.

The reunion was sure to add to the memories linked to the house. Not everyone has the opportunity to come back home again, but the Sirois children said they are grateful for the ability.

"We didn't realize then how lucky we were, because we weren't rich," said Therese, summing up the experience. "But now, we see the richness of it."