Alfreda (Martin) Bernier (1903-1981) liked things to be just so. She favored rooms that sported figured wallpaper, painted woodwork, and starched curtains. When she went out, she wore dresses she had tailored to her ample figure. Her children went to Mass scrubbed pink and shiny, in clean freshly-pressed outfits and shined shoes. Even at home, Alfreda wore well-fitted bib aprons that coordinated with her equally well-fitted flowered house-dresses.
Her attention to detail was innate, but it may have served a greater purpose than pleasing her own preferences.
She and her husband Edward lived just off Maine Street at 13 Mason, in a multifamily home they shared with Edward’s sister Blanche and her husband Lucien Labreque. The Berniers also lived next door to Alfreda’s younger brother Ovila Martin, his wife Irene, and Irene’s parents Joseph and Marie Helie; and just two doors up from Edward’s brother, Adelard Bernier and his wife Cecile. And all around them lived the people with whom Alfreda worked every day at the Cabot cotton mill a block to the north.
Since gossip and opinions were never in short supply in her close-knit community, she strove to give family, friends, and co-workers as little to criticize as possible.
The June 17, 1937, issue of the Brunswick Record had plenty for the neighborhood to discuss. The front page reported that nineteen-year-old Robert St. Pierre attacked two women on and near the Bowdoin College campus with a knife and a stone; described the wedding of Joseph Theberge and Rosalie Desjardins, and announced the impending Cabot Mill summer shutdown in July. Further into the paper were editorials, social doings, and national news. There was also the photographer’s feature, “People We Know.”
We can only imagine Alfreda’s reaction when she turned to page nine and realized the “People We Know” were her two youngest sons, Henry (age 3) and Evariste (age 5). We don’t know for certain that her family and friends teased her about Henry’s mud bath or Evariste’s Mona Lisa smile. We do know that she hatched an idea that would have made any PR expert proud.
Inspired by her husband’s St. John’s Band uniform, Alfreda enlisted the aid of another first-rate seamstress, her daughter Priscilla. That summer the two of them sewed ten sailor suits, one for each Bernier sibling. Then, scrubbed all bright and shiny, dressed in handmade matching outfits, the dozen of them trooped to Webber’s photography studio at 98 Maine Street for family portraits.
Photo and negatives in hand, Alfreda crossed Maine Street to the Brunswick Publishing Co.’s office. The September 2nd issue of the Brunswick Record featured a photo of the ten Bernier children arranged in stair step fashion.
Caption: You might expect this group to break out in a Sailor’s Hornpipe any minute. Eight boys and two girls–the family of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bernier of 13 Mason street–all attired in jaunty navy suits. Left to right they are: Henry, 2 1/2; Connie, 4; Everest [sic], 5; Edward, Jr., 6; Robert, 8; Antoine, 7; Armand, 10; Remy, 11; Andrew, 12; and Priscilla, 15. Their father is a painter. All the children, and the parents too, are natives of Brunswick.
Alfreda’s hard work continued to pay off.
The Dec 30, 1937, issue of the Brunswick Record had plenty for the Mason Street neighborhood to discuss. The front page reported that 81-year-old farmer Walter Higgins drowned off Indian Rest after wandering away from home, described the school board’s anger over delays in opening the new Spring Street high school, and announced the Cabot workers’ holiday dance that Saturday evening at Town Hall.
Included in the issue was the Annual Brunswick Record Pictorial Supplement of the year’s highlights. It’s not hard to imagine Alfreda’s reaction when she turned to the insert’s second page and saw the reprinted photo featuring the ten Bernier children in their sailor suits. No doubt she made sure family and friends alike read the caption “picture of the year.”
Alfreda (Martin) Bernier had scrubbed away the mud to created a new image–a bright and shiny picture of the year.
Next Blog: Until Death Do Us Part
- Henry and Evariste Bernier, photograph, Brunswick Record, June 17, 1937. (Collection of Barbara A. Desmarais.)
- Bernier Family Portrait, photocopy of original photograph. (Collection of Barbara A. Desmarais.)
- Brunswick Directory, 1936-’37, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine, http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/1936-37-Brunswick-Directory.pdf, accessed May 13, 2016.
- Stair Step Siblings, photograph, Brunswick Record, September 2, 1937, Photos from the Brunswick newspapers from 1902 to 1960, rephotographed by Richard Snow, http://www.curtislibrary.com/brunswick-history/, accessed May 24, 2016.