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Ernie Bolduc remembers past holidays on the family farm

December 01, 2010
While the looks and meanings of the holidays have changed over time for some families, for the Bolduc family, originally of the Bolduc Farm in Gilford, traditions are still passed down through generations.

Ernie Bolduc, one of 14 children back in the 1940s-1960s on his family's farm, said the holidays, starting at Thanksgiving and ending with a big bang on New Year's Eve, were always the most frantic yet enjoyable time of the year.

Bolduc's parents, along with his brothers and sisters, now ranging from 60 to 90 in age, would take painstaking measures to entertain 30 to 50 guests in their home.

The barn itself, located on Morrill Street in Gilford, dates back to as early as 1779 when most of the Lakes Region was still rural and surrounded by agricultural. Bolduc said his father did not move into the area until the 1900s, and the family has stayed in the area ever since.

While many family members and close friends still stick to the same holiday traditions, they now have to downsize the amount of guests at once without a large farmhouse to entertain in. He said between longer distances to travel and the prospect of renting a hall, which would be less personal and would not allow for midnight chatter and hospitality, the only choice is to do less of the same thing.

Bolduc said the festivities used to begin on Thanksgiving, although preparation started long before, and when most residents still lived close by in rural areas, almost everyone was invited to the Bolduc family Thanksgiving.

Some traditions have become easier to duplicate over time, including cooking with more than the aid of just one wood stove for dinner and being able to wrap up and freeze pies ahead of time, prior to the holidays. Back then, it was also up to the family to make sure they produced as much of their own harvest as they could before the holidays.

"Our less fortunate neighbors would be involved as well and we opened up to as many people who wanted to come," said Bolduc. "The entire dinner was cooked on a wood burning stove."

He said 50-60 pounds of turkey would need to be cooked and would start at 4 a.m. on Thanksgiving. The entire spread would be ready for noon along with the pies and side dishes.

"We would play cards after dinner and sing songs until late that evening. Then we were ready to work the next day; we didn't have the next day off," said Bolduc, who said this certainly was not a luxury on a farm when work always had to be done.

Christmas was very similar to Thanksgiving celebrations, although it was quite a treat for the youngsters who awaited homemade toys.

"We were quite poor," said Bolduc. "We would go in the barn the night prior to Christmas and make and paint toys for the younger kids. It was a pleasure to put the toys under the freshly cut Christmas tree decorated just hours before."

Most of their clothing items and toys were "new" in the sense that they were homemade since the family did not have enough money to provide new items to 14 children. Bolduc said his father did have a milk route and customers would sometimes leave hand-me-downs next to the empty milk bottles from time to time. His mother would take these items, re-fit them, and give them as gifts to her children.

Bolduc and his family members often went to the midnight service on Christmas Eve and then enjoyed some rich and baked French pork pie around 1 a.m. Although many would retire for another long day of celebration, Bolduc said there was still work to be done and stayed up with siblings milking cows.

Many chores had to be tended to, and Bolduc said he and his siblings tried to avoid the living room with the Christmas tree until it was time to celebrate once again.

After Christmas passed the Bolduc family continued with their chores and rested up a bit for the final and main event: New Year's Eve.

"All of the relatives from Massachusetts (many of French ancestry) would go onto the Bolduc farm and would sing the French songs together. My grandfather played the harmonica all day and all night and my mother (played) on the piano," said Bolduc. "The kids were so excited. We would go down to the cellar and clean off the hams hanging from the rafters and prepare food for people."

Family and friends ate at a 10-foot table at the barn and enjoyed homemade foods compliments of Bolduc's mother. The cured hams had to be cleaned with the backside of a knife and washed with baking soda. Bolduc said the kids also tapped the cider barrels and he still remembers walking up the stairs taking a whiff of strong cider.

"We sliced up the meat and continued on the festivities until we dropped. Our place was the place to be," said Bolduc, who found that many neighbors came to their home instead of holding their own celebration.

He said festivities seemed to go on all day until New Year's Day when people were exhausted with food and cider yet ready to go back to work that day, since they couldn't afford not to.

"Now our individual families mix it up every year. Our places are not as big as farmhouses and not as close to our neighbors and families. Now they are all over the place," said Bolduc. "Back in the day, people would always come the day before in case of bad weather and we always had room for good friends, neighbors, and relatives."

The farm is still standing and while Bolduc now lives in Laconia, he still tends to the farm in Gilford every day and takes care of the gardens while his brother cares for the buffalo.

Bolduc said his family still has many of the same traditions during the holidays including the French pork pie and homemade stuffing, though now many dishes are prepared ahead of time, then wrapped in cling wrap and foil (which did not exist then), and frozen until the big meal.

Martin Lord Osman
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