A Celebration of the Life of
Mildred Ada Victoria Fourney
May 23, 1924 - Oct 20, 2004
Eulogy by Ian Cumming
Mildred Ada Victoria Crites, originally from Ferrans Point, which is now under the water of the St Lawrence Seaway, was first introduced to this local community at a barn dance Jack Fourney held back on the fourth concession for his son Antoine and his new bride.
My father was at that barn dance and his uncle Gordon MacNaughton quietly confided to him that he hoped Mildred was a nice girl, “because Antoine was sure a nice boy.”
Not long after, Lyall MacLachlan was a small boy standing in his uncles store in Lancaster, where Sarah Hensen now has her restaurant, and Antoine and Mildred came down the stairs. They had just been up buying the farm on the third concession from his grandmother.
Antoine was a bean pole, Mildred a little slip of a woman and Lyall’s dad Donald, physically big man that he was, commented that he hoped such a small couple could make a go of it. They, over the years, did far more than that. The farm across the road was purchased, on retirement houses were built for themselves and two of their children. Mildred always handled the finances for the operation.
Milded was quick to find out that she had married into a clan where Jack, Lawrence and Antoine Fourney and their families not only farmed themselves, but were important cogs in keeping other people’s farms running as well.
They cut ice on the St Lawrence for farmers ice houses, their mechanical genius fixed and welded everybody’s machinery and vehicles, build a house or barn they could do that too. They never said no to their neighbours demands on their time and talents and they never, never charged enough. All were also totally honest in each and every deal.
Those of us who grew up on farms where Antoine and Lawrence were vital to the operation, have some sense of not only appreciation, but wonderment of the work Mildred did. I mean work. There was five children, a herd of dairy cows and countless farm chores without the ease of technology we have today.
There were many couples who wore themselves out just farming and raising children, but Antoine and Mildred combined that with driving a bulldozer for MacGregors, plus the on farm shop where Antione welded and his genius brain manufacturing and solving problems.
That shop was an exciting and almost magical place to a knee high boy. Your fathers large hand cupped around your head so you wouldn’t look at the welding flash. But you always managed to squirm and steal a sideways glance.
Always in the background there was Mildred, doing not only her own work, but that which we took Antoine from.
Now even as a knee high boy, not even in grade one, I knew from conversations between farmers and hired men that Antoine could never say no, but if Mildred was really busy and Antoine wasn’t around or down in the field, well you just didn’t try pushing your luck with Mildred in demanding Antoine come and fix your problem right now. There was never any words, there was just, as farmers called it, “that look” from Mildred.
The late Millard Grant told of driving in their farm yard one day, Antoine nowhere in sight, Mildred was splitting wood with the axe and he got that look over the top of her glasses. “I just put the truck in reverse and backed out,” said Grant.
With Mildred it was always the look that spoke volumes. The beaming smile she gave my little daughter Mei Le across the church aisle back in that corner several weeks ago. The look of concern a couple of years ago standing at my elbow scrapping plates at the church supper before I washed them. “You’ll be hungry, you go and eat with your family,” she said that night. Mildred, the 78 year old lady on her feet for hours, doing one of the hardest, dirtiest jobs of the evening and it was my stomach, my time with family that she was worried about.
The look of instant, quiet approval she gave on first meeting Allison which meant so much, being Dorothy was one of her dearest friends.
But there was also the look, which happened far more than once, back when I was young, late at night lurching around on the Bonnie Glen dance floor and Mildred would be sitting at the dance floor edge and there would be that quiet look over her glasses which just screamed, “Ian you’re being a damn fool.” But the thing I respected most about Mildred, she never, ever told my mother.
Now I’m sure all the MacCrimmon boys who grew up beside her got that look over her glasses many times and I hate to even guess how many times Wayne MacLachlan got it.
One cannot do a tribute to Mildred without talking about her, with Antoine, on that Bonnie Glen dance floor. How does one describe in words what so many of us felt inside when Sylvester would begin to sing and Antoine and Mildred would be first on the floor? Effortless unison would only be a cliché to describe what so many of us witnessed. It was beauty, perfection, a couple in love, it was dancing such as we had never witnessed before, or come to think of it, since.
I forget the date or even who initiated it, but quite a few years ago, Dorothy and I, Rosann and Sheldon, Malcolm and Bonnie, and Alpin and Sharon MacGregor met for a number of nights in Antoine and Mildreds basement, to be taught the two step. I can’t remember them asking for any money, but I think they wanted to end the pain they were enduring Saturday night after Saturday night watching us trying to dance.
Decades earlier when back on their farm, Donald and Muriel MacLachlan were among the couples taught the finer points of dancing, since they were far better than us on the basics.
After the farm was sold in 1974 to Wiebe and Carolyn Meyer there came the well deserved trips in the motor home. Several times down south, some taken with Leslie and Norma, with the final destination at their daughter Sheila’s Also trips to the Maritimes with Sylvester and the Glengarry Highland dancers.
They both went to England with Dorothy to her home farm and along with her mother drove up to Scotland. I had never asked that if sometime during that trip, possibly at Edinburgh Castle with the skirl of pipes in the distance, whether Antoine took Mildred by the hand and danced. Now there is no one left to ask.
About 14 years ago in this pulpit Art Buckland paid tribute to Antoine with words I don’t think any of us have ever forgotten. He talked that day about Antoine with a ploughmans lunch sitting in a field and seeing what others couldn’t see. A mere insect, how it moved, what it did.
There were a number of times I sat beside him and his dear friend Gordon Ferguson when he had that ploughmans lunch, during the noon break from tile draining on my father’s farms. But it was Mildred who had made that lunch, the sandwiches and home made desert neatly packed, along with the apple. It was Mildred who washed his work clothes, who made sure all was in order in his world.
Perhaps modern society belittles that contribution and sacrifice for others. But those of us who grew up in Antoine and Mildred’s world learned to respect the ladies who in such selfless, countless acts, were the foundation of their families and our community.
I have come to realize over the years that a person dies, but who a person is never does. They live on in those who follow.
When Thelma can look at a pile, which to you is just a jumble of metal and says “I think it goes like this” and makes something out of it, that is Antoine. When Thelma comes once a week into your chaotic, painful household where the mother and wife has just died and not only establishes an order but in the end a peace and a semblance of understanding to three little children, that is Mildred.
When Eugene, only a hour or so after Mildred was taken for the last time from her home, is in your yard telling the Glen Gordon Professor how to fix the pulley on his manure spreader, that is Antoine, but also Mildred, carrying on and doing your work despite the pain.
When Eugene and Thelma’s son several years ago is called to the front of the high school auditorium to receive the top prize for innovation in shop, that is Antoine. And when another son is praised by a neighbour for his hard work, skill around cattle and reliability, that is Mildred.
Today when you watch a dance floor in Glengarry and the MacLachlan and Cumming girls swirl around having a ball, that is Mildred along with Antoine who years ago put on those records in her home and taught their parents and grandparents not only how to dance, but a love of the music.
You, her family, were so privileged to have a mother and grandmother such as this. We were honoured to have her as a neighbour and friend..