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Grit: Polly Redmond Recalls a Vermont Childhood

Polly Redmond, 97, of Montpelier, holds a photo from a family reunion with 93 relatives. Photo by John Lazenby.
Someone once said that if you grow up on a farm, nothing you do for the rest of your life will ever seem like work. Montpelier’s 97-year-old Polly Redmond still recalls the chores she and her siblings did on the family farm in East Cabot. 

“I brought in the wood every day. My brother and I would lead the cows to the pasture in the morning and bring them home in the evening. … We weeded the garden and picked the bugs off the potato plants,” Polly said. Sometimes their father would send the children to a neighboring farm to pick strawberries. “One day I filled 44 baskets and earned 88 cents.” 

“We delivered the local paper, too. It was called ‘Grit’ and sold for 5 cents a copy.”

Christened Marie Pauline Eugenie Blouin, Polly was the middle sibling among seven children. In French Canadian tradition, all the girls were given Marie as a first name but were called by their middle names.

Her siblings included Marcel, Denise (“the competent one”), Fern, Roger, and Rita (“the baby”). Polly’s most vivid memories, however, are of Lorraine, the younger sister born with hydrocephalus. 

“She couldn’t walk so she had to pull herself across the floor, but she was happy and she had a wonderful laugh. We were always doing things to make her laugh.” When she was nine years old, Lorraine died of complications due to the measles … It was the only time I ever saw my mother cry.”

The family was proud of their heritage and Polly spoke only French until she attended the local one-room schoolhouse. “My teacher helped me and sometimes my older sister would translate … By the end of the first year … I got it.” 

In those days the village school often served as a community center, the place where people gathered for meetings or entertainment. Polly remembers playing the part of Cinderella in an operetta and the time she dressed up as a boy for a comic recitation about a marriage proposal. 

The schoolhouse was also the setting for box socials. The girls would create special suppers and place them in elaborately decorated boxes. The boys would bid for the boxes. If a boy won a box, he would sit with that girl for supper. At one social, Polly’s box was auctioned off to a friend of her brother’s who made sure he knew which box was hers. Polly shrugs. “I guess he was interested in me.”

When the time came, Polly’s Catholic parents wanted her to attend St. Michael’s High School in Montpelier. That was more than 20 miles away from the farm, so Polly “boarded out” during the week. The teenager stayed with a family in the city and took care of their children in return. Polly enjoyed her time in Montpelier. “The mother was so kind to me.”

By 1941, her father decided he could no longer make the farm profitable and the family left to make a home in Graniteville. 

“I cried,“ says Polly. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else … My father had to take a job in the granite quarries … It was all the dust there that gave him cancer. He died when he was only 60.” 

At the age of 21, Polly married Thomas “Fred” Redmond. They settled in Montpelier and raised six children, losing one daughter to cancer when she was three years old. 

Polly had worked before her marriage and, when her youngest child entered kindergarten, went off to work again. Her career took her to many places in Montpelier including a stint working for the state of Vermont. 

After her husband died, she moved to a condominium off Northfield Street in Montpelier … Today, Polly plays weekly bridge games with a group of long-time friends and Scrabble with a neighbor. She likes crossword puzzles, but confesses, “I do them in pencil first.”

She now has 12 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and is expecting her first great-great-grandchild in August. The extended family has spread out to Florida, North Carolina, and California with some still living in Vermont. Relatives always seem to be visiting. 

At a family reunion last year, 93 children and adults posed for a photo. The reunions often include songs that remind Polly of the chansons à répondre (call-and-response songs) from long ago. One of her favorite memories from childhood was of family gatherings at the farmhouse in East Cabot. “People brought instruments to play. Someone would sing a line and everyone would repeat it …There was dancing on the big wooden floors my mother had varnished.”

Polly smiles, “My sister used to say, ‘No one knows how to have fun like a Frenchman.’”