Smelling the Past

There are only two Woonsocket’s in the United States. Woonsocket, RI was first, established in 1888. The other, Woonsocket, SD, was named by its superintendent of railroads who had originally come from Woonsocket, RI.

The first inhabitants of what is today the city of Woonsocket were Eastland woodland Indians – mainly Nipmucs, Wampanoaags and Narragansetts.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Woonsocket had grown to become one of the largest textile manufacturing centers in the United States.

The first free public library in Rhode Island was located there.

The above info I got from Wikipedia.

I was born in Woonsocket , R.I. I have fond memories of Woonsocket, but not especially fond memories of where I went to school–Mt. St. Frances. It is now some kind of a health care center. My sister, Barbara, and I went on a tour of Woonsocket a few years ago, when I could drive without getting a panic attack. We drove by all the houses we had lived in and all the schools we went to. We both went to Mt. St Frances, which was actually part orphanage.. We weren’t orphans but it was a Catholic school so that’s where we went. My mother was an avid Catholic, though she went through some changes as she grew older: Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, etc.

I remember when my sister and I visited the place it was all locked up. But the big door to the old school had a big keyhole. My sister and I kept taking turns smelling through the keyhole. The place smelled just like it did when we were kids. It overwhelmed us. It was such a unique smell. I wish I could describe it, but for a few seconds it brought us back in time. My sister is six years older than I and has a better memory of the place. What I do remember is hating being there.300px-sisters_daughters_of_mary_roman_catholic_singing.jpg I would always cry to my teacher that I had to go see my sister and they would have to interrupt her class for me to get c0mfort from her so I could get through the day. I actually flunked the first grade because I missed so many days of school. The problem was no one in my family knew I was missing school. I would go to school in the morning and then when we had to get in a straight line to go to lunch, I would make sure I was last in line. I would slowly back out the door, run across the street into the woods and feed my bologna sandwich to a Collie. He got to know me and would wait for me.collie_rough.jpg Actually he would wait for my lunch. I would then hang out there until school was over. I didn’t get caught doing that for a long time. Nuns aren’t very observant. They pray too much.

I would also fake sickness. I would have to go the the main entrance where there was a phone and a nun who would let me call my parents to come get me. Once they sent my grandfather. He passed away when I was about 20 years old and in all that time I think he only talked to me once. He walked into our house handed me a quarter, something he’d never done before. Actually I’m not even sure if he talked to me. He may not have.grampa.jpg

The above picture is my grandmother, my father, my grandfather (I was always a little afraid of him) my mother, and her mother. It was my parent’s wedding day.

If I remember correctly and my sister will correct me if I haven’t (Only because she’s older and remembers more. Wait, isn’t it if you’re younger you remember more.) Now I don’t remember what I was going to write. Seriously I don’t freakin remember. I have to think.light-bulb.jpg

Oh, I do remember. My Sin perfume-my mother used to wear it. I don’t know if they make it anymore. But why would a Catholic wear a perfume called My Sin?mysin19521.jpg I really want to smell it. I can almost smell it in my mind. But mind smelling and really smelling something are two different things.

And when I think about it I hate the smell of bologna.bologna_apartments1.jpg

I’d eat Spam before I would ever eat Bologna again. It probably killed that poor Collie I used to feed it too.

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40 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbara
    Nov 02, 2007 @ 21:10:03

    I vividly remember the smell of Mt. St. Francis–a combination of floor wax, incense, paper and starch. The nuns smelled papery and starchy. I always wondered how often they actually bathed. Did they take off all their clothes and get in a tub? I doubt it. I read somewhere nuns took sponge baths and kept on their chemise while they bathed–this was so they wouldn’t have to look at their naked bodies. Good grief.

    I’m pretty sure they still make My Sin. I think the Vermont Country Store sells it. It was a floral powdery scent.

    Reply

  2. Life With Buck
    Nov 05, 2007 @ 19:42:37

    Schools hang on to their smell, I’m convinced of this. I’ve had to go into my old schools for various reasons over the years (Christmas fairs, open house or whatever) and my kids’ schools also, and they all still smell the same. I think little kid sweat is mingled in there, too.

    My church as a kid had a really unique smell. I wish I could describe it as well as Barbara can describe the smell of nuns. We didn’t have incense, or candles. It was an old building and the majority of members were really old with a lot of money. The air was dead, stale, and smelled of stagnant perfume and aftershave. Is that the smell of old money? I’ve always equated it that way.

    I love bologna and I still buy it — not often, but when I’m looking for a comforting lunch that reminds me of being a kid. I’ll myself a bologna and cheese sandwich on white bread with mayo, chips and a pickle, and maybe some Campbells soup to got with it. Then after lunch I lay on the couch and put on a DVD of old Bugs Bunny cartoons to fall asleep to. I have to do that sometimes to remind myself that my parents were once okay, because their last 25 or so years on earth were really unacceptable in my opinion.

    Also — Like you, I never went to school, either. I hated it and I don’t know why. I had lots of friends, it wasn’t terribly hard or anything. I just hated having to do what I was told. That really burned my ass.

    Reply

  3. Life With Buck
    Nov 05, 2007 @ 19:44:13

    I wish I could edit myself here. After I hit “Submit Comment” I always see copy editing mistakes. And I’m a copy editor. Bleh (the sound of utter disgust with oneself).

    Reply

  4. moonbeammcqueen
    Dec 05, 2007 @ 23:48:30

    Your memories about school are adorable– especially feeding your bologna sandwiches with the collie.

    Reply

  5. moonbeammcqueen
    Dec 05, 2007 @ 23:48:46

    oops– TO the collie!

    Reply

  6. Sarah
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 19:58:53

    Wooniville being “talked” about besides by me…wow! Mt. St. Frances is a Nursing Home now. My FMIL works there.

    Reply

  7. joanharvest
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 01:15:10

    I remember that school as if it were yesterday. It was actually 52 years ago that I went there along with my sister. I haven’t been to Woonsocket in a long time. I would like to visit again to see how it has changed.

    Reply

  8. betme
    Feb 15, 2008 @ 08:58:29

    Joan ~ Your mother is very pretty. Reading your post has me nostalgic for a simpler time. Isn’t our sense of smell the strongest memory trigger? My Grandma used to wear Roses Roses by Avon. I remember it was so heavy.

    I would have fed the bologna to a dog as well. Isn’t it the same stuff that hotdogs are made out of, just a different shape. Bologna= raw hotdogs.

    Wendy ~ I make a peanut butter and honey sandwich every once in a while for the same reason.

    Reply

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  10. c
    Jun 13, 2008 @ 14:48:30

    i went to Catholic School and church.
    Nuns must’ve changed through the years because my nuns had eyes in the backs of their heads, rulers in their hands and boogery tissues crammed up their sleeves.

    i got a top notch education but felt guilty all the time and you’re right- that Catholic guilt is a doozy.

    i love this post on smell. The smell of garlic reminds me of a horrible man. The smell in tobacco shops reminds me of my grandfather and his pipe. Lemon oil reminds me of my childhood church, gingerale my great-aunt Mary…

    Also, i think it’s cute that you fed a collie in the woods instead of going to school. In first grade! Crafty little girl. :)

    Reply

  11. teeni
    Jun 13, 2008 @ 15:07:02

    Too funny. I’d love to chat with you sometime about all this stuff – I didn’t even go to a Catholic School but I have that same type of guilt complex that they give you. LOL. It’s amazing how many memories and how strong they are when a smell brings them back to you. :)

    Reply

  12. odette
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 10:44:33

    your mother is very beautiful on her wedding day picture. :)

    Reply

  13. witchypoo
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 11:10:20

    The school smell I remember is a green coloured sweeping compound. I really liked that smell.

    Reply

  14. joanharvest
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 19:23:57

    @c
    It is amazing about how smell can affect you. I still remember that collie. You don’t see collie’s much anymore. My aunt had one too.

    When we moved once, I ended up in another Catholic school and my sister by this time was in a Catholic high school. One of the teachers slapped her across the face. My Dad went to the school and took my sister out and would never let her go there again. She went to public school after that.

    @ teeni
    I was just talking to my sister on the phone and we were talking about the guilt thing. She, of course, has it too. You know me, I’m always willing to talk.

    @Odette

    Oh Thank you Odette. I love that picture because it is the only picture in existence with my parents and all my grandparents together. My mother’s father passed away when she was younger.

    @ witchypoo
    My sister left the first comment on here accurately describing our school smell of floor wax, incense, paper and starch. I wonder what the green compound was?

    Reply

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  16. Алевтина Артемовна
    Nov 11, 2009 @ 17:23:59

    Приветствую Вас. Вот меня, как консультанта из Белорусии, беспокоит вопрос о отношении к нам, так сказать к тем, кто только начинает свою карьеру… Поговаривают, что в других странах в дни праздников, консультантов поздравляют, дарят что-то ценное, а не обходятся банальной открыткой, как это делается у нас… Ведь это же воистину и приятно и понимаешь, что тебя хоть капельку, но уважают. Расскажите, как у Вас с этим?

    Reply

  17. carole katz
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 15:57:00

    I was looking for information about Mt. St. Francis Orphanage in Woonsocket, R.I.
    I lived in the orphanage about 70 years ago along with my two sisters. My father and mother were divorced, my mother had to have surgery so she had my father and his mother tke care of us while she recuperated. After one night at his house it was too much for his mother so the next day he took us to St Vincent De Paul. I am not sure what happened and how soon we were sent to Mt. St. Francis. I do not have any family left to find out anything. All these many years ago and all while we were growing up no one would talk about us being in the orphanage.

    My mother took us out of the orphanage when I was 13. I was about 5 or 6 when we entered St Vincent De Paul. I have very fond memories of the school, living conditions etc. The Nuns were my hero’s, they taught us so much. If anyone knows how I can learn more about Mt. St. Francis I would be ever so grateful Thank you

    Reply

    • joanharvest
      Apr 12, 2012 @ 20:21:04

      I was there in 1955-56 which would be about 57 years ago. We probably just missed each other. I love hearing how the nuns were your heroes. I was there for 1st grade and my teacher wasn’t a nun. Her name was Miss Doris. My second grade teacher was possibly Mother Mary Alfred but I could be wrong. I also went to St. Cecilia’s in Pawtucket. I might be getting the sisters’ names mixed up but I am sure of Miss Doris. I adored her. I have a few memories of the playground and if I remember correctly we didn’t play with the children who lived there. I’ll ask my sister. She might remember more. She’s 6 years older than I am. I do remember seeing the living quarters for the children just once. I think I remember rows of beds and even some cribs. I do remember liking most of the nuns though a remember being afraid of them too.

      My parents owned a grocery store on Manville road at the time. It was called Stan & Betty’s. It was right in front of the Peter Pan ice cream co.

      Reply

  18. maureenpowers
    Jun 17, 2012 @ 18:27:59

    My mother was sent to the orphanage after her father died, around 1939 or so. Thanks for sharing your experiences for it is hard to find out anything about it.

    Reply

  19. Louise Caplette
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 09:37:08

    Thanks,Maureen forgetting me onto this blog. I remember so much from those years in the orphanage. I was only 3 but remember the trama of being abandoned by my mother. I was the youngest one there at the time so I was treated fairly well. The nuns couldn’t get me to sleep at night so they let my sister come to put me to sleep. She was twelve at the time but it created for me more of a mother daughter bond which lasted for me into my adult life. As for the comment about nuns bathing in a chemise, they probably did. As young as I was they bathed me in a hospital gown and would tell me to wash my ” private parts” they did everything else. I could go on & on but I’ll quit for now. The years I was there were 1941-1944 then I went to St.joseph’s Orphanage in Fall River Mass.

    Reply

  20. Louise Caplette
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:53:27

    Joan, I don’t know which orphanage you’re interested in so I’ll start with Mt.St. Francis. Maureen, Terry was the one who took care of me. Lucille & georgette were there also but I never saw them because we were separated by age groups. The only times we saw each other was when my mother came on visiting day(Sundays). That only happened about six times in all the years I was institutionalized (about 5-6 years). Georgette came down with spinal meningitis there and I didn’t get to see her for about a year. The nuns had Terry disinfect all the beds in that dormitory which had to be at least 100 .
    I have to go right now. My sewing machine is working overtime with the wedding this weekend but I have a lot more as long as you’re interested.

    Reply

    • amanda seaton
      Sep 17, 2012 @ 18:50:20

      Louise, hello my mother was at the orphanage you are speaking of she wants to know if you remember her. Her name lucille Gagnon would you please get back with me I would appreciate it so much thank you

      Reply

    • carol august
      Dec 05, 2012 @ 12:51:54

      hi louise..my name is carol ..my mom ,aunt and uncle were in the orphanage in the 40′s…I have stories and info I would love to share ..I visited there with mom when I was 10..and am now 64 and searching my past ..hope u respond..carol

      Reply

      • joanharvest
        Dec 05, 2012 @ 21:04:02

        Carol, My sister and I went to school there from 1955 to about 1958. I would love to hear your stories and any info you have on the school. Do you have any photos?

        Reply

        • carol august
          Dec 06, 2012 @ 11:17:55

          hi..no none of the era when my mom was there ….she told us stories of how they seperated her brother from the 2 sisters ..put him on the farm ..they saw each other thru a fence now and then ..then one day they sent him away and they found out years later he ended up in onieda ny on a farm as a farmhand …how tragic ..but they all connected years later..

          Reply

  21. carol august
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 11:19:29

    how about you..were th nuns good to you .or mean??? was it a good school…

    Reply

    • joanharvest
      Dec 12, 2012 @ 23:15:38

      I was there for the 1st grade which I had to repeat because I ran away so often. After a couple of months the second time around they put me into the second grade. I had Miss Doris for First grade. She was one of the orphans who grew up and stayed to teach. I really liked her. I had Mother Mary Alfred for the second grade and she scared me. I would run to my sister’s class (she was in 7th grade) and bang on her classroom door and just cry and cry. We did not live at the school. We lived at home with our parents but I did not acclimate to school in general very well. In second grade I would try pretend to be sick and insist on calling home and my Mom would come and get me. I remember once going upstairs to where the babies slept and I saw a row of cribs. That frightened me too. We then moved to Pawtucket and I went to St. Cecelia’s school which I also didn’t like and was there for third grade and half of the fourth. We then moved to Cumberland and stayed where I finally attended public school and stayed there until I graduated from high school. My sister has more memories of the school since she was older. I will have to ask her again what she thought of the teachers. If I remember correctly her 7th grade teacher was told her that her brain was like an empty wastepaper basket.

      Reply

      • carol august
        Dec 13, 2012 @ 11:56:36

        hi joan….the stories my mom told were never of cruel nuns ..she was very normal
        and loving ..she got out of the school @ 16 and went into the navy at 18 in the late 40′s and her job was packing parachutes…she learned to speak english in the navy..her nic name was “Frenchey”..she and her sister spoke french all the time when they got together …sounds like u were a hard kid to handle …did u like high school …lol

        Reply

  22. carol august
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 11:59:15

    does anyone know if the old records still exsist from the 40′s ..would love to get copies of my mother,aunt and uncle’s files…they are all passed and am trying to put a family history thing together

    Reply

  23. Dennis Lesieur
    Jan 20, 2013 @ 19:29:04

    Having Googled Mt. St. Francis I ended up at this website. I had a chuckle when I read JoanHarvest’s comments about her fears of the sisters and sadness of seeing the beds and cribs.
    I have a feeling we knew each other and may have been in the same classes back in the fifties.
    I along with my younger brother, Jerry, was a resident of Mt St Francis. It has been so many years since so my memory of whom the sisters or teachers were are lost.
    We entered the orphanage around 1952 or 1953. I stayed there until 1958 and went immediately from there to St. Aloysius.
    I do not ever recall being mistreated by the sisters and have many happy memories. I remember the damage done by hurricane Carol to the Pine trees on the property. I remember when they built the swimming pool. I remember not having the $ .50 to go see the 10 Commandments when it was playing at the Stadium downtown Woonsocket. I remember that an outsider paid my way. ( Louise LeDuc?)
    I remember making my 1st communion.
    I could bore you all and go on and on but I won’t. I am happy to just remember when and wish I could still speak the french I was raised with when I was there.
    If anyone remembers me or my brother Jerry feel free to drop us a line.

    Reply

  24. joanharvest
    Jan 20, 2013 @ 21:12:59

    Hi Dennis!
    Thanks for stopping by. We probably were in school together. I had Miss Doris for First grade and Mother Mary Alfred for Second grade.
    I think it’s wonderful that you have some good memories of Mt. St. Francis. I saw my first movie at the Stadium Theater. I also remember Hurricane Carol. My Mom and Dad had a grocery store on Manville Road. It was called Stan and Betty’s (I think). I remember looking out the door of the store at the wind. A traveler came by and spent the worst of the hurricane in the store with us. My Mom was convinced that he was a famous actor but we never did find out if he really was. I also made My First Communion at.Mt. St. Francis.
    How old were you and your brother when you were there? I used to be able to speak some French when I lived in Woonsocket. My grandmother couldn’t speak English so we had to learn. I hardly remember how to speak it now. My Mom had 11 sisters and brothers who were also born in Woonsocket. Their last name was LeMay.
    I would love to hear any more stories that you have about those days.

    Reply

  25. Dennis Lesieur
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 20:27:45

    Hi Joan,
    Weird thing is I remember so many minor things about being there but for some reason I cannot remember any of the sisters by name.
    I was about 4 or 5 years old when I arrived to the orphanage with my younger brother who is 1 and 1/2 years younger than me. We left there in 1958 when I was 10 years old.
    I know I graduated from kindergarten since I remember the blue cap and gown I wore.
    I had a friend whom I never forgot named Lucian Fontaine. I believe he had a sister named Rita. I hope he does not get upset if I use his name. I am not sure of proper online etiquette.
    There we so many other residents there that I have a hard time remembering their names.

    I remember the following things as clearly as it happened yesterday:

    Building tents in the summer time with blankets along a wall and having other kids tossing rocks down on us.

    Going to Our Lady of the Martyrs ?? carnival every summer.

    Going to Spring Lake yearly.

    Watching TV for the 1st time on a tiny TV that took for ever to warm up.

    Lining up in the auditorium to get our polio shots and vaccination shots.
    Was I happy when they came out with the sugar cube.

    Speaking of the auditorium we used to put on shows and plays to the public. I remember one of the sisters teaching use how to tap dance. She took great pride in how well we learned all out steps.
    One routine we had involved us wearing a costume to look like a clock and dance to a song I think called the clock song. I still hum it to myself every now and then.

    It was a different time back them. People were more appreciative of acts of kindness and did not find fault in everything that came there way. I remember going to the Children’s Hospital in Boston to put on shows for the poor kids who had contacted polio.
    We would tap dance our brains out while those kids lay in their iron lungs watching us. Today you would not get away with doing such a thing but back then it was the thought and kindness of trying to entertain that was what was important.
    I do not know how the kids felt about it but for us we was trying to cheer them up.
    We appeared several times on the Salty Brine Show.

    I know what you mean when you talk about large families. Some of the kids came from families with 15 and 17 kids. I think about and wonder how the parents managed in the days before the government had their hand outs.

    I spoke mainly french and when I left St. Francis and went to St Aloysius I had a hard time understanding English. Having been an alter boy at St. Francis the sisters at St. Aloysius would laugh at my Latin at Mass. They said I had a french accent even when I would speak Latin.

    Well I said it before and I will say it again, it was not an ideal childhood for use kids back then but if I think about the alternative to the orphanage I had it very very good. I will always be grateful to the Church and the Sisters who took care of us.

    Reply

  26. Dennis Lesieur
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 20:33:26

    BTW Joan,
    The sisters were Missionary Sisters of Mary, and wore white habits.

    Reply

    • joanharvest
      Feb 03, 2013 @ 19:24:06

      I just loved reading this. My sister also attended school there. She is 6 years older than me and I’m sure can remember more. She will also love reading this. I am going to look through my Mom’s old photos to see if I can find any of the school.

      Reply

  27. Dennis Lesieur
    Feb 04, 2013 @ 09:03:44

    oops, I mean’t to say the sisters were Franciscan Sisters and wore white habits

    Reply

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