Alfreda Dumond of Fort Kent is 102 years old. She remembers the Acadian culture and rural lifestyle that defined her childhood in Aroostook County. But as the world around her has changed, Dumond chooses to look ahead instead of focusing on the past.
This interview is part of our series of conversations with Maine centenarians.
Dumond doesn’t have any secrets for longevity. At 102, draped with a big necklace and earrings, she’s still surprised that she’s made it this far.
“I never thought I would get to this point. To that age. Oh no. It’s a surprise for me,” she says.
Dumond lives in a nursing home in Fort Kent, the same town where she grew up. She remembers her family’s big house in the country surrounded by chickens and cows.
“When I was young we used to go to pick berries. Blueberries and strawberries. They don’t have that good taste anymore. This is the best taste, those small ones. And, we used to go, my mom. And we’d get ready in the morning early. And we’d wait till the fog would go away. And we picked up probably quarts of blueberries and strawberries,” she says.
At home, they’d enjoy simple pleasures.
“My brother, he loved to dance. He would go and get some of those big records and put them on. And me, I always love music. So he’d take me to dance with him to the records,” Dumond says. “And well, I can’t say that we didn’t live a good life. My mother never was that person that would ask for more. She was thankful all the time. Thankful for what I have.”
But at age 17, the Great Depression hit, and Dumond left for Connecticut to find work. She got a job at a hospital and didn’t return to Fort Kent for about a decade. But then she became seriously ill.
Dumond developed a lesion on her lung and was sent to a sanitarium in Presque Isle. She told her doctor she thought her life was over.
“I said, ‘I think I’m going to die.’ And he said, ‘No, no, you won’t die.’ But, he says, ‘I give you one year, two years, three years, four years and five years.’ And he said, ‘Listen to me, what I’m gonna tell you. If you do exactly what I tell you,’ he says, ‘You could get out probably a little earlier.’ So I said, ‘OK, what do you want me to do?’ He says, ‘Just lay down quiet, and don’t pull any drawers, don’t put your hands up. Don’t fix your hair. Just lay down and be quiet and eat your meals.’ And I said, ‘I’m going to do that.’“
For three years, her life barely stretched beyond the walls of the sanitarium. Dumond says she followed the doctor’s advice. She also prayed a lot. The experience helped define her outlook on life, which she still follows today.
“I don’t live for what’s gone by me. I live for what’s coming in the future. And a good future,” she says.
Not long after she was released from the sanitarium, a friend of Dumond’s family stopped by their house in Fort Kent. Soon after they met, he asked her on a date.
“I met him in May,” she says, laughing, “and we got married in August.”
They raised seven kids in Aroostook County, and now have 17 grandkids.
Dumond says as the decades have passed, she has seen northern Maine change. She laments the lack of work that has forced many young people to leave. And she worries about the future of the Acadian culture and French language that were so prevalent in her youth.
“The culture has changed from the French. At my time when we used to go to school, we couldn’t talk French. They would push you to talk English. But our culture was French. So we talked French. We didn’t know how to talk English. I learned my English when I went away to Connecticut,” she says.
Her daughter Linda tells her she wished she’d pushed harder to preserve the language.
“It should have been my children’s first language. I didn’t appreciate it until I was a little older. Realizing what a gift I had,” she says.
“Every time I talked to them, they would answer me in English. I talked to them in French,” Dumond says.
“She did the same to our grand-children,” Linda says.
“I would say, ‘Answer me — French!’ You know, I would say that,” Dumond says with a laugh.
But despite the changes she’s seen, Dumond is content. At the nursing home, she wakes up at 5:30 a.m. each day, exercises and says her prayers. And at age 102, decades removed from the most difficult years of her life, Dumond says she now feels at peace.