French-American culture shared at annual tag sale

By Merja H. Lehtinen - ReminderNews
North Windham - posted Tue., Apr. 26, 2011
(L-r) Tag sale organizers Carol Holman, Dave Valliere, Mary Beth Laflamme, Scott Laflamme,  Claire Kaminski, Tina Gagnon-Valliere, and Eric Gamache weathered the rain for the tag sale, while all said they were having a blast. Photos by Merja H. Lehtinen.
(L-r) Tag sale organizers Carol Holman, Dave Valliere, Mary Beth Laflamme, Scott Laflamme, Claire Kaminski, Tina Gagnon-Valliere, and Eric Gamache weathered the rain for the tag sale, while all said they were having a blast. Photos by Merja H. Lehtinen.

French-American culture is a strong part of many local families' histories, said the organizers of the annual spring tag sale at the Franco-American Civic and Social Club. At the April 23 event, most of the tables were sold out before noon, with crowds arriving early even in the rain.

There were lamps, vases, cups, clothing, personal computers, TV sets, children's toys and play sets that sold rapidly, as the morning moved into early afternoon.

Anthony, of Windham, who chose not to give his last name, said his French family originated from Canada generations ago, and he comes to the tag sale to support the community. He wants to learn more about his family's personal history and cultural past as French-Canadians who emigrated to the United States. "I wish I had more time to learn about it," he said.    

One does not have to be French to participate or belong to the club, emphasized organizers, as long as there is some connection to a French-speaking past. The current Franco-American Civic and Social Club facility opened in 1976, and includes banquet halls, meeting rooms, and rooms of various sizes, which the public may rent to hold events ranging from showers to receptions. The pavilion is on a grassy hilltop conducive to parties, summer games and sports. Prior to 1976, the club was located on Center Street for nearly half a century, as it was started around 1933.  

Although French-speaking people have emigrated to America since the 1600s, each wave was slightly different. The French of Louisiana were from France for the most part, while New Englanders of French origins were mostly French-Canadians of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Ironically, most New England French and French-Canadian immigration, including Connecticut, stopped by the 1940s, when the New England textile mills began closing. French language studies in New England schools were introduced in the 1930s and 1940s, just as the population of new French immigrants was declining. Most French Americans today, millions in number, are totally assimilated into the English-speaking American culture. The term “Franco-American” is derived mostly from French Canadian waves of immigration.

Franco-Americans who formed the Club Road society said their organization promotes French-American patriotism and loyalty to the United States. Their activities are largely recreational and cultural; they sponsor games and fun activities for families such as horse shoe-throwing, a traditional New England farming community pastime, and hold occasional events such as the tag sale largely as fundraisers.

Organizers Tina Gagnon-Valliere, Dave and Rachel Valliere, Carol Holman, Mary Beth and Scott Laflamme, Claire Kaminski, and club president Eric Gamache were among those who stuck it out throughout the rainy day to gather and reorganize the wares for sale by another group. "All of us stuck it out to the end. We were wringing ourselves out by late afternoon," said  Gagnon-Valliere a few hours later. Proceeds from the sale this year will benefit the society, but all the remaining items will be donated to another tag sale for a local Relay for Life group to be held sometime in mid-May.


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