Butler, Joe & Grace

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                                         JOE AND GRACE BUTLER
                                     I want to be where Mother is
                                        By Cathy Carnahan


Joe and Grace Butler remember their wedding day as if it were yesterday, but it wasn’t just yesterday. It was Sept. 26, 1923. The couple will be married 65 years on Monday.

“I was married when I was 16,” Grace said in an interview. She was then Grace Grennan. “It was a real nice sunny day. It was the fall of the year…and kind of cool,” she said. Father Cletus Elhatton married them at the Most Pure Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Barnaby River. “It’s there yet and I think it will be for a long time,” Grace said. Barnaby River is where Joe and Grace grew up, and that’s where they made their home. The wedding was “not very big.” They had a matron of honor and best man. “Rita McGrath was her name,” Grace said. “She’s a year older than I am, I think,” she said. The best man was the late Raymond Daley, whom Rita later married.

Grace is 81 now and Joe turns 87 on October 22. They have 10 children and live at Mount St. Joseph’s nursing home in Chatham. Also living there are Rita, 82 and Monsignor Elhatten, 98. They’re all on the second floor of the home.

Sunday, the Butler family is planning a private mass in the chapel for Grace and Joe from 2-3 p. m. and an open house in the lounge from 3-5 p. m. Rita’s brother, Father Henry McGrath, will conduct the mass. Susan Butler, activity director at Mount St. Joseph’s and daughter-in-law to Joe and Grace, said Monsignor Elhatten is also to take part. Elhatten can no longer hear, but when McGrath passed him a note asking if he would participate, “A big smile came across his face and he said, ‘Yes, I will,’” Susan said.

It isn’t often a couple can celebrate 65 years marriage, let alone celebrate it with the priest who married them and their matron of honour, but if all goes according to plan, Joe and Grace will on Sunday.

And while their special care home will never be their farm in Barnaby, Mount St. Joseph’s is home now. “I’ll be here two years this fall. Mother’s been here seven or eight years,” Joe said.

Mother, that’s what he affectionately calls his wife Grace - always mother.

When her health failed and she had to go in the nursing home, Joe lived several years alone. One night, he said to himself, “What’s going on here? Mother’s in Chatham and I’m here in Barnaby. We’re not separated. We’re not divorced. I just want to be where Mother is.”

So what is the recipe for staying married 65 years?

“You have your ups and downs,” Joe said. Then sitting on the side of his bed recited a poem:

“Down a long road we’re going “From the land of yesterday, “The skies are dark and dreary “And the shadows cloud my way “But the journey’s end I see “And oh the joy it means to me.”

Joe smiled, “that’s me,” he said. “We’re getting pretty close to our journey’s end now and Mother feels the same way about it as I do,” he said.

Sixty five years. “It wasn’t all sunshine,” Grace said. “There were good times and hard times,” she said. Joe said it was true and then he recited another poem — again with no book. He knows them by heart. This particular poem he recites to “Mother” quite often. “I don’t know how he remembers them all,” Grace said. “I couldn’t.”

Joe smiled at his wife and in his deep voice he rolled out the words of another poem.

“When the curtain of night is pinned back by a cloud “And the beautiful moon leaps the sky, “When the dew drops of heaven are kissing the roses, “It is then my memory slides, “As if on the wings of some beautiful dove, “In haste with the message it bears, “And at night I kneel by my bedside to pray, “I’ll remember you Love in my prayers.”

Grace smiled. Joe and she had great admiration for each other. Perhaps it too is an ingredient in the recipe of staying married 65 years.

“There was lots of hard work and very little money on the part of Mother and myself,” Joe said. But there are no regrets.

Butler knows of both good and hard times

Good times. Hard times. Joe Butler, who turns 87 next month, knows of them both. “I worked in the woods all my lifetime — since I was 17,” he said in an interview at Mount St. Joseph’s nursing home in Chatham.

That’s where he and his wife Grace, the only married couple at the home, are to celebrate 65 years married on Monday. And while that is now their home, memories of home in Barnaby River will never be forgotten. They lived there all their lives.

“I drove all the rivers on the Miramichi from Burnt Hill - the headwaters of Miramichi - the north branch - to the Little Southwest,” Joe said. “She was rough and wooly and hard to curry,” he said laughing. He remembers the log drives, the horses they used, and the many nights he slept on the banks of Miramichi. “It’s too bad they ever done away with horses. You know when the Lord created this world he didn’t create it to be destroyed.

“We’re going to end up like them in North Africa – barren land,” Joe said shaking his head. He doesn’t like the idea of using heavy machinery in the woods.

“I worked for the Miramichi Lumber Company for a dollar a day on the north branch of Renous – hard work too,” he said. The job included cutting lumber, sawing logs and hauling the lumber to landings where it would be later drove down the river. “There was no unemployment at the time. Everyone was working. You’d go in the woods in the fall and come home in the spring and then back to the drive – then work on the booms all summer sorting the logs and rafting them,” Joe said. “They were towed to the mills then with tow boats. I remember when we had eight big tow boats here on the Miramichi,” he said. He then went on to list them. “Now there’s not one,” Joe said. “It’d make you so lonesome,” he said sadly.

“It’s shameless to see the way the world is going. And $1 was as much good to you in those days as $20 is today.” Joe and Grace know because they raised 10 children in those earlier days. He worked in the woods in the winter and farmed in the summer.

“We had relatively speaking, before it started to grow up, we had 60 cleared acres. Yes, indeed there was. And there was about 40 acres of woodland at that time,” Joe said. We kept quite a bunch of cattle, usually 12 to 15 head, and a team of horses. And we fished salmon in the fall. In my younger days, salmon used to come up there in the fall,” he said. He remembers the family salting a barrel of salmon for the winter. There were no game wardens then and no pollution, Joe said.

He and Grace have seen many changes over the years. Now those bygone days are only cherished memories.

Several years ago Grace’s health started to fail and she moved to the nursing home. Joe lived alone for a few years, but decided he had enough of that and moved into the home too. “I just want to be where Mother is,” he said. Mother is the affectionate name he calls his wife. She is unable to get up and around too much, but Joe is another case.

“I get up at six every morning – quarter to six,” he said, “and go to church every day. I read every day – a lot – too much,” he said. “’I keep Mother company and I wait on her most the time – just like one of the staff here.”

And Joe also recites poetry. He has some of his favorites written in a little book. Most he learned in earlier days, he said. But the tall, kind man is modest. His daughter-in-law Susan Butler, activity director at Mount St. Joseph’s, says Joe wrote many of the poems. And he did say people have asked him to write poems for them. It’s uncertain which ones Joe wrote, but he knows them all by heart.

During the interview he told about his brother Frank who was killed during the First World War. He was only 22. He showed pictures his daughter Joan (Lynch) took at Heverlee War Cemetery in Louvain, Belgium where his brother is buried. He took out a little book with some poems he had written in it. He didn’t look at the book, but recited a war poem in it.

There is also a poem about Joe’s philosophy of life. “Life is a funny proposition in this great world that has no end, “The rich and the poor together in this world should be bosom friends, “But if life were a thing that money could buy, “The rich all live and the poor would die, “But no, the good Lord above, has deemed it so, “The rich and poor together must go.”

Joe smiled. “Now isn’t that true?” he asked.


Source: Miramichi Leader – September 23, 1988

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