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Alice Rodrigue: A Legacy

Alice Rodrigue, born May 16, 1925, Legal, Alberta. Died August 28, 2012, Edmonton, Alberta. Supplied

The little white house on the corner just north of me has been there over a hundred years. It has one of McCauley’s trademark giant elms in front, a tiny back yard, and no back lane or garage. It has a dormer window and a room on the second floor.

I’ve lived on this block less than two years, but many times I saw Alice Rodrigue tend her flower garden, stroll around the block, and talk with neighbours. I talked to her a few times and realized that before she even met me, she knew quite a bit about me just by observing. She was our unofficial block mother who knew everybody. She moved into that white house in 1950 and was the living cornerstone of the neighbourhood. She and her husband Joe raised six daughters and one son in that 775-square-foot bungalow.

On July 20, I interviewed her for the McCauley history project. She was friendly and cheerful but a little less energetic than before. Three weeks later I was alarmed to see an ambulance at Alice’s front door. Then, just before Labour Day, I learned she was dead.

On Saturday, September 8, Sacred Heart Church was full of people who came to remember Alice. Father Jim Holland noted that Alice was part of the rock the church was built on; he knew the church would not be the same without her. He also pointed out that her seven children, 20 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren (and two more on the way) are living memorials of Alice, that she lives on in each of them.

In his eulogy, Chris Stevenson, Alice and Joe Rodrigue’s oldest grandchild, said Alice remembered every family member’s birthday, favourite colour, favourite candy. “She was at your wedding, your gathering, your event. She came to visit you. She gave you a ride. She met you for coffee, fed you, gave you a place to stay, or sent you home with a pie.”

When I interviewed Alice, she told me, “I never worked.” But her grandson set the record straight. “Running a home with seven children is full-time work, several times over,” he said, “and Alice ran an efficient ship. Monday was laundry day, followed by ironing on Tuesday. Wednesday was washing and waxing the floors where the kids helped out by putting on their Dad’s wool socks and shuffling around the floor to wipe off the paste wax. With nine people in the house Thursday brought more laundry, followed by yet more ironing on Friday. Saturday was for visiting, and Sunday was reserved for church and a day of rest for the family after a busy week’s routine.

shuffling around the floor to wipe off the paste wax. With nine people in the house Thursday brought more laundry, followed by yet more ironing on Friday. Saturday was for visiting, and Sunday was reserved for church and a day of rest for the family after a busy week’s routine. There was never a shortage of work in Alice’s world, and she taught her children how to do it right.”

“That Little White House,” he said, “it’s the mother ship, home base for sixty-two years. Even given the expansive nature of our scattered family tree, all roads and all paths lead back to that little house. It is a shining-most characterization of Alice, and she in turn personifies it to a tee. Small and sturdy. Built to last. Modest and unassuming. Full of character. That little house is home, and there is no other way to describe it. A house is constructed, but a home can only be built with time and caring and love, and my Grandma built that home into a skyscraper.”

Sacred Heart Church wasn’t full of Alice’s relatives that day, even though there were many. Plenty of Alice’s friends and neighbours came too. We celebrated Alice’s contribution to this community: her awareness of and caring about everyone, her 20 years delivering Boyle McCauley News, her leadership in Sacred Heart parish and in the community league, her frequent trips to the Italian Centre for groceries, and even her yardwork. Thanks to her and others like her, McCauley is home and a community, not just a place to sleep.

Ron Berezan, a long-time neighbour of Alice’s who now lives on the west coast, was sad to learn of her death. “It is hard to imagine her gone,” he says, “as she was such a fountain of life on that corner of the world. She was really an anchor for the neighbourhood and a great support to us when we first arrived. She has left a wonderful legacy.”

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