Interview with Leland Ponton took place on November 12, 2000 at his home in rural St. Anne, Illinois. The Western Civilization course student interviewers were Bernadette Bosley, Robin Cline, and Megan Reider.
The video tape and audiotape that correlate with this transcript are available in the Kankakee Community College Learning Resource Center. The videotape #V-RH 18 is on reserve. The audiotape HIST INT #5 can be checked out of the LRC for one week.
The interview begins with Mr. Ponton talking about how he met his future wife Corolyn.
Ponton: I worked in St. Anne at the tile yard, and anyone back then that had a convertible all the girls would find out who they was. I've got a picture of it I had made up, I had a '51 Ford convertible. White one. And I stopped, I used to stop at the gas station at noon hour, that was our lunch hour and get a pop and visit with the guys. I noticed that there was quite a commotion going on at the grade school she was in eighth grade, and what it was is her and my girlfriend was fighting and anyway my girlfriend lost and I thought the most decent thing I could do was go out with the winner and I guess that's the only way I could explain it to you. And that's the way that it went.
Interviewer: Was her heritage French-Canadian too or what?
Ponton: Oh, she had a variety, her mother was a Parish that's French, but she also had, Farthing was her maiden name and that is the English in her, and her grandmother was, which we found out not too many years ago, she was, Beard was her maiden name. And I understand that is a German name but also, she was half Cherokee so my children have got Apache in them, they also have Cherokee in them.
Interviewer: How many children do you have?
Ponton: I have two boys and two girls.
Interviewer: Do they all still live in the county here? Or no?
Ponton: Oh, yes, yes they all live within the, my oldest daughter just lives up the hill about a quarter of a mile. My youngest daughter lives four miles from here, my youngest boy lives in St. Anne, the older boy lives west of Pitwood--all within about a ten-minute drive.
Interviewer: So are they interested in their heritage?
Ponton: Well, the oldest one is. He loves it; he's got all of my arrows. He has a building that he keeps them in, my youngest daughter, is pretty into this. So is my second daughter, kinda, the youngest boy I don't know, he was here today, and you know, he is my musician. They both learned music but the oldest, once he learned it, then he said, "Well, I know how to do it I don't care to play no more." But he loves sports, he was very good in sports. He won several trophies and medallions for pitching and then also track.
And but the little guy he was a musician. You know, we talked about it today, he said, "If you play music, you have to sit down and do it if you're gonna play it." And he has a whole houseful of kids, that don't have [he doesn't have enough time to practice, and], he doesn't allow them very much time.
Interviewer: That's true
Ponton: You know, he was telling me today how he was working too many hours, but myself I started working in the factories it was, oh, I guess I was 16, I worked at the canning factory I think everybody worked there at one time or another. But then I moved on to the tile yard and then later on I got married, I worked for the county, Iroquois county for a year as surveyor and then after that I worked Tetie House Springs from 1965 and then that was man-made hell was Tetie House Springs.
They had 40 big furnaces, 20 small ones and on an average day that you worked in the summer it was nothing to be 160 degrees in there. But I've got these knuckles, from running the furnaces; I used to burn up two pairs of asbestos gloves a day. And I was on piecework. And my average earnings was $2.10 an hour.
Interviewer: My goodness, wow, lots of hard work for
Ponton: Well 18 years I worked piecework and out of 18 years I worked 17 years and six months and in 1965 I got a job with my father-in-law at Bradley Roper and I worked from '65 to '77 at Bradley Roper and that was all in piecework there all the time also. I would work a lot of the time we would work six days a week and then Friday nights go play music, Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday afternoons.
And at the time, well, her husband was one of us, he played and her son also played in the band and sometimes and she will tell me if I am wrong, sometimes we made more money playing music near as much as we did working that week in the factory.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah, yeah. I bet it was more fun.
Ponton: So you put it together in this house I had, I was, you know, I had a bill and I wanted to pay it and I did it in 15 years and I did save about 18 years. I averaged about four hours of sleep. I didn't have time for nothing else. This was my garage right here.
And when my family grew I had to add on to the house and I did lot of, lot of work. I'd paint cars, fix fenders, overhaul anything, anything to make a dollar, a jack of all trades, a master of none. But the mechanical knowledge comes from my mother's side of the family Sharon's father was a genius with mechanics and I was fortunate that I would watch him and he would teach me a lot. And when I was 10 years old I overhauled my first motor. And I had, her fathers name was Donah, he would come and point out what I had to do to get it right.
And my poor father, all he knew how to do was crank the tractor and that was it. Put the plugs in and crank it. But if it quit working, go back to the horses. So we had to learn that as quick as we could. And that's heritage that comes back now from the Renaults and we are definitely descendants of the Renaults-Dolphine people.
Interviewer: So, what is the most interesting story that you have concerning your heritage do you think?
Ponton: Well, it would be very hard to say, I have several of them. I have one that my grandfather Reno because they're in this area, and that's the one about Jacob's. The Legend of Jacob's Lantern, which I wrote that story or am going to write it and I would rather you know, it's hard and I don't want to spend all the tape talking about it. It's about a man who was a cattle driver and he worked for the cattle company out of Danville and he had driven his herd of cattle down this road which is, this road is, part of Hubbards Trail and there was weigh stations every 20 miles and just north of me, part of our old property was one of them.
And he had driven through and on into Chicago sold the cattle in about a three day trip it takes from this point, come back to pay his bill and he never returned to the headquarters. He had $2500 in gold on him and at the time my grandfather Reno was nine years old and he was a very observant young man like I would and he would not know the guy that had that Thunderbird but knew the car. And it's the same but the horse that the man rode, it was a dapple gray, really outstanding, high-stepping horse so my grandfather noticed that. It was outstanding to him so one evening during a time he came on the other side of the road, used to be the old horse pasture and was about dusk.
He came to get this pony to bring it up to the house and he noticed off in a distance there was a big cottonwood tree by the edge of the road, a lantern was hanging and he could see people working, the image of the shadows and he heard their voices. He overheard one man "and if you don't do what I tell you, you're going to get the blame for this and you know what will happen, you'll go to jail." And he threw something big in a hole and covered it up, so the Pinkerton men came out where he lived.
Pinkerton men back was like FBI are to us now, with the bloodhounds and he never did say if they found the man, but they never did find the money and grandfather didn't tell that story to anybody until he was like 72 years old because he was afraid he would put the family in danger, cause they were riffraff, these people and I'm going to say it they may come and shoot me.
She was the mother of (NELL CLARK). The mistress of Kankakee in the 20's and I'm sorry, nothing for nothing, remains nothing, and they were afraid so that's why the story was never told, all through his life until 72 or 74, he figured all the other people were dead and they would not be in danger. That's one of the stories, there's several of them.
But I don't know, I just I enjoy the history, because if it weren't for our ancestors we wouldn't be where we are today. And I try to contribute wherever I can, so that the next generation and the generation after that have something to add to their story. I also in my woods, there's a big tree-big oak tree, that has a story to it. It used to be my grandfather Reno's. He used to play on, there is a limb and my mother told me that her dad played on that limb and she did, I did, my children did, their children, and I guess if that tree could talk, it could tell you stories that I couldn't begin to say, because it was there and that same hill before we were here there was an Indian village, so it saw little Indian kids play and later years in a log cabins that were built there, it watched those people play and then our people came and it comforted them and gave them shade and so you know sometimes the simplest things in life are the most precious.
Interviewer: That's so true.
Ponton: And Sharon [Emerson (Reno)], her kids, her grandchildren they camp in that same area, and if you come in the daytime, I do want a picture of that, I want you to take a picture of that, its our mascot out here in the woods, it opens the door, and like I said you have to live here. Its nothing to open my, those blinds, I had deer playing in my back yard the other day.
But back to my boys, they work in factories, and they are also musicians, and the youngest one is a very good mechanic which I took time to teach my boys mechanics, and I taught them music. We had at one time my when my oldest boy was I think in fifth grade, I make him a ball diamond out there he was on little league I was on third shift, I couldn't be with him.
Interviewer: We are coming upon the holiday of Thanksgiving. What was Thanksgiving like when you were young?
Ponton: Well, Mom would start out on Monday and we would start making her pies and her cakes and on Wednesday, I had to go out and she would always get two big fat hens, we had to get them and a duck and a goose, that was my job. If you're a hunter you had to kill them, and then she would fix them and we would make up enough to feed my adopted sisters and there was six of them and my family was sometimes 15-16 people, sometimes more.
[Sharon Emerson (Reno) contributes to the conversation]. After their get together, we would just kind of go from house to house. And I think that's some of the things I miss. So anyway Thanksgivings were like that and Christmas, well they never had a lot of money, we had one another. And we would have our tree and one or two presents.
Interviewer: That's a shame now a days though, it seems like people give more gifts because they spend
Ponton: Our big thing was midnight mass. We would go to mass and
Interviewer: Were you Roman Catholic?
Ponton: Uh-huh, and then we would go to grandfather's on the Christmas day when they were alive, they lived here in L'Erable and they had a custom that he was up in age and I can remember that old farmhouse and there was seven children in his family. So you could imagine, there was like 35 people in that house at that time. But the old man had his, he wasn't a drunkard, but those holidays when you turned 12 years old, and you could get in line guys and have your little shot of wine and it wasn't long, you would sing songs, and they would sing little songs you know and that, and I won't ever forget any of that.
I guess that's a part of, it was a very important part and my grandfather. He would always sit at the head of the table, and the women would sit in last, and sometimes they would go in the kitchen, it was a custom of the men would all sit, and I changed a lot of the rules. I did, because I never, I'm a guy that believes in equal rights you know. He was a good old guy, but he was a very stern old man, he was set in his ways.
Sharon Emerson Can I interrupt for a second? Can you say the New Years French Blessing in French that your dad always told us?
Ponton: Oh, you're asking a lot.
Sharon: Oh, think about it, that's a good one.
Ponton: I can't. I can't remember.
Sharon: That was a tradition.
Ponton: It's been so long that...
Sharon: A tradition in French families that the oldest male member, every New Years would say in French he would go bless each person and give you a kiss and a hug, and that's what I miss about his dad. He was good guy. I don't remember.
He would tell us in French, he would bless us, he would wish you the best of the coming year and I can't remember how all of it went but he would always say it so beautiful he would hug you and kiss you and that was your present from him, but he was my godfather, so.
Interviewer: So what other traditions did you guys have and holidays?
Interviewer: Any certain traditions?
Sharon: We would have our pumpkin pies, raisin pies.
Ponton: I guess I miss that; I have some of mom's cookbooks. Mother had sold a lot of recipes to Betty Crocker and that was one way that they would make money through out the year just like that, but I can remember how we would sit there and make homemade donuts.
Sharon: Yep, homemade pickle beets and sometimes it would be three or four days there of the evening you know and make them up. But no there wasn't a whole lot, like I said until "55" and they get a license in 1955, 1956. So it was we would take the old 36 Chevrolet, and put it up on blocks for the winter and dad would talk to the old priest oh he say, they had a nickname they called him bubby. Oh, he'd say bubby don't worry he'd say God will over look that, he'd say but try to come to midnight mass. So a lot of times instead of taking our car out we would get maybe his brother or somebody, by summer time he would take it out.
But I remember one time I was about seven years old and I snuck in the crib, that's where the car was, and I remember, because I would watch, it was a round thing that dad pushed on that made that motor start, so I got down there and pushed on it, and I run it off of the blocks and it ran over some "dog gone" boards with nails in it and I was pretty ornery though. I got a pretty good whipping out of that though.
But I went to the St. Anne Academy for grammar school and the nuns would get pretty impatient. They would say, you know you have to learn what this word means in English, because I didn't, you know, dad had taught us, you have to know French. And a lot of words didn't make a lot of sense to me and she would get upset about it but that's the way it went and it caused, one thing about knowing two different nationalities it helped me in a lot of different categories in life, decisions that you probably would have to read about something, because I don't know how to explain it to you, but because it's so left handed, its so backwards.
I can't explain it to you in your determination that would say that if you went in the other room and you would say in the other room you went, and everything is completely backwards and it allows you a concept of really looking into something or otherwise you may oversight it, you know and I guess that was one of the advantages of learning it and it took me three years to get over that and now I find it very difficult to, I went to Beaverville the other day I go there quite often and there's a little pub there I don't drink, they have, you can eat and there's a friend of mine by the last name of Lambert.
And I said you know Monsieur, parlais vous Francais? I'd say mister can you talk French? He'd say well "Oui, en pou" yah a little bit and I said "Comment ca vas?" how does it go? He'd say its not too bad? Then I'd said I said the weather is very warm. [More French is spoken] He said it's going to rain tomorrow. And its to get all of this together to complete and keep, there are so many little words in there that throw you off and that's what I had lost practice with.
Interviewer: Did your grandparents speak English, or...
Ponton: Oh yea, they taught, at one time they very, very high-strung people, they argue all week. But my grandfather was going to be modern and then in the olden days, well back then you know it isn't like it is now, we had a lot of insects and a lot of triggers well there was a rat that came through the house, for some reason whatever. So when my dad and I went there for some, something we could hear them arguing. He would say no it's a rat! She'd say No it isn't she's say it's a, and dad would say it's the same thing dad. No, no he'd say it's a rat! She's always trying to contradict me! He'd say well what is a [rat in French] he'd say, "it's a rat".
They would argue about everything all the time and I can never forget poor grandmother would, when she would can tomatoes, grandpa would come over, three day ordeal. He'd say, "Oh that woman I love her, but she is the sloppiest person I've ever met." When grandmother would can tomatoes, there was tomato juice from the living room to the kitchen; it was all through the house, and that man he would be clean, he wore light colored shirts to candy stripe, and I'd seen that man come off of a plow and a tractor look cleaner than I do. How he'd do this, I don't know? Poor grandma was, he'd say, "she's a good woman, but she's so dirty, she can't keep, he's say that's the damn Indian in her".
Interviewer: Were they the first generation that spoke English, or did their...
Ponton: They were the first generation and he wanted to be, he wanted to speak English he had, he'd try very hard but they had, he would try not to laugh, poor grandfather, in his conversation he would say trois instead of three, this, and that, instead of Henry, he would Henri, but the poor old man was trying you know. He really wanted to talk English, he taught that well, you could see him and his father had argued a lot, a lot about that because his father was the one that kept my dad, until he was five years old. He might as well let me have him. You'll have other children. He'd say, "Dad you can't keep my boy." But the old guy he had taught dad French and he had my grandfather upset and they argued about it so he was more bound and determined he would talk English, poor old guy would have trouble anyway.
Interviewer: Were you a very religious family? Did you go to church every Sunday and practice your religion?
Ponton: Oh, yea they would, they did that quite a bit. Just seemed like the factory takes a lot of that away from us, in fact we, we would go every Sunday and we would pray every Sunday to grandfather's. They lived in L'Erable and we'd go to church there and we, but he the old guy he liked to sit and watch the kids fight the grandkids off.
I remember one time that we had a one car garage, myself and there was two boys they were born in the same year. Well I was the youngest of all three of use, we were all born the same year. So anyhow it was on a Sunday and we were all outside. Grandpa wanted to know what, where the boys are? My dad often he didn't know this,so he'd walk out and notice, "what the heck," he says what's all that smoke going on in my car shed. Well we had snuck some cigarettes in there and we were smoking, so he came in there, ah, well he said "today you guys", well we were afraid, he said, "I guess you've really become men. You know I just want to take a ride."
It was only one mile to L'Erable so we all got in the car, we didn't want to say nothing, we were sure he was going to tell dad, dad was really going to whip us knowing we were in trouble, just keep that between us. So he went to L'Erable and "You boys can't go in." he said, "I'll be right back". He went in the tavern and bought a box of cigars went back to the old car, and we kind of was catching on, every foot of the way back got to be all, you know, can't we, "do we have to do this"? "Oh", he said, "don't worry there's nothing to it."
So we sat in there and he give us each a cigar and he lit it. Well we were going to smoke this, since we're men today. And I remember my, about three- quarter of that first one and I mean we got sick. So they wanted to know, the father's wanted to know "what happened, how come you're sick?" "Oh, nothing", he said, "I wouldn't worry about it" he said, "I've got it all straightened out", and we never did say any more about it. But they all, that was one of the things that they, tobacco they either chew it up, or smoke it.
Sharon: They brought that down from Canada with them though. The men and the women all used tobacco around here though.
Interviewer: Very openly they used it?
Ponton: Very openly.
Sharon: It was a tradition and they come, you know when they come down in the 1840's-50's it was common place in the household, they all used tobacco. I mean it was common, so they usually smoke corncob pipe, you know, not maybe sitting in company, or polite company or you know, but whenever women went in the kitchen, what do you think they did? They got their corncob pipes out and they got their own drinks out and they had their own party in the kitchen, so they were very strong willed women.
Interviewer: That's very interesting.
Sharon: Very strong willed women, so they, my grandma smoked corncob pipe and when she was 85 living, my grandma was his grandpa's sister on my mom's side, so when she was at her, she had Alzheimer's, she was passing away. But I would go visit her and I would bring her corncob pipe at my aunt and uncle's house who absolutely forbid smoking and sat and smoke a corncob pipe with her.
Interviewer: She knew they, were, she knew what it was.
Sharon: Oh, yes and we sat in their living room, my uncle just seethed at me but I let her do it.
Interviewer: So you remember that.
Sharon: So that was my last Christmas gift to her, because she died about a couple of days after Christmas, sat with her and she had her corncob pipe, so that was like, you know a big treat to her.
Interviewer: That's interesting.
Sharon: But yah, women smoked, I mean tobacco was commonplace in Canada.
Interviewer: Was there anything else back then women did that would probably wouldn't be as accepted today?
Sharon: They kept their own names; they never took their husband's names when they were married. They had a right to their own property, their property was theirs forever, they never had to give it to their husband.
Interviewer: No dowry or anything?
Sharon: No, there was, it was called, they always had a prenuptial agreement was always common, and they were, a lot of times you could get a copy of that and not the marriage certificate, you know when you write for records. They were allowed their own property and they had much more freedom that what women ever did in this country.
Interviewer: So they were ahead of their times?
Sharon: Oh yes, very ahead, they were very equal, very equal.
Interviewer: What are the reasons behind why you didn't take their husband's name?
Sharon: It was just the name they were born with so that was your name for your whole life. But the children, when you had children, your children had the father's name, but your name was your name forever, that was the law, you kept your own name. For legal reason and for property use, whatever.
Interviewer: So did they have just about much say in the household as the husband did?
Sharon: They had equal say, they had equal say. Very, very strong willed women, one way or the other they got their way. I mean they believe more in equality probably that was, that was normal.
Interviewer: Now did most of the women did they work at home, or did they have outside
Sharon: They were, at they time all the women worked at home though. So they, you know, they all had the same thing that any other women in the 1850's or 60's did, but you know, it was just in Canada they had a lot more freedom that what women ever had here.
Interviewer: So what brought your family down here?
Sharon: There was, they were opening this area for settlement and Father Chiniquy was a Jesuit priest and he was the one in charge of recruiting families to settle down here, the more families he got to settle, the more land he got in St. Anne. So they started the parish in St. Anne and at the time all the French Canadian towns were, we call it the circle of the French, because Bourbonnais, St. George, Kankakee, L'Erable, Martinton, Beaverville, and St. Anne so it does make a circle if you look at the map. And they were settling St. Anne at the time, and he was bringing settlers in and there was a big riff because he decided well he's kind of a womanizer, very much so that didn't go very well with the Catholic Religion. So there was a lot of problem with him and we won't go into this story too deep because there's some personal things involved but anyhow, the church split.
So our great-grandmother Reno went around and collected money to start a new Catholic church at Papineau that's when we had our little Catholic church established, but when we came down here it was the same thing that, because Canada was full, there was no jobs. My grandfather was a farmer, but his father was a miner and there was just no jobs, they were living in poverty, there was famine, there was, you know, starvation it was just overcrowded, I mean they took the word seriously "be fruitful and multiply", they all had 15-16-17 children and it doesn't take long to fill a country up when you have that many children.
They were healthy, I mean, they ate mainly, their main common everyday food, mainly was split pea soup. They ate a lot of that, for the simple reason that, you know you can grow a lot of meals on an acre, they didn't have big farms, because as their children grew up and got married they kept splitting the place smaller and smaller, but they built along the rivers and their farms were very long and skinny the cabin was on the water so that they could use the waterways for canoes for traveling, and the country just got full so they started migrating when the United States, more and more territories opened up and they started migrating.
Interviewer: So they made it appealing for them to come here?
Sharon: Yes, but one branch of our family came by ship, and that was our, on my grandma Reno's side they came by ship and when they were coming down the ship sprung a leak and it sunk in Lake Erie, and what was so amazing was that the father saved all seven of his children and they are the ones that mainly settled Papineau, the Lottinvilles. So it's real interesting.
Ponton: Do you know what the name of the ship was?
Sharon: Atlantic, what was the name or it? Titanic. Titanic One yeh! Small, small, small
Sharon: That was seven, all seven children.
Interviewer: They came by ship, and how long then did that take? He mentioned it took his family eleven months.
Sharon: Oh, it probably took; it's kind of hard to tell because most of them when they came would stay in Bourbonnais. With all their relatives until they could find a place to get settled and get moved, but what really happened, what was really bad was in 1846, there was an really early frost, in August we had killing frost in this area, and the majority it was their first year here and they had just started their crops and stuff. They were literally suffering from starvation and Father Chiniquy did go out East and raise money and try to bring money and clothes and stuff back to the families, because they were down to the point they were literally boiling shoe leather for some nourishment for the family, so I mean you think of a brand new wonderful country you have no food you know your crop freezes, what do you do, you know, so they had it really rough when they first come here, they worked really hard.
Like I said our great-grandma Euphemi, she, grandpa Ferdinand Reno would work on the railroad and he was the coolie labor, which you think of the coolies in California the Chinese built the railroads and they are called coolies, the Chinese. The equal to the coolie labor of the railroads here in Midwest were the French Canadians they would hire them real cheap, because they knew they were hurting for money and had no jobs in Canada. So they would hire out of day laborers and they would drive railroad spikes all day long and that's, you know how the Illinois Central Railroad was built was by the French Canadians physical labor.
And so he had saved his money to put a down payment on the farm up here and she lived out here and she had her little store and every Saturday she would walk to Kankakee, and that's twelve miles with five or six children, I forget how many were small and brought his food and clothes for the next week and then bring dry goods back, tobacco and the mail back to her little store and she would make a little bit of money for doing favors for the neighbors and she would make this trip every week. So she was really a, you know.
Ponton: He would be there sometimes three months at a time.
Sharon: Right, before he could come home. And so
Interviewer: A very industrious woman and
Sharon: And I don't know if anybody remembers about reading about it in Borroughs but the French Canadians played a very large part in the naming of the county seat in Kankakee County. What happened was they had a big election and it was tight, nose to nose just like the Bush, Gore deal right now, nose, and nose. Momence and Kankakee both wanted to be County seat, so they voted-tie vote.
So I guess what Kankakee did was they went out on the railroad and pulled all the Canadians off the railroad, brought them in to vote, and that's how Kankakee County became the County seat. So they did swing the vote, so I thought that was a cute part of the story. So that was a good part of that story. I read a lot of history and I like a lot of history. I like to see where my family fits in to history in different times and what was going on.
Interviewer: Was your family Roman Catholic too?
Sharon: Yes, yes, I would say 95 percent of the Canadians were Roman Catholics for the very simple reason that when France started establishing colonies in Canada, the Jesuits, the religious orders, were given large tracks of land and they were really encouraged to settle and this was right after, if you can remember back what the big religious wars in Europe. A lot of, I mean, you were either you know that was the Catholics doing all the slaying and they were saying that you become a Catholic or you die, so you know you had no choice you became a Catholic, so then they came to Canada, and Canada was at one time almost 100 percent Roman Catholic.
Interviewer: Were there very many people who didn't want to be Catholic?
Sharon: You died. Guillotine--but there were a lot of religious rulings going on and the church of England, when the church of England broke off that was, if you remember watching movie Anna, that's a really good movie if you get a chance to see it again. Guys don't like it it's boring, it's romantic, but it's about when Anna was queen of England and she was a Protestant and she promised her aunt she would turn Catholic and so her aunt let her be queen, because her aunt was going to have her executed because she was a Protestant.
Well her aunt died in the meantime and when she became queen she says well, "There's a priest on one side". Anyway it was kind of neat because she says we will all just be one religion, and we'll be Protestant that's how England mainly got slung into the Protestantism. So its kind of neat and I like history so I like local history I like to study history all the way down through the line and just see how life changed, but I look like I said for the strong women in the family and I look for the ladies that were leaders, but that's because I'm a lady and Leland's a man so its just the difference we look at history and genealogy. If we get together and write our book we'll have I think a really good book because we can do it both sides.
Sharon: I have a son that's a history teacher also.
Interviewer: Where does he teach history?
Sharon: He's in Sheldon a social studies teaching history. And I have one that's an artist, and I have one that's a social worker so. And my children all live within ten miles.
Interviewer: A very close-knit family.
Sharon: Yes, very tight close-knit family, yes.
Interviewer: So is that a trademark in French Canadian.
Sharon: Yes, I think so, a family life meant a lot to you, I don't care how poor you was, you know, if family is the main thing, you know, family is more like anything, and it's you know you share what you have with each other, you know. And I think that the way we were raised, my family did not have electricity in the house until 1965, and I was already married, when my folks finally could afford to have their house wired. So I was raised with kerosene lamps and reading and, you know, my mom loved books and she taught us, I mean not, I think I learned to love books from her, and she talked a lot about historical things that would bring subjects up, so it was I think the way we were raised, very close-knit families.
Ponton: Myself, I like the mystical stories that they would talk about too. It was nice to sit around and you would talk about like when I told about the horsemen you know, and my mother used to tell me the stories also but like I said you know it was a nessecity of life that's the way we had to pass on stories. Because that's all there was unless, and they weren't very few of them well they were too busy working to be that well educated, but some of them now, our aunt, her aunt and mine was the baby of the family and she was, she had the privilege of going to college and becoming a nurse, where my mother, ok, her mother died, my mom was 14 when her mom died, and she left behind her father, another brother, and there was five of them that my mom raised, so they never, it was a story of life you never had, you missed out on it you someone had to do this job, so my mother was, when she got married she was 37 I believe when she married.
Interviewer: She was 37?
Ponton: She was 37, because she stayed behind and she took care of her father and the younger brother. Her younger brother when he was nine, was helping to harness some horses or put a saddle on or something and the horse kicked him in the head and it caused brain hemmorage and he was a week unconscious.
Sharon: He didn't die.
Ponton: He didn't die, but because he had that brain so much, blood vessel broke in his head he
Sharon: Functioned like a three year old.
Ponton: He couldn't function; his mind was like a seven year old kid. But somebody had to take care of him.
Sharon: Them days you didn't put them in an asylum you stayed at home
Ponton: He was smart up to that, but from that day he couldn't learn nothing.
Interviewer: How old was he when that happened?
Ponton: He was seven, was he seven? Seven
Sharon: Because, Dr. Benjamin was working with him though, he was working, he was learning Latin at seven years old because he wanted to be a doctor.
Ponton: It was a shame, because I mean the little guy he was sharp. It was a freak accident and that, but you see my grandmother, was educated she was qualified to be a school teacher and she taught him music, she taught him how to read and write, and then arithmetic,
mathematics and everything. And that's the way that worked because they had a school, they had to cross a creek, literally cross it to go to it.
Interviewer: OK, I think we have about five minutes more here, what can you guys tell us that we would, anything that you really wanted us to know?
Sharon: I think they played a much stronger influence in the development of Iroquois and Kankakee County then what they were ever given credit for, to this day we still find the prejudice against our heritage because of our background, especially a lot of times locally. I was involved in Iroquois County in 1980 when they did a new county history book and I found some very prejudicial remarks, if I wasn't one of the editors it would have been very sad if it was allowed to be printed there are still prejudices against the Canadians in this area.
Interviewer: And why is that?
Sharon: Why, I don't know why, I mean, they've got like we come in and took their territory away from them. We really did not, you know but they are always, especially in this township here, because a lot of prejudice against them.
Ponton: But if you read up on it, read up on the history of it they were here before these Swiss came here. Most Jones' settlement was the only existing establishment during that time and that was like three miles away. Because our grandmother's people moved here and they lived in that log cabin behind in 1823, that they moved there. It's all about what I talked about tonight and it goes way back to into Paris, France, years and years ago they would have a battle between the, who ran it.
The Germans would come in and win the place over and they would be in command So they brought this fight with them from the old countries. And then there's a story my dad mentioned that his grandfather at a church they went to a church in L'Erable and one of their children was sick and was crying quite a bit, so they, but they stayed and on the way out they would always greet everybody and one of the old guys told them, "you know", he says, "Mr. Ponton, why did you not take your child and get him out of the church, we was trying to listen". And he said, "well", he said, he told the man, he says, and it made him mad. And what it was the old guy was a German and he was a Frenchman and they had it out there and my grandfather he wouldn't go to that church again, he said, "if we got to fight about something that should have been dead before we ever moved here, it should have been resolved", he said, "I won't go to this church again".
My mother would tell stories that they weren't allowed over that school. You cross that creek and the boys would woup one another, because that was German territory. And that was our generation. If you haven't married, boy, they would downsize you. They wouldn't have nothing to do with you and that's ignorant, but it was part of the custom.
Interviewer: So they were bigots in their own way and with their actions.
Sharon: Yes! And they were not allowed to go across the creek I mean they weren't allowed to be, yet they had to go across the creek to go to school. They would literally get beat up, you know. But my dad would get his revenge with his mud balls.
Ponton: And like I said, Gary's people they, his father was, he was, they're Swedish, and his father married a French girl, an Arseneau girl, and the parents, the family were, they would speak to them but were never seen too much together if they could help it. The deal like my grandfather and my grandmother, now he would never let her people because they were half Cherokowa-Apache he would never let them in his house. And that was wrong, I never got to know my
great-aunt and my great-uncle because of that reason.
Interviewer: So how about a closing thought for the last minute or two of our tape here?
Ponton: Well, I guess, the thing that we are trying to point out here is togetherness, the love for one another, setting aside your race and your creed, is the bottom line. That's what it's about, that's what it means. We have to all learn to make this one religion one nationality, one people, and I think that's what all of our ancestors, that's what they set out to do.
Interviewer: That's very nice.
Ponton: So, [speaks French] Bonjour. I wish you a very good day and a better one tomorrow.
Interviewer: Thank you!
Interviewer: Thank you for your time! That was wonderful!
Interviewer: That was very good.