There are many books written by leaders like Presidents, war generals and captains of industry. Each one has their own approach on how to lead nations, armies and companies. Some of their techniques have been successful for large organizations, but where do we turn for advice when raising a family? Where do we find the strength?
On Thursday, January 28, 2010, Marie Lege Dartez woke up and prepared for a family meal to be held at her Kaplan home that evening. It was a weekly supper that she had been cooking for the last forty years. At first it was for her three children and their spouses. But over time, with the addition of grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren, the guest list increased to sixty.
“She loved to cook and bring joy to others,” says Dartez’s daughter, Betty Girouard. “She’d make tarts and fudge for her whole family, bring flowers to thirteen different graves for All Saints Day, and make coffee every Saturday morning for anyone who wanted a cup.”
Dartez’s generosity and suppers became famous throughout her community, and soon friends began joining in the celebration of her family. The Kaplan Herald even did a story about the Thursday evening feasts back in 2004.
In the article, Dartez said, “Keeping my family together and having them know one another is very important to me.”
No one knows for certain what was going through the 86 year-old’s mind on January 28, 2010 while she prepared for the evening meal. Perhaps it was about which side dishes to serve or what the weather was like or how lucky she was to have most of her family coming over that evening. Regardless, this last supper was her most important, because when she went to bed that night, she continued to sleep forever.
At Dartez’s funeral was one of the pots she used for her last supper. Inside was an arrangement of sixty roses to represent each member of her family that she left behind.
On March 15th of this year, what would have been Dartez’s 87th birthday, her family got together and watched a video of her making homemade tarts.
“She used to make tarts for the whole family every year,” said Girouard. “This past summer she said it would be the last time.”
Girouard once interviewed her mother for a paper she had to write for a class. She learned that Dartez grew up on a houseboat and made her own toys when she a little girl.
“I learned so much about my mother’s life from that interview,” said Girouard. “It was a special moment with her that I will treasure forever.”
I first learned of Dartez and her famous suppers the day she died. A friend told me of the tradition, which at the time I found to be very heartwarming. But it never occurred to me to write about it until a month later when I ran into Girouard.
“I get lonesome when I can’t talk to her,” said Girouard. “When I miss her, I think of her alive, or go to her house and sit in her chair with her favorite blanket wrapped around me.”
Girouard invited my mother and me to her home for supper, where I met her husband, Boyd Girouard and one of their two children, Olivia. We spent several hours talking about friends, family and what we’d learned from our parents.
“Ma-mom believed in the value of family,” said Girouard. “She was determined to keep us together.”
Although you will never find a book on leadership written by Marie Lege Dartez, she successfully led her loved ones and taught them about the power and strength of family. But it wasn’t by charging onto a battlefield, or standing on a podium giving speeches. It was from sharing her gift of cooking with her followers, and practicing the art of simple generosity.
“I am so thankful for having her as a mother,” said Girouard. “She gave me the confidence to be who I am, and the strength to hold my head up high.”
The Thursday night my mother and I went to the Girouard’s home, I could tell that Dartez’s influence had been passed on to her daughter. The family prepared a wonderful supper for us, and even wrapped up food for us to take. To them it seemed to be a simple gesture of kindness, but what they might not have realized was that the paper plate carried more than a meal. It held Marie Lege Dartez’s legacy, but most importantly, her strength.