Today is the Feast the of the Holy Innocents. It commemorates the babes of Bethlehem who were massacred by King Herod in his ruthless quest to find and kill the baby Jesus.
It is also the birthday of my dear friend Lucie Carmèle Beauchemin, 1927–2008.
Lucie was a remarkable woman and the kindest person I’ve ever known.
She was always ready with a helping hand, a comforting shoulder or a word of encouragement for anyone who needed it. She was gutsy, funny, smart and a great listener who genuinely cared about—and cared for—the people in her life. Lucie was the one who always remembered the birthdays of each of her work colleagues—and brought cake to celebrate!
A descendant of Quebec’s first French settlers, Lucie was born in San Rafael, California, where she almost died from a rare childhood illness. Her family moved to a homestead in the wilds of northeast Alberta, where doctors said the cold, dry climate would be better for her health.
Muriel Lake was so remote that Lucie couldn’t even go to school until she was 10. But she had learned to read French by then, teaching herself from the romance novels her grandmother enjoyed.
Lucie joined the Sisters of Holy Cross in Montréal in 1947. She served her order for 15 years, during which time she trained to be a teacher. Her teaching career took her to the St. Paul, Wainright and Peace River districts of Alberta, and later, to Edmonton and St. Albert, where she was the best-loved Grade 6 teacher her school had ever known.
Lucie also spent several years teaching the children of Canadian military families stationed at Baden-Baden, Germany, which became her home base for exploring Europe.
A woman travelling on her on own was a rare sight in the 1960s. But the intrepid Lucie bought herself a little camper van and set off, undeterred through a host of adventures. One time, the brakes on her camper failed when she was travelling through hill country. And once, after a long night’s travels, she discovered that her hotel was in the heart of Amsterdam’s Red Light district.
I met Lucie when I was a university student. I was Lucie’s cleaning lady then, and I soon learned to not to gush over the treasures she had accumulated on her travels. Too much enthusiasm often meant that Lucie would pack whatever beautiful thing had caught my eye for me to take home.
Lucie gave me all sorts of beautiful things over the years. The last, just before she died, was a hand-carved wooden creche. Lucie had bought this in Germany and had actually watched the artist at work. The detailing is exquisite, right down to the removable miniature lantern Joseph holds to light the stable. But my favourite piece is the crippled sheep. Lucie’s German cleaning lady mistakenly threw it into the trash one day. It was rescued, but its delicately carved legs had broken off.
Another German gift I have from Lucie is a hand-carved pillar candle. We had a laugh when she gave it to me. “I love it, Lucie,” I said. “But you know, I burn candles.” “That’s quite all right,” she said.
I’ve burned Lucie’s candle during the Christmas season for a couple of decades now. There’s only a small bit of wick left, so tonight will be the last time I light it in her memory. But Lucie will always hold a special place in my heart even when her candle is gone.
Вічная пам’ять. May she be remembered forever.