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John Berezay and
Marie Louise Gaffric Berezay

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bonita and
Surrounding Districts, Pages 272 - 273

John Berezay was from the province of Brittany in France. He served seven years in the French army at the pay of one cent per day. In 1877 he married Marie Louise Gaffric. Marie was born on October 5, 1852 in Tragastelle, Cotte Du Nord, France.

They rented a place, and Marie stayed home to look after the home, a horse, and a cow. John worked as a farm laborer for twelve cents a day. That was considered a high wage in those days. Their main food consisted of oat porridge, potatoes, and buttermilk. Marie washed clothes at a pond on large rocks in cold water, using a wooden mallet to beat the clothes clean. Thirteen years later she acquired a wash board.

John and Marie had twelve children, but only six reached maturity, Frank, Janet, Eva, May, Gene, and Joe.

In 1911, Frank and May who were already in Canada, sent for their folks and the rest of the family. John and Marie homesteaded on top of the ridge at Whiskey Gap. (N.W.-22-1-23-W4th) They built a home, got a few cattle and made a living milking cows, and by John working out.

During a bitterly cold spell of weather in 1930, John came down with pneumonia. The roads were impassable so the doctor and priest drove a car on the railroad track as far as possible. Then they were met with a team of horses and sleigh for the remainder of the trip. John passed away and the priest remained to conduct the funeral service which was held in the home. The weather was so cold that only three sons, a son-in-law, and three neighbors transported the body by bobsleigh the twenty-five miles to Cardston for burial.

Marie lived the next twenty-one years in her own little house. During the winter she would spend some time with various members of her family, but when spring returned so did Marie.

Her youngest son, Joe, and his family lived just across the creek from her. He had a homemade speaker installed between the two houses so that Marie could call him if necessary.

One evening a small grandson spent the night with her. During the night a terrific thunderstorm developed. When Joe looked out next morning he was horrified to see that lightning had struck a corner of Marie's house. He ran over and found the door locked. He pounded on the door but no one answered. Terrified he pounded again calling their names. Finally Marie said, "I'm coming." When she saw how agitated he was she asked "Why are you so excited? The house is insured."

The lightning had hit Marie's bed, setting it on fire, blown the radio to pieces and crumbled the corner of her house. She had taken a pail of water; calmly extinguished the flames and gone back to bed. When she saw the damage in the daylight she said, "I guess God wasn't ready for me to die yet."

Whenever Marie saw a new born baby she would take it in her arms, place a fifty cent silver coin in the tiny hand and repeat the blessing in French. "que le Bon Dieu Vous Benis A Vous preserve de tou mal. (May the Lord bless and keep you from all harm.)

Marie was a devout Catholic. Marie never attended school. She gradually learned from her children and grandchildren, to read her prayer book in French and Latin.

Children liked to go over to Grandma, as she was called and listen to her stories. She always had a cookie for them.

Marie always voiced appreciation to the Canadian Government for her monthly pension cheque. She signed it with an "X". This signature was honored by the store and post office at Whiskey Gap. Small as her cheque was it provided her with spending money and she managed to make it stretch so that every Christmas there was a tiny gift for all her children and grandchildren.

Her greatest ambition was to live to celebrate her hundredth birthday. In preparation for this her family planned a family reunion for October 5, 1952.

A week before her birthday her health began to fail and thirty-six hours before her birthday she passed away.

Her family travelled from far and wide to attend her funeral, held at the Catholic Church in Cardston. The day was bright and clear and the Rocky Mountains, which she loved so much formed an appropriate background for her burial.

John and Marie's posterity as of 1980 are, twenty-four grandchildren, seventy-one great-grandchildren, and one hundred and seven great-great grandchildren.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup