This blog on New Caledonia is for those of you who ever wondered what life on a tiny island in the South Pacific might be like. Tired of bracing winter winds, the stress of an inner city or simply dreaming of a life change? This is a blog about what happens when, in the words of Yogi Berra, "you come to a fork in the road, [and] take it".

16 November 2006

The Quietly Remarkable Mlle Lucie Agez

I have been very moved by a story that has been revealed to me over the course of this last week. It is not my story, but the story of a Ms. Lucie Agez, who is 83 years old. The story was told to me by her daughters - marvelous women I have never met - through e-mails and photos.

Lucie Agez was born on the southeast coast of New Caledonia, in Canala, in 1924. She was born to Caldoche parents - of German and French descent. Her childhood was idyllic until her father died when she was 12. Sadly, she and her older brother, Paul, were placed in an orphanage following her father's passing. But loss at such a tender age seems to have infused Lucie with tremendous strength and courage, which later helped her face life's later challenges.

Fast forward to World War II. In 1945, Lucie was 21 and worked at a local restaurant called the "Tradewinds". (You may recall that the Americans occupied New Caledonia during World War II - to prevent Australia from being attacked by the Japanese.) Turns out, Lucie was living with a cousin who had taken her in once she turned of age. Just across from her cousin's place there was a military radio station being guarded by a handsome young military policeman named Clarence Mickelson (aka "Mike"). Mike was also a talented mason. On his time off, he built a wall under the house Lucie and her cousin were living in. He also frequented the "Tradewinds" where he downed many a cup of java, his favourite beverage, and came to know dear Lucie.

When the war ended, the American soldiers returned home. Lucie's dashing young man, Mike, was one of them. What was to happen to our fledgling young couple?

Yes, Mike sent for Lucie. Upon arriving in the American midwest, Lucie's coffee-drinking military policeman drove across the United States to San Francisco. He wired Lucie to come.

Lucie, whose English was as fledgling as her new love, who had never left New Caledonia (a tiny unknown French-speaking island in the South Pacific), who had no promises before her beyond those proffered her by her coffee-drinking American soldier man, packed up what little she had, bought a ticket for $300-$400, boarded a cargo ship for Norway (the "Thor I"), travelled three weeks by sea and disembarked in an entirely foreign land. Folly, you say? Uncontestable courage, I say. Lucie left everything she knew behind (including a brother and cousin she loved dearly) - in 1946 as a single woman - to commence an unsure adventure where snow was exotic and unknown to her, midwestern Americans at times a little less than welcoming, and French bread, sunny skies and island life forever lost to her. (Lucie was to visit her native land nearly 30 years later when her husband died.)

Lucie and Mike went on to have four daughters and one son. She learned English and adopted American customs and traditions as her own. I believe she kept the story of her native land quietly to herself as she acclimated to the American midwest. I am certain her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren are extremely proud of her courage, heritage and strength. Lucie is truly une femme extraordinaire !

(Many thanks to Lucie and her family for giving me permission to share her story.)


Michael Pfaff said...

OH my gosh! That is my Grandma! She was and is amazing! As soon as I finish school I intend to visit NC! I am very proud of Grandma for her strength and courage! Thanks for telling her story!

Sharon said...

Dear Julie,
I discovered your blog several days ago and have been reading the archived posts with great pleasure since. Lucie's story, however, hit close to home. My grandmother, too, met my grandfather in Noumea during the war and left everything she knew to come to the U.S. after my father was born. Her story is quite complicated and somtimes sad, but I remember her as a wonderful, vivacious woman and I'm certain I speak for my father and his sisters when I say we miss her very much. My father is in regular contact with our large family in Noumea and I'm am still trying to piece together our genealogy there. Until I cobble together the vacation time and funds to make the trip myself, I'm living vicariously through your stories. Thanks!

Ruth Pharris said...

I thought I had sent this earlier, but somehow it never got posted. sorry if it is redundant.
Thank you so much for the story of mom's romance. She had a very big week as her picture was published in her local newspaper--a tribute to her generosity in quilting lap-robes for wheelchair bound veterans. Sharon's comments make me wonder again how many NC women came to the states. I re-read the National Geographic article, but it did not say. I know I read it somewhere though, so the search continues.
I've gone back in time to your first blogs and am now reading them from the beginning. So nice--inspires really good memories of our visit.

Stephanie (Bowe) Reardon said...

Very Elegantly written story about Grandma Lucie! It makes you see her in a different light. She taught me to crochet,french braid hair, and borrowed me things to share about New Caledonia in grade school. The most cherished is my quilt she made for me, I sleep with every night. My children have her bright blue/green eyes, beautiful skin & lighter hair. Funny how it skips generations.

Julie said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. It is wonderful to hear from Lucie's children and grandchildren and to hear from Sharon - whose story is similar to Michael's and Stephanie's. I have enjoyed learning about brave New Caledonian women through this adventure with Lucie and her family and I hope that if there are other such women and stories out there, they will find their way here. What a great lead-up to Thanksgiving this next week!

Anonymous said...

je m'appelle Lucie Agez et j'ai 16 ans bientot.
j'habite en france près de Bordeaux.
Mon père me dit que le nom "agez" est très commun dans le nord de la France mais qu'il est d'origine espagnole, ceci esdt du à la présence des armées de Charles quint dan les flandres.
voilà, c'est amusant de constater qu'un pafait homonyme a eu une vie extraordinaire,des décennies auparavant et à des milliers de kilomètres.
au revoir

Julie said...

Dear Lucie Agez in Bordeaux,

What a fabulous story. Thanks for sharing the orgin of the name AGEZ. I am thrilled to hear from you - isn't it wonderful to share your name with another amazing Lucie Agez?

Thanks again for writing in - and all the best.


Aarin Erickson said...

I look back on the story of my grandma Lucie and it makes me smile. I loved that crazy lady (crazy in a good way)! Her accent always used to make us laugh!(she called me "Heron") She loved board games like scrabble even though English was her second language. And many Sunday afternoons were spent arguing about the words she would make up. lol I miss going to the greenhouse with her in the spring. She had an amazing green thumb! Miss ya grandma! :)

Julie Harris said...

Aarin - It's so wonderful to hear about your grandmother from you. She was such an interesting lady - and I'm sure she appreciated your noticing how good she was at Scrabble in her second language. I'm 200% certain some of her made-up words were rooted in her native French. :) With very kind regards and best wishes for a healthy and happy 2016! - Julie