Léda, the swan, and the will

After Delphis came his sister, Léda.

We called her “Dada.” She worked as a maid or governess for private clients, who were usually rich and always well-to-do. She never married, devoting herself instead to her charges and career.

« Léda et le cygne », huile sur bois (H. 64,5 cm ; l. 80,5 cm) réalisée avant 1600 par Pierre Paul Rubens (1577-1640) - Œuvre faisant partie de la collection Stephen Mazoh en dépôt au musée des beaux-arts de Houston (États-Unis). Photographie réalisée lors de l'exposition temporaire l'Europe de Rubens - Musée du Louvre (Lens).

Léda was the mother of Helen of Troy, seduced (or raped) and impregnated by Zeus who appeared in the form of a swan. The image of Léda and the swan was an iconic theme of the late 19th century, a late century when Greek mythology was dominated popular culture. Delphis, Ulysses, Diana, Leda were all names inspired by the prevailing culture.  This letter, written by a maternal great-uncle, Ulysses Therrien in 1916 to my grandmother, talks about Telemachus, a big novel of the day. Names reflected the popular literature / culture of the day, much as culture does today.

When Léda came to visit, she would always tell us anecdotes and stories about how her charges lived. I will never forget the Sirois.

Monsieur Sirois was a federal official in charge of setting up universal unemployment insurance. His government commission afforded the family an opulent lifestyle, with a house on the Grand Allée in Québec City. He was a member of “high society.”

Listening to Léda talk, we began to think we knew the Sirois, just as if we lived together, in the same household. The Sirois were not immune to our continued analysis and opinion about their domestic life. I struggled to understand how they could live as they did, especially when we always had trouble making ends meet. I became more than a little jealous of the Sirois and their well-stocked wallets.

I soon realized that we often suffer troubles and issues proportional to our so-called station in life.

These people seemed in an endless search for an unattainable, artificial happiness. One example of their often capricious existence, Madame Sirois paid her plumber to redo a newly-remodeled bathroom just the way it had been, in the same orientation, just because. When you were a Sirois, you could afford luxuries and you had money, unlike the Ste-Croix Bédards.


Léda could not work year round, so every year, she would ask Maman if she could pass a few days with us at the house. Each year, Maman never refused her, even though she knew in her heart that there was a more than a bit of evil in Léda.

We learned quickly that she was not soft like a swan, and unlike Maman, had a villainous disposition. Since she was not married and did not lead a large family brood of Bédards, she had issues navigating the turbulent whirlpools and eddies found in large families. I never knew the real reason for her nastiness.

My brother Gilles found out the hard way.

I remember one visit in particular when Maman happened to be out and Léda was in charge. She was to prepare and serve us the family meal.

I forget who said what when, whether the food lacked flavor, or something or other was off, but Léda and my brother Gilles had some sort of verbal exchange, which quickly escalated.

Whatever the cause, Gilles took a plate to the head.

Another time, Gilles escaped Léda because he was with Maman and his longtime girlfriend, Madeline Lemay, down in Old Orchard, Maine.

Maman left Léda in charge of the household. Midway through the vacation, Léda, for no reason known to a Bedard, packed her bags and left the house under the cover of darkness, telling no one.

When Maman came home, she was only mildly surprised to find Leda gone. She never found out what had set Léda off. Colette, my sister, had been home and had no idea why Léda left us alone. Maman, knowing the peculiar and particular nature of Léda’s character, never pressed to find out the real reason.

Like us, Léda loved life at the chalet below the cliffs of Ste-Croix on the St Lawrence. Her perch was on the porch, in her rocker. From there, she saw everyone coming and going down the dirt road bordering the St. Lawrence.

Her curiosity became our embarrassment and a running joke. As someone passed, she would yell out:

“Qui c’est ça? Qui c’est ça?” (Who is it? Who is it?)

We made ourselves as small as we could and tried to hide when we heard her call. We denied knowing Léda, our aunt Dada.


diana leda grave 600The events around Léda’s death and burial opened my eyes about how much this family really cared about its inheritances, real or desired.

In the summer of 1969, Léda died at the Laval Hospital in Québec. In her final instructions, she asked that her body be shown at the funeral home and buried in Sainte Croix. She just as well could have been with her father, Zéphirin, at Issoudun, but she chose Sainte Croix.

She and her sister, Diana, decided to bury my grandmother Antoinette at the cemetery of the Sisters of Charity in Beauport where her daughter (and my aunt) Jeanette (Sister Sainte Aurelienne), was also interred.

The rationale for burying Antoinette apart from Zephirin was never known. It may have been as simple as cost savings from what we read about the two sisters.

I could never figure out the logic to any of this, where people were laid to rest. At the end of time, when the horns of Jericho finally sound, the entire family will somehow find itself in the Valley of Jehosaphat, anyway. Where they bury you should not matter. This, I believe.

At her death, there came about a bunch of particular, bizarre and weird events. In hindsight, I should never have been shocked to see someone from Tante Anne-Marie’s, the other side of the family, walking around with what alleged to be a copy of Léda’s will with big smiles on their faces. This was even before the funeral, well before Léda’s burial.

So with all the families in attendance, the notary read Léda’s. Simply, the will dictated that her worldly goods be split up with two-thirds going to her sister Diana and the remaining third to her brother Joseph, a partition which sounded very reasonable to most in attendance.

Some, thinking they were in the will, took this news very badly. My cousin Mado had been drinking and appeared to be under the influence. She soon became my cursing cousin, swearing loudly to no one in particular as she realized she was not in Léda’s will.

She took the news badly.

The morning of Léda’s funeral, before the burial, what started as a small murmur of a quarrel soon overcame the mood in the funeral parlor and roared into a full war between factions of mourners.

Denis Croteau, the funeral director, sat wondering what to do. Helpless to prevent the oncoming storm, he wondered aloud if he’d come out of the ceremony unscathed.

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