Cecile Foreman: Recalling a Century
Happy 100th Birthday
Jennifer Clarke – For The Record
“You get one life. Live it like you enjoy it,” says Cecile Foreman, 100 years old, from Orange, Texas. Born on December 15, 1915 in Louisiana, Foreman traveled to Texas at nine months old and has lived in the Orange area ever since. “Texas is the best place I have ever been,” she notes.
And in her century of life, Cecile has seen many events and experienced many transitions. “I traveled, and explored, but I call this place home,” says Foreman. She lived on her own until Ike took her home, and she now resides with her eldest daughter, Ann Hoffpauir, and her husband. Ann is the oldest daughter of seven children. Mrs. Foreman’s eldest son, Roland Sullivan, from her marriage to James Melton Sullivan, is 84 years old. Cecile Foreman married Hugh (“Tubby”) Foreman in 1944, and they had six children together. “Tubby” Foreman passed away in 1993. Mrs. Foreman also has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by her extended family. Her cousins were her neighborhood friends, “six of them lived next door, five across the street, and there were six of us,” and they spent their time playing together. “Everything we did was fun,” Foreman says, “hop scotch, jacks, marbles. I was a good marble player. The boys didn’t like for me to play marbles or baseball.” She enjoys the closeness of family, “they are my favorite people,” Foreman asserts. Her best friends were Lela Hare and Lorraine Youngblood. She also recalls her close friend Ina Guidry who moved away.
There have been quite a few transformations during Foreman’s lifetime. She was born and raised Catholic. And she is a member of St. Mary’s in Orange. She recalls that in her youth, “you had to go to mass, every Sunday, you didn’t want to die with a mortal sin.” While getting to church may be a bit more difficult these days, her faith is still important. She suggests it is a “good way to keep civilization civilized.” Notably, the coming of electricity to her part of town stands out in her memory. “We have gone from oil lamps to solar energy,” she says. As a child, one of her chores was to clean the oil lamps in the home, refill the kerosene, and trim the wick in a specific way to eliminate smoke. “The modern comforts are probably my favorite of all the changes that didn’t exist then,” says Foreman, “things are easier.” As a child, she recalls using Octagon soap. “It was the only soap, we bathed with it, washed our hair with it, washed clothes with it,” but when she was a teenager, Ivory Soap came out, “it cost twenty-five cents to buy,” and she remembers being very careful with that soap. Not all changes have been as easy to digest. Foreman was reading the paper one morning with her son-in-law who noted that ribeye steaks were on sale for $5.99 a pound; “we used to sell a whole cow for five dollars,” says Foreman.
Life during her youth was agrarian in practice, and she raised her children in much the same way, though her husband, “Tubby,” did have to teach her “how to be a farmer’s wife,” Foreman notes. As a child, Cecile Foreman attended St. Mary’s school, and then Anderson. And because she had been surrounded mostly by French speaking people growing up in an area heavy in Acadian ancestry, it was in school that Cecile learned English. She went through to high school, but like many in her generation, she was unable to complete her education as she had to work and help earn an income for the family. Her first job was as a waitress at a restaurant. “During that time, women couldn’t get jobs in offices or anything,” says Foreman. She made $1.00 for working the morning shift and $2.00 for working the evening shift as a waitress. After that, she went on to work at a paper bag factory where she made $6.00 a week. She met Sonny Block, a bondler at the bag factory, and she recalls “he was studying for a better job. He married a pretty blonde from down the road. She used to sit on the steps at lunch and help him study welding.” Later, Sonny, whose son she still knows today, taught Cecil how to weld, and she started classes after work.
World War II was a strange time, Foreman recalls. She had already lived through the Depression, but she notes “I was used to it, people didn’t have enough, it was just the way life was.” During war time, the world was changing. “We were told to be afraid,” she says, “we lived in fear. Each night we had to turn out our lights and shut the shades,” Foreman asserts. The people had been warned of potential air strikes, and advised to keep it dark, so enemies could not see from the air. She remembers “everything went to the war effort,” they could not even buy shoes, all goods and services were affected. “We were supposed to hate the Germans,” she notes, “I only knew one full-blooded German my whole life.” She met him working at the paper bag factory. “I promised to teach him French, and he promised to teach me German,” says Foreman.
But the biggest change for her, perhaps, came in the form of work. “I don’t like war time, but we were required to do what we could,” she says. Before the war, “we were only good for washing diapers,” Foreman recalls, “wartime changed people’s minds. Women could fly planes. They could shoot as straight as men.” Cecile Foreman became a welder during the war and welded gun mounts on battleships. The government offered training to women then and placed them in jobs. The position paid $42.00 a week. She had to pass a test before being interviewed by a federal official. She recalls him asking her about her recent marriage, “I wondered what that had to do with anything,” she says, “he [her husband] can’t tell me what to do.” She was placed in the shipyard to work on the battleships and “used to go to bed at night wondering if the gun mounts held.” As thousands of women entered the gate each morning, patriotic songs were playing over loud speakers, “we sang as we went to work,” she notes. Some men had “attitudes about women,” says Foreman, “but we soon blew that to pieces.”
After the war effort, Foreman settled in to her life on the farm. “Tubby was a good farmer. I was a good farmer’s wife,” she notes. They had a dairy farm for a long time, and her husband, “Tubby,” would deliver milk to the homes in the area. She recalls him often telling her he was “coffee drunk” when he finished his route. Edgar Brown used to invite him in regularly for coffee which he drank from a silver cup. Then a law was passed that changed how they delivered milk. It could no longer be delivered house to house, and a federal inspection took place once a month. The Foreman’s also had a meat market on their farm where they butchered hogs and made sausages. There was a display case for meat as well. She recalls having to help her husband through butchering each time, “I studied that too, and he couldn’t find the joint on those hogs,” she says. The meat market was also subject to federal inspection. “A woman was in the market with a cat on her lap once,” recalls Foreman, “and the inspector came in: ‘Do you know where you are?’ he asked her. ‘I do. Do you?’ she asked him.” The inspector chastised the woman for having a cat inside the market. “We aren’t born into life knowing those things,” says Foreman. She told him, “Federal Inspectors have to tell us.”
In many ways, being in the country was better than city living, according to Foreman. They grew their own food. “We raised chickens, turkeys, ducks, guineas, hogs, and beef,” she says. They saved the seed, dried out parts to make feed, “we used everything,” she says “we even used to raise peanuts and make peanut butter.” Foreman wonders how people of today would survive without many of those skills, that were essential life skills for her generation, if something like another Depression occurred.
Cecile Foreman has done a lot of teaching and learning in her lifetime. She has passed on her knowledge to her children, and even encouraged them to do more than herself. “I am afraid of horses. I wouldn’t get on one, but all of my children rode horses and learned about them,” she says. She taught her children through hard work and play. When they were little and it was time to pick peas in the garden, “we would line up down the rows, and we would each pick peas all the way down,” her daughter, Ann notes, “after we would go to the old Dairy Queen, on 10th and Park in Orange, for malts, we always looked forward to it.” Her family and children were outdoors, and worked hard, but they had fun doing it. All of her girls ride, and her oldest, Ann, loved to ride steers. Cecile also enjoyed gardening. Even though she was constantly working on the farm, she made time for her yard and keeping the plants up. When people would ask why she took the time for gardening, she would tell them, “I am just helping God keep the world beautiful.”
And while she has outlived even many of her nieces and nephews, Cecile Foreman is grateful for family, “I have been fortunate, I have had a good life, and even had relatives I liked,” she says. Many of her relatives grew up around the Orange area as well working in various positions at the courthouse and in businesses throughout the county. Family is important to her, and her children were an integral part of the family’s survival even in their youth. The girls would come home and do chores at the farm even when the boys were old enough to work after school. Ultimately, her sons took over the family business, Foreman’s Construction & Landscaping, which is still operating today. She recalls when they “were using draft horses to pull machines around in the plants to cut grass near tanks,” but that was before the invention of weed killer and various other sprays.
According to Cecile Foreman, the secret to a long and successful life is “live it to suit yourself. You can’t go wrong with that.” She further notes that “as long as you know what is right and what is wrong, you should be fine,” and .Foreman believes in teaching children right from wrong. “Some people talk to children like they aren’t people,” she says, “but they are listening, you have to remember they will be grown up.” As a child, Cecile recalls “I could whip two boy cousins, and I did, until I was taught it wasn’t girl like, and I stopped.” She also learned to trust her mother’s instinct. “Where you see a crowd of kids, you have to check it out,” she advises. “It is important to teach children what they should leave alone,” she notes as she recalls her own children gathered around a snake when they were young. “We just want it to open its eyes,” they said, and she taught them then, that if a snake is resting peacefully, “you let the snake stay peaceful.”
Foreman loves to be entertained. As a child, her brother brought her to a movie starring Tom Mix. “It was a dime to go see a western,” she recalls. In the particular film she saw with her brother, Mix, the star, is killed, “I carried on right there in the theater. My brother never took me to the movies after that,” she says. Now, she reads, watches television, spends time with her family, and takes naps. She likes to read adventure and suspense, and a little bit of history, but “anything too historical, I already lived,” she says. “She wants to be entertained,” says daughter Ann Hoffpauir.
After a century, she has likely earned it.