Ave Lantier's 100th


Ave Maria Lantier's 100th Birthday

“She wasn’t always easy, but she was always Ave.”


O.k. I can’t kid you. Anon didn’t really say that. Honestly, no one actually spoke that quote. I woke up with it in my head this morning. Rather, I JUMPED out of bed when it hit me. I was looking for an intro to this piece and this was the truest thing I could think of to say about her, apart from all the facts below. Or maybe TRUER than all the facts below, because History is a slippery thing. It pretends to be the absolute truth, when really, it is often more about the historian than the person or event being written about. Once you add interpretation and analysis to the chosen “facts”, History becomes a vehicle to support the writer’s story. i.e it is his story.

In this case, it’s my story, but it’s all about her story. So here goes. Ahem. I first met Ave in, well... I can’t really remember. Mainly because I was an amoebic blob – a very cute amoebic blob, mind you – that sprang up accidentally in the primordial seas of her womb. Once out into the world, my relationship with Ave was not always easy. Actually it was rarely easy, but I’m sure of one thing: she always loved me to the best of her ability. It wasn’t always unconditional love. Actually, it was rarely unconditional love, but I know I always mattered to her. Every day. And so did her other three offspring. We really mattered. Like strawberries matter to strawberry jam.

Now the curtain rises, or the film dissolves slowly to black and white, or the leaves fall from the... No, let’s stick with the film dissolve. Add some blurry, wavy lines, bring up the nostalgic music, and ......

Ave Maria Lantier was born November 8, 1908. She was the daughter of Estelle Branche and Frederick Lantier.

‘Stell came from a family of 16, (12 of whom are shown here) ...

...and Fred a mere 8. Pictured here are Captain Ozee Lantier and his wife Margaret Duford with their grown children. Hold on. Since this history is about a woman, let’s make that Margaret Duford and her husband, Captain Ozee Lantier.

When they were married, Fred was 35 and 'Stell 22. By the time Ave Maria, their 3rd child, came along, they were 40 and 27. Living on a farm in LaFargeville, N.Y. the Lantiers, as I see it, were a kind of two-stage family. During the first stage - the fifteen years between 1903 and ‘18 - this handsome, cutting edge farmer and his beautiful young wife and six daughters must have been quite a story in this tiny Catholic community. The parish priest would sometimes come out and say Mass at their farm on Black Creek Road.

Look closely at this photo of the “first phase” of the Lantier family circa 1916. Inspecting the dates and knowing that there are three boys yet to come, reveals a heart-wrenching story. Note Bertha’s hand around Ave’s shoulder.

Think about it: births in 1903, 06, 08, 11, 12, and 14. That’s one productive farmer. But, things began to change when little Ave was around 10. In 1918, she got a new baby brother, John, and a year later her little sister, Paula, died suddenly at the age of eight. In 1920 and ‘21, two more little brothers, Ralph and Fred Jr. arrived. Then, in 1924, when Ave was 16, when the family must have just been getting used to a new equilibrium, tragedy hit again. Twice. Ave’s 18 year old sister Bertha (the one with her arm around Ave above) died, and less than a year later she lost her eldest sister Julie (22).

The relative peace and stability of her first ten years must have seemed like a distant dream to 17-year-old Ave, and the very ground underfoot must have felt untrustworthy. Perhaps she wondered why it was she who was chosen to survive, or if indeed, she might be next. Of this I have no doubt: Ave learned the true fragility of life at a tender age. By 1925, the cozy group of six sisters had now become a weathered family of three girls - Ave, suddenly the eldest at 17, Mary, 13 and Grace, 11 - and three boys - John, 7, Ralph, 5, and Freddie, 4.

In this somehow appropriately hazy shot, Ave stands next to her beloved, albeit lame horse, Molly. Grace sits atop Molly, and little Ralph, John and Fred Jr. stand by. Fred looks to be about 3, so I would hazard a guess that this is 1924 and Ave is about 16. These were difficult days. The smiles on these faces are a tribute to the human spirit.


LaFargeville H.S. Graduating class of 1926.

However...onward and upward. A year later, 1926, Ave graduated from LaFargeville High School. By 1931, she had completed 3 years at Potsdam Normal School, attaining a Permanent Certificate in “Elementary-Grammar Grades / Jr. H.S. English” according to her own handwritten chart.

Ave’s chart of her education experience, written circa 1938.

Also, according to the chart, she taught at the “Rural School” until 1933. (I have heard from my cousin Peggy, John’s daughter, that Ave’s younger brothers were students there at the time.)

Ave labeled this photo: “Ave’s first school. Beech Ridge.” That’s her 5th from the left. Imagine trying to control this motley crew in a one-room school. On the internet, I have found a Beech Ridge Cemetery very near LaFargeville and I presume this was the location of that “Rural School.”

In ‘34, Ave moved on to Alexandria Bay High School as Librarian, also teaching English and “Design and Representation”. I take it that means Art. (Ave was a talented “designer and representer”, and would pick up oil painting in her fifties.) She also lists 1934 as the year she studied History at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. about 50 miles N.E. of LaFargeville, as well as attending summer school in Art and Education at Northwestern University in Chicago. What an eye-opening adventure that must have been for this smaller-then-small-town-girl of 26. In 1937, at age 29, she spent a year at Syracuse University earning Permanent Certification in Library Science.

Around this time, education in hand and ready to continue taking on the world, Ave met a man. A younger man. This man was not, unfortunately, Papa Fred’s idea of an ideal prospect.

An Italian boy living in the touristy St. Lawrence River village of Clayton, 6 years Ave’s junior, Albert Natali was not the match Fred Lantier, a staunch French farmer, had been imagining for his precious and beloved eldest daughter. Al was one of the 11 children of Maria Tozzi and Luigi Natali, an immigrant employee of the New York Central Railroad. Both were from the Frosinone area just south of Rome.

On June 25, 1938, Ave (30) married Albert (24). Papa Fred did not attend. Ave was obviously defiant, resolved, crazy in love, and heartsick all at the same time. Her brother John and sisters Mary and Grace did attend the wedding. I do not know who else did or did not come, but from the photos we have, it looks like it was a small but happy affair.

Left: The wedding party: brother John Lantier, cousin Marie Branche Coon, Al & Ave. Right: Bert Lambert, married just a year previously to Ave’s younger sister, Mary, throws the rice.

Ave and youngest sister, Grace.


The two following items pose some interesting questions:

Exhibit A: March, 1938. A teacher's contract wherein Ave promises to teach in Alexandria Bay for the next 40 weeks. (for a whopping $1425 per year, by the way!)

Exhibit B: November, 1938, Ave resigns and heads to Rochester. Her wedding had taken place 4 and1/2 months earlier. These must have been times of high drama in the life of Ave Lantier! Add to that the fact that they would become proud parents on March 15 of the following year, and well, I don’t know. You do the math. This is one part of the story upon which this historian will not speculate. There are just too many interesting possibilities. (Besides, Ave would KILL me!) They were times of high drama, though, to be sure.


The many faces of young Ave:

On a picnic with sisters Mary (left) and Grace (centre)


She and Al would spend more than 50 years together, raising a daughter (Mary Angela, 1939) and three sons (Peter John, 1940, Albert Steven, 1945 and Louis Frederick, 1950). Papa Fred eventually came around to accepting, and even approving of, his daughter’s choice.

Ave with Mary Angela, circa 1939.

A frame from our home movies. In the fall of 1949, only months before his death, Grampa Fred visited Turkey Town. L to R: Helen Natali Delaney, George Delaney with distressed turkey, Ave (pregnant with Louis), Steve Natale and Fred Lantier.

An interesting sidebar: Ave used to tell the story about the night of January 6, 1950. She was in Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, recuperating from the birth of her 4th child, Louis, the day before. She was awakened in the middle of the night, startled by a presence in the room. But it turned out to be her father. Fred came to the foot of her bed, removed his hat, sat down and smiled at her. "I just came to say goodnight," he said. Ave thought this a bit strange, but smiled and drifted back to sleep. In the morning she was awakened by a nurse bearing the news that her father had passed away during the night in hospital in Ogdensburg; over 200 miles away.


A picture worth several thousand words: Mary, Peter, Steve and Louis at Turkey Town, circa 1954.

The same crew a mere 5 years later.

Ave & Al moved to Rochester, and soon after relocated to the nearby small town of Macedon. By the late nineteen-forties, a turkey farm and Turkey Town Restaurant were well underway. I recall my father claiming that the whole idea for the restaurant was “based on Mom’s turkey dinners.” Ahh, the American dream. The restaurant was a huge success and they eventually sold it around 1962.

Ave worked in the restaurant as well as raising the children. All that education did not go to waste. Besides organizing the kitchen and advising in the logistics of running the operation, she used her artistic skills to design the logo.

A scan of Ave's Turkey Town placemat design.

She eventually returned to teaching in 1960. Apparently, her youngest was on the brink of delinquency at the local Macedon Grammar School, and Ave was restless to get back to her teaching. So, she decided to kill two birds with one stone and take a position as Grade 3 teacher at St. Michael’s School in Newark, N.Y., taking Louis along with her to attend Grade 5. The nuns would whip him into shape.

Ave’s class picture from St. Michael’s School, Newark, N.Y. She taught in Newark until Louis finished Grade 8, and then moved on to a position at another Catholic School in Perrington for several more years. Louis went on to McQuaid Jesuit H.S. Mission accomplished (for the moment, anyway).

Ave and Al with the extended family, circa 1975. 11 of the 14 grandchildren are pictured.

Eventually, Al and Ave bought or built homes in Clayton and Florida, in addition to their main residence in Macedon, splitting their time between the three. Around 1970, when Ave was in her early sixties, they sold their Macedon home and became true snowbirds, traveling seasonally between Clayton and Florida.

Little brother Ralph Lantier, his wife Madeline, Ave, Al and youngest brother Fred Lantier at the place on the hill in Clayton.

“Aww, c'mon now! Whaddya think you’re doing taking my picture, Mr. Smartypants?” Ave in her Florida kitchen. Christmas 1983


In 1984, tragedy struck once more. Al & Ave’s first born, Mary Angela, was killed in a freak car accident. I can only imagine Ave’s horror as the echoes rang loudly from across the decades to reawaken her deepest grief. Paula, Bertha, then Julie; and now Mary.

That she did not crumple and disintegrate right then and there is a testament to her stubborn strength and her faith in life. That she would survive another 9 years to the death of her lifelong partner in 1993, and an additional ten after, is pretty well a miracle.

June, 1988. Their 50th wedding anniversary.

1985, Florida

1988, Clayton

It is a little known fact that Ave could touch the tip of her nose with her tongue. An even lesser known fact, yet no less historically accurate, is that her youngest grandchild, Hannah, inherited that talent, as is demonstrated here in 1996.

Her last decade was spent in a home in Binghamton, N.Y. where her son Steve and his wife Debbie took on the task of looking after her.

Ave Maria Lantier Natale found her final rest on November 2, 2003, just 5 days before her 95th birthday. We do miss her.

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