"I'm going to raise me a whole passel of cattle, horses and kids but not necessarily in that order." Len James started making that brag from almost the moment he arrived in Riviere Que Barre.
He was a young bachelor who arrived in the small community to claim a homestead in 1933. It was the heart of the Great Depression and most people in the area had nothing but the clothes on their back and the will to carry on until things got better.
Len was in the same boat. He lived in a small wooden shack he had built on his newly acquired land a few miles outside of town and supported himself by doing odd jobs for the more established farmers in the area. He rarely got any cash. Instead he was paid with whatever produce the farmer could afford to give him. It didn't seem to bother Len who cheerfully performed any task given to him and always had enough chicken, beef, pork and vegetables to keep him-self well fed.
My dad first met him when they were helping a local farmer with his harvest. They would often sit and talk in the shade of a tree while eating their lunch.
Since it was what was called The Dirty Thirties, the farmers had very little machinery so good work horses, like the ones my dad owned, were in great demand during harvest season. Dad also had a pair of lighter horses which were said to be the fastest in the area. He had no idea the team would soon be used to help Len steal his bride.
It was during the harvest season when Len first set his eyes on Loretta Horner. She was a pretty, buxom girl with long, black hair and she was also the daughter of the man he was working for. Every day at noon she would drive a buckboard out to the field with lunch for the harvest crew. Then she would have to sit around and wait until everyone had finished so she could gather up the dishes and take them back to the house.
My dad suddenly discovered that Len was no longer eating lunch with him. Instead Len was always eating over at the buckboard and talking to pretty Loretta. He seemed to be doing pretty well with her too, at least Loretta never complained about his presence and often seemed to take a very long time gathering up her dishes. The harvest crew caught on quickly to what was going on and began speculating about whether or not they were witnessing young love blossoming.
It wasn't long before Len and Loretta were an item in the small village.
The signs were all there and everybody thought there would soon be a wedding in the town church, especially when Len became a regular Sunday afternoon guest at the Horner farm.
However, the prediction was only partially correct. There would be a wedding all right but not like anybody expected.
The saying says "true love never runs smooth" and Len and Loretta were about to discover the full meaning of that maximum.
No sooner had the speculation about a pending wedding started than Mrs. Horner proceeded to throw up a road block for the young lovers.
She thought Loretta could do better. After all, Len was just a poor farmer still struggling to survive let alone build a proper house for her daughter. She also thought it was rather unbecoming for Len to be claiming he was now going to make good his boast of raising a bunch of horses, cattle and kids. It made her think Len was a bit too crude and vulgar for Loretta.
With this mind, Mrs. Horner cast her eye around the village for other eligible bachelors more suitable for her daughter. It landed on young James McEnro who was in the process of establishing a brand new store in the community. She quickly came to the conclusion that this was the proper man for her daughter.
James was a bit of dandy who always wore a suit, starched white shirt and tie. He liked to call himself James T. McEnro because he felt it was more distinguished. Len was just known as Len or Lenny and his daily attire of work pants, shirt and work boots paled in comparison to James' fancy clothes but Loretta didn't seem to mind.
In fact, when her mother informed her that James would become the Sunday afternoon guest instead of Len, she threw a screaming fit and refused to come out of her room until James had left.
The battle between mother and daughter went on several more months, before Loretta relented and gave into her mother's wishes. For in those days, a daughter was considered duty bound to obey her mother. There was hardly ever any thought of a proper young woman rebelling and going her own way.
So for several months James and Loretta spent Sunday afternoons together and Mrs Horner was quite pleased with her match making. James seemed like such a wonderful catch for her daughter. What she didn't know was that Loretta was still seeing Len. In fact, every moment she could get away from her mother she was spending with him.
When Mrs. Horner found out she was so furious with her daughter that she began insisting that Loretta not only stay completely away from Len, but she marry James immediately to get "anymore nonsense out of her head."
Len, frantic over the idea of losing his beloved Loretta, tried to convince her to elope with him, but she refused. She claimed she just couldn't go against her mother's wishes so Len decided he needed to take more drastic measures.
He came over to my dad's place one day and spilled out his tale of woe and then asked if he could borrow his light team of horses.
When dad asked what he intended to do, Len announced he was going to steal the bride right off the church steps on the day of her wedding.
"All you have to do, John, is to make sure your horses and a buggy are left behind the church. I'll do the rest."
My dad, always willing to help a friend in need, readily agreed and on Loretta's wedding day drove his horses up behind the church and left them there.
He then walked around to the front of the church to see what would happen next.
According to custom, the groom arrived first. James was dressed in his finest attire for the occasion. He wore a three piece suit, shiny shoes with buckles and a top hat. He barely took time to greet the well-wishers gathered outside the church before he disappeared inside.