Joe Boudreau lights up like a Christmas tree when he recalls duck hunting years ago with his old friend and outdoors writer Gene Letourneau.

“We did a lot of things together; as a matter of fact, we duck hunted every fall for years.”

That memory makes Boudreau, 91, leap out of his armchair and go into the next room.

“Oh, my God, I’ve got to show you something,” he says. “You hang on a minute.”

He comes out with a trophy. It’s brown with a gold dog on the top and it says, “President’s Trophy, 1975, Molly J. Boudreau.”

“I had really good dogs. Molly was unbelievable and she died of cancer the same year my first wife died. I even went to a show at the airport to show what this dog could do. I had a person hide a pigeon, shackled, in the field. The man went in the field and hit the bird, but not in a straight line. The dog could smell where he went. I sent Molly to get that bird and she got it; and to show people that the dog never hurt a bird, I unshackled the bird and let him just fly off.”

“Molly was 8 when she died. She was so gentle that it was to a fault, and she was 100 percent obedient. If she was in the field, 100 yards away, and I whistled, she’d turn around and look at me; and if I said to go in a certain direction, she would turn. She was very, very obedient. Never could I get another dog like that.”

Boudreau, a slight, energetic man with sharp eyes and gray hair combed straight back, tells me the story of Molly in his living room on Gilmore Street in Waterville, where he has lived 30-plus years. His life has been very full — so much so that even he wonders how he did everything he did.

He and his wife, Theresa Roy Boudreau, raised 11 children before she died of a heart attack in 1982 at age 56. He worked many years on the Maine Central Railroad and worked construction and other jobs to support his family, all the while teaching them to hunt deer, moose and birds. He also taught them to fish, smelt, dig clams, catch lobster, pick mussels and fiddleheads, build canoes, raise pigs and train dogs, among other things.

According to his son Don, he was always turning work into play and the family did everything in the great outdoors, including tending to four large gardens that supplied them with all the food they needed in the long, cold winters.

Don nominated his father for a 2015 Lifetime Outdoor Achievement Award from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and he was chosen for the accolade. The award was given to Boudreau on Sept. 12 at the Waterville Elks Lodge, where he has been a member 44 years.

“I never expected this,” he said. “As a matter of fact, all my kids knew about it and they kept it a secret. Oh, there were a whole lot of people there — between 400 and 500. The whole hall upstairs was full and there was hardly a spot left.”

Boudreau tells lots of stories about outdoor adventures with his children during the couple of hours I spend with him in his impeccably neat home, where he cooks, cleans and does his own laundry.

“I’m in good shape,” he says. “I go to the Planet Fitness as often as I can. Usually it’s three times a week, but lately I haven’t been going because I’m too damned busy.”

A large basket on his kitchen table, full of apples, is evidence of some of that work. Boudreau has an orchard on his son Mark’s land in Freedom, where he spends a lot of time — lately picking apples.

He opens a door off the kitchen and, in a chilly bedroom, boxes of apples cover a bed. There are all kinds, including McIntosh, golden delicious and Cortlands.

“During the last month, I must have picked at least 25 bushels of apples and I gave them to everyone who wants some,” he says.

Boudreau’s son Jimmy died of a heart attack at age 47 and always wanted to have an apple orchard, he said.

“When I planted that orchard, we made a sign that said in memory of Jimmy Boudreau and we called it Field of Dreams, and that sign is there today.”

Subsisting off the Earth’s fertile soil has been a lifelong practice for Boudreau, who attributes good food and exercise to the reason he is healthy and active at 91. He leads me down to a cold room in his cellar that is lined with shelves of butternut, buttercup and acorn squash, as well as vegetables he has grown, canned and labeled. There are beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickled beets, zucchini, cauliflower, onions, peppers and other vegetables, as well as a bin of potatoes.

“I loved growing stuff. I’ve grown everything that I could think of, and plenty of it.”

Born in the town of Maria, on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Boudreau grew up with two brothers and six sisters. When he was about 10 and had no school for the day, he would watch his father and others work on the railroad, and that is where he learned many of his skills. The family lived many years in New Richmond.

“It was a good life. It was a very good life. When I was 12 and 13 years old in my hometown, I owned a trap. I used to trap muskrats and minks and the government would buy it all to make the fur collars on the fliers’ jackets; and in those days, my father would earn $3.50 a day, and if I caught two muskrats a day, I made more money than he did.”

He loved the ocean near his home and smiles warmly when he remembers being by the water.

“I have a picture when I was 4 and my mother was clam digging and I’m playing in the mud next to her. There were clams galore, you know, so my father would ask my mother, ‘Do you think you could go dig a few clams? I’d like some clams for supper.’ Well, there was no problem.”

Boudreau served in the Canadian army and spent a year in a military hospital in Quebec City after he and other soldiers fell into an icy river in winter. Some of them contracted pneumonia and pleurisy and were at risk of getting tuberculosis, he said.

He eventually got a job at the Canadian National Railroad, where he was a trainman, brakeman and flagman. He moved to Waterville in 1952 and married Theresa Roy and got hired at Maine Central Railroad, where he worked as a brakeman, flagman and yardmaster and earned the name Canadian Ace because he was so adept at solving difficult problems.

“I had on my crews some very good men — the best you can find.”

He delights in telling tales about writing and selling a cookbook; having a lobster boat in Southport; traveling all over the U.S. and Canada with his second wife, Pauline Couture, who died in 2013; and taking fishing trips with his children and teaching them how to paint, repair things and put a roof on a house. He is especially proud of his children, whom he names one by one and describes in detail. Besides Don, Mark and Jimmy, who died, there are Paul, Ronnie, Jerry, Jeanne, David, Julie, Daniel and Sue. He also has 46 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“There isn’t anything that my kids wouldn’t do for me. They always tell me, ‘Dad, whatever you need, just mention.’ They had a real good mother and she was really a family woman because she loved children, and my second wife was also a very good mother.”

When he got his surprise Lifetime Outdoor Achievement Award last month, he was asked to give a speech. He had nothing prepared.

“I had to say something. I told the whole audience over there, I said, ‘You know, I consider myself one of the most fortunate men in the world because you look at what I have. I had two beautiful wives and 11 children and everyone treats me like a king; and now that I’m 91 years old, I’m very active but they keep an eye on me.’ So that’s been my life.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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