LEWISTON — To say that Jean Cloutier enjoys the company of children might be a touch of understatement.
She drove a school bus for 24 years, did Cloutier, and that’s on top of the 14 years she spent as an education technician at the high school. She raised four kids of her own, too, and now has a bunch of grandchildren and a great-grandchild 14 months old.
On Friday night at St. Mary’s Residences, Cloutier was quite at ease with the small army of Junior Nordiques running to and fro in a frenzy of Christmas spirit.
“Kids have been my life,” Cloutier says, as a girl of 5 comes by to add potato chips to her paper plate. “We all like having the younger kids around here. It’s good for us.”
Ruth Michaud hears that. The 78-year-old has been living in the St. Mary’s home for two years. She looks forward to Christmas specifically because it means children will come to celebrate the holidays.
“We love to have them around,” says Michaud. “We don’t get to see children very often.”
“And the kids are very polite,” agrees Armand Fournier, a three-year resident of St. Mary’s. “They’re fun.”
Each December, the young hockey players head to the Campus Avenue home to mingle with the old folks. It’s become a tradition enjoyed by both the children and the men and women of advanced age.
“It’s really fun to come here,” says 13-year-old hockey player Brady Corson. “I’ve been running around giving people drinks and food. The people here are really nice to us.”
All across the wide room, children as young as 4 are sitting down at tables with the residents of St. Mary’s — some of them closing in on 100 years old. At one table, it’s a classic game of Clue. At another, it’s Yahtzee.
At a table in the middle of the room, 88-year-old Irene St. Denis is engaged in a battle of Connect 4 with 10-year-old Gavin Corson. When Gavin wins the game, successfully lining up four colored checkers, he has to alert St. Denis that the contest is over. She shrugs it off with good humor.
“I’m having fun with my little friend,” says St. Denis. “I’ve never played this game before. He’s really quite good at it.”
The gathering of old and young is in large part thanks to Erika Moore, a hockey mom who, with the help of other parents, helps bring it all together year after year.
“For them to come here on a Friday night, with all of the other commitments they have, it’s really special,” says Larry Morin, director of the home. “The kids bring food and snacks. They play games and they fool around a little. It’s social time. I think it’s wonderful. It’s a real treat for us.”
St. Mary’s Residences is an independent senior living facility with 128 private apartments for the elderly and handicapped. Don’t go thinking of it as a solemn place where Christmas is the only event that warrants celebration. The men and women of St. Mary’s stay quite active.
“Oh, my gosh,” says Cloutier. “We have party after party around here.”
But the gathering with the Junior Nordiques (Junior Pirates in recent years) is particularly cherished because of the presence of the kids. The children are invigorating, almost every resident agrees. They bring renewed energy to the place.
“We love them,” says 89-year-old Cecile Paradis. “We look forward to this every year.”
Dolores Bilodeau, 91, makes it through another round of Jenga while playing the game with Evan Greaton, second from left, Braeden Gagnon, standing, and Eli Gosselin at St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston on Friday. Greaton, 12, Gagnon, 11, and Gosselin, 11, all play hockey for the L/A Nordiques youth program. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Gavin Corson, 10, of Greene plays Connect 4 with Irene St. Denis, 88, at St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston on Friday. Corson plays hockey for the L/A Nordiques youth program. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Ruth Michaud, 78, gives L/A Nordiques youth hockey player Camden Plourde, 9, a hug while playing ZERO at St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston on Friday. Michaud died her hair pink to celebrate her niece, Rebecca Papsis, being declared cancer-free. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)