Lulu Cairns (1888-1975) was my father’s beloved grandmother. She was born in Bedford, Quebec, Canada to Samuel Robert Cairns (1825-1891) and Helen Maria Nason (1863-1912).
She married my great-grandfather John Prescott “Jack” Forrest (1884-??) in 1912 when she was 24 years old. He was the first of her four husbands. They had three girls [Mildred Jean, Helen Duff, Elizabeth Cairns] and a boy [John Prescott Jr.]. As my father will explain below, family legend says that Lulu ran around with other men, which drove her husband to drink. She then divorced him for drinking. I suspect that is only partly true since several Forrest family members of that generation had alcohol problems. There are also rumors of my grandfather John having gambling issues. As far as anyone knows, once he left the family (sometime between 1923 and 1930), nobody heard from him again. In fact, we have no idea where he died or when. I only know it was after 1942.
Lulu was quite a character, but by all accounts an incredible grandmother. “Just… the best grandmother a boy could ever want”, according to my father.
I’m sure this will be only the first of many entries about Lulu, but I wanted to get this part down while I was thinking about my father’s stories. Here he is talking about his grandmother, Lulu:
Lulu was married four times. Her first husband was John Forrest, who became some kind of high executive in the Remington Rand Corporation. He came from a prestigious academic family from Halifax, Nova Scotia. His father, John Forrest, was the president of Dalhousie University. According to my mother, Jean Thomas, Lulu had many affairs while married to John Forrest. This drove him to drink. She then divorced him because he drank. I don’t think she ever saw him again, and he died of alcoholism.After divorcing John Forrest she married Lou Whitney who died and left her a considerable fortune which she promptly blew through. She then married William O. Bailey who also died.My grandmother was death on alcohol. Her third husband Bill Bailey loved to have a nip now and then and he’d keep a bottle out in his woodshed to hide it from her so she wouldn’t find out. The funny thing is that later in life Lulu discovered Southern Comfort. And so when she’d come to visit us my parents would buy her a bottle of Southern Comfort so she could drink it. I think she drank Southern Comfort and Coke.
Finally in 1955 she married Andrew Coutemarsh, a widower whom she had known for many years, perhaps since childhood. He managed to outlive her by a short period.Lulu and her fourth husband Andrew Coutermarsh just loved this apartment that they moved into. They said… this was like oh, late May or early June… they said, “it’s so nice to sit in the apartment and we open up the windows and let the breeze flow through here in the evenings and it’s just so comfortable”. My cousin Ray [Forrest] happened to be over there about this time and he looked and the storm windows were still on the place! So they all went to the window and were imagining this breeze. He says he was wondering why it was always so Goddamn hot when he went over there. I never heard if he told them about the storm windows being on or not.I happened to be home and I can’t remember if it was the year I was divorced or the year after [abt 1973]. It was one of these things every time I go home my mother would say, “You know you really ought to go see your grandmother. We don’t know how much longer she’s going to be with us, you ought to see her while she’s still here.” So we went down to visit her and I think I had been to one of my class reunions or something so I was pretty hung over the next morning. While my parents were in talking to Lulu and her husband I went out and took a nap in the back seat of the car and I’m snoozing away out there and all of a sudden there’s this horrendous goddamned explosion and it turns out that just up the street from my grandmother’s place, there was a hot water heat explosion in this house! And this hot water went off in the basement and it lifted the entire house off its foundation and dropped it back down again at an angle. And everything that was in the house got blown out through the windows. There’s furniture out on the lawn, there’s curtains that are torn out there, and the hot water heater went through the first floor and the second floor and finally it was stopped by the roof. And fortunately nobody was home, they were off on a camping trip but they had left the dog behind and he was chained up in the backyard. They said the dog hid underneath their garage for 10 days without coming out. <laughs>“I remember that explosion. I was the first person there. It’s hard to describe what the inside looked like. The outside of the house looked normal except for glass and curtains blow all over the lawn. What a miracle nobody was home! It looked like you took the room in giant hands and just shook it up.” – John Burrell via emailLulu never became a US citizen. All of her husbands were US citizens so apparently she got a little break in that department by marrying an American.
When she got older, she and Andrew lived in a county home, kind of an assisted living thing run by the county. Andrew had this heavy New Hampshire accent. It was so heavy that you would probably have trouble understanding him if he spoke. I understood him because I was from up there, but anyone else would have been lost.
Towards the end they fought a lot and they were finally separated and they didn’t live together in the same room but at the time when they were getting along they were both in the same room. And the high point of Andrew’s week was Sunday morning breakfast. He looked forward to that all week long, and then he gets up on Sunday morning and he starts looking for his false teeth so he can go down and eat breakfast. He can’t find his teeth. All he can find is my grandmother’s teeth that are on the dresser. So finally he decides, well, he’ll just go down without his teeth and gum his breakfast to death. Later that morning he came up from breakfast and discovers that my grandmother is wearing his teeth!
Photos courtesy of John Burrell, Pamela Burrell Antoni, and Tom Forrest.