Shirley Nadeau, Maker of Memories

December 20, 2013

by Laurie Jasper

It’s safe to say that if you don’t know Hudson’s Shirley Nadeau, you know someone who does.  For over 50 years, Shirley has made Hudson her home.  While most people her age may be retired, Shirley has not even begun to slow down as she continues to do whatever she can to help people and create memories.  She loves her job at Checkers Restaurant at Alvirne High School, a position she has held since 1995.  Prior to that, she worked in Alvirne’s cafeteria.  She also loves to volunteer at many town events, such as the annual Santa Claus visit at the community center following the Library Park tree lighting event and the Hudson Historical Society’s food booth at the annual Old Home Days weekend.

Shirley (Craig) Nadeau was born on June 20, 1938, the oldest of four children to Joseph and Blanche Craig.  She had three younger brothers and grew up in Sturbridge, MA.  Shirley said her mother was “Mrs. Sturbridge.”  “My mother was busy all her life, she was a Girl Scout leader, ran a youth center, hosted many talent shows and was president of the seniors.  She was also a gifted quilter and seamstress,” recalled Shirley.

“I do remember I was always active, always working.  I had a paper route growing up for years, my brothers did, too, and when the Grange needed a piano player, I did that as well,” said Shirley.

Continued Shirley, “I remember going to high school every morning and bringing my sheet music to school and we’d play and sing in the cafeteria before school.  Can you imagine that now?”  After graduating from Tantasqua Regional High School in Sturbridge, Shirley attended St. Vincent’s Nursing School in Worcester, MA.  A nursing school classmate introduced Shirley to her cousin, Emery Nadeau.  Shirley and her (now former) husband Emery married in 1961 and she moved to the Nadeau farm in Hudson.  They have three children: Lori, Emery and Elizabeth and now six grandchildren.  While the children were growing up, Shirley worked part-time as a visiting nurse, and would later become a private duty nurse, in addition to working on the farm.  Shirley also volunteered with school and activities, such as FFA.  “Everybody in the FFA called Shirley ‘Ma,’ she was everybody’s mother.  She has always been like a second mother to me,” recalled Shawn Jasper, of his lifelong neighbor.  “There was always a big crew of kids at the Nadeau farm, we’d all pitch in and work haying and Shirley would always cook and bring us cold drinks.  We’d all have dinner then took turns doing the dishes in shifts.  She always made her house welcoming to all of us kids,” said Shawn.  “Shirley loves baseball, and I remember during the World Series, we’d all watch at her house and throw the baseball around the living room, and that was okay with Shirley, “ Shawn continued.  “Now that (her son) Emery is Alvirne’s farm manager, Shirley is always down at the farm.  The crew isn’t as big as it used to be, and we are all a lot older, but Shirley is always there when we’re haying, making sure everyone has plenty of water and drinks, thirty five years later,” Shawn said.

Son Emery Nadeau said, “My mother always has to have something to do.  She has always been a busy person.  She was always there for us, helping us as kids, and she still is.  She has weekly Sunday suppers for all of us, unless she is busy at the school, and she is at the Alvirne barn at least five afternoons a week.  She is always washing the walls and windows and sweeping.  Sometimes she feeds the calves, donkeys and sheep and gives hay to the cows and sometimes grain.  She enjoys volunteering.”

Alvirne’s principal, Steve Beals was a classmate of Shirley’s daughter, Elizabeth, and has many fond memories of Shirley through the years.  “Shirley is one of our community gems.  No matter where she is, whether it is at Checkers or the farm, she is the ‘hostess with the mostest.’  Her warmth, her caring, is good for the kids here.  She goes through the generations,” Steve said.  “Shirley is enormously proud of her family, and rightfully so.  She lights up when she talks about her family and also when she talks about her students.  She is many individual’s second mother or grandmother.  Even the farm animals are like surrogate children.  She spends so much time at Alvirne, a teacher, in the best sense of the word.  She is so gracious; she’s such a lady.  While she is incredibly patient and flexible, good manners are important to her and she teaches that to the students.  Shirley and Tim Buxton, Chef and Teacher at Checkers, complement each other well.  I love Shirley,” Steve said.

“Shirley is the welcome lady at Checkers,” said Chef Tim Buxton.  “She makes sure everyone gets what they need, she’s a grandmother to all the students.  Our students become one of ‘Shirley’s kids’ and many of them keep in touch and often return to visit.  She is such a hard worker and always likes to be busy,” Tim said.  “I used to help Shirley years ago milk the cows on Sundays, when my kids were little.  I never thought I’d have her helping me,” said Tim.  “Shirley makes every student an album when they graduate.  She also makes a scrapbook for us to keep each year, with each student’s pictures, their menus, letters of acceptance and thank you notes.  It is so nice to be able to go back and look at those books,” Tim shared.

Shirley loves to decorate for every holiday, both at home and at the restaurant.  Every person interviewed for this article mentioned Halloween and Shirley’s pumpkins.  For years, the Nadeau farm was the place to stop to see the amazing display of carved, lit pumpkins throughout the property.  Shirley explained, “I grew pumpkins in the corn field.  The seeds would go in the manure spreader and out to pasture, so we’d have more and more pumpkins every year.  We decided to carve them and display them.  It got bigger and bigger every year and we’d have pumpkins donated.  We did that for over 30 years, and I think the most ever was 325 pumpkins.”

“Christmas is my favorite holiday,” said Shirley.  Shirley loves to have her family over to celebrate, and for years, she hosted an annual children’s Christmas party for family and friends when her grandchildren were small.  In addition to a visit from Santa, the children played many different games, such as the string game, stepping stones, wrapping paper game, (and) the clothespin game.  Even though her six grandchildren have grown, they still play the games at Christmas, and Shirley still plays the piano for the annual sing-along.  “And, even though we no longer have the pumpkins, we do have the silo candy cane.  (Former husband) Emery saw the candy cane in a farm magazine one year and wanted to try it.  That was about 25 years ago,” said Shirley.  Grandson Colton Houle now takes care of the candy cane’s string of lights, replacing the special bulbs, fixing sockets and preparing the giant candy cane for display.  “It’s nice to see the tradition continue,” said Shirley.

Her oldest grandchild, Renee Boucher, is now a fourth grade teacher at Nottingham West.  “Growing up, we were always at the farm.”

Meme’, (as she is known to her grandchildren), had definitely taught me to be respectful and to be a good person.  She also stresses good manners, like no cell phones or hats at the table, always be on time, make your bed and keep your room clean,” said Renee.  “She is always helping people; it’s a part of her.  She taught us that you don’t wait to be asked, you offer to help,” added Renee.  When asked how her grandmother has influenced her teaching style, Renee said, “I hear her voice in my head sometimes when I say something to my students in class.  I stress how important it is to have good manners and be polite.  And, I have different centers, including a holiday book center, with some of those titles being ones I grew up with Meme’ reading to us.”

Checkers Restaurant is open on Tuesday through Thursday for lunch when school is in session.  Shirley will warmly welcome you, as if you are one of the family.

As Steve Beals put it so well, “Shirley keeps going and everything keeps her going.”