My Baby Cousin Rosie

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My Baby Cousin Rosie


I met Rosie when I was six, in kindergarten, and the day had finally come for “my baby cousin” to arrive. On February 7, I was dismissed and proudly walked myself down Preston St. in the Southend of Hartford to… wait a little longer. Anyone who knows Rosie has had this experience in common, but Rosie was worth waiting for and always a treat.

Rosalee Jane Boudreau inherited the cool debutant demeanor of our maternal grandmother, Sarah (Jackson) Pelgrift of Pittsburg, and the radical philosophical altruism of our maternal grandfather, Donald McElwain of Holyoke. Our strikingly beautiful Nana punctuated a lineage of American doctors and was an alumna of Mount Holyoke College where she was a theatrical star and earned a B.A. in Literature and Philosophy. Rosie was like Nana in many ways, although she may have never noticed given the effects of time and space on our perceptions of self and place. Our Pop bragged of attending Harvard University “on scholarship” despite belonging to an industrious New England family of specialty paper manufacturers and Denver entrepreneurs. He earned a B.A. in English and was a U.S. Navy ensign serving on the Pacific in World War II, but I like to think, and many times mused with Rosie, that his greatest pride was cultivating in his children and grandchildren the ability to critique society in terms lofty enough to deprecate ego too. That ability comes in handy. Rosie and her brother, Mark Boudreau Jr., spent second-holidays with my brothers, John Lavado and Travis Gervais, and me at Nana’s West Hartford home. We played under colonial oaks in cedar hideouts and wandering amongst the patrician artifacts of a life experience very different from ours.

To Rosie, the concepts of “moral” and “right” were not enacted simply to save face. She had an innate sense of justice and an indomitable will toward achieving balance regardless of how harshly it might teeter. Rosie was “there through thick and thin” for those she loved. Rosie loved unconditionally like her paternal grandmother, a gorgeous and strong matriarch, Mary (Motolla) Stiles of Hartford. Grammy was ever present through long nights of revelry with a knowing smirk and ready offer of a plate of food for each of her fourteen children, their spouses and children and every other one’s partner, friend, neighbor or stray. Rosalee collected and unconditionally loved her stray peers in high school in what I’ve always seen as a combination of her maternal and paternal traits. She carried them home to her parents’ and many of them into adulthood with her; whether or not they deserved such loyalty from her, and regardless of reciprocation.

Rosalee knew that true love and mutual adoration and respect in domestic partnership was possible. She was blessed to witness the example of everlasting love embodied by the marriage of her mother and father, Jennifer (McElwain) and Mark Boudreau. My Aunt Jenny and Uncle Mark provided a warm home and endless, unconditional proactive love to Rosie and Markie. That is a tough act to follow. My baby cousin sought to achieve the same sort of relationship with her partner of 17 years, Joshua LaVoie of East Hartford, and father of her two children, Jayson and Jasmine. Rosie left her family home in Marlborough to move to Josh’s hometown and start a life with the ultimate goal of achieving good times through hard work. She earned professional credentials and embarked on a career, strived for financial solvency, and purchased new cars and a family home before turning thirty. Rosie was amazing and knew she deserved, and could achieve, so much more from life.

Rosalee and I were pregnant at the same time with her Jayson and my Saraphina, both born in 2013. I already had Mariam by then and we compared notes in long, traditionally formatted letters dispatched through social media. She was hopeful and determined and sounded alternatingly giddy and scared. Our lives as women in these times of this place often contradicted our presuppositions about what could and should be our inheritances in life. My “niece”, Jasmine, is a peach and, like her mother, exudes effortless charisma and bestows honest affection on all. I only hope she knows no other reason in life to furrow a resentful brow than for the loss of her mother. Like too many American women, the covid-19 pandemic closures upended Rosie’s life and forced her to leave her career to stay home with her then preschool-aged children. Like most women, her partner continued working outside the home and the traditional social norms of “women’s work” burdened her alone in the home. The stresses of those times were compounded and unfortunate for us all, but most of all for Rosie, Jay Jay and Jazzy; the routines and relative stability of pre-pandemic times have been difficult to resurrect.

I visited Connecticut many times over the years from my adult homes in other states and always looked forward to meeting up with my cousin. I brag to my daughters about Auntie Rosie and her many awesome talents and she never disappointed during our too-brief visits. On a whim, she would juggle tennis balls and oranges, action figures and diving wands. Off a nudge, Rosie would jump on Uncle Mark’s drums in the basement and play effortlessly as though she were a seasoned star playing the Meadows. She was an all-round athlete at school and home in the neighborhood, and was offered a scholarship to play basketball for UConn. And when she wasn’t literally performing, she was entertaining in her way of jesting and joking about this or that, which was hardly an act but simply her endearing nature. I can hear her, chiding melodically with a light rasp in her voice before the giggles erupted and she was on to the next fun idea.

The tragedy of this time and end of her earthly life is a blip in the greater scheme. Rosalee was an optimist, competent, and bolstered by many who truly love and respect her. Alas, we must turn to her children to ensure they always know the best of their mother is already and forever part of them. And part of you, too: Bequeathed us all by our maternal Aunt, Sally McElwain of NYC, who shared a eulogy with us and a vision of the muse Rosalee Jane, an angel there beaming her effortless smile from upon the shoulder of our good side.


Lillie Lavado
March 9, 2023


Lillie and John Lavado with Baby Rosalee Boudreau