“I will eviscerate you in fiction”
Brian Helgeland, A Knight’s Take: The Shooting Script
She was a dark-haired, dark-eyed little girl who grew up desperately poor on the wrong side of the tracks in an Acadian enclave of New Brunswick, Canada, surrounded by English speakers.
The Catholic church in her area was run by English-speaking priests and nuns who ruled with a cruel and iron fist. Her mother and father were repeatedly bullied into bringing as many babies into a household where there was already precious little to go around. Any defection from the strict guidelines of the church – they were informed – would be announced to the congregation at the next mass, and then they would be excommunicated forthwith. Poor and Illiterate, it would not have occurred to them to question such authority. A number of the mandatory babies they made, died: some during difficult pregnancies; some in childbirth; some a little later on so; there were not as many mouths to feed as there could have been. Nonetheless, from an early age, like all her siblings, she became an expert at foraging the nearby fields and forest for food.
Until it was time for her to go to school, she spoke only French at home. When she walked into the one-room schoolhouse at the end of her long driveway, she knew only a few words in English that her Papa – who worked at the Fraser Mill just up the road – had taught her, knowing English was the only language that would ensure his children a decent job. She entered grade one timid and afraid. At such a tender age, she had already learned that authority figures in her community were to be feared and obeyed. Her fears would turn out to be well founded: on her first day in school, she watched in horror as the stern teacher slapped a leather strap across the young, sensitive open hands of the children who dared to mispronounce a word in English.
“It’s pronounced ‘three’; not ‘tree’!” he hissed through gritted teeth as he flourished the strap and meted out the punishment for being born speaking the wrong language.
Her English pronunciation was perfect by the time she was ten years old. The grammar took slightly longer, but by age fifteen, no one could even tell that she had been born to the wrong people.
When she grew up and married a nice English protestant man (a story in itself) there was no question of teaching her own daughters to speak French. They grew up with just one language (but the ‘right’ language) and no way of communicating with their unilingual francophone Grammy.
Her eldest daughter – who would only understand many decades later how hard that time in her province’s history had been – would grow up resenting her mother for withholding a language that should have been her children’s birthright. Her daughter couldn’t know that the last thing her mother wanted was for her girls to speak the worthless language which had been so callously and pointedly punished out of her.
Her daughter would get some small revenge though; she would fight her way into the language that had been withheld from her at birth and she would ensure that her own children grew up perfectly bilingual, and proud of their heritage.
The grandchildren’s French-speaking great-grandmother would live – just barely – to see this happen.
A small but very important victory…
It’s okay, Mom. I don’t resent you for this anymore. I finally get it…
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com
5 thoughts on “Insignificant Little French Acadian Girl”
We have a long way to go before we truly embrace greater diversity in a way that we respect other cultures a equally valid and valued as our own.
This is what underscores the issue with the way fossil fuel companies and government treat Canada’s indigenous people.
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Oh I do know that… 😔 Mom is in the early stages of dementia and often refers to past painful experiences I never knew that much about, as her long-term memory is now so much clearer than her short-term memory. Hearing of her early experiences has been a sad reminder of what our Indigenous people have endured, which I know is fine far, far worse…
Learning another side of your mother must increase your appreciation of who she is. A gift with a not so pleasant taste.
I’m starting to see another dimension of who my mother is. She’s 92 and has been hospitalized since mid December. Only home for 3 days before being readmitted. Short term memory loss and the confusion that comes with that. Yet positive and determined to recover.
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Oh I am sorry to hear that… but glad for her positivity… there is a healing that happens for those of us who get to parent our parents. I hope your journey brings some gentle healing to you…🙏💕
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