My interest in French started in high school, where French was the only foreign language offered. Our teacher was Mrs. Harold (Kay) Wilson, who had previously also taught Latin. By the third year our French classes were conducted all in the language and we had fun. We had a French Club which put on a French banquet, well, at least in the menu items and in spirit, if not in fact. It was held at the Evans’ Hotel in one of their small dining rooms, used by such groups. We had no illusions it was actually a French meal, but we did what we could in small town western South Dakota.
The summer between junior and senior years of high school, I joined with the organization “Youth for Understanding,” to venture across the pond for a six week stay in a French family’s home. The Fallot family consisted of a sister my age, a brother a year older, the father “Papa,” and the mother, “Maman.” All except Maman spoke English, though I think she understood a lot.
The first week I was there my sister spoke in French then in English, if necessary. After that week, she said no more English from her, which was fine with me. I only remember two other times, near emergencies, any of them used English, just to leave no doubt that I understood. My French brother played guitar and one day he sang, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and told me he wrote it. Since I had never heard it before, I believed him. Sorry, Fred Rose!
The family owned and lived on a 20-acre amusement park in a small village, Coremeilles-en-Vexin, three miles from Pontoise and 45 miles from Paris. Except for a small train that had a track which circled the park, all of the kinetic amusements were manually driven and hand built by Papa, the brother, and a worker, who was Spanish.
The worker had a 5-year-old daughter who spoke Spanish and French. She taught me a little ditty in French which included hand gestures, which I recognized as “Peas Porridge Hot.” The words were different even when translated into English, but it was the same sing-songy tune. The first line was, “Here is my right hand, here is my left,” but when translated it doesn’t fit the song.
The Fallots were Protestant, though my sister was the only one who attended church. We would board the bus in Cormeilles and when descending in Pontoise, run to the church to make it on time. That was the one and only time I encountered Protestant nuns, who wore brown habits. I didn’t even know such things existed.
Typically, the French take two to four weeks of vacation in August. My French family’s busy time was summer and Papa apologized to me that we wouldn’t be going on vacation. I told him that as a farm girl, I wasn’t accustomed to a summer vacation anyway. Several years later when he and Maman came to visit us in South Dakota, I think he finally understood that we really didn’t travel from the farm in summer.
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