Monday, August 14, 2006

Les Quebecois

Just impressions today from the service, which was a nice one. And a beautiful day, too--which is so much better fixed in the mind as a way to remember my grandmother.

No personal reflections here, anyway, just impressions and context. She was buried in what my dad said used to be called the old French cemetary. There's a lot of that in my family--the 'what used to be called' game because our roots go back so far on so many sides in one area. Her family is buried there, at least on her mother's side--the Quavillions, which is how I'd always seen it spelled, but the headstone said Quarillion--so I'll have to ask my dad about that. Her father's family was the Charrons, which was her maiden name--I remember her father Raymond a bit, although her mother died when my father was little. And I'm not sure I saw a name that wasn't of French origin: Tessier, Plante, LaValley, Bergeron, and so on.

It being the old French cemetary speaks to an old bias in the Northeast against French Canadians, which has, I think pretty much receded now although it lingers in the older people. This goes back, of course, to the end of what, in the Americas, was the French and Indian War and its conclusion at Montreal, or was it Quebec City? I think Montreal was the decisive battle--it was part of a global war being fought between the French and the English, although I'm forgetting the European names of 18th century wars right now. Anyway, the French lost the war altogether, and in the settlement of territories were offered either one of the sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean or a chunk of North America. Sugar prices being what they were then, the French took the island in the Caribbean, which was incredibly short-sighted and foolish--but, eh, bien.

So they abandoned the substantial French population in Canada in the mid/late 1700s, who had been there for several generations--most of them had probably never seen France. And that's where my grandmother's people come from--France wouldn't let them repatriate and the British barely tolerated them. Which underlay the almost successful Quebec separatist movement a decade or so ago.

So my grandmother's ancestors walked across a sort of amorphous international border at some point in the 1800s and settled in what's now Keesville NY. And remained insular and French. Her father owned a general store in Burlington for a long time--she used to speak of her grandfather, Pip, who spoke no English. She ended up marrying my grandfather, non-French, and marrying out of the community. I learned French in school.

She used to say, whenever anyone was emotional, made an off-color remark, did something mischievious, talked with their hands: 'that's the French coming out in ya'. I identified with my mother's family strongly for most of my life--which is a British/Swedish mix and a tad on the repressed side. But over the last decade or so, I've come to identify more and more with my French side. Now to find out more about it.

No comments: