France , of course, has been in the news lately.
What this has done has brought back memories of my year in France. It was 1995-96 and it was a teaching exchange.
If it was a trip then it was my wife Brenda’s idea. We were living in Lindsay, Ontario at the time and had two sons, ages two and four. She probably brought up the idea while I was watching the Montreal Canadiens play hockey on the t.v., when I quickly agree to anything. I never want to miss a second of the action.
“I’ve been reading up on the possibility of overseas teaching exchanges. How would you like to live a year in France ?”
This was something that had to be stamped out immediately, lest any hope be allowed to fester.
“No way.” I was adamant. Montreal had just won a Stanley Cup the year before, the team was still strong, and I had dreams of attending the next parade as Lord Stanley’s celebratory march took its usual route through the streets of downtown Montreal.
But after a second’s reflection I didn’t want to seem totally dismissive. I knew Brenda and this idea would not disappear gently into the good night. I decided to throw her a bone.
“If you want to go on an exchange, I would consider Edmonton, Alberta. Al Veltman, who I coached soccer with, went there and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
I snickered to myself. I had worked twice previously in Canada’s oil kingdom, once on construction and another winter toiling for the Hudson’s Bay Company. I had often regaled her about the brutally cold weather in that area of the world and especially about the short winter days.
She said nothing but moved away from blocking the t.v. and I was left in peace. Another bullet dodged.
Two weeks later I was bouncing my two year old son Adam on my chest. Brenda must have figured that it was best to deliver the news while I was lying down.
“I just got a letter from the Ontario Teachers’ Exchange Society. They have a likely candidate for us in Nimes, France.”
Adam stopped bouncing. The universe must have sent him the vibe that I was about to explode.
“There’s no way. Jesus Christ.”
As usual my wife was not intimidated. “Nimes is in the south of France, just on the edge of Provence.”
Young as he was, Adam already knew who would win this encounter. Just the day before, as I was driving him home from daycare, I announced that he wouldn’t be able to watch his favourite show, ‘Dark -Winged Duck,’ as he had to go down for an early nap.
Adam was unimpressed. He took his thumb out of his mouth and voiced his rebuttal. “I’m going to tell Mum that you were trying to boss me around.”
Two months later all the plans were made. The French exchange family would trade jobs, homes and cars with us for the year. I asked, but wives were not included. We had been advised not to exchange cars by the Ontario Exchange Federation. “It never turns out well. For instance, there is usually a discrepancy in the value and the condition of the vehicles. If something major breaks down, who pays for it, for instance ?” Good point, but both sides figured there were enough logistics to iron out without having to buy a new car in a foreign country as well. An 850 c.c Honda scooter would also be available for me to take to school, leaving the Peugeot Cinq for Brenda and the kids. Brenda would not be teaching, leaving that pleasure up to me. The French couple’s names were Philippe and Annie and they had an eleven year old son named Bruno. I would be teaching English in a lycee, a technical high school, which included Grades 10, 11 and twelve and two years of college. The school specialized in electronics technology.
“Jeezus murphy. Will I be expected to teach that too?” I asked Brenda. “All I can do is change a lightbulb.”
We were packed up and ready to go on August 10, 1995. At least Brenda was excited. The boys, still aged two and four, didn’t really know what was going on. To be frank, neither did I.
“At least the winters in Provence should be milder than those ones in Edmonton,” I said to myself as I put the car in gear and started towards the Toronto Airport. (to be continued.)