2018-07-19 / Editorial

Celebrate Franco music with Josée Vachon

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by Melanie Taylor Coombs

My mom is an amazing cook. As children, my siblings and I were almost always greeted by homemade confections when we returned home from school. Some of our favorites were Mrs. Dumont’s Chocolate Cake, Mrs. Bougie Cookies and Mrs. L’Heureux’s Whoopie Pies. Often, I time visits to my parent’s house to coincide with dinner: meat, starch, two vegetables (orange and green), salad, bread and dessert. I’m pretty sure she’s onto me, but it is nice to have a great, well-rounded, two-vegetable meal.

It was not until I was a young adult that I realized having delightful home baked goods named for the Franco-American was not the norm at my classmate’s homes. My childhood friends always had Oreos, but never Mrs. Bougie Cookies. I can’t recall my friends having Friday night crepe night and pâté chinois. At Christmas we had tourtiere and sometimes Bûche de Noël and we all walked to Mass together.

When I was about 8 years old, my mom sent me out with a cookie sheet in a snowstorm and told me to get “clean snow” and pack it firmly in the pan. It was fun carefully taking snow from the rails of our back porch and pinching it firmly into the corners of the pan. Somewhere in the kitchen was a collection of thoroughly cleaned Popsicle sticks stowed in a plastic sandwich bag for craft projects. My mom came out carrying a boiling pot of maple syrup and my older sister was carrying the bag of sticks. My brother and I were told to stand away from the sticky goo as she poured it in lines on the packed snow. Then she rolled the taffy on the Popsicle sticks and gave us each one. That was my first experience with tire d’érable.

As children we often walked into a room and my mom and grandmother would switch into French. I may have understood, if only I had listened to Mrs. Auger and Mr. DePas, my French teachers. The only phrase I clearly remember is, “Mademoiselle Taylor, fermez la bouche.”

When my Nana was still alive she asked me to bring back some Oka cheese from a trip to Montreal. Halfway into a five-hour trip my companion and I stopped the car, wrapped the stinky cheese in multiple layers of plastic bags and placed it in the trunk. The car smelled for weeks. Apparently, the real Oka cheese from Canada was far tastier than the American counterpart. I can attest to the fact that it was smellier.

My Franco roots are part of my heritage. Those memories, no pun intended, are some of my sweetest memories. Memories I will always cherish. Often I wish I had taken the time to embrace this part of my ancestry. I wish I hard learned French – if only to understand what my mom and nana were saying.

Last year a co-worker introduced me to the music of Josée Vachon. Born in Québec and raised in Maine, Josée Vachon has been sharing her Franco-American upbringing for more than 25 years through traditional and contemporary folksongs from Québec and Acadia and through her own compositions. It will be a great opportunity for our community to get together and enjoy some fantastic Franco music.

We are extremely fortunate to have Josée Vachon visiting McArthur Library at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 22 to perform. While there will not be any tire d’érable, there will be plenty of toe tapping and singing along. Please join us for this free performance. Space is limited.

And, don’t forget, Louise Penny’s Quebecoise series continues with book 14, “Kingdom of the Blind” due this fall. The series begins with “Still Life.”

Melanie Taylor Coombs is adult services supervisor/ librarian at McArthur Public Library in Biddeford.

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