Sunday, June 11, 2023

Lafayette Girls, from France to the US, part 1

 At our ancestral castle of Chavaniac-La Fayette, Maman was hosting an apéritif for the municipal council because our village's city hall is too small. Papa got a smile from the Mayor and, "Bonjour Monsieur le marquis." 

There was champagne and plenty of compliments for me, Marie-Jeanne, the young lady of the house. After my baccalaureate with honors, Papa paid for my driving license, but even more important! I won the competition for the French part of the La Fayette twin cities exchange program. 

I am to spend a year in Lafayette, Louisiana, with the family of the American winner of the same competition, and next year she will spend a year with us. I will improve my English by attending the Lafayette College. I am also hoping to be allowed to join the Raging Cajuns Cheerleaders. I am quite athletic, and have had classic and modern dancing lessons.

A few aldermen snickered, "A de La Fayette winning the Lafayette exchange program competition!"

"And the American girl's name is Mary-Anne Laforge-Lafayette. Her ancestor was a French blacksmith who had sailed with La Fayette."

"I read that they made millions by branching from forging swords to manufacturing agricultural machinery."

"Both of them bottle-fed with their glorious family history!"

I overheard, and teasingly chimed, "Ils sont toujours les politiciens pour boire le champagne !"

I was a touch too loud; they heard me and furrowed their brows. I had a wide smile till Papa whispered for me, "Impertinente, c'est la fessée au martinet !"

Papa made good on his promise, and I am rubbing my bum and thighs while closing my suitcase. I e-mailed Mary-Anne and told her of my latest misadventure. She answered with a few strange French Cajun words mixed within her English. She warned me that her father has a nasty alligator leather belt.

Papa gave me a notarized affidavit appointing Mr. and Mrs. Laforge-Lafayette as my legal guardians, because being eighteen means that I am still a minor in the land of freedom. I can drive with my new driving license, but I can't drink.

Before driving me to the nearby Clermont-Ferrand airport, Maman told me to wear a nice dress as a proper young lady. I pouted and hoped that it wouldn't show the fading martinet welts decorating my thighs. I flew to Atlanta via Paris and arrived the next day in New-Orleans. I haven't slept much as I was too excited. The Immigration officer had a wide smile.

"Your name is Marie-Jeanne de la Fayette!"
"Yes Sir."
"You're related to our Marquis?"
"He was my great great great etcetera grand father, Sir."
"Welcome to Louisiana Missy!"

"Thank you Sir!"

A custom officer waved me through, and the passengers' arrival doors slide open. We immediately recognized each other from the pictures we had exchanged and warmly hugged.


Mary-Anne took a step back and held out an arm towards her parents. “Mom, Daddy, this is Marie-Jeanne,” she said, and her father came toward me, his hand extended.

Bienvenue en Louisiane, Marie-Jeanne! Je m’appelle Hervé Lafarge-Lafayette,” he had said that with a passable Parisian accent, and then winked at me as he firmly gripped my hand. “But everyone calls me Harvey, mah shah.

The last two sounds, though somewhat familiar, puzzled me. I looked at Mary-Anne for help, but her mother grabbed my hand from Hervé.

“That’s Cajun for mon cher, darling,” she said with a smile. “I’m Odette, and please call me that. Mrs. Lafarge-Lafayette is such a mouthful; my students just call me Miz L. I know you must be exhausted, so let’s collect your things and head home.”

I truly was tired, all the way through, but I was also excited to finally be en Amérique, and I doubted if I could have closed my eyes if I’d wanted to.

At the baggage claim, Hervé grabbed my two large cases from the carousel as if taking a couple of bags of crisps from a counter, and set them onto a cart. He wore cream-colored linen trousers and a light blue cotton dress shirt with no tie, and when he stretched to reach for the luggage, light glinted on his dark, shiny, alligator belt. I bit my lip and turned away, but Mary-Anne realized what I had noticed, and gave me a knowing grimace.

We quickly headed for the exit, and when I stepped outside, the unconditioned air enveloped me like a hot, wet towel. I had to force myself to inhale the humid atmosphere.

Mary-Anne took my arm to steady me. “The heat takes some getting used to, mon amie. Our house has A/C, so you’ll be okay in the meantime.”

Soon, we were speeding along the Interstate motorway with a huge American automobile. I tried to listen to Mary-Anne's chatter about the wonders of her homeland, but I felt my eyelids get heavier and heavier.

Odette turned in her seat and looked back. “Honey, get a pillow from the back and let Marie-Jeanne put her head on your lap and shut her eyes,” she said to Mary-Anne.

“But, Mom, she just got here. Give her a chance to see some sights before she crashes.”

The car slowed considerably, and Mary-Anne winced when she caught her father’s eyes looking at her in the rear-view mirror.

“Young lady,” he said in a no-nonsense tone, “how do you answer when your mother tells you to do something?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” she said softly and pouted as she unbuckled her safety harness, and turned to kneel on the seat and reach back.

“Say it so I can hear you, Mary-Anne,” he told her.

She turned toward him, frowning, and shouted, “Yes, Ma’am!”

“That’s enough, young lady,” her mother said quietly but firmly. “Daddy will discuss this further with you when we get home.”

Nodding and biting her lip, Mary-Anne sat and re-buckled. Then she put the pillow on her lap and gave me a pleading look.

I nodded, laid down, put my head on the pillow, and shut my eyes.


To be continued...

This part was written with help from our late friend Devlin O'Neil


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