Friday, March 3, 2017

A Conversation with Monsieur Armand and Myself

             I graduated from high school, received a BA in English, an MA in English, and an MFA in Creative Writing. My father was illiterate, but he instilled in me an urge to better myself. My mother had a seventh grade education. She stressed the advantages of being educated. My sister did not finish high school, but she supported me both financially and spiritually when I needed her. I have uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends whose encouragement and support I have always counted on.
I come from an area of the country where family includes the community; where family and community share the influence they exercise over the children. When I visited Chataignier, my hometown, in 1975 after being gone for five years, Monsieur Armand, the mayor then, asked me if I planned to move back after I finished my stint in the navy.
"No, sir," I told him. I had already made plans to attend Suffolk University, a college in Boston, Massachusetts—a very long way from my hometown.
"Oh,” he said sadly. "You don't hate our little town, do you?"
"Oh, no sir," I said quickly.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It would be like hating my childhood. Like the child who leaves his family and sets out on his own to see the world, so it was with my hometown and me. Already I had seen too much of the world to be happy in my little hometown. I wanted to encounter new cultures and gain new experiences.
"Good," Monsieur Armand said. "If this town is ever going to amount to much, we're going to have to do a better job attracting the young people. We leave our marks on them; we try to mold them into Chataignier citizens, and the upshot of it all is, that is not their primary concern. We offer them family, tranquility, and homogeneity, but they want independence, stimulation, and diversity."
I nodded my agreement.
"What this town needs to give its youth is more opportunity," Monsieur Armand said, slamming a fist into his opened hand. 
"Yes sir," I said.
However, Chataignier had already given me many opportunities with her people, her stories, and her dreams. I owe what I have become, bad and good, to Chataignier and my family. Daddy, Momma, my sister, my aunts, uncles, my cousins, friends, and the good citizens of Chataignier live on in me and in my work. Sometimes, like a brilliant cut diamond sends different sparkles with every turn of the hand, I’ll look in the mirror and see flashes of someone I knew growing up.
"You remember us," Monsieur Armand told me as I left his store. "This is a good little town to settle in."
"Yes sir," I said.
I am not likely to forget Chataignier. It is where I go for inspiration for my writing—the well in which I dip my pen. My heroes and my villains live in Chataignier.
As I left Monsieur Armand's store, I thought about why I became a writer and a teacher of writing. My family and relatives helped with their stress on education. The Cajun propensity for storytelling helped; the jokes and tales that spilled out with the beer and whiskey at the local saloons helped. I heard the stories. I lived the stories. Hell, sometimes, I was the story.
I owe Chataignier a lot for creating the person I am today, but I did not imagine myself writing out the stories until I went to school. My heroes are the people who introduced me to reading and writing, allowing me to express who I am through stories and poetry. My heroes are my teachers. I thank you Mrs. Duplechien, Mrs. Soileau, Mr. Latour, and all those teachers who believed in me. I owe you my life.

1 comment:

  1. I know what you're saying and agree. Our root-places do offer this kind of opportunity. My hometown (and other places where I've lived) often appear in my writing, though usually under fictional names. Enjoyed this visit to your blog, Jude.

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