The first French voice ever to grace my eardrums belonged to Marie Yolande. I was in second or third grade, and the good Sister of Mercy who taught French lessons to our class of forty-five children at St. Peter School, played instructional French language records while she prayed a silent novena seated at her desk. (The merciless Sr. Padraig also used this time to devise a wrestling maneuver to subdue my pal Tommy Tanner – a lethal combination of the traditional “Full Nelson” and Killer Kowalski’s “Claw hold.”)
Marie Yolande was the girl on the instructional record, presumably the same age as us, and living in France. As the scratchy record played, we learned about what Marie ate for breakfast, the route she walked to school each day, and how she might say “Ouvre la fenêtre” to let the breeze into the kitchen where her mama cooked her favorite Cherry Clafoutis. I wasn’t too good at learning French (not much better today) but I was very good at dreaming about Marie Yolande.
I’ve searched for Marie Yolande on the Web de Worldwide. I think she is probably my age (On June 9th I turned 59, sacrebleu!) She might be a bit older, as the record was produced in the early 1960s, I think. I haven’t yet found a single web reference to Marie or to the French language records. I’d love to discover that Marie Yolande now works for “Doctors Without Borders,” or that she is a brilliant artist with a nom de plume like “Left Banksy.” Maybe she is the brains behind the hacktivist group “Anonymous.”
Willa Cather wrote, “Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen again.” My memories of St. Peter School, my friends, and even the nuns are like that.
Où es-tu, Marie Yolande?