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Lingua Yankee

An editorialist offers that bilingualism may not be the answer. Probably not, but it depends on the question. Bilingualism, seems to me, is roughly defined - it doesn't exactly mean two languages, but only the one somebody wants to teach in. And I've noticed that, when educational adjustments are suggested, the teachers rise in righteous wrath, liking not the imputation that they need adjustment. Here in Maine, where we might have had bilingual disturbances long ago, our nub would be English-French, not English-Spanish, and truth is we've had French-taught schools for years up in the Acadian valley of the St. John River. What we need is a bilingualism that teaches both and inculcates both. Bill and I got stuck in the mud.

Bill and I have just returned from our 20th annual Grandfathers' Retreat and summer seminar of cultural affairs, having spent a week at Caucomgomock Lake far up beyond the wilderness chains with which the timberland owners keep all but the truly privileged out. With our permits and keys we pushed stalwartly into the moose country laden with groceries and came to the tight woodlands camp where we bide.

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This is the only surviving building of a lumber-camp complex of about 1910 to maybe 1935. The other buildings, no longer being used for logging purposes, were burned about the time Bill and I began going there. Our little camp has been kept in shape and equipped for the occasional use of company foresters, scalers, and dam attendants who come along and need to pass a night in the woods. Our nearest neighbors on the Maine side are too far away to matter, but on the Canadian side we have the working camp of Julian Allen, six miles toward the necessity of bilingualism.

Julian lives in St. Zacharie, Quebec, is an entrepreneur de bois, and contracts to bring his French-speaking crew down into Maine to harvest logs in a region where State-o'-Maine workmen would be too far from home. Julian and the 35 men at his camp speak no English. Whenever Bill and I pass the time with Julian, we attempt what Julian calls le patois yankee and then he laughs and laughs. So Bill and I got stuck in the mud.

The very wet spring in the Maine woods filled the lakes, and dams were closed to hold back the water. Our lake thus seeped into the roadway to our camp, and our pickup truck was afloat. We got it out with the jack and a Samson pole, but a load of good north country gravel was the next thing, and we had no shovel. We knew where the gravel pit was, and we had the truck. So off we hied to call on Julian Allen and borrow a shovel.

Julian, an equal-opportunity employer, has a lady chef, and we found her alone at camp, rolling pastry for sugar pies to be ready for the crew when mealtime came. She assured us that Julian was en bois, and that the French word for a female master cook would have to be cuisiniere, which is also a Dutch oven. Then I realized my language proficiency ended - I didn't know what to call a shovel.

Pantomime failed, except that the girl was amused. Bill was no help. Then came the flash - of course! Back in college days I used to play whist now and then with the Lacharite family - and there it was! The suits of playing cards: club-trefle; diamond-carreau; coeur-heart; and a spade was a pique. I told the cuisiniere that we had urgent need of a pique. So she went to a dining table, brought a little can with a hole in it, and gave me a toothpick. Then we waited until Julian Allen returned.

Again, after mutual assurances that we were pas pire and toujours pareil, I told about a wet hole in the road to camp, and made gestures like a gandy dancer , crying pique! pique! and causing Julian beaucoup de haw haw. Julian has a hearty laugh. The choppers and mechanics gathered about, glad to see their boss in happy mood, and I could see in the background the cuisiniere standing in the cookshack door and shaking her head. Somebody among the crew tumbled then, and I heard him say, ''Une pelle!''

So Bill and I fetched a load of gravel, fixed the hole, and had our usual pleasant week in meditation, ingestion, and piscatorial dalliance, although not necessariy in that order. The moral being, we decided, that when it comes to solving the big problem of bilingualism, it will be well to call a spade a spade.

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