Sunday, September 28, 2008

Diaspora and return.

One time a few years ago I was driving with my father and we were speaking of his wife's family in France. She had come to Canada in the early 1970's, from Figeac in Southern France, near Albi and Toulouse. She married a musician in Toronto and had a son and a daughter with him, then split for her own reasons. I never knew the whole story, this entire 25 years. I never thought it was my business to ask and she never volunteered the information. It doesn't matter now, anyhow.

Violette met my father in Edmonton and they soon lived together.

My father had met his brother-in-law, his wife's sister's husband, when they were in Paris.
His name was Issac or something, I forget. My father's name is Joseph, Joe.
Joe Cloutier.
The Cloutier became a point of contention as "Issac" and Joe spoke of the origins of the name itself.

Zacharie/Zacharia Cloutier came to Canada in 1630, from Normandy. Issac was from Normandy, too. He asked my father why anyone would leave Normandy. Zacharie Cloutier was a carpenter and illiterate, he signed his name with an upgraded "X". It was instead two axes crossed.
The Cloutier family grew and moved and settled this country.

Issac was a man's man in France. He was a highway EMT, ambulance crew. He would tell stories about having to hold an 8-year-old girl's head together, life rushing out of her , as the ambulance careened down the highway; stories of drunk-drivers, DOA, having been ejected through the windshield and into oncoming traffic. Issac said that when he saw their bodies, those drunks, he would take the cigarettes out of the pockets of the victims, then he would smoke them and look at the bodies and shake his head at how stupid they were.

Issac told Joe that leaving Normandy was what cowards did, running away to the new country. Running from something. Joe, being Joe, sat and listened. He nodded and listened. Issac had evoked nothing from Joe other than careful listening and attention.

Joe's father, my grandfather, Leonard Cloutier, a real Francophone if there ever was one, was in the Canadian Army during WWII. Joe was born in 1943. Leonard Cloutier died in 1982. He had just come home from the RCL and was watching the Montreal Canadiens on television. He died of a heart attack, sudden and alone.

After Issac had laid out all of his reasons for people, French people, to never leave Normandy, and my father had returned to Canada, in June, 2005, Joe sent Issac a letter.
Joe's letter was beautiful, it had coloured pictures and the writing was short and straight.

It read:

"You were right about what you said, about French leaving Normandy, and how it was strange.
I have, with these pictures, included names and dates and times of French Canadians who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy to free France from Nazi occupation. We may have left in 1630, but we sure as hell came back in 1944. We came back to Normandy and we died to return it to you. Happy D-day, Issac.

-Joseph Leonard Cloutier"

I felt proud and laughed when I was driving with my father and he told me that story.
We drove in silence like that after the story, I think I understood what makes a man after that time.

It was some time ago and I forget the details, but that was the greatest story I have ever heard.

No comments: