“Do they punish you in that school for speaking French?” Uncle Martin asked, and because they were at the farm, he asked it in French.
Kenny looked up from his place at the long table and started to speak, but Uncle George broke in first. “Who speaks French in high school?” he asked. “He’s nearly in high school now. Seventh grade.”
“I went to seventh grade,” Martin said. “I finished eighth. And they slapped us for speaking French, even in the halls. Even at lunch.”
“We don’t speak French in school,” Kenny replied quietly. “Even at lunch.”
“You didn’t speak French in seventh grade, either, did you?” Raymond asked Martin.
Martin shrugged. “True. Probably not in seventh grade. But there it is: They beat the French out of us long before that.”
Martin’s wife, Aunt Irène, was sitting next to him, and put her fingertips gently on his arm to remind him not to argue, but George raised his fork and pointed towards the north. “It’s right there,” he said, then grinned. “Quebec. You can be there in less than an hour, Martin, and they all speak French in school. You’d love it.”
Martin shook his head at the teasing. “Easy to get back and forth across that border, is it, George?” he asked, smiling, but with a bite in his tone.
Aunt Hélène’s husband, Paul, laughed aloud, but Hélène and Irène looked down at their plates as if they were embarrassed, and Raymond wasn’t smiling at all.
Kenny couldn’t see why. George often went to Quebec to do carpentry for a company in Hemmingford, and made good money. That’s why he could drive a shining new Roadster instead of an old Model T like the other farmers. It didn’t seem like anything to laugh at, or to be embarrassed about.
Whatever the joke was, Pépé changed the subject.
“Enough,” he said. “You all went to school in English and yet here we are, all speaking French. Kenny will remember his French, too, and he’ll know more than that, because he’s going to graduate from eighth grade and then from high school, too. That’s so, isn’t it, my boy?”
“First in the family!” said Mémé, as she stood and picked up her plate. Irène and Hélène rose to join her in clearing the table.
Pépé looked around at Raymond, George, Martin and Paul. “So, are we all agreed to cut wood this week? Raymond, can you help?”
“I’m taking three days off,” Raymond said. “Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I need to be back on patrol for the weekend.”
Mémé came to get the big platter from the middle of the table. “You work too many days,” she said. “How do they expect you to get anything else done?”
“I told them we had to get our wood cut and stacked if we want it cured for winter,” Raymond replied. “They understood. I’ll work a few days for the other officers, when they have things to do.”
“I could stay home to help,” Kenny offered. “I’m old enough to drive Paul’s oxen, and I can swing an axe or take one end of a saw.”
But Raymond shook his head. “You lost enough school days for sugaring this spring. Tend to your studies for now. I’ll be home each night and we’ll have supper together.”
“You’ll have all summer for farm work,” Pépé agreed. “Now, go watch your cousins so your aunts and your grandmother can clean up after this fine meal.”
When his grandfather and Raymond agreed, there was no point in further talk. Kenny got up and went to the kitchen as the men continued their discussion of the woodcutting.
The five little ones, Hélène’s two girls and a boy, and Irène’s two boys, had been eating at the table in the kitchen, and they gathered around Kenny as he led them out the back door.
Sometimes, the little ones would run off to play and he could just sit and watch them, but this wasn’t one of those times, and they began to jump up and down, begging their older cousin to think of a game and play with them.
Kenny thought for a moment, then put a hand to his pocket to make sure he still had a piece of penny candy left.
“Hide and Seek!” he said, “Only backwards. You all go on the front porch and count, and I’ll hide. Whoever finds me first gets a Tootsie Roll!”
“How far?” one of the boys asked.
“Fifty,” Kenny said. “But Marie-Claire has to count.” Marie-Claire was very precise and would pronounce each number, he knew.
The children ran around to the front porch and Kenny thought a minute. The woodshed would be the first place they’d look. He could hide in the cornfield, but if they trampled it looking for him, he’d be in trouble. Then he knew!
He ran to the barn and slipped in the side door. He could hide in George’s Roadster. They’d jump up on the runningboard and look inside, but if he crouched behind the seats in back, they wouldn’t see him.
He eased the door open, then shut it quietly behind him and began to crawl into the back. But there wasn’t room for him: The back was filled with bulging burlap sacks.
Kenny reached into one and pulled out a bottle of Canadian beer.
Uncle George was a rumrunner!
text c. Mike Peterson, illustration c. Christopher Baldwin