Je suis Toute (I am Whole), and French, at Last

The French language is a beautiful thing to learn, speak and hear.

Je Suis Toute, original watercolor study by Marie Wise
Watercolor study

I spoke it fluently as a child (I’m told) and struggled through two years of French classes in high school. My teacher, Miss Golden, was a flamboyant, scarf-wearing, perfumed and bleached-blonde dynamo who scribbled verb conjugations on the blackboard at lightening speed.

Alors, the fact my Dad couldn’t afford my share of a summer trip to Paris with Miss Golden and my 10th grade French class (even though my friend Karen got to go), combined with a complicated love/hate relationship with my eccentric French mother, prevented me from retaining any Frenchyness over the years, including the ability to remember any of the French I learned. Until now, that is.

Re-learning French brings her back; her quirky sayings and the way she said my name: Mah-ree. God how I hated it. I used to pretend I couldn’t hear her, but that was another lifetime ago. Now I’m starting to recall French words that once were familiar. I’m starting to understand why she spoke as she did, using the French inflection and verb conjugations literally in English, even though they were grammatically incorrect.

I’m visiting Paris soon, to see Frenchness in all it’s glory. I look forward to hearing the language swirling about me, even though I won’t be able to understand much. Simple words like aller dormier (go to sleep), ma petite poupee (my little doll) and être calme (be quiet), are like familiar melodies. Even the way my name is said in French, Mah-ree. I realize now that Mom wasn’t doing it on purpose to embarrass me. It’s just the way she spoke.

Thus a painting titled Je suis Toute (I am Whole) tells the visual story of how much closer I am to being whole than I have ever been before. Learning French helps. It’s what I am, even though for much of my life I rejected it.

My mom died in 2003. With her went the last piece of my French-ness. Buried but not forgotten. I hope to remember now. Au revoir maman.

2012, Je suis Toute (I am Whole), 22 x 28, oil on canvas

Je Suis Toute (I am Whole) original oil painting by Marie Wise