Words in season

When April wept cold, wet water well into a reluctant May, my intended garden plot was running six-foot tides and my winter-cured parsnips were squirting like clams. Then I came into the house, wrang out my socks, and quoth, ''I think a ride would sweeten things.'' She responded, ''Everything was all ready 10 minutes ago.'' With us, a ride is to nowhere, and is meant to counteract that doldrum down easters call ''campqueer,'' otherwise ''cabin fever'' - a consequence of continued exposure to too much of the same thing. It thus happened that two hours later we were at the Quebec boundary, where a pert young man bienvenued us to Canada and asked if we had narcotics, offensive weapons, gifts, and items we intended to leave in Canada.

The great effort, political and not academic, to make Quebec Province the last bastion of French Culture is an extreme discrimination in our time, but strangers should not offer opinions until the oddities have been studied. I did suppose the movement had salubriously broadened international communications, so I answered the young man with deference. ''Oui,''m I said.

He tipped his head to one side and risingly said, ''Oh?'' - with a French accent, namely, ''O?''m

Not wishing to complicate further our approach to Quebec, I regained the flow of discourse by saying, ''Des homards.''m

The lobsters in our cooler were intended to be left in Canada all right enough. The lad broke out a wide grin and made the gesture of a Cordon Bleu chef tasting his own soup (soupem), the usual tribute to the Maine lobster on tour. He wished us a pleasant visit.

The lobsters were received repectfully at North Hatley, where Henri and Alice had been surviving on inland food much too long, and the quart of seawater we had fetched in a bottle was soon aboil. But first, Henri and Alice had the clams , about which the customs boy had not inquired. I asked Henri to supply a legal Quebec word for clam, which I didn't know, but his reply had a molluscular flavor and I didn't catch it. After the lobsters he was too replete to repeat.

The big thing about this Quebec loyalty to French is that one doesn't smile at it. Henri, as French as anybody but a thorough Canadian, didn't smile one bit as he told me how the Commission for the Preservation of French Quebec has been looking for good translations of words like Wellington and Sherbrooke. The Duke and the Viscount have been in Canada a long time and are not to be lightly dispossessed. Henri thinks perhaps North Hatley should be changed to Champs des Chapeaux du Nord. Some of the problem is like football/fussballm - the meaning is fine but the games differ. A submarine is a sousmarinem, except that sousmarinem hardly means one of these delicacies we folks in Maine call an Italian sandwich. For that matter, a sandwich is a sandwichm, just as a golf ball is a golfballm and a ping-pong paddle is a paddle de ping-pongm. Yet thousands of native-born Kaybeckers who speak English have migrated from the Province because of the new demands of the French majority, just as Mennonites went to Philadelphia and the Pilgrims went to Plymouth to find freedoms again. Henri took me over to meet some friends of his, a couple about to observe their 75th wedding anniversary. They have lived in Quebec for almost 60 years, but were born in the Scottish Highlands. They speak Gaelic and Harry Lauder, but not a word of French.

Henri also told me how he went to the Pure Language Bureau to ask about his trademark. His hobby of stained glass has become commercial in his retirement, and he wanted to use HD (his initials) as a trademark, letting the letters stand as well for ''Habitant Design.'' His question was about the French word for ''design.'' No - it's not that simple! Sort of a football/fussballm matter. The expert at the bureau made le hem and la haw, and tried to talk around things. Henri can change his name, or he can move to Ontario.

Anyway, we had a good visit. Henri says he anticipates the time when Canada, the United States, and Mexico will be one nation, depending for global security on a single economy. ''Tant pis pour les canadiens,''m I said. This, I said, would commit them to dismal Aprils and Mays, and never again would Canada have an early garden. We came home to learn we had missed the only two good days Maine has had this year, and that night it rained again. Fort.m

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