Boarding School Blues: Ch. 53

Boarding School Blues: Ch. 53

By Louise Peloquin

Ch. 53: A turtle’s heart

Maman and Blanche thanked Madame Briard for the lovely collation and quickly took their leave. Before bidding her guests farewell, the hostess extended another invitation.

“You must return to my library once my latest accession arrives, an antique edition of ‘Great Expectations.’ You’ve read it, haven’t you Blanche? You certainly know that Charles Dickens visited Lowell in 1842 and found the bustling city quite fascinating. We’ll have a lot to talk about, won’t we? And I’ll prepare a proper high tea for the occasion. I know you ladies have a lot to do so I shall not retain you any longer. What a splendid afternoon we had. You are the first friends to enter into my sanctuary. Au revoir mes chéries! And a very happy new year to the Rejean family.”

Blanche wondered if Iris wanted to get rid of them out of sheer embarrassment about her son’s uncouth behavior. On the drive back home, she didn’t respond to her mother’s comments on the dainty biscuits and fancy imported tea. The image of Jonathan was sticking to her brain like a wad of bubble gum on a shoe sole.

“I hope Maman drops that crazy prom escort idea. Doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, proms are a waste. I’d rather get a new snorkel and fins than a lousy prom dress. How can you dance around in those things? They don’t look comfortable and all the prom photos I’ve seen show a bunch of stiff-lookin’ kids.”

A musical comedy song popped into her head.

I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair
I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair
I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair
And send him on his way

Get the picture? (1)

Did Jonathan need to get washed out of Maman’s hair or out of hers? Blanche was confused.

“Somethin’s wrong with me. I must be tired. That ‘eve of destruction’ song did a job on my head. Good song but horrendous message. The boarding school scene is cutting me off from the real world. I miss watching the news on TV with Papa. How come we don’t study current events much in history class? I’m gonna ask the teacher.”

She was trying to divert her thoughts away from Jonathan but his image was as indelible as a tattoo. She forced herself to tune into Maman’s chattering.

“I’ll have to ask Iris for her tuiles aux amandes recipe. She’s always pleased to see how guests enjoy her treats and never refuses to share cooking tips. You know Blanche, some hostesses don’t like to divulge their recipes. They choose to maintain what we could call ‘gastronomical mystery’ in order to appear unique on the social circuit. How childish, don’t you think?”

Maman turned towards her daughter for an instant and drove right into a pot hole. The Plymouth bounced in and out.

Mon dou! No harm done. Merci mon Dieu! We were lucky. It’s no time for a flat tire. We’ve got to get home to prepare dinner, something simple. Papa probably let the children fill up on Ma Tante Lucie’s butter balls and no one will be famished. Tomato soup and creton (2) sandwiches on the menu. How does that sound?”

Although the thought of food triggered Blanche’s queaziness, she responded “sounds great Maman.”

Keeping her eyes on the road and her hands on the wheel, Maman smiled. “I’m very proud of you Blanche, ma chère. We shall have many more lovely afternoons together.”

Once dinner over, dishes done and the little ones changed into their onesie pyjamas, Blanche retired to the front foyer where the sound of the TV was less distracting. In less than forty-eight hours, she would return to SFA and she had English homework to do.

Sister Anna had explained to an unenthused class “delving into the works of a great writer is a joy. Therefore, do not consider this is an assignment but rather a Christmas gift – Ernest Hemingway’s magnificent ‘Old Man and the Sea’. (3) Instead of the usual book report, read the text, choose two or three quotations and jot down your impressions. Your gift to me will be sharing these at our next class.”

Blanche was familiar with the author and had heard about his untimely passing. (4) She dragged a chair to the foyer sideboard, picked up the Hemingway and flipped through the pages. It wasn’t easy to switch into study mode after a week of celebrating.

“Can’t put my thinking cap on right now” she told herself. “Can’t think of school stuff. Gotta do this right if I wanna make honor roll next term. Move it PF, you dummy!”

Using the SFA nickname helped her get into gear. She finally settled on three quotations.

Why do old men wake up so early? Is it to have one longer day?

 Most people were heartless about turtles because a turtle’s heart will beat for hours after it has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too.

 If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy. But since I am not crazy, I do not care.

She jotted down impressions linked to moments like the light-headedness during those crack-of-dawn-first-Friday-Mass mornings when everyone had to wait so long for that first bite of maple butter breakfast toast. Was a longer day at SFA a blessing? Did you have to be old to want to wake up early?

She thought of the dog days of summer, when the air is so steamy-still and the yellow-striped snapping turtles emerge from the lake to bask in the liquid gold, late afternoon sunbeams. She thought of all the turtles caught in summers past and how they had escaped from the twenty-gallon aluminium basin by stretching their long necks and flapping their strong legs.

“Did they think we were gonna kill them?” she wondered. “Who would want to do that? Some people like turtle soup but I’ve never met anyone eat that around here. Gross, I couldn’t do it. I’ll have to tell the kids at the lake to leave those snappers alone from now on. They’re our wild friends. They’re not meant to be our house pets.”

Then she thought of her father’s heart. The attack had damaged it, not stopped it. It had wanted to continue living, beating, loving. She concluded “Yeah, I guess Papa could say ‘I have such a heart too’ .“

She let her mind meander. Young voices broke the spell.

Antoine questioned “What’s for dinner?” Maggie whined “I’m not hungry.” Byron offered “Let me help you Maman.”

The clock in the foyer had stopped but Blanche knew it was time to conclude her Hemingway commentary. It was short but would do. She was usually painfully methodical about homework but this time, she wasn’t worried.

“Since I am not crazy, I do not care” she told herself. “In class I’m gonna say that knowing who you are inside is more important than worrying about what everyone else thinks you are outside. Is that the author’s message? Anyway, Sister Anna likes hearing our interpretations of the texts. She told us to write one page for three quotations. Done.”

New Year’s Eve came and went without fanfare. Party invitations were declined and no one dropped by for egg nog. The family gathered around the TV to watch the ball drop in Times Square and ushered in the new year with angel food cake and milk served in Haviland plates and Fostoria glasses, vestiges of long-ago wedding gifts. With their cardboard party hats and tin horns, the six revellers were as jolly as a crowd of socialites in the razzle-dazzle of a grand hotel ballroom.

The return to boarding school made Blanche want to have ‘one longer day’, like Hemingway’s old man. She got up at five to the sound of snoring. There was music in its rhythmical rumbling.

Despite the early start, the day wasn’t long at all. After quick kisses from her siblings and a prolonged hug from her father, she hopped into the pale blue Plymouth. On the road back to SFA, Maman focussed on avoiding pot holes and ice patches. Blanche, grateful for the silence, contemplated the coffin-shaped ice blocks floating on the Merrimack River. They carried the remains of holiday merriment. In due time, they would disappear.  But six long months separated her from the glorious lakeside days.

Maman pulled up to the SFA entrance. Her voice cracked as she stated “I’ll be back for a weekend visit very soon. And I’ll keep the headmistress informed about Papa. Ça passe si vite, Noël. (5) But we’ll keep up the spirit all year long, isn’t that right ma fille? I’ve got to hurry back now. No time to chat. Je t’aime. A bientôt.” (6)

Without answering, Blanche got out of the car, grabbed her suitcase and walked up the stairs where Sister Gerald was peering behind the half open the door.

  1. “South Pacific” (music by Richard Rogers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949 at the Mystic Theater. It was loosely based on James A. Michener’s 1947 short story collection “Tales of the South ”
  2. French-Canadian pork scrap pâté
  3. Written in 1951 and published in 1952, Charles Scribner’s Sons. “The Old Man and the Sea” was the last major work published during Hemingway’s lifetime.
  4. Ernest Hemingway, 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, died on July 2, 1961.
  5. Christmas passes so quickly.
  6. I love you. See you soon.


Read Chapter 1: The Announcement

Read Chapter 2: Facing the Inevitable

Read Chapter 3: Readying

Read Chapter 4: Au revoir!

Read Chapter 5: Arrival

Read Chapter 6: Settling In

Read Chapter 7: Beginning to Belong

Read Chapter 8: Quick Showers

Read Chapter 9: Inside & Outside Study Hall

Read Chapter 10: Math Manoeuvres

Read Chapter 11: Cinephiles

Read Chapter 12: Camera, Action, Lights

Read Chapter 13: Reconnecting

Read Chapter 14: Back to the Fold

Read Chapter 15: In the Night

Read Chapter 16: Parlez-vous?

Read Chapter 17: On the Agenda

Read Chapter 18: Dress up, sit up, chin up

Read Chapter 19: Post Conference Assessment

Read Chapter 20: Orderliness

Read Chapter 21: Inspection

Read Chapter 22: The Inner Sanctum

Read Chapter 23: Going Home

Read Chapter 24: Merci Mon Oncle

Read Chapter 25: The Food Fairy

Read Chapter 26: Bon appetit!

Read Chapter 27: Friends

Read Chapter 28: A Grocery Stop

Read Chapter 29: Tempus Fugit

Read Chapter 30: The Chapel

Read Chapter 31: A Nice Kind of Weird

Read Chapter 32: Mnemonic Device

Read Chapter 33: Cuisses de grenouille

Read Chapter 34: Run along now

Read Chapter 35: Consequences of playing hooky

Read Chapter 36: Good Vibes

Read Chapter 37: Never too many, never too much

Read chapter 38: Dust Bunnies

Read Chapter 39: I’m into something good

Read Chapter 40: Wistful and Admiring

Read Chapter 41: “Anywhere Out of the World”

Read Chapter 42: “If you really want to hear about it

Read Chapter 43: “Why don’t they go and create something”

Read Chapter 44: Squiggles, snowmen and angels

Read Chapter 45: A Measure of Mirth

Read Chapter 46: Advienne que pourra

Read Chapter 47: Smile upon our joys

Read Chapter 48: “Venez, venez, venez!”

Read Chapter 49: “C’est si bon”

Read Chapter 50: Naughty or nice

Read Chapter 51: We all fall down

Read Chapter 52: The Eve of Destruction

2 Responses to Boarding School Blues: Ch. 53

  1. Malcolm Sharps says:

    I liked all the quotation stuff, Louise, maybe because I’m a sucker for them and try to remember as many as possible. Also following the thinking through of the quotes, gives us a greater sense of a character.
    Here’s one to set you thinking: Salvador Dali asked, “What’s the difference between Dali and a madman?” His answer: “Dali is not mad.”