I thought hard about leaving Canada without reading anything by a French Canadian author, but in the end I just couldn't do it. My family has been in Quebec since the 1650's (though my branch of the family fled for warmer climes more than a half century ago) and for my grandmother's generation, at least, identification with the French speaking part of the country has been a crucial part of their identity. Indeed, on the very last night that I spent at my grandparent's house, my grandmother pulled out an old box of mementos to show me the ferry ticket she'd kept from her weekend journeys she made across the river from French boarding school after her family had moved to the United States (they were constantly boarder-hopping as did so many families on both sides in those happy pre 9-11 days. Her French language skills had to be maintained to please her parents, if you please! My mother, on the other hand, steadfastly refused to learn more than a smidgin of French as she knew that it would irk her own mother to no end; she succeeded to such an extent that my grandmother was complaining about her non-French speaking daughter's stubbornness well into her nineties. My mother showed her, I guess. Ice-skating, however, was something that the entire family loved; even my determinedly non-athletic mother; the rest of the family would tease and torment my Italian-born grandfather, who never quite caught on to the entire ice-skating thing, and try to get him to go further away from the edge of the iced-over river, which he would almost never do. My mother even kept her old ice-skates, and I remember clomping around on the dulled old blades in our scraggly-grassed backyard in San Diego.
Still, I was still far behind my goal after five weeks of Genji--what to do? I decided to read "The Hockey Sweater" by Roch Carrier. It was French-Canadian, dealt with the tensions between anglophone and francophone Canadians, was so famous that parts of it is inscribed (in French and in English) on the reverse side of the Canadian five-dollar bill--and it was short! Perfect. There's many versions of the story; I picked the Children's picture book with charmingly naive illustrations by Sheldon Cohen.
It's a simple story, about Roch Carrier's own life, and how every little boy on the ice hockey team in his town just had to wear a copy of the jersey of the most famous French Canadian ice hockey player. And then his mother, who doesn't speak English, writes a letter to Eaton's department store after Roch Carrier has outgrown his cherished sweater...
I laughed out loud when I read the end of the story.
The Hockey Sweater, by Roch Carrier. Translated by Sheila Fischman