Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

Vive la France! Vive la République!

America never was America to me. Bear this in mind as you read. Ideals may not always be realized, but few would choose to live in a world where they did not exist.

My paternal grandfather died when my dad was young so he grew up on the farm where his mother had been raised. The Great Depression had just begun, and they were fortunate to have land that gave them all they needed at a time in which so many had so very little. Since my grandmother worked, he was looked after by his French Canadian grandparents.

French was spoken, and on the balcony during the summer, it was sung. My father had a French first name, and the meals served were traditional Quebec cuisine.

His grandfather must have been an important role model for him so it’s easy to understand why it was with such sadness that he told me the story of his death.  Among the many people who came to pay final respects was a French Métis, who worked for him as a handyman. Once he had left, my great-grandfather asked for water to cleanse his hands. He felt defiled.

It’s hard to say how instrumental this experience was in shaping my father’s perceptions of the world. I do know I was fortunate never to have heard a racist comment from him, which was decidedly different from the wider environment where I heard people routinely categorized in ways in which I’m sure you are all too familiar.

As he grew he was fascinated with the French Revolution, whose ideals he admired – before, of course, it started eating its children.  And, of course, as a  young man there was France and the battle in Europe against Nazism.

The only memory I have of him crying is when he heard La Marseillaise.

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12 thoughts on “Vive la France! Vive la République!

  1. veraersilia on said:

    I thoroughly understand this, Tom. I would dare to add that it can only be really understood by those who have come from another country, that is from another culture, even though a part of the western world – as I have.
    I also cry when I hear the Marseillaise. It’s patrimony of every European.
    And I cried the saddest tears the other day when I watched the arrival of the 4 people killed in Libya, when I heard the America national anthem and remembered how the U.S. was also part of the Western mind and heart – not despised, not rejected, not suspected, not yet hated. It is tragic to see the slide this country has taken. It embodied ideals even as it could not practiced them…
    I came to the U.S. in 1960 – to Texas – and they still called Italians “wetbacks” and “wogs”. After sanitizing the language the U.S, teaches IPads, Androids, tech gadgets, bank frauds, consumerism now – instead of ideals.


    • Thank for that, Vera.

      “I came to the U.S. in 1960 – to Texas – and they still called Italians “wetbacks” and “wogs”. After sanitizing the language the U.S, teaches IPads, Androids, tech gadgets, bank frauds, consumerism now – instead of ideals.”

      The above could not have been said better.


  2. I left California for France five years ago. I have felt at home here since the beginning.


  3. Though I remember the war well, though all my uncles were old enough to serve – all in the European theatre, though one had to lie about his age – I remember as strongly as incidents during the war felt back here in the States my first realization of daily life in France.

    In France for the 1st time in 1971, stepping onto a bus – and quickly translating the sign above the first seats on the bug – open though the bus was crowded:

    Reserved for the disabled of the war.


  4. And we finally know the story behind “Final Respects.” This is a great reminiscence; it’s interesting sometimes the things which shape or may shape our characters.

    Starting with a nod to Langston Hughes was a great touch.


  5. I also find it interesting the things that play a part in making us who we are.

    A wonderful poem and poet. I like quite a few of the Harlem Renaissance poets. Do you like Jean Toomer? Cane is a spectacular, breathtaking read.


  6. Langston Hughes – he always brings tears to my eyes. I especially like “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently! Freedom, hope and longing for community are universal. Glad I connected to your blog…


  7. A favorite of mine as well.


  8. The Langston Hughes reminds me of the rapper NAS – and this one:
    (I wonder if he feels now that presidents represent him?)

    I guess to some extent America isn’t America to anyone, ever. The sad thing is, from where I sit a long way away, is that so many people never stop to think about that, and what easy, seductive nationalism covers up…


  9. Thanks for the link. I’ll have a look.

    I agree with you about nationalism – it covers up a multitude of sins.


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