Bonjour! Ca va?
Each day my high school French teacher Madame McCrillis stood in front of our class with a cheerful hello.
Madame Kathleen McCrillis’ French class was one of those that you would both dread and looked forward to each day. In study hall, I would scramble to write the vocabulary words over and over minutes before they were due. We had lots of homework, especially the first year of the class.
Each day, she’d travel around the room to ask us how we were doing, always expecting us to respond accordingly. When we would move on to new words and phrases, she would perform charades as she used props to get her French point across.
She was one of those engaging teachers that used all of the learning techniques to drive this foreign language into our brains. In fact, I can probably sing all of the French Christmas songs to this day as well as the French version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
I can also fluently ask, “Ou est le poulet” or “Where is the chicken?” This was the usual response one would give her if we had no idea what she was saying.
One of my favorite memories of this particular class was all of the skits we would write and then perform. For some reason, all of the boys in our groups would find any excuse to dress as women. The guys would enhance their dresses, skirts and blouses with wigs and balloons placed in strategic places. We would have fashion shows that were narrated using the correct French terms as the boys strutted across the room on the “cat walk.”
One of the more memorable skits was a reenactment of a French soap opera scene. The boys of course dressed up as voluminous women who were caught up in an affair, complete with a jilted lover. The scenes always ended quite violently with a cap gun fight scene and bodies strewn across the classroom floor. (This was all pre-Columbine, folks).
French class will always hold a special memory that happened during my junior year. I sat in the back of the class with my friends. We had to draw cartoons using the French vocabulary of the day. My dear friend Ken Janssen turned around and gave me his cartoon he had been working on. It was a picture of guy asking a girl to prom — all in French. I, of course, said “Oui” and we had a lovely time at our Junior Prom that spring.
Lacking insight like most adolescence youth, I never thought I would use the French language much after graduation. Fast forward to the winter of 2008, I had just graduated college. My twin sister was overseas in the Ukraine with her two small children while her husband played European basketball all over Western Europe. There was a tournament that would take three weeks and rather than send her and the boys home, we made arrangements to meet in Paris for several weeks. It was a once in a lifetime trip and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity.
We met in a Paris hotel and managed to take our three boys, all under the age of 4-years-old, and see the sights. Nearly a decade ago, we were able to navigate the Metro system in the foreign language to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and Euro-Disney. I took my son and my nephew to an aquarium outside of the city one day while my sister visited an art museum. The only time I spoke to a stranger was to ask “Ou est l’quarium” outside of a park near the site. I was so proud of myself because they understood what I was asking and pointed me in the right direction.
While we didn’t speak the language much during those three weeks in Paris, we could read the language with enough confidence to survive the airport and the numerous stops we made throughout the city. That trip gave me enough courage to travel to other foreign countries in the future some day.
Many wonderful teachers are retiring at the end of this school year and each one is special in their own way.bTeaching is an art and Madame McCrillis is a gifted educator. While I may never get the chance to return to Paris again, I know I’ll always know how to ask where the chicken is and ask directions to the nearby parks. I wish her, as well as all the other outstanding educators who are retiring this year, the best.
Merci beaucoup, Madame! Nous vous souhaitons une heureuse retraite et plein de bonnes choses pour votre nouvelle vie.
‘Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. Comme ci, comme ca, was always my go-to response.