Saturday, December 02, 2017


One year when I was a kid we took a family camping trip to Quebec. I don't remember much about the trip except that we stayed at least a night or two in both Montreal and Quebec City; by now whatever specific memories of those cities I obtained at the time have long since merged with those of earlier trips and a later one I made as an adult. But I know that we headed north out of Quebec City, probably traveling through the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, stopping at campgrounds that I remember as being sparsely occupied, and here and there fishing meandering streams and ponds with cobbled shores. The road snaked through swamps and forests, and there were probably beaver lodges and maybe a moose or two. It was a Francophone area, and one morning when I was dispatched to fetch water from the campground's well a boy a year or so younger than me (he was the son of the couple who ran the campground) ran ahead of me, took my bucket, and worked the well-pump for me. When he was done I said merci — probably the only French word I knew — and he responded merci beaucoup, distinctly emphasizing the second word. Was he correcting my manners, or simply acknowledging that I had respected his assigned domain? For a long time I puzzled over the significance of this trivial exchange.

We continued north, heading for a small city that is today simply a borough of the larger city of Sanguenay, which stands on the river of the same name. I don't know why we had chosen that destination — possibly it was just mere curiosity — but as we entered the city we could see the river ahead of us, or at least that's how I remember it now. As we passed through an intersection a car ran a red light and collided with the front bumper of our truck. No one was hurt. When the police arrived they spoke to the young woman who was at the wheel of the car. Permis?, they asked. She didn't have one. She was barely older than I was, and had taken her parent's car without their knowledge.

Calls were made to insurance companies and, language barriers having been overcome, a local body shop was found. We probably spent a night in Chicoutimi, but if so I remember nothing about it. As soon as the damage was set to rights we headed south for home.

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