I learned about the Franco Center from the local newspaper -- a wonderful article about the surprising but quite magical social gatherings that were filling a void in the lives of elderly people and refugees living in Lewiston, Maine. The groups that come together to chat informally in the beautiful old St. Mary's church
The Franco Center also hosts formal language classes for children, for beginner adults, and classes held completely in French for the more advanced, what are called French reacquisition classes. People who sign up for the reacquisition class were once literate, but need a boost to recall what was once second nature. I am taking the adult beginners class, although I am not really a beginner; I had French in school from 7th grade through graduation, but I was never fluent. I have discovered that I still have a fairly decent vocabulary, but I can't carry on a meaningful extended conversation -- which I would dearly love to be able to do.
The others in class include an assistant who is sitting in, to learn how Vanessa teaches. This woman is in her 30s, I am guessing, and wears what I understand as traditionally Muslim clothing. She is from North Africa but I do not know why she is in Lewiston. She seemed quite proper and almost scholarly in the first class, but now she has no hesitation to join us in our ongoing beginners-French silliness. One of the sources of amusement is that of the roughly seven or eight women in the class -- the number fluctuates from week to week -- four of us are named Susan. Vanessa calls on us with great merriment: "Donc, Suzanne numero deux, comment dit..."; "et... Suzanne numero quatre, combien d'enfants as-tu?"
Of the regulars who so far have shown up for almost every class and thus who I have learned a bit about, there is a young man named Zane; a young black woman who speaks Italian and English, but who travels a lot for her job and wants to learn French; three Susans in addition to me, two of whom worked together for 25 years; a man named Ray who has a really tough time remembering how to say anything; and a man about my age named George who speaks fluently and very fast, and in a very difficult-to-understand Franco-Canadian accent. George is not at all literate in French, but has decided that he wants to learn how to read it. He grew up in Lewiston, and as a kid all his family, all his neighbors, all his school-age friends spoke French. Now he has no one to speak French with except his wife, and they only used it when their children were young, when they wanted to say secret things to each other. Finally, there is Dan, who did a few tours in Afghanistan and now is a fireman. He has had a rough and tumble life I think, but he has a very soft spot for his grandpére, and wants to refine his command of French in order to honor Pépé's memory.