lundi 18 juillet 2011


Chapître 5 : « Là, tu vas travailler où? »

Mon grand-père avait commencé à travailler à 10 ans, ma grand-mère, à 12 ans, ma mère et son frère, à 18ans.  Mon grand-père avait 2 ans de scolarité, ma grand-mère avait eu la chance de travailler comme domestique dans une famille aisée qui l’avait envoyée à l’école et lui avait appris le français, qu’elle ignorait après avoir grandi en Ontario.  Ma mère avait terminé sa 7ième année, mon oncle aussi.   À l’époque, avec une 7ième année vous pouviez avoir un certificat d’enseignement.  Ma mère enseigna donc.  Mon oncle entra, à 18 ans, au service de The Montreal Gazette Printing Company où il travailla 52 ans.  Essayez de faire ça maintenant!
Au printemps 1945, après la fin de ma 6ième année, mon grand-père me demanda : 
-Là, tu vas travailler où? 
-Je vais faire mon cours classique, grand-papa.
-C’est quoi ça?
-Je vais apprendre du français, de l’anglais, du latin, du grec, des mathématiques, de l’histoire, de la géographie et autres choses.
-C’est pas des métiers ça.  Ça sert à rien, fais donc comme tout le monde pis va donc travailler.  Tu seras utile à quelque chose au moins.
Grand-maman, silencieuse jusque là, toussa un peu et déclara :
-Laisse-le tranquille.  Tu veux qu’il fasse comme nous, une vie de misère?  Les jeunes aujourd’hui ont besoin d’instruction.  Laisse parler ton grand-père et va au collège.  C’est pas parce qu’il sait pas lire que tout le monde doit être pareil!
Marie-Louise avait parlé,  Adélard se tut et retourna rouler ses cigares (il était cigarier de métier.  Il avait pratiqué son métier en usine jusqu’à une grève des cigariers en 1907.  À la fin de la grève, lui et ses collègues avaient tous été remplacés par des machines.  Il continuait à faire des cigares avec la vente desquels il se faisait de l’argent de poche).  Plus tard, quand des gens lui demandait ce que je faisais, bougon, il lançait : « Y fait rien, y’étudie ».  Mais à moi il ne m’en reparlera plus.
Septembre 1945 j’entre au collège… et dans un monde nouveau, totalement inconnu et effarant.  Ce matin-là, nous sommes 101 petits nouveaux (petits NAVETS, disaient les plus anciens) examinés, scrutés, pesés et évalués par les 400 déjà installés au cours des années passées.  Première découverte : je suis assis avec quelques vrais riches, des fils de juges, de médecins, d’avocats et d’un très  prospère maraîcher.  Heureusement, d’autres viennent d’un milieu plus proche du mien.  Nous deviendrons de bons amis « de tramway » car nous résidons tous loin du collège.  Les autres ont des parents qui les voiturent.
Dès la première journée, le Père Supérieur nous rappela que nous étions des privilégiés, que le collège avait été fondé, en 1933, pour permettre aux fils d’ouvriers d’avoir accès à l’élite de demain.  Nous serions cette élite.  En plus de la découverte de l’élite, ce jour de septembre, j’ai découvert que je faisais parti d’une minorité.  Déjà, mon grand-père nous disait, à mes frères et à moi, qu’il nous aimait bien mais que nous n’étions pas de sa race; mais au collège, avec deux autres, je n’étais pas de la race des 399 autres… Rapidement, nos aimables condisciples nous le firent sentir.  Je venais de prendre conscience du nationalisme et du racisme.  Un pas vers les sciences sociales?

Mes grands-parents, Marie-Louise Guindon, 80 ans, et Adélard Guilbeault, 78 ans, vers 1950 .

(à suivre...)

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15 commentaires:

  1. Très intéressant, comme d'habitude.
    I'm glad you got to college. I trust we will hear more of you college "adventures."
    A la prochaine.

  2. That will be the next chapter, Philippe. You, though, may be disappointed, I was not all that wild.

  3. You've confused me with Rob-bear!!!

    The lives of your grandparents and of your mother reflect the times in which they lived - the pre-world war 2 times when most people in western societies, which today are predominantly middle class, were poor and had little education.

    Unlike well-nigh all your readers, you, yourself, have lived in this pre world war 2 world, and, in a way which we your readers can't, you can compare this pre-war world with the post-war world you came of age in. Indeed the year you began college (high school?) 1945, was the year the new post war world dawned, in which, thanks to the introduction of the welfare state, the western world very quickly became middle-class.

    This is forgotten by those who today call loudly for lowering taxes and rolling back the welfare state. Those who call for this are usually well educated and live in middle-class comfort, thanks to the very welfare state which they demand the rolling back of. They take their middle class world for granted in a way which you, who actually experienced a pre-war pre-middle class world, may not.

    Your memoirs evoke poignantly the vanished world you grew up in. More please.........

  4. My apologies for the mix-up to both of you.
    "Le collège classique" began after the 6th or 7th grade depending what school you had attended and the entrance exams results.
    In the French Québec system you had "l'école supérieure" from grade 8 to 12; that was split between "science" and "commercial" curricula. Science, with one year pre-entrance study, opened the university doors. Commercial sent you straight to an office or sales job.
    Le collège classique, after 8 years studying the classics, antiquity and philosophy gave you a B.A-B.Sc and led you straight to any first year courses in any faculty.
    You will see that I did not go so straight and had to meander some.
    We also had wonderful trade schools that produced numerous splendid artisans.
    All that was dismantled after 1960 in the name of modernity and we are still looking for an efficient replacement.

  5. as with many, you not only learned book knowledge in college, but about the vagaries of human behavior.

    how amazing that at such a young age when most kids are playing with blocks, you knew you wanted to study the classics......

    bien fait paul!

  6. Hurra Philippe, you have pretty well hit it on the head about the nonsensical disparagement of public education and the zeal to dismantle all the privileges the last couple of generations enjoyed.

    Life is ironic, though. You couldn't even get classes in Latin during the time I was in high school (I took French, instead) and begged my parents for a year or two off before college -- I was sixteen, for one thing -- to learn how to do something that would earn me a living in case studying literature, music and history didn't work out so well. And because college had prestige, working not so much, they wouldn't hear of my doing anything but going straight into full-time study.

    Every generation has to learn some things over, I think.

  7. Did I know at 14 that I wanted to study the classics? I'm not so sure. I just followed the flow, I guess. Most of my 6th grade fellows were going that way, I had earned two scholarship, it was worth a try and I went for it.
    In my family, save for my estranged father, nobody had ever gone above 7th grade. I had to go against the grain, so to speak.

  8. The welfare state was inaugurated by the Liberal government of 1906 to 1914, Philippe.

    "...In 1908, [Winston Churchill] brought in a Trade Bill, which set up the first minimum wages in Britain and the following year in 1909, [he] established ‘Labour Exchange’, which aimed at helping unemployed people find work. He played an instrumental role in planning the first unemployed pension legislation in 1911, which became known as the National Insurance Act of 1911..."

    - "Famous People":

    There is no reason to suppose that if he had been re-elected in 1945 Churchill would not have been as energetic and successful as the Attlee government in reform, but without the concomitant class war, starvation of the economy and state control.

  9. Sledpress's comment somehow inserted itself between my answer to Amanda and her comment.
    As for Sledpress, I reckon that some youngsters do have to put up a fight to realize themselves and they don't always win. I was fortunate to have my grandmother on my side.
    In Canada, Richard, the so-called Welfare State was started in Sakatchewan by the late Tommy Douglas C.C.F.(Commonwealth Cooperative Federation), later New Democratic Party, in the 40s, the federal governmemnt, under the Liberals followed in the 50s and all the provinces went along with local differences but all respecting the federal legislation.
    It was outed recently that Tommy Douglas because of his socialist leanings had been investigated by the R.C.M.P. and the F.B.I., the latter blatantly infringing on our sovereignty.

  10. My grandfather, who worked on the Ford assembly line, was like yours. He might have thought (as yours said) that we were of a different "race". His name was Roy, but when he died, a crowd of strangers showed up at his funeral who knew him as "Joe" from a saloon downtown. That detail bugs me to this day. I guess I take from it that he, too, felt that he didn't entirely belong in our family. Maybe everybody feels that way.

    Or maybe my grandfather just wanted to escape his family and home which he knew "comme le fond de sa poche" (if I may adopt a new phrase I learned from an earlier chapter here).

    Or maybe we all (simultaneously!) feel like outsiders with our family and want to run away from its familiarity to actual strangers.

    Questions about family interest me more than larger questions of national government and welfare state. Family is the real local government.

  11. When I was younger, and it is still true in some measure, for French-Canadians anybody bearing an English or foreign name was of another race. It was not a matter of family, it was just the name, the WE vs They, even when a French-Canadian girl married outside the Frech group she was considered to have changed race as my mother-in-law told friends about her two daughters who married, one me, the other an anglican anglo. In a future chapter, I will deal with this.

  12. ".....for French-Canadians anybody bearing an English or foreign name was of another race......."

    This attitude is true for Anglos too. Given that we inherit our last names from our fathers, our placing such importance on last names shows that patriarchialism is still alive and well in our contemporary world.

    However, if one wishes to be sure about who one's ancestors were, one should trace only the matriarchal line, since there is statistically and historically a 20% to 30% chance that any husband is not the biological father of any child his wife bears.

  13. Philippe, you are a horrible person...but you are right both sociologically and statistically. That is why motherhood is a fact and fatherhood a belief. But we all look so much like our father that faith is rather easy. Same with my own children. After all 60% to 70% of any children a husband has are his biological children.
    Even mitochondrial DNA is more precise when tracing origins than paternal DNA since it incurs less mutations over long periods.

  14. People looking at pictures of my father tend to agree that going by the resemblance he could have just as easily eliminated the middleman and spit me. Someone needs to work on that.

  15. That must be whence came the expression "Spitting image".