Searching for Strathcona

Micah Blaine’s childhood in Lafayette, Louisiana was typical of Acadiana, at least it was typical of Acadiana of the last quarter of the twentieth century.  By the time he was born in 1972, Cajun French was not as widely spoken as it had been while his parents were growing up. But he spoke Cajun French, albeit with an accent informed by Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw. His fluent Acadiana English—a mellifluous mix of charm and criminally ungrammatical patter—spoke of his roots and his upbringing.

An influx of Laotians, Vietnamese, and Cambodians after the Viet Nam war had changed the character of the fishing industry in the region from pure Cajun to a rich cultural stew. But the area retained its distinct identity, even as it morphed from acutely parochial to bewilderingly cosmopolitan.

Gladys Mellencamp, his eleventh grade civics teacher, was the first to notice signs that something unusual was going on with Micah. Responding to a question she posed regarding the difference between the political systems in the U.S. and Canada, Micah said the U.S. system was deeply divisive and antagonistic, whereas the Canadian system was “all about compromise.” It was his pronunciation of “about” that struck Gladys; he pronounced it the way Canadians pronounce the word. She laughed at what she thought was his cleverness and appreciation of dialect. Micah didn’t understand.

Next, Tender Matthews, Micah’s distractingly buxom biology teacher only six years older than he, corrected his spelling of ‘colour’ in a paper describing how chameleons manipulate chromatophores to send messages or convey a change in mood. Tender was the object of Micah’s private and deeply held sexual crush. Later, he made a not-so-subtle pass at her, saying “You’d like my French toast, Ms. Matthews. What say you come over Friday night and I’ll fix you some for breakfast on Saturday morning, eh?”

She required him to write a letter of apology for his actions. He wrote, “I am very sorry for my behaviour toward you. I recognise it as inappropriate  and promise to practise restraint.”

In spite of his aberrant speech and spelling, and despite his inappropriate lust for his biology teacher, Micah’s grades were among the highest in his high school graduating class. His parents, Barley and Virginia Blaine, rewarded his academic achievements by offering to pay for a trip to Europe the summer after graduation if he maintained his grade point average. Micah expressed appreciation for their offer, but asked, instead, for a trip to Montreal. Perplexed, the Blaines agreed to his request.

Unbeknownst to his parents, Micah had applied and been accepted for admission to McGill University. His trip to Montreal was, in part, a job-hunting expedition, the success of which would determine whether he would begin school there in the fall. Another purpose of the trip was to introduce Tender Matthews, who had since more than forgiven his overture, to the wonders of Canadian life with a younger paramour.

[More to come, later…much later.]

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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