When I started school in the mid-1950s the accents of my classmates and teachers seemed strange.
The prayers that came over the intercom each morning were as foreign as some of the food in the cafeteria.
Though only about 60 miles from Baton Rouge, where I was born, parts of living in Labadieville were like living in a foreign land.
My classmates spoke English, but interspersed French words and phrases. French was the language of their grandparents, some of whom spoke no English.
I picked up the common French phrases through context, the way a child would upon moving to a foreign country. Occasionally one will still roll from my tongue when it seems the best descriptive.
Nevertheless, I would continue to find myself at a disadvantage to my peers eight years later when I took French at Assumption High School and lagged classmates in French vocabulary and pronunciation.
“Mr. Anderson, you speak French like a Texan,” my French teacher told me.
I switched to Latin.
I did better with that, even though the other students heard it every Sunday.
Though I attended a public school, each morning we recited a “Hail, Mary” at the beginning of class.
The “Our Father,” came next. I knew it, though I sometimes tagged too many words to the end. That brought questioning looks from the class until a teacher explained that Protestants said a slightly different version of the prayer.
Some also questioned why I didn’t make the sign of the cross at the end of the prayers, even though I put my hand over my heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. It was my introduction to the confusion many people have between religion and patriotism.
When I started school, I was the only Protestant in my class, though there were a few in the other seven grades.
Religious differences stood out most when all of the Catholic students marched to St. Philomena Catholic Church during school hours for Way of the Cross and other religious services.
I wouldn’t have minded the long recess if there had been someone to play marbles with.
Though the experience left me a proponent of separation of church and state, I seldom felt religious animosity from my classmates.
One of the many beauties of Cajun culture is its penchant for acceptance. The questions I got about my faith tended to be inquisitive and not belittling.
It took decades for me to fully appreciate the impact of Cajun culture on my life.
Being an outsider taught me to adapt.
And from the soul of Cajun culture I learned tolerance, a subtle wisdom and an addition to the measure of compassion I had gained from my own family.
If I had it to do over, I would choose to grow up along the bayou again.
Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved