This is an excerpt from my new novella, Meeting Margo. Scroll down for more information or click here.
It’s December 1967, and seven-year-old Margo LeDoux’s family, just moved to the states from Canada, is living in a rented house in nearby Biglerville PA while their new home is built. In this scene, Margo and her best friend (the narrator) Brian Pressley sit quietly while Margo’s parents, Francoise and Tom LeDoux, tell Brian’s parents how they met each other.
After dinner, Danny and John-Paul ran upstairs to John-Paul’s room to play, and Margo’s Mom got the grownups coffee, and while Margo and I both had a second piece of Jewish Apple Cake, her parents told us how they met.
Mr. LeDoux was an all-Ontario high school basketball player– “Never could play hockey. I always looked like a giraffe out there on those skates” –and was courted by Syracuse, Temple, and North Carolina, but decided to stay north and attend Carleton, a college in Ottawa. In February of his freshman year, Carleton traveled to Quebec for a game against LaVal, and about midway through the second half of the game, he went to the line for a two-shot foul and spotted 18-year-old Quebecoise freshman beauty Francoise Trudeau sitting in the student seats, a few rows up from the floor, right behind the bucket.
“I saw her and I was totally distracted,” Mr. LeDoux said. “Tanked both foul shots. Well, that was it… later in the game, they’re fouling us to stop the clock, and of course they had my number… I mean, they were givin’ away fouls to me, and I just… as soon as I touched the ball, they’d foul me and up to the line in front of Fran I’d go. Trying not to look at her, but still…” He feigned taking foul shots as he talked. “Airball… rim… iron… rim… airball. I think I went up there six times… made one shot, the front end of a one-and-one, and I missed the second half of that one.”
“You sure she wasn’t planted there?” Dad said.
“Oh, like a rose… believe me.” Mr. LeDoux smiled as Margo’s Mom patted his hand lightly. “And I tried to not look at her… then I tried looking right at her, which just made it worse.” He looked down, shy. “I felt so weird. I mean, I’d never seen this girl before, but I felt like I’d met her someplace already.”
Wow. Just like I felt when I met Margo.
“Moi, aussi… me too,” Margo’s Mom whispered.
Mr. LeDoux shifted in his seat. “And, I mean, there it was… the middle of a game… we needed that win… I didn’t know what to do…”
“You had to make your foul shots,” Mrs. LeDoux said.
Mr. LeDoux shook his head, like the memory of those missed shots and that loss still smarted. “I know, I know…” He took another sip of his coffee and set his mug back on the table. “Anyway, the game ends… we lost… if I’d made just two of those free throws…” He sighed “…anyway… we’re goin’ back to the locker room, and on our way off the floor, all the kids are milling around, the fans, you know… so I kinda veeeeeeer off to the left, over to the bleachers, and there she is, standing at the baseline, buttoning up her overcoat. And she looks at me and she smiles, and I smile back… and I say, ‘Bon jour,’ ‘cause, you know, we were in Quebec… and she says ‘Bon jour’ back, and we both laugh. O.K. So I go, ‘I’m Tom. Tom LeDoux.’”
Mrs. LeDoux took a sip of her coffee and sat sideways. “I think, ‘That was a name…’” she said, “so I say, ‘Je m’appelle Francoise Trudeau,’ and Thomas says, ‘Francoise,’ and we both are nodding our heads… and so I say, ‘Je suis désolés que votre équipe ait perdu’… I am sorry that you lost the game, even though I was happy. And Thomas, he smiles. Very sweet smile. But it was the look you get when you speak to a tourist. No French.”
“And Fran ne a parlais pas anglais,” Mr. LeDoux said, obviously impressed with himself that, no matter what else, he could at least say Can’t speak English in French. “So there we stand… under the bucket… lookin’ at each other… and meanwhile, Coach… Coach wasn’t all that tickled with me anyway, ‘cause I blew it at the line, but then he looks over and sees me standing there with this LaVal coed… I’m surprised he didn’t come over and throttle me, you know?” Mr. LeDoux chuckled to himself. “Well, he really let me have it when I got back into the locker room. But really, I didn’t care. I mean, I cared, ‘cause we lost, but… you know. Fran was the one. This was my chance.” He took a sip of his coffee.
“What’d you do?” Mom said.
“Well,” Mr. LeDoux said, setting his cup back down on the saucer, “there was this… guy… standing there next to Fran… leather jacket… looked kind of James Dean-ish… and I thought, ‘He looks like he speaks English,’ so I said, ‘Hey buddy… you wanna translate here for us?’”
Mrs. LeDoux took a sip of her coffee. “And that ‘buddy’ was my date. Raymond.”
Dad laughed. “Did he translate for you?”
Mr. LeDoux chuckled. “Nohhhh… no, he… he wasn’t too keen on that idea,” he said, tapping the handle of his fork against his plate as he paused. “No, but there was this other co-ed there, you know… and she… she said, ‘I’ll translate…’ So we exchange… write down names and addresses on the back of a roster card… and, God, I don’t know what happened, but somewhere between the locker room at Laval and the locker room at Carleton, I lost it.”
“Oh, no!” Dad said.
“Yeah, yeah… It must have been at Laval, because… you know, I got back in the locker room and coach was just perched like a falcon waiting for me.” Mr. LeDoux raised his voice a half-octave. “‘We just lost a game and there you are, huntin’ down….’” He stopped himself again. “I mean, it was up, down, all around… ten minutes… names, words I couldn’t repeat here… and I deserved it, but…” He just smiled as Mrs. LeDoux patted his hand. “So anyway… I don’t know where I lost it, but when we got back to Carleton, I didn’t have it. I went back out in the cold… I searched the bus… me and my buddy Pat Palmer, we were out in the snow with flashlights… Nothing. Nothing. I was… I was suicidal. For a week. Seriously. I wanted to kill myself.”
“I’m glad you didn’t, Dad,” Margo said.
“Me, too, little girl,” Mr. LeDoux said.
“Well, then, how’d you end up getting a hold of her?” Mom said.
“Well,” Mrs. LeDoux said, “some of us do not lose important papers…” She mimicked removing the address from down between her cleavage “…and so I go back to the dormitory… I write Thomas a small letter…” She took a sip of her coffee. “I did not want to wait… but I did not also want to look…” She bit her lip as she thought, then looked at my Mom. “Unladylike?” she said.
“Ouais,” Mom said.
“Unladylike,” Mrs. LeDoux repeated, a little more confidently. “I did not want to look unladylike, but also I did not want to wait. So I write a letter.”
“And meanwhile,” Mr. LeDoux said, “there I am at Carleton, mopin’ around… thinkin’, ‘Man, my dream girl, and I blew it…’ And then after practice the following Wednesday, I got the mail… and as soon as I saw the envelope with ‘LaVal University’ on it, I knew who it was from.”
“Raymond,” Mrs. LeDoux said, straightfaced.
Mr. LeDoux slapped her hand lightly. “Raymond,” he laughed, and he sat forward and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. “No… it was…” He opened his wallet and took out a perfectly-preserved deckle-edged black-and-white yearbook photo of a 17-year-old Mrs. LeDoux “…this.” He handed the picture across to my Dad, who looked at the front, then the back.
“‘Je capote sur vous,’” Dad read as best he could. “What’s that?”
“Well,” Mom said as she took the picture from Dad, “it means ‘I’m crazy for you.’ That’s not literal, but that’s what it means. I’m crazy for you.”
“I write that later,” Mrs. LeDoux said. “When I send it, nothing on the back. Just my name. And the letter. I said it was nice to meet you, and I would like to meet you again… and gave my number, the telephone…”
Mom was still looking at the picture, holding it up and comparing it to Margo. “You look so much like your Mommy, Margo,” she said.
Margo looked down. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“So,” Dad said, looking at Margo’s Dad, “you got Fran’s letter…”
“…I got Fran’s letter,” Mr. LeDoux said, “and I swear… I screamed ‘YIPPEE!’ for a week. I bet… I bet I had a letter in the mail within two hours.”
“In both English and French,” Mrs. LeDoux said. “Did Pat Palmer write the French for you?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Mr. LeDoux said, nodding. “I wrote the original and he translated.”
“So… why did you not bring him along for the marriage?” Mrs. LeDoux said, smirking.
“I do all right with French,” Mr. LeDoux said, as indignantly as he could manage.
“Ehhhh… quelquefois,” Mrs. LeDoux tittered, taking a sip of her coffee.
“Quelquefois,” Mr. LeDoux repeated, like he knew that one. “See,” he continued, taking his wife’s hand above the table, “she knows I can’t say anything, because her English is a lot better than my French.”
Mrs. LeDoux nodded. “Marguerite speaks both. Jompaw too.”
“Really?” Dad said.
“Yeah,” Mr. LeDoux said, looking at Margo. “She translates for us sometimes.”
Dad looked at Margo. “How’s it feel to know both, Margo?”
Margo thought for a couple seconds.
“Lucky,” she said at last.
Mom was leaning forward, her chin in her hands, with her elbows on the table!
Why didn’t I have a camera when I needed one?
“So… how’d you two finally meet?” Mom cooed. “Where? When?”
“Well, Thomas, he calls,” Mrs. LeDoux said, “and we try to talk. Somehow… we agree to meet in Montreal for coffee Easter Saturday.” She laughed gently. “Is amazing one of us did not end up in Newfoundland.”
“Really,” Mr. LeDoux said. “We could barely communicate. Until we met, of course… and even then…” He shook his head. “So anyway, we met again when the term was over, and then Mom and Dad let me have Fran up to the cottage at the lake in July, and that weekend…” He smiled big as he looked down. “…that was it.” He looked at his wife. “I just… I remember us sitting on the deck after dinner the night before she was going to go back to St. Hyacinthe, thinking, ‘You know, I could transfer to LaVal and play there,’ and just as that thought crossed my mind, Fran says, ‘Thomas… maybe I go to Carleton.’”
“Which was not as easy as it sounded on the porch,” Mrs. LeDoux said. “My Mother… very old Quebec… she did not want me to move to an English school. But I did anyway. To Carleton, with Thomas. And then three weeks into the term, we marry. Niagara Falls…” She tittered and looked at her husband. “…slowwwwwly we turn… step by step… inch by inch…”
Mr. LeDoux chuckled as he took a sip of his coffee. “And then a couple weeks before Halloween, Fran found out that she was pregnant with Margo.”
Margo popped the last forkful of cake into her mouth.
“And here I am!”
About Meeting Margo…
A prequel to my coming-of-age novels You Don’t Think She Is and Meeting Dennis Wilson, Meeting Margo tells the story of how seven-year-old Brian Pressley met and became best friends with Quebecoise tomboy Margo LeDoux.