On a regular basis, Brat eagerly climbed the fence two doors away to spend time with the neighbor and poodles. While I had many choices around the block, most of the time I simply crossed the driveway to the next door neighbors’ back door.
I completely absorbed the family culture and influences. In some ways, my neighbor had a more direct impact on my early identity than my own family. Certainly, I identified with her Italian heritage, so much so, that for my first eight years I believed I was Italian also.
Only upon sharing that our next school project was to write about our nationalities did my mother correct me (and rather harshly) that we – including moi – were not of Italian lineage. We were French descent.
“What’s French?” I asked.
Normally an innocent question might not have evoked a ballistic response; but that one did. I didn’t remember seeing my mother THIS upset since the time I’d returned home after a day at school. By that term, I was reading really well and was good at phonics. So in perfect diction I repeated the sentiment that was carved into one of the portable’s wooden sides; then I asked Mom what one certain word meant.
That was the first time I’d ever pronounced the particular word beginning with the letter F. Believe me when I tell you: it was also the last time. I learned that asking certain questions could get me into trouble at eight years of age.