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In Memory of Betty Ann Hanson (1930-2003)
Betty Hanson, my American Mom
A chapter of "Légendes" (POL, Paris, 2002) translated by Amy Daniels.
Article du 7 octobre 2003

In 1972-1973, when I was 18, I spent a year as an AFS exchange student in Bloomington, Minnesota, with an American family. The Stainers (Charlie and Betty were the parents ; Chuck, Juno and Jimmy, their three children) adopted me and I dare say that year I spent with them changed my life forever. I have written an extensive account of that year in one of my latest books, Légendes (POL, 2002), which was also the first book I pre-published as a serial on the Internet site of the publisher. Following is a chapter of that book.

I liked "Laugh-In" and TV comedies because their humor is based on two things : the double-entendre in the lines and the winking at the audience. At first, obviously I didn’t understand much when I watched them. When I asked Betty or Charlie to tell me what was making them laugh they started replying :

"Oh, I can’t translate that !" And then, they explained the context, scrutinized the play on words, and explained to whom or to what it was referring. They did it willingly, systematically, and soon it was a collaborative effort. Juno, Jimmy, Chuck, and soon their friends took up the habit of doing it. "You’ve got a lot to learn, Sjaaaack !", Chuck would say to me.

Betty especially was always very attentive to the language. She took advantage of the fact that I understood English well enough for her to teach me the nuances, and also to initiate me into the surrounding culture. When we traveled to Oklahoma, she pointed out that people there didn’t speak the same way as in Minnesota. One day, we were eating lunch somewhere in Kansas City, and when the waitress, a lady in her fifties, addressed me, Betty drew my attention to her accent and her way of speaking to me as if I were her little boy.

During the weeks following my arrival, everything went well, but Betty realized that I had a hard time integrating myself with Juno’s friends, who were often present at the house. They were a little bit younger than I was, but they were brilliant. They discussed politics, philosophy, ecology, global economics, and I was unable to follow their conversations. They shared ideas with an excitement to which I was foreign. Slowly but surely I started to dislike that, and I ended up by becoming really unpleasant with them.

One day, Betty and I were alone in the house, and she spoke to me firmly, explaining that I couldn’t keep on being so withdrawn and being so high and mighty towards others. She understood that it wasn’t really out of contempt, but out of fear, or from a lack of confidence in myself. I didn’t have any problem with her, but I knew it was all about talking with strangers. I was doing everything wrong. I interfered in conversations when I shouldn’t have, and I withdrew when people were waiting for me to open up.

This conversation was painful to me, but in the end I felt relieved. I knew that I could ask her advice, that she was on my side, and that I was not alone. In that fascinating but unknown universe, I had an ally.

Betty was not only happy to help me out, she also loved me since the second she saw me. She adopted me. She treated me like one of her own. She talked to me and listened too. She taught me how to practice irony and humor. She made me be quiet when I talked too much, and she told me to stop me when I went over the line. She held me in her arms me when I wasn’t feeling well. She laughed when I started making puns. She was my mother in the foreign land, my mother in words.

Betty Ann Hanson died on Sept. 14 at Worthington Regional Hospital, Worthington, MN.


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