by Janet Chandler Allingham from Morrisburg, ON
Our first home, after our marriage in l975, was a third floor apartment on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal.
This was at a time when English organizations in Montreal were beginning to realize that it was an asset to have bilingual employees.
My husband and I, having grown up in English-speaking neighbourhoods, had never made much use of the French skills we had acquired in school. Now that I was actually beginning to use French in my daily life, I was keen to practice.
So I was excited to find out that the name of the concierge in our apartment building was "Alphonse Fournier". Alphonse took it upon himself to teach us newlyweds about much more than French language and culture. He acquainted us with various aspects of car maintenance, laundry, cleaning, snow removal, and pressure cooker use. Pressure cookers, he told us, could destroy a marriage!
One day when I delivered our rent cheque to Alphonse's apartment I noticed a collection of newspaper clippings taped to the wall behind him. All of them contained photographs of Her Majesty, the Queen. The pictures of British royalty in Alphonse's home surprised me. I commented on them.
Alphonse’s response surprised me even more.
Pointing to his collection, he said: "I've met her. And I 1iked her".
In answer to my questions of "how, when and where", Alphonse told me the following story:
During World War II he had left his Gaspe home to serve with the Canadian Army. Eventually he ended up as the head of a convoy in the south of Eng1and.
One day he was travelling down the road when he noticed another military vehicle at the side of the road. He signaled for his convoy to stop so that they could offer help.
Alphonse said, "As I got closer I realized that it was HER".
He had come upon Princess Elizabeth, then a member of the Women's Auxilliary Corps.
She had been driving with another woman in the corps. Their vehicle had broken down. Alphonse offered to attempt to fix the problem, and suggested to the two women that they might wish to sit down nearby. Two things impressed him and caused him to become emotional as he told me the story. First, he said, The Princess had immediately responded to him in French. Second, she had said that she would remain standing because Alphonse was of higher rank than she!
And that is how one of the Princess' (and later the Queen's) most ardent admirers was born.
Alphonse's story comes to my mind whenever I think about the importance of respecting everyone we encounter along the path of life.