I spent the summer of 1954 getting ready to go to boarding school in Caudéran, a suburb of Bordeaux. The school, named École Sainte Marie Grand Lebrun, was a Marianist order school. I watched my mother delicately sewing my initials and my school identification number “616” into my clothing. I also practiced conjugating Latin verbs to give myself a head start.
Finally, the important day arrived: it was time to depart for Grand Lebrun. I was anxious and excited to be in the school with Bernard, my brother five years older. I vividly remember my mom helping me find my desk in the huge study. Besides studying French, history, geography, and math, we were introduced to Latin and English. Because it was a Roman Catholic school, we also religion classes three times a week. The strict discipline began at 6:30 in the morning and was not over until 9:30 at night.
I quickly got into trouble with the discipline and the quality of my academic work. Every Friday morning, the principal, a priest, came into the classroom to deliver the grades. Students with disciplinary infractions spent Sunday afternoon between one and four o’clock in the study hall. After two long months, I got to go home for a church Holiday, All Saints Day.
At that time, my maternal grandfather, Camille, came to live with us. I have fond memories of him, observing nature, studying the ecology around us. I, too, loved being in the country, exploring all the life around me–birds, animals, blooming flowers. Fresh fruit abounded and I enjoyed eating the strawberries, cherries, peaches, pears, and apples from the orchard and the ripening grapes in the vineyard surrounding the house.
Those school years were a struggle for me. I felt a lot of pressure to excel academically, but since I failed to adapt to the strict rules, I was always in trouble. Athletics, on the other hand, were successful for me. I was a strong soccer player, a leader on the field. One year our team was named the best private high school team in the country. I ran track, did high jump and long jump, and always participated and earned medals in the national tournament.
My parents, however, were interested only in my grades. When I was a young teen, my father would ask, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” “I don’t know,” I would say, which meant it was time for a lecture. My dad’s stature made me feel small, and I was intimidated by his accomplishments in spite having only a local elementary school education.
Our family never went on vacation. During the summers home from school, I spent the mornings doing jobs around the house; in the afternoons, I played tennis. Most days my friend Philippe and his brother Michel, sons of the pharmacists in Rauzan, came on their bikes and we played all afternoon. When I was 12, my uncle Charles gave me a real leather soccer ball. Philippe and I would practice our soccer skills, sometimes joined by my brother Bernard. My dad was gone at work and my mom left us alone.
My mom promised me to buy a mobylette, a small scooter, if I passed my brevet, a national exam. I succeeded, got my moped, and started to have a lot more freedom. I was 16. Two years later I succeeded in receiving the first part of the baccalauréat. The following year I failed the second part. Some plans were drawn for me to repeat my last year of high school in London, at the French high school, then go to the University of California in Davis to study pomology, or fruit growing.