FORT KENT, Maine — It goes without saying that there are a great many things I miss since the loss of my husband, Patrick, in 2008.

Like how much I enjoyed the local French that would creep into our day-to-day conversations.

I’ve been reminded of this over the past couple of months because, thanks to my friend and St. John Valley native Julie Pelletier, there is something of a Valley French patois renaissance going on here at Rusty Metal Farm.

With apologies for my phonetic spellings of what is largely a spoken version of French, I share the following observations.

It seems every day a new word, phrase or idiom works its way into our conversation, sparking equal parts linguistic research and gales of laughter about my own, somewhat unique, spin on the language.

I admire people who are capable of communicating in more than one language, but sadly my own fluency is limited to English and cussing.

However, after more than 35 years in northern Maine, where French is still commonly heard in shops, homes and on the streets of the Canadian border communities, I have amassed a pretty fair vocabulary of the local dialect.

It may not be expansive, but man, is it ever eclectic and adaptive.

Adaptive because it has become increasingly apparent that due to years of my mispronouncing certain words and Patrick’s good-natured acceptance of my pronunciations, we had pretty much developed our own language here on Ferme de Metal Rouille.

Take “takee” for example. For years we’d refer to various and sundry blankets, pieces of cloth or coverings under that general heading, often combined with an English modifier.

There were “table takees” for place-mats, “couch takees” for a blanket to cover and protect furniture from pets and “wall takees” for decorative hangings.

Julie was mystified by these when I first started using them and for weeks struggled to find a translation in her own native-French speaking vocabulary.

But it was not until I attended the traditional Christmas Day gathering at my in-laws’ that the truth came out.

While there, I asked the gathering of a dozen or so brothers-, sisters-, nephews- and nieces-in-law if they could help out with a takee translation.

About two dozen eyes blinked several times simultaneously, looking at me as they all struggled to figure out what the heck I was talking about.

Finally, it dawned on them, and let’s just say the merriment was pretty general and sustained.

Seemed that all these years I had been saying “takee” when the actual word seemed to be a French version of the English word “tack,” meaning to stitch something together.

I guess that makes my version “takee,” meaning anything stitched together.

It is also possible I had years ago mispronounced the word “tapis,” meaning carpet or mat and Patrick just went along with it. Thanks a lot.

Meanwhile, back here on the farm Julie and I have been having a blast rediscovering a mutual love of the local French patois.

Several times a day my cats Boris and Natasha jump on a lap to “froler” [rub] against one of us. In return we “flat” [pet or stroke] them until they are “avacher” [sprawled out] on the ground or a piece of furniture like limp noodles.

Sometimes the cats get so excited by the attention they begin to “bave” [drool] all over themselves.

There’s constant “peezhing” [picking or taking] of samples of food while in the kitchen for which I am often “bavassed’ [scolded] which has been known to make me a bit “marabou,” [grumpy] to the point I begin to “boud” [pout or sulk].

Julie and I spend a great deal of time “jasing” [chatting or prattling on] and I am quite certain, were he still with us, Patrick would be accusing us of “caquesse” or cackling like hens.

If our jasing starts to get in the way of productive activity, we can be accused of “niasing,” or “goofing” around.

Many of the words I learned from Patrick were directly related to his work as a patenteur — or fabricator, of which he was one of the best.

Of course, many of the words I learned, however, are not suitable for a family paper. But there are those that just seem to convey meaning far better than any English counterpart.

There’s “piton” for a switch, button or peg. “Guenille” for a cleaning rag; and “greement” for a piece of equipment, including the tiniest of bolts to the largest of trucks and everything in between.

Too much physical work or activity could lead to “mal de raquettes,” literally translated to “snowshoe sickness,” but meaning “sore” or “achey.”

Early on in her graduate study years at Michigan State University, Julie was able to put her knowledge of the St. John Valley French to good use while working for a company researching historic documents for a treaty rights court case.

“The company came across these documents from the 1800s written in French that needed to be translated before they could be summarized for the attorney,” Julie told me. “They had French translators but they were really struggling with the documents because they were written in old French.”

One of her colleagues knew of Julie’s background in “old” French and turned her loose on the papers.

“I just had to hear the words on the paper in my head and I was able to translate them,” Julie said. “The language up here is so authentic [and] like an historical time capsule because it preserves phrases and words that a lot of other French speakers have forgotten.”

All those connected with the treaty project were amazed and delighted she could do the translations, Julie said.

“The idea that living people still spoke a very old version of a language was very exciting to them,” she said.

Meanwhile, up here at Rusty Metal Farm, we continue to “pelotte” [amble] down our linguistic memory lane.

I can almost hear Patrick now, “Ben, deux poules qui caquesse” — basically meaning, “Well, there go two cackling hens.”

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.