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Jacque Huhes

Jacque Hughes

French I
French II
French III
French IV

Arguably, one of the most effective teachers on the 1958 OUHS campus, Mr. Hughes was French Canadian by birth and attended university in Edinburgh, Scotland, which perhaps was partially responsible for his formal speech and very proper European presence.

His first hour with a new class was spent setting the ground rules for what he expected from his pupils and what the consequences were for lapses in proper conduct. No chewing gum. No talking. Listen to every word because he didn't waste them. The consequences for violation of his rules: being bent over in front of the class while he ceremoniously administered an humiliating soft tap with the side of his well polished shoe on the offenders backside.  The class was his uncontested realm for the year.

A class subject presented in his Canadian English, with a quaint European flavor, commanded the class's attention. Everyone was amused by his pronunciation of mosquitoes as "moss-kwittos".

When his class could not answer a question correctly, a stern, theatrical Mr. Hughes often admonished them with, "You blocks! You stones! You worse than senseless things!"

There was no way you could sleep or even let your focus drift momentarily from his presentation. His eye purposefully moved from student to student as he spoke. If you appeared to be inattentive, you immediately got a question from him, almost certainly exposing your ignorance.

Daryl Autrey

Mr. Hughes was one of those teachers who’s persona traveled with those who knew him, years after attending his classes. He taught me French, in spite of my terrible command of English grammar (yes, my first language) that even today, some 52 years after spending two semesters in French 1, I can read phrases, short texts, guide books and the like, even order from a French menu (with an odd Arkansas by way of California accent) without getting “horsemeat Beaujolais'” instead of beef.  While this may not seem impressive, consider that even after 3 or 4  years of college level Spanish,  I still sound like a sailor on leave in Tijuana. I was one of those “blocks” that caused him to occasionally retreat into Shakespearian oration. At the same time he knew that even if I gave French my total attention, worked as hard at learning its grammar as I did at flirting and football,  I would never become his star French scholar.  And while he did his best he realized my future lay in other directions. In spite of that, I amused him. For the rest of my high school years he often took the time to joke with me, ask what I was up to, even praise my work in the Junior Play, or some other little triumph of which he had become aware.

One summer afternoon, just before I went into the Air Force, I saw him watering his flowers outside the little house he lived in near the Feather Plunge. When he recognized me he waved and I pulled into the driveway to say good-bye. We drank Lemonade at his immaculate dining table and seemed truly interested in my reasons for joining the Air Force. Over the course of the intervening years, I stopped by to visit him a dozen or so times and was amazed at how little he seemed to change.  He showed me his beautiful collection of Chinese Jade and talked of growing up and going to school in Eastern Canada. He felt the United States educational system paid too little attention to foreign languages. But not European languages he said, prophetically,” the future is in the East. Arabic, Japanese and especially Chinese will be essential languages for success one day, mark my words.”

Just before I left for Saigon we talked for nearly an hour about why the Americans had not learned from the French. “General Giap had been fighting for over a generation prior to humiliating the French at Dien Bien Phu. You cannot defeat an enemy who is that determined in their own country. Keep your head down, lad, and your Chapeau pulled over your ears. Use your French in Saigon, only if you dare.”

As my marriage count reach three, he shook his head and joked, “Thy die was cast in thy Youth, lad. All the pretty flowers”. I laughed as well. I knew he was not laughing at my failures, and that to one as observant of human nature as he, my misfortunes had been foretold all those years earlier.

After he finally retired, I saw him one last time. He said he was finally going to have the time to travel. He encouraged me to read Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the original French. “Some of the poetry is lost in the English version. Just as Melville is not as powerful in French.”It was the only time he pushed me to read/learn more French.

I had heard the vicious rumors that occasionally took flight at his expense, but I never even considered, in those pre-Stonewall days, that he may have actually been gay. I chalked them up to small town prejudice against a fastidious, middle-aged bachelor who chose to live alone. My own prejudice was in thinking it would have been a fault if he had been gay. Whatever the answer, it was entirely his own business. And to his friends it would not have mattered much either way.

Finally, I stopped by one day and found, not Mr. Hughes, but a young couple. They were painting his old kitchen, getting the place ready for a mother or mother-in-law. They didn’t know Mr. Hughes they said. Too bad. I thought. He was quite a guy.

Jim Davis  Class of '61

Sacre bleu! Oui! Non! A swift kick to the backside by the foot for misbehaving! Rules! Discipline! Charismatic! Intelligent! World traveler! The instiller of the French language.

That’s Mr. Hughes. I have him for the first two years of my Oroville High life – French I and II. I am immediately somewhat afraid of him (I think all freshmen are) but it isn’t long before we realize that if we do not disrupt class and we pay attention, he is a pretty nice guy. (As I am to find out later, he is actually just a normal person – with a sense of humor, a love of life and adventure and a true desire to teach and encourage students – kids).

It is 1956, April – the Mardi Gras is an annual event sponsored by the French Club, for which Mr. Hughes is the advisor. I am selected as chairman for this dance – wow, that is a big challenge, but one I am more than willing to take on. This dance is always held on a Saturday night in the Girls’ Gym, so all that day is spent transforming the “gym” into a French Ballroom – crepe paper is strung across the top of the gym creating a ceiling of movement from center to corner. There is a marriage booth, a divorce booth (they are not near each other!!!), drink and food booths, a photo spot, and during the course of the evening, the Can-Can is even performed for entertainment.

With everything in place, the big Mardi Gras begins – all members of the French Club attend, as does half the student body, Somewhere during the evening “it happens”….. the part of this event that every female French student dreads and fears. I HAVE TO DANCE WITH MR. HUGHES!!!! Every girl HAS to dance with him upon his invitation. He is a very graceful dancer, gliding across the dance floor with such ease and elegance, both of which I do not possess! I am sure I step on his toes at least a dozen times and I want that dance to stop instantly. But, alas, it does not. But when the last beat of that song is done, I am so relieved and happy - now it is another girl’s turn on the dance floor with him, and I can finally really enjoy the rest of the evening.

P.S. to this story – above I mention that Mr. Hughes is really just a normal guy and you probably wonder how I know this. Well, after I start dating my “sweetheart” and I have dinners at his parents’ house, who is another guest in their home on a regular basis – none other than Mr. Hughes!!

Shirley Anderson

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