I began my obsession with France when I was nine years old, and I blame Paul McCartney for it.

Just like millions of other young girls in February 1964, I watched The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show like an egret watching her nest.

I fell head over heels in love with those Liverpool boys, and Paul was my favorite. In the 1960s, the local newspaper often published photos of the Beatles coming out of hotels, in restaurants and walking through airports, so I pounced on the paper when my father was done with it.

I loved everything Paul loved. If I had ever seen a photo of him knitting, I would have knitted an afghan for our ’57 Chevy. Then, as fate would have it, in the newspaper there was a photo of Paul wearing a French beret.

Paul's beret

Paul’s beret

When he sang “Ces sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble” in his song, Michelle, I reasoned that Paul McCartney would have never written that song nor worn that beret if he didn’t love France. Therefore, I loved France.

(Of course, as I grew older, I realized there were other valid reasons to appreciate France—the food, wine, art, literature, music, architecture, exciting cities and beautiful countryside.)

When I got a kitten at age ten, I named her Chat, which is the French word for “cat.” I had no idea the French were so vague about their final consonants. I should have pronounced it shah, but I pronounced it chatte, which means something naughty in French. Fortunately, no one in my neighborhood in Marietta, Georgia knew French slang.

My mother encouraged my obsession by buying me a beret and informing me that the President’s wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, spoke French. She said all sophisticated people knew how to speak French.

When I got to high school, they offered Spanish and Latin, but not French. So I went to the principal and asked why. He told me that no one would take French, so I gathered a group of friends to prove him wrong. We sat in the library after school, reading from a French book I found. We said sentences like “Je voudrais une tasse de thé” which came out like “Jee voudrash uni tassi duh thee.”

After a week of this, I went to the office where the gray-haired secretary was staring at her typewriter.

“Would you please let the principal know we’re studying French in the library?” I asked.

“Tell him yourself.” She sucked something out of her teeth while nodding toward his office. I went in. He was sitting behind his old metal desk, leaning over a copy of Deer & Ammo magazine.

“We are meeting in the library every afternoon to study French. You should come see us,” I said.

“I believe you,” he said, never taking his eyes off glossy photos of deer carcasses. But he did hire a French teacher the next year. They voted me President of the French Club and we put on a cabaret to raise money to buy a cassette player. We sold Sara Lee pastries and Sanka coffee in white Styrofoam cups.

I dressed up to look like the French cabaret singers I had seen in old movies. I was supposed to be Edith Piaf, but actually I had no idea what she looked like. I put together an outfit while rummaging in my mother’s closet–a tight black dress, black fishnet stockings, spiky black heels and a red feather boa. Hmm. Maybe I was channeling Leslie Caron from An American in Paris when I lip-synced a French song about needing my lover tonight.

When I danced and slipped the red boa around the principal’s neck, he blushed and tapped his foot nervously, knowing he would undoubtedly go to hell for having allowed this kind of thing in North Cobb High School.