If you missed yesterday’s post, expat Kathy Taylor has arrived in a sleepy little town in the middle of France, with her husband Jack, baby Max and the twins Susie and Toby who just started at school. Finding her way around with her schoolgirl French isn’t always easy ….
Over the next couple of week’s Kathy gradually settled in to the new school routine. Her day’s started early getting everyone ready and out the door on time, and once the children were at school she began to find her marks in the sleepy little town. The high point of her week was the farmer’s market, on the old town square, where she would shop her fresh food and pick up new French vocabulary.
Marie Claire was a big help, and never failed to say bonjour each morning, but she also had a career to maintain and their morning coffees were rare occasions.
Kathy knew that she had to make herself one or two good friends, and one day while shopping her hopes were raised. A very chic looking young woman came up to her and introduced herself as Perrine du Combignac. She explained that she had heard about Kathy via a friend and she wondered whether she would enjoy coming to tea at her home, to meet some other ladies.
Kathy was pleased and intrigued. Perrine seemed very kind, but she found her manner slightly intimidating and she wondered how the tea would go. On the Tuesday afternoon, she found her way to the address that Perrine had given and rung at the door. The house was old and imposing with a heavy wooden door. She had dressed herself and baby Max with care, and as they stood waiting for the door to open, she gently smoothed his blond hair down and whispered to him “I wonder what they’ll be like? Best behaviour Max, we want to make a good impression!”
The door swung open and there was Perrine, dressed beautifully in an elegant deep red dress, patent flats and pearls. She greeted Kathy warmly and shook her hand. Helped her with her coat and made a fuss over little Max then ushered her into a formal salon, furnished beautifully with antiques and paintings. Here, Kathy found a circle of young French women, sipping tea from elegant bone china cups and chatting calmly and politely. They turned as one to smile at Kathy and took turns in broken English to ask her how she came to be in this remote region of the French countryside.
It was a very pleasant afternoon, but Max was the only baby and Kathy was aware that her lifestyle was very different to these girls’ who had all left their youngest with a minder or a mother-in-law. After a couple of hours she left to collect the twins from school, and promised Perrine to stay in touch.
That evening over dinner, Jack caught her staring into nowhere as she was stirring a sauce …. “Penny for them?”, he came up and squeezed her gently around the waist.
Kathy smiled, “you know Jack, if we are going to stay here, I’ll just have to create my own entertainment. I’m thinking I’ll start some painting again. Who knows I may even find a class to join”.
“Great idea”, said Jack,” you go girl… now what’s for dinner?” Kathy smiled to herself, and the next day while Max was having a nap, she got out her paints out, set up an easel in the garden and lost herself for almost two hours in a big bold canvas.
Suddenly realising she was late for the twins, she grabbed her bag, put a sleepy Max into the car and drove to the school, still wearing her paint splattered trousers. Susie and Toby were the last children at the gate, but she found them chatting happily to their teacher, Mademoiselle Auvergne.
“Ah pardon Madamoiselle, I am so so sorry to be late”, Kathy hugged her children and tried to explain in a mix of French and English that it was the first time she had painted for months and she didn’t see the time go past.
“Alors you paint! replied the young teacher, smiling at her trousers “but I did not know zis. Zis is wondorfull, please, come with me, come with me …”
Kathy and the children were led back into the school by Mademoiselle who stopped in front of wide double doors. Before she opened them, she turned with an excited smile “‘Zees is our school atelier, you know for ze painting!” She swung the doors open to reveal a large room with tables, and easels and a wonderful smell of paint.
Kathy and the children walked in, Kathy’s mouth was open “But this is a lovely painting room , er c’est très beau, très bien …” She said to the teacher, and then asked her children, “Have you two ever painted in here?” “No Mom, we don’t do painting in school because there is no teacher for it”
Mademoiselle Auvergne stood in front of Kathy, and took her hand, as if to plead: “Madame Taylor, is it possible for you to come to the school to teach ze pupils ze painting? S’il vous plait”
“What?! Really?! I mean can I?! ah merci, merci Madame, oui! je veux faire ca!”
Within a week the room was dusted down, aired, restocked and ready to go. Kathy understood that there had been no painting teacher on the premises for the past year, and the school was delighted that she would take on the project.
Word quickly got out that the maman anglaise was running art classes after school and in no time there was a queue at the door. Two other mothers turned up to help, delighted to find another artistic spirit in the school, and Kathy was happy to be involved and useful.
Through the art class she found herself other friends in town, and by the end of the first term she really felt she had settled in and become part of French life. And when at the start of the next school year Mademoiselle Auvergne told her there was a new family arriving at the school, who didn’t speak very good French, Kathy found herself smiling and playing the role of ambassador and welcoming committee.
We all have our place and our role to play…. it’s just up to us to find it.
Thank you for your patience with my fiction, as always it is just for fun.