Here – a day late – is the sequel to my tale that I started last week, you can read the first part HERE. It is fiction based on some fact, as I really did have the privilege of meeting a couple like Henri and Odette, and they really did send wine to my table, where I was having lunch with American friends.
The detail of the air crash and the young soldier victims is also true; in our valley there is a commonwealth graveyard, where 8 young men are buried, three from Australia and five from England.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for your kind comments on the first instalment.
When Judy and Elizabeth meet
As Elizabeth approached the cemetery she noticed that a car was parked beside the gate “That’s a shame”, she muttered to herself, “thought I’d have the place to myself”.
She pushed open the gate to the cemetery, noticing the plaque on the wall ‘Commonwealth war graves’. It was a small, stone-walled graveyard, with maybe less than a hundred gravestones. Typical of the region, the cemetery was reserved for families from the adjacent village, and as well as simple gravestones, there were also larger family tombs, with stone or marble plaques on the outside listing the family members buried there.
At the far end of the graveyard, Elizabeth spotted the neat military gravestones. Perfectly aligned, perfectly maintained, identical in size and shape. There was a woman standing looking at them, her back to Elizabeth. When Elizabeth noticed her take a handkerchief from her pocket she changed her mind about walking any closer, thinking that maybe the lady needed some time alone. She wandered a little around the graveyard, reading the old headstones, until she came full circle back to the military graves.
The woman turned to look at her, “Bonjour”, “Oh, hello” replied Elizabeth.
“Oh you speak English, what a relief. Are you here to see the headstones too?”
“Yes, replied Elizabeth, the owner of my B&B told me the story of the plane crash and I was curious to learn more.”
She leaned over and looked at the stones, reading their ages out loud, “20, 34, 20, 20, 27, 22, 34 …. oh my, they were so young, how dreadful”.
The woman nodded, but said nothing, visibly upset. “Oh I’m so sorry, said Elizabeth, was one of these young men part of your family?”
The lady dabbed her eyes, and nodded, “I didn’t expect to be this moved. It’s Harry, there on the left, he would have been my uncle. My name is Judy by the way,” she held out her hand, and Elizabeth reciprocated “hello, I’m Elizabeth”.
The slipped into an easy conversation about the sacrifice of the past generation, and how important it was to remember, and half an hour later, Elizabeth climbed into Judy’s car as if they had known each other for years.
When Judy and Elizabeth meet Maryann
Judy and Elizabeth had dinner together the day they met, and quickly realized that they planned to visit the same places over the next week or so. They enjoyed each others company and shared a love of history and a curiosity about French culture, and it was decided that they’d spend a few days together enjoying the beauty of Normandy in June.
Which is why they turned up at the Omaha beach cemetery on the 6th June, the D-day anniversary. As Elizabeth parked her car, she peered up at the grey sky. “mmm, looks like we may get wet”. She retrieved a light raincoat from the trunk, before joining Judy and walking down the sandy path towards the cemetery.
Neither had ever visited Omaha before, and they were astounded by the beauty of the long sandy beach, and even more by the simple beauty and emotion of the site with its never ending lines of pristine white crosses.
“Oh my, have you ever seen anything like this?”, Judy said quietly. They wandered down the central path then struck out diagonally, looking at the names on the crosses as they walked slowly and in silence.
Suddenly there was a mighty rush of wind, and the skies opened, a deluge of rain fell and the two women ran as fast as they could to the shelter of a large cedar tree. They pulled their light coats around them, and tried to figure out which side of the tree would protect them the best. Just as they had found the right spot beneath the biggest branch another woman came rushing up, shrieking “what is this all about?!!”, she laughed as she tried to turn her umbrella right side up, and shook her hair that was already dripping with water.
Judy and Elizabeth couldn’t help but laugh too, the three of them huddled beneath the big tree like three drenched birds, it certainly had its funny side. The new arrival introduced herself, “Hi, my name’s Maryann”.
It was not a passing shower but a full grown storm, and thirty minutes later, the damp looking group of women emerged smiling. They had spent the entire downpour talking together, Maryann explaining her passion for history, and how moved she was to have finally got to Omaha. As the rain eased off, Judy turned to Elizabeth and said “I think we just found another travelling partner”.
Henri and Odette
Henri and Odette had left Normandy and moved to Paris many years ago. They had raised their family in Paris, and today they lived in an apartment on la rue de l’Université. They had sometimes spoken of coming back to Normandy and living in the country, but now their children and grandchildren were in Paris, it was just easier to stay put.
After their fortuitous meeting in 1945, they quickly got to know each other and were soon engaged. At the end of the war there was a sense of urgency and renewal in the air, the need to rebuild, to start afresh, to make everything right again.
Henri had always worked hard and had been a good provider. They lived happy lives, but often spoke of those teenage years during the war, and those friends who never knew the luxury of growing older together.
Henri told his grandchildren “if the war had continued another year, then I would have been called up as a soldier, and who knows if I’d be alive today to tell the tale”
Their gratitude towards the Allies, and their admiration for the soldiers who had crossed continents to defend the freedom of France was something they could never forget. And that is why, every beginning of June, when so many visitors came to Normandy to commemorate D-day landings, Henri and Odette also made the trip by car.
They laid flowers on family graves, they walked along the coastline and on their way back to Paris they always stopped at Giverny for a late lunch.
Back to the beginning
And so it is that my little tale comes full circle. Three women: British, Australian and American on one side of a restaurant terrace and an older French couple on the other. The bottle of wine that was gifted to the three ladies was carried back to Henri and Odette, extra chairs were pulled up to their little table and the end of the afternoon was spent sharing the wine, talking, remembering and simply enjoying each others company.
There is no moral to my story, no wise words, except perhaps to remind us all to enjoy the moment, and keep our eyes and minds open, always, for the unexpected encounters and pleasures that await us each day.
COUNTDOWN TO THE BOOK TOUR
As the book tour draws closer, my excitement grows! Today I want to tell you about three other venues where I shall be signing copies of the book
On June the 26th, at 1pm, I’m looking forward to meeting Patricia and Terri at Market with a B, in Marietta. This home décor store is in the heart of town, and we all know how valuable it is to have a good store with great taste within easy driving distance. The link for the Marietta event is HERE
On Monday the 27th at 6pm, I’ll be with a fellow Brit at Architectural Accents. Charles Nevinson has a large antique store that has become a byword for good taste and huge selection of authentic materials. It will fun for me to be surrounded by French and European antiques on the other side of the pond. The link for the event is HERE
The next day I’ll be up early as I am invited by the the ladies of The Sheep Laurel Garden Club in Cashiers NC, to visit with fellow gardeners and talk about my book. I shall visit a couple of private gardens, secateurs in hand! This is going to be so much fun. Before the book signing, I’ll compose a bouquet with the flowers I picked that morning.
The event is hosted by the High Hampton Inn and Country Club, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting, nestling in the heart of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I think that the views, the streams and the beauty of this spot will be one of my many lasting memories of the tour. You can find all the details HERE