coming home – a summer story – part four

by Sharon Santoni

It’s Monday again and time to continue my summer story.  Once again I am  in excellent company with Jeanne McKay providing her beautiful illustrations (that are incidentally selling like hotcakes!)  and Heather Robinson helping me with the editing.

watercolour painting of keys with lavender

In case you have missed the past episodes of this summer sequel, you may like to know that:

in part one Catherine learned of a mysterious inheritance in the South of France:

in part two despite her husband’s  reluctance she travels to France alone to discover the house that is now hers,

in part three she begins to understand that her great uncle Paul,  who left the house to her was also a respected painter and artist

today is part four, and Catherine will finally read the letter that Paul left for her and take some big decisions.


It was arranged that the taxi would return her to Fécholles later in the afternoon, so that she could take her time.

At the little bank it proved surprisingly easy to access the vault and within a few minutes she was out the door, clutching Paul’s letter tightly in her hand.

There was a small park not far from the bank with a bench in the shade. She sat down and breathed deeply before opening the envelope and pulling out two handwritten sheets of paper. The sprawling handwriting was the same as in the travel journals.

Dear Catherine,

If you have come this far, you are curious enough to want to understand what this is all about … I’d be glad about that, thank you. I realize that it must have come as a shock to be contacted by my notary and that you must have a lot of questions.

First, let me explain our family situation. My father (that would be your great-grandfather) was a kind man. He did well in life, he loved his first wife (your great-grandmother) but he was very lonely after she died and he married again, to my mother. He was a good husband and a good father but my mother was always jealous of his first love and did everything in her power to prevent him from seeing his daughter, your grandmother Louise.

My mother’s jealousy caused a rift in the family that never healed.

You and I did meet once. You were a very little girl and there is no reason why you should remember me. The occasion was a Christmas party at your parents’ house. Your mother wanted to patch up the family situation but it didn’t go well and so was never repeated.

My father died when I was young and my mother passed away quite soon after, leaving me well provided for but an orphan at the age of 23.

I wanted to escape the atmosphere that I had grown up in and I came to Europe in 1927. I traveled all over the continent before settling here in the South of France. I lived in Avignon for a while and then moved to Callianes, which has been my home since 1935. My life has been a good one, rich in encounters and friendships but I have never married. Today, you are my only direct family. From what I saw of your parents home that Christmas, I believe that they were good people but they lived modestly. I hope you don’t mind me saying that. It always seemed unfair to me that I inherited so much from my father, while your side of the family received so little.

My life has also been full of art. I love to paint and am fortunate that I have been able to live well from my work. One of my greatest pleasures has been helping young artists develop their craft. I had an agent for a while but that is a story for another day.

So Catherine, today I leave you my home in Callianes and all that is inside it. There are no conditions, no words of advice. You are free to dispose of everything as you see fit. I am confident that you are a good person, like your parents and that you will make the right decisions. And if you come to love the South of France as I have loved it then maybe that is a more precious gift than my home.

Yours, in friendship,


“Oh my word!”  Catherine sat back against the bench and looked absently across the park. Paul’s gentle words had brought tears to her eyes. She was touched by the generosity and humility of the letter but the more that she understood about her inheritance, the heavier the responsibility felt. “It’s all too much Paul…the beautiful house, your being so famous and…what about all of those paintings? What am I supposed to do about those?”

It began to sink in that the situation was even more complicated than she had thought and that she would be here for a while. She needed to get organized. Big decisions would have to be made and the best person to help her would be her husband, Bob. Somehow she had to explain to him the urgency and magnitude of the situation.

“Well, if I’m staying a bit then I’ll need some new clothes.” Her suitcase seemed to be full of all the wrong things. She wanted to fit in more, to blend in with the crowd and with her stretchy jeans and clunky shoes that would simply never happen. She found a little clothing store and looked through the dresses hanging on a rack. She felt too shy to try anything on and was about to walk out but a sales girl appeared with such a lovely smile and even spoke some English. An hour later, Catherine emerged wearing a cotton dress in a soft flowery pattern that buttoned up the front, a pair of ballerina flats in dusty pink and carried a bag filled with two more dresses, a skirt and several shirts and tops. She felt quite dizzy with excitement at having made so many new purchases all at once and in such a different style to her normal clothes. But somehow there was logic to this extravagance, as if she were slowly assembling pieces in a puzzle and that the puzzle would only make sense once everything was just right.

watercolour dress

Feeling a little more French, she walked further down the road where she stopped at a parfumerie and treated herself to a new lipstick, in a shade of soft pink.

watercolour lipsticks

With time to spare before her taxi returned to collect her, she decided to do some more people watching from the comfort of a café terrace. She found the ideal spot with parasols opened beneath tall sycamore trees. She was going to order a ‘grand café au lait’ but looked around at what other clients were drinking and opted for a Perrier with a slice of lemon instead.

As she sipped the cold water, her thoughts turned back to Bob and how she could persuade him to get on a plane and join her. Of course, the most obvious plan would be to announce a string of numbers: the size and potential value of Paul’s house, the information about Paul’s success as a painter and the number of paintings stashed away in the attic. But Catherine knew that was not the best tactic with him. As a couple they had never tried to make a lot of money. While the children were growing up they had lived in a comfortable but never ostentatious manner. Financial wealth was not a priority, health and happiness were more important.


The best idea would be to make Bob realize how much she needed his support and how badly she missed him. A glance at her watch told her that he would be getting ready for work now, she turned on her phone and texted him:

Bob sweetheart, it is hard for me to explain all that is happening here but things are not as simple as I had hoped. It’s not only the house, there are other things too. I really need a friend to help me sort this out and make some difficult decisions … and my best friend is you.

I know you are busy with work and I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t important but I’d love for you to see this house for yourself to help me decide what should be done. I need you. I don’t know if I can do this alone.

I miss you, Cath   xox

She heard the soft ping as the message went through and she lay the phone down on the table. A few minutes later, as she observed two French women chatting over a drink at a table close to her, she gave a start when her phone pinged again and vibrated against the metal top of the bistrot table.

Difficult decisions?  Hope everything OK?….checking flights…try to come before end of week…miss you too,  Bob

Catherine couldn’t help but smile. Bob’s messages always made her think of those old fashioned telegrams. He was economical with his words but she knew him well enough to sense that he was pleased to read her cry for help. “Before the end of the week…well, today is Tuesday, that gives me a couple more days of exploring on my own and preparing things for his arrival.”

By the time the taxi returned, she had continued to watch the French women at the café and decided that Bob just might discover a new French version of his wife when he landed. She couldn’t do a full transformation but a couple of small changes could make a big difference.

watercolour of door knocker

Back at Paul’s house, Catherine was surprised to find the door ajar. She pushed it fully open and called out, “Is anybody here?” And then, “Bonjour…?” There was no answer so she warily walked through the hall and into the kitchen where the door to the garden was propped wide open. From there, she could see Antoinette on her hands and knees pulling weeds.

“Why Antoinette, what are you doing here?!” she exclaimed with surprise.

The French woman jumped out of her skin; she hadn’t heard Catherine arrive. “Oh mon Dieu, bonjour Madame. Oh excusez moi, je m’en vais, je ne voulais pas vous déranger, excusez moi….” Antoinette was gathering her tools and brushing off her apron as fast as she could and Catherine felt bad about intruding on her unannounced.

“No, non, Antoinette, please stay, s’il vous plait …” She looked around, at a loss for a way to make the woman feel at ease “ Do you want a coffee, un café? Um….Perrier?” Antoinette smiled and put down her tools, “Merci Madame, juste un verre d’eau”, Catherine looked puzzled. “Ohh?” Antoinette walked into the kitchen and picked up a glass then pointed to the water tap. “Ah water, yes of course, eau, please help yourself.” Catherine paused, then said more quietly “Oh Antoinette, I wish I spoke some French, I have so many questions for you. There is so much I want to know about Paul…was this house lively when he was here? Did he have friends and artists come to stay all the time? Was he tall, was he short, did he speak good French?…Oh boy, I sure wish I did.”

There was a short silence and Catherine turned to look out the kitchen door towards the garden. She felt frustrated at not being able to communicate and lonely; suddenly her shoulders dropped as she let out a sigh.

She felt a light hand on her arm and turned to find Antoinette looking up at her and smiling.  “S’il vous plait Madame Catherine, sit down.” Antoinette pulled out a chair and motioned to Catherine to be seated. “My English eez …” she shook her hand in a so-so gesture. “But…Monsieur Paul?” Antoinette put both hands over her heart and smiled. “Monsieur Paul a good man.” Catherine nodded slowly.

The women spent the next two hours sitting across the kitchen table from each other. Between a smattering of English words on Antoinette’s part and many gestures, they began to understand each other nearly as well as if they were speaking the same language. Catherine learned how kind Paul had been when Antoinette became a widow and how he had provided for her in his will, then she finally worked out that the notary was instructed to pay her a salary to maintain the house and garden until the day it was sold or belonged to someone else.

When Antoinette left early that evening, Catherine took her into her arms and said, “Thank you, thank you…merci beaucoup…I understand so much more about Paul now…and the importance of this wonderful home.” She paused while she stepped back from Antoinette, with her hands still on her shoulders. Catherine had no idea about what she and Bob would decide to do with the house but she wanted to reassure the housekeeper. “You must not worry Antoinette. No matter what we do with this house, I hope you will stay to help me take care of it?”  Antoinette smiled, “Merci Madame, vous êtes très gentille, very kind, like Monsieur Paul.”

Catherine watched as Antoinette left through the iron gate, then she pushed the door shut and turned around to face the vestibule with a smile on her face. Her talk with Antoinette and the fact that Bob would soon be with her made her feel peaceful.

“Paul, she whispered, I don’t know yet what we will do with your home but I’ll always be grateful that you entrusted its future to me.”


watercolour shutters on house

If you missed part one of this story you can catch up here,

 part two is right here, part three is here ,part four here

 part five here, part six here and part seven here


watercolour painting of house



Amy K August 3, 2015 - 5:05 pm

I’m finding myself enthralled with this story. I keep thinking “don’t sell it, don’t sell it”. Move and enjoy all that France has to offer. 🙂 I have visited France once and it stole my heart. Then 30 years later found out that my love of France was in my blood through being a direct descendant of King Charles IX. This story sort of brings that all home to me. I love it and look forward to the day when I can come “home”!

Melinda August 3, 2015 - 5:09 pm

I have enjoyed the adventure so far, loved the French shopping… Wishing I could try some light, flirty dresses on too! Can’t wait to see how she remodels the house and Bob’s first glimpse… Thanks for the cute illustrations too!!
Good luck!

Bungalow Hostess August 3, 2015 - 5:15 pm

Oh this is such an enchanting tale….I feel like I have been transported into a magical place.
It’s keeping me content while I await the delivery of your book from Amazon!
Cannot wait….

Marian from UK August 3, 2015 - 5:18 pm

Can’t believe I had tears in my eyes reading that?!! I’m there, sitting on that bench, in the house, talking to Antoinette! Like Amy K I’m willing Catherine to stay, but will Bob fit in? Looking forward to next Monday!

Terrie Bentle August 3, 2015 - 5:20 pm

I love this story. I am so happy to see Catherine’s relationship with her husband is a good one. I was afraid that they would split.

Karena August 3, 2015 - 5:22 pm

Dear Sharon your wonderful story is bringing me so much peace and calm. Thank you for sharing this special gift with us, and thank you to Heather and Jeanne as well.

The Arts by Karena
Gone Too Soon

Joie Lynn August 3, 2015 - 5:41 pm

Feel good stories are so hard to come by today.

linda August 3, 2015 - 6:50 pm

Oh, I hope she stays.

cynthia August 3, 2015 - 6:57 pm

Please, please, please don’t let the story end until it is truy exhausted!
Although I have never had the pleasure of being to France… your story transports me.
Thank you.
We all need imagination.

judy August 3, 2015 - 6:58 pm

I wonder if she shares this wonderful home with others as a gallery of Paul’s works and lives in part of it as well.

Helen Robinson August 3, 2015 - 7:20 pm

A great read, look forward to Mondays.
It’s what I’ve dreamt of doing for a few years now, moving to France. Hope to one day and you certainly make it all the more magical.
I will be buying your book.
Helen x

Robin August 3, 2015 - 7:23 pm

Looking forward to next Monday!

Bet ty Baker August 3, 2015 - 7:24 pm

What a magnificent story I can hardy wait for the next chapter. The way you write I am seeing everything very clearly I am ready for the next chapter. Betty from Ontario Canada.

Joan August 3, 2015 - 7:28 pm

O, such a lovely and refreshing story on these hot summer days. You have captured her personality and character in a way that many of us can relate to.
The need to make some changes in our appearance, to meet unexpected challenges, to allow ourselves to be more than we expected…….to be stretched and molded into something new……you have made this very appealing.
And paintings are wonderful.
Send us more…..sooner….a week it just too long.

Meagen August 3, 2015 - 7:40 pm

Thank you so much for your lovely story. I do hope she keeps the house!! Can’t wait until next week.

Dianne Sawyer August 3, 2015 - 7:53 pm

This story draws me into it and I am living this exciting French adventure right along with Catherine.

Anne Marie August 3, 2015 - 7:53 pm

Have visited your blog several times but this story has really made me an avid reader. I too can’t wait until next week. Thanks for all the fun.

Cherry August 3, 2015 - 7:59 pm

Oh thank you for making my afternoon!

Mary in Napa August 3, 2015 - 8:41 pm

What a delightful story. I so look forward to Monday mornings with you and Catherine. Merci Mary

Kay August 3, 2015 - 8:48 pm

Yep, I cried, too. Still teary over the part about Antoinette and Catherine. Loving this, and somewhat living it! Thank you for sharing this gift with us.

Pat August 3, 2015 - 10:11 pm

I am so enjoying your summer story and all the lovely watercolor illustrations! Ordered your book, due in tomorrow and I will be reading and getting to know your French girlfriends…wonderful summer reads, thanks!

Christine August 4, 2015 - 12:06 am

Just love the story and dont want it to just have a eonderful way with words and the illustrations are wonderful

Judi Frost August 4, 2015 - 1:04 am

Excellent story cannot wait for Monday’s ! Thank you for the lovely paintings and words they do a great job of transporting me to France !

Heather McPherson August 4, 2015 - 1:54 am

Oh my gosh, I hope Bob falls in love with this house too, they could open a gallery & have casual parties in the garden…oh I wish it was me

LA CONTESSA August 4, 2015 - 2:49 am

There is a PART FIVE RIGHT?????
Sitting at the edge of my seat!He is not going to come is he………………?!!

Elvie August 4, 2015 - 2:52 am

Sharon really love your story,can’t wait for the next episode.

Linda August 4, 2015 - 2:52 am


I am so wrapped up in the lives of the characters in this story. I can hardly wait to read the next chapter. I cannot thank you enough for brightening my Mondays.


Wanda Watkins August 4, 2015 - 4:00 am

It is like I am right there in this new adventure! Love the way you draw us into this lovely life. Can’t wait until next Monday to see where you take us! Please don’t stop. I love your writing.

Deb August 4, 2015 - 4:18 am

I’m hoping Bob loves the house and town and they set up a gallery with Paul’s paintings. Maybe set up part of the house as a B & B?
It’s like I’m Catherine thinking of what to do. Or will something come up and Bob doesn’t make it?
Looking forward to Part 5.

PEGGY BRASWELL August 4, 2015 - 7:50 am

can’t wait for the next chapter +patience is not one of my long

Delaine August 4, 2015 - 11:06 am

Loving this story and the art is the icing on the cake! Looking forward to next Monday!

Vicky August 4, 2015 - 2:41 pm

Getting more intriguing with every chapter as are Jeanne’s water colors.

kathleen Kennedy Brush August 4, 2015 - 2:56 pm

love the dress the story especially th letter from Uncle Paul

Agnes Irene August 4, 2015 - 4:29 pm

It’s those tiny details, the pretty dress, the Perrier with lemon, the heart-to-heart conversation between the two women, that make it so easy to slip into this charming story. And, of course, that magical feeling of the world opening up to Catherine, of her life about to change – for the better. The watercolors perfectly depict the tone of the story and are absolutely lovely.
This is fast becoming my summer vacation – a nice leisurely visit to the south of France.
Many thanks.
Agnes Irene

Denise August 5, 2015 - 5:09 am

Love the story . You writing is so visual for me. Love the story. I look forward to your blog every week.
received my book today OH Sharon its wonderful, just wonderful.
Love it.

Colleen Taylor August 4, 2015 - 6:57 pm

What a magnificent story line here Sharon. You are tugging the tears from my eyes. X

Liz August 5, 2015 - 1:04 am

7 Days between chapters is just toooooo looooonnnnngg! Great story! I am not a sit down woman and here I am wishing this was an entire 300 page novel I could read in one sitting. And I love all the banter in the posts.
Thank you!

Kim St. Clair August 5, 2015 - 2:04 am

Hello Sharon
I came across your blog by accident, and have been following you for some time. (I had asked google to find me info on French Dahlias and it directed me to your web page, I am truly grateful.).
Your email arrives in the small hours of Tuesday mornings and I sometimes hear the ping on the iPad. Most often, my beloved cat and I prop ourselves up on the pillows and read it together, I always have the tissues at hand.
Thank you for this wonderful story, and for sharing about life in France, it has given me a moment of respite from the chaotic world that life has become.
Like so many others I find myself asking what will Catherine do and will Bob become the hero of the hour. I look forward to chapter 5.
Kindest Regards

sylvia faye August 5, 2015 - 8:38 am

Always loved ‘Fairy Tales’ and being a daydreamer it is so easy to be a part of Catherine’s story. So enjoy the fact that her relative was a giver and returned kindness and so Catherine could feel the reason for his leaving her the house. How could she not wish to be a part of this home’s history? Yes, it was a home to her Uncle and his many friends whom he cared for as a father.

It is truly lovely!
Sylvia Faye

Ellie August 5, 2015 - 2:50 pm

I am officially addicted to your stories. I am waiting with baited breath for the next installment.

Nathalie Jobard August 5, 2015 - 8:05 pm

Hello Sharon,

I am leaving in a few days to Italy for our Holidays. I printed until part 4 of your story I haven’t begin yet and I can’t wait to be in my long chair, quiet, with your novel.
I love the way you write, and it’s good for my English !!!
Have a wonderful day and a nice summer !


Pamela August 9, 2015 - 7:30 pm

I’m so enjoying your story, and looking forward to chapter 5. When reading I feel like I’m in France with Catherine.I love the note she wrote to her husband, and his reply.
Have a great day.


Leave a Comment