The final scene
Judy, Maryann and Elizabeth sat at their table in the little restaurant in Giverny. They were talking quietly, reflecting on how their individual journeys had crossed paths to bring them to this point, and how sad they would be to separate the next morning.
Judy stretched her arms, a little weary, “….although I have to admit that the trip has been pretty tiring, so it will be nice to get home to my family … but for now lets just enjoy this sunshine and our lazy lunch together” They all smiled and lifted their glasses “cheers, and here’s to a reunion, one day”.
They sipped the chilled white wine, and looked again at the menu, wondering whether to choose a dessert or a fromage. The waiter arrived, carrying an ice bucket which he placed carefully on the edge of the table, before removing a corkscrew from his black apron pocket and opening the bottle of wine.
The women looked at each other, “excuse me, but we didn’t order any more wine”
“Non Madame, I know zees, but it is ze Monsieur, over zair, he asked me to bring you a bottle of wine”
“What?! Why did he do that? Which man are you talking about ?”
The waiter turned and lifted his arm in the direction of the corner of the leafy terrace. At a little blue metal table for two, sat an elderly couple, with rounded shoulders, and sticks propped against each of their chairs. They were looking at the women, and smiling, their bright blue eyes wonderfully intense for their fragile demeanor.
Elizabeth raised her glass and smiled, and mouthed “Merci beaucoup” across the terrace. The gentleman put down his glass, clasped his hands to his chest and said in English ” We never forget”
But I have got ahead of myself, this is the end of my story, and you need to know the whole tale from the start and how this happy scene came to be.
Judy, Maryann and Elizabeth had never met until two weeks before this lunch. They lived on different continents and had unwittingly been drawn to the same spot at the same time.
Judy was from Sydney, Australia, a single lady, with a good job and passionate about her garden. She came to France as part of a gardening tour, and had enjoyed a wonderful week visiting gardens and domains in the north of France. Once the tour was over, she prolonged her stay and rented a car, determined to see a little more of the Normandy countryside at her own speed.
She was also interested in her family history, and knew that her uncle had died as a very young boy in a plane crash in Normandy. Searching for his gravestone would lend a special significance to her few days alone and she was wondering how she’d feel when she found the spot.
Of course she had never met Harry, he was only 20 when he died so far from home, and she wasn’t even a twinkle in her dad’s eye, but his name had always been part of the family history, part of family chat around the table, and especially dear to her dad, the younger brother. While planning her trip to Normandy, she had mentioned to her dad, “I thought I’d try to find Harry’s grave when I’m in Normandy”, her father smiled and turned away, she thought she saw a tear form at the corner of his eye.
Maryann was travelling alone. She was a history teacher back home in Missouri, and her intense schedule, in class rooms full of unruly teenagers meant that when her holiday season came she was glad for a little space.
France was her favourite destination, she had been here as a student many years ago, and tried to return every three or four years ever since. She knew Paris well and she had often stayed in the south of France, the romance of Provence drawing her like a magnet, but for this trip she decided to do something totally different and head up to Normandy.
She knew little about the area, the word ‘Normandy’ being synonymous with the landing beaches in her mind, but she was pleasantly surprised. The lush green countryside, the beautiful chateaux and charming seaside towns won her over very quickly.
Henri was too young to fight in the second world war. His family lived in Rouen and were lucky to survive when the town was heavily bombed in May 44. He was only 17, still so young, but exhausted by having spent his teen years in occupied France, where food was scarce and damage to towns, villages and families extensive.
His own family had suffered heavy losses, his two cousins, an uncle and his own father had all died fighting for their country. Normandy was a sad place, too many young men were gone for ever, the others sent off to the front lines and an uncertain destiny.
When the war ended in 1945 he was in Rouen, the news arrived and the relief was palpable, … that evening he joined friends to wander through the rubble filled streets, the situation felt unreal, hard to believe that the war was truly ended when there were such scenes of devastation all around.
They turned a corner near the cathedral and came nose to nose with a small group of young French girls, walking arm in arm, chatting happily, obviously also wanting to find a way to celebrate the end of the war. One of the girls had pretty curly hair, and deep blue eyes. He had no way of knowing that she would be his companion for the rest of his life.
Elizabeth was freshly divorced, travelling alone in Normandy, getting her thoughts and emotions into place. Normandy wasn’t far from her native England, and she had simply driven across the channel, map in hand, a suitcase of adaptable clothes in the trunk of the car, following her nose from village, to landmark, to garden to coastline. Enjoying the freedom of independent travel, independent decision.
While staying at a little B&B with a blue door, she had looked through their recommendations of things to do, and found herself wandering down a lane to explore the Commonwealth cemetery along the valley. Her host had explained that in the second world war a plane had crashed on the hill behind the house and the eight young men on board were all killed, and buried together in a cemetery not far from the house.
It was a lovely morning, and after breakfast Elizabeth set off on foot, glad for some exercise and glad to have the cemetery as a goal to walk towards. The road was narrow, and wound its way through a small wooded area and then between wide open fields planted with pale green barley, shimmering in the breeze. Elizabeth stopped now and again to bend over and look more closely at a road side flower, or pause and enjoy the view. ….
This tale will be continued next Monday, the 72nd anniversay of D-day, I hope you’ll come back to find out how these four people came to be meet and share a moment together in Giverny.
On another note, my USA book tour is coming up fast, and each Monday until I leave I’ll be giving a brief introduction to three of the venues. Today let me take you to Florida and Georgia.
I start my tour on the evening of 23rd June at Hearth and Soul, in Tallahassee. I love the fact that this shop is so much more than a store, totally supportive of their clients and the community. They offer complimentary clinics to enhance their clients’ well being, and believe in the importance of partnering with local businesses. The link to the Hearth and Soul is right HERE
The 24th June sees me signing books at Thomasville GA, in the lovely book shop called The Bookshelf. I’m enjoying their instagram feed and I love the fact that Annie, the owner,still does a story-time hour and reads to children! You can find the link to the bookshelf event HEREOn the evening of the 24th I shall be sitting on a porch at Sundog Books in Seaside FL. I’ll sign books as I admire the white sandy beach. I have always longed to live in a house with a porch, such a shame that Gibson and Ghetto can’t come with me and run on the beach. You are welcome to reply to the Sundog Books Event HERE