coming together – a commemoration tale , part two

by Sharon Santoni



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.

rose climbing over wall


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.

yellow rose on shutters

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.




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 HEREmarietta logo

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

aa logo

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

high hampton logo


Kiki June 7, 2016 - 8:18 pm

Isn’t it the ‘small stories’, the ‘simple stories’ that touch the heart the most? This is so beautiful, I can see it happen that way – and honestly, this ‘generous’ sharing of a slice of one’s life is something of a vital importance to me and one thing I very much miss in France. I’m an extrovert (English or FrEnglGerman?) and at every end of a visit in Switzerland or England or any other country, I return to Paris and am shocked (I call it ‘un choc thermic!) to find that NOBODY wants to talk to anybody. Everybody is keeping themselves to themselves; not even a ‘hello good evening’ or a chat in the train – God forbid! So this story, told so naturally, really does give me joy. Thank You!

Sheryl Kirk June 8, 2016 - 12:15 am

I am on vacation at Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada stateline. Earlier this week my daughter remarked she said hello to 4 people and no one replied. So, now I am being my friendly self, saying good morning, etc. and seeing who responds. So far, so good. Isn’t Sharon a great writer? I can’t wait to read her stories. They are so heartfelt.

Kiki June 8, 2016 - 11:04 am

Sheryl, good morning to you (good night?)
My comment re unfriendliness might have come across as harsh. Well, it IS, and I’m strictly talking of people in the Paris region. For many many years I always was madly in love with France and French people. I speak the language well, am friendly, open and only made the best experiences possible. Normandy, Brittany and much of the South left particularly wonderful memories. THEN I moved to Paris and since then I can fully appreciate the many sighs & comments I heard during my time working at a French language school in UK…. Then, I always told them: But you are in THEIR country, ergo you must adapt their way of living & dealing… I said that because I only ever had terrific times AND I was a guest. Honestly, I still love France as a country and God really was extremely kind when He/She/It created these lands but the stress I encounter daily with the P’s tells a different story. Sorry if anybody took this the wrong way – I have yet to meet a guest to this country who hasn’t been treated nicely – just as long as you don’t mind leaving your manners at home when you enter a train/métro/shop/ and don’t feel ‘left out’ when you smile at your fellow citizen and he gives you ‘the look’. I often silently bless English/American visitors for their openness and friendliness and I sorely miss these important attributes from my times living in Canada/England/Switzerland.

Grace June 7, 2016 - 8:50 pm

A very appropriate story, so near Memorial Day.

Deborah June 7, 2016 - 8:59 pm

This is a beautiful story! I always want to come to France, but my husband says from his travels, they don’t like Americans. I said why? They like us in Normandy. He said maybe so, but they wouldn’t stamp my passport & one place ignored him & his traveling business buddies in a restaurant & wouldn’t serve them. I told him that has just got to be that area. I don’t think all of France is that way.
So, the story that you have told lifts my spirits also. Some day after all this terror going on, I am determined to go to Normandy. I live in Texas & love French design.

Anita C. Lee June 8, 2016 - 12:07 am

Deborah, I am a native Texan, but live in another state now. My husband and I have visited France each of the last three years and will go again soon. One of the things we love about France is the wonderful people we’ve met. We have always been warmly welcomed and have made friends with several people in various parts of the country. We were in Normandy on June 6, 2014, the 70 anniversary of D-Day. It was amazing to see how appreciative the French people were of the American participation. When Americans talk about the French being rude or not liking Americans, I have to reply that we have not experienced that at all. I hope you are able to visit France soon. Learn a little of the language and the proper way to greet shopkeepers and see for yourself what this beautiful country is like.

Deborah June 8, 2016 - 12:51 am

Anita, that is great news. I knew it just had to be certain areas. Thank you for this. I still plan to go after some of the wild things calm down.

Ann L June 8, 2016 - 3:02 am

I whole heartedly agree with Anita. My 2 trips to Paris have been remarkable! Even traveling the first time w a large group of women, we were treated beautifully and I’m sure we were a bit of a crowd for some restaurants to handle. Not once do I recall anything but kindness and a welcoming spirit being shown us. We try to reciprocate by being mindful to try to speak at least some French when possible, to greet shopkeepers, to appreciate their lifestyle. Wonderful. Almost without fail people were eager and went out of their way to offer assistance at the Metro or bus or even standing on a corner with a map. I often wonder when people say they haven’t been treated well, how they treated residents of the host country. Give a smile and respect, get the same in return most often. In the Normandy area it was heartwarming to hear the gratefulness still expressed for the Allies participation in WW2. Lovely truly! I hope to return again in the near future.

Deborah June 8, 2016 - 7:36 am

Thank you Ann!

Vicki Sewell June 7, 2016 - 9:02 pm

What a great story. My dad was killed in the Koren war when I was 6. I was borne June 14, 1945. My dad is still my hero. I remember him reading me bed time stories, except they were not fairy tails, they were stories from the encyclopedia ! He also served in WW2. I will never for get the last time I saw him. He was boarding one of those ugly green military trains headed to take him off to war. My mom was sobbing, I did not understand. Let us never forget ! Beautiful story and pics. Can not wait to get your new book

Linda Quast June 11, 2016 - 7:31 am

Vickie, You and I share the same birthday. None of my closest family served in the armed forces, but I have nothing but admiration for those who did and currently do. As a brand new nurse during the Viet Nam war, I was approached by more than one branch of the service to join. I cannot imagine how my life would have changed if I had accepted that call.

Brenda Chambers June 7, 2016 - 9:26 pm

Oh what a heartwarming story. Thanks so much for the post.

Joanne June 7, 2016 - 9:36 pm

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story during the time of year that we remember D-Day. On our last trip to France we were so fortunate to visit the Normandy area. We stayed in the lovely town of Bayeux and were amazed at the beautiful Cathedral and of course, the Bayeux Tapestry.
But the most meaningful days were spent with a retired British General named Johnny Rickett. While Johnny was not old enough at the time to serve in WWII, he became a member of her Majesty’s troops shortly thereafter and got to know some of the men who actually served. Now that he is retired, Johnny gives private tours about the invasion. He comes across from England on the ferry and will spend 1-2 days immersing visitors in the rich history of D Day and the days that followed.
While reading your story, I could just picture the many War Memorials we saw in addition to the beautiful British and American cemeteries. The sites of Normandy are indescribable – The D Day Invasion was so very significant in “turning the tide” of the war. Being on the beaches and visiting the cemeteries made me feel both sad and proud beyond words…

Jamie from Kentucky June 7, 2016 - 9:54 pm

Thank you for the full circle reminder of the brave souls that gave the greatest gift.

Our French Oasis June 7, 2016 - 9:58 pm

Such a lovely story. Our house, here in SW France was owned by a French physicist who fled to England at the outbreak of WWII on a fishing boat with the magnetron that he had been working on. This was a piece which fitted into the radar jigsaw the British were working on, and finally allowed a fully operational radar system to be put in place. Some say that this type of magnetron was one of the main reasons the British endured in the Battle of Britain, and so survived to continue the war for the next few years. I feel very privelaged to live here and also to remember all of those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live in peace.

pam June 7, 2016 - 10:36 pm

What a beautiful story. I missed not getting a call from my Papa yesterday as he passed last December. He would always call me on the anniversaries of D Day and Pearl Harbor. He would just say, “Do you know what today is Pamela?” He was a veteran and so am I so these dates are special to us always.

Madeline June 7, 2016 - 10:38 pm

Still. Brings a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat.
Beautiful memories of our wonderful Brocante trip with you, Sharon.
Not a day passes that I don’t think of all of us and cherish each moment we spent together.

Kim June 8, 2016 - 4:25 am

Hi Madeline!

Hug to you and Susan! What a great adventure and memories we will alway enjoy.

Taste of France June 7, 2016 - 10:43 pm

What a wonderful story. It is very moving to travel in Normandy and to see, even today, the traces of the war. The more modern buildings tucked between ancient ones. The odd pillbox in the countryside.
Omaha Beach was beyond moving for me. I hadn’t expected the extent of the emotion.
But quite apart from the sacrifices of war, it’s true that one can find unexpected comraderie while traveling. Some years ago, I was sitting at the tea room terrace of the Grand Mosque of Paris, which was exceptionally busy. I saw a couple look so disappointed at being turned away, so I waved them to my table (I was alone). They couldn’t believe it–very inhabitual behavior in Paris. It was busy because the tea room and mosque had just been on TV, so everybody decided to check it out. We had a great chat and even without that it was far more fun for me than sitting alone, and far better for them than having been turned away.

Beth June 7, 2016 - 10:46 pm

I love your stories, almost as much as your pictures. But have I missed a conclusion to All That Money Could Buy? Did it get slipped in while I wasn’t looking? If not, will you be finishing it anytime soon, so that you can start another story in serial form? Didn’t you say once that a teacher told you you weren’t a writer? WRONG!

Debra June 8, 2016 - 1:17 am

I very much enjoyed your lovely story.

Lynda Schekoske June 8, 2016 - 6:20 am

A beautiful tribute, Sharon. My travels to the Somme and the area around Ypres have been the most meaningful of my life, for the respectful way the French and Belgians look after the war dead from so many nations, including my own Australia. To find where ancestors are buried, so far from home, and cared for so well is a humbling experience. I’m planning to visit Normandy on my next trip to France … sometime soon.

Nancy June 8, 2016 - 4:03 pm

Sharon, I love your blog, your stories, your pix….I am so excited you are coming to the US for your book tour! Wish you could spend more time in the West…mainly Orange County, CA…..I’m signed up to see you in Fullerton….but it isn’t long enough to really chat and get to know you…

Vicky from Athens June 9, 2016 - 11:32 pm

Just a wonderful story, Sharon! When my husband and I were in Normandy a couple of years ago we were in a grocery store. I smiled and spoke to a tiny elderly lady and she smiled and started talking to me. In my best French I told her that I didn’t speak French and that I was American. She was so excited! She got a big grin on her face, said Ah, American and started talking to me as fast as she could. Of course I didn’t understand a word she spoke but I knew what she was telling me. She certainly appeared to be old enough to have been right there during WII and I could hear the thanks and enthusiasm in her voice.
I have never had the problem with rudeness in Paris or any other French town I’ve visited – it’s been quite the opposite! So it always bothers me when I hear people say that the French are rude or that they hate Americans.
I look forward to seeing you soon at Market With a B. And, by the way . . . you are going to love Cashiers and High Hampton! It’s a very beautiful area in North Carolina.

Kathy Nolen June 10, 2016 - 11:10 pm

Hello Sharon! How lucky you are to be going to Cashiers! I live in Tampa , FL and it is my favorite summer place. Lush foliage of Blue Ridge Mountains, cool (and damp) weather and fabulous long range views. I hope you have a wonderful trip!


Ginny Pike June 11, 2016 - 2:50 pm

Thank you for sharing such a warm touching story. Make as many memories as possible, for some day it may be ll you have . To relive them is a gift.

Andrina Treadgold June 19, 2016 - 5:30 am

Oh Sharon,
I am beyond words!
It’s a Sunday morning here in Perth and I’m all alone in the house, catching up on blog posts not read in ages This is a beautiful tale, you have moved me to tears.
Good luck with the book tour in the States.
Andrina xx

Ellen Forbus June 5, 2018 - 2:03 am

I visited Normandy a week before the 70th anniversary in 2014. What an amazing and humbling place. To see so many names and crosses and to see the locals who decorated for the upcoming anniversary was quite moving. I think the most somber place was the German cemetery. The place was grey and the “residents” were all so young. Prayers for all those from this era and to the future generations may they remember always.


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