I landed in Chicago last night, after 98 days abroad. Thoughts of my Dad, my reasons for this trip, all that has transpired in the last few seasons drifted across my mind. Connecting with my French heritage was a strong motivation, and I finally made contact with my French relatives last week.
|My grandmother, grandfather, and ?|
I had said I wanted a countryside experience, and between my favorite hosts and my own family, I got quite the spread. Life at Domaine Gaury bordered on luxury, while life in Fleurfontaine is rural poor.
|My great-grandfather, his second wife, and ?|
I'm having a hard time knowing what to say. I am thankful I got to meet my cousins, Céline and Sévèrine, and their father, Roland. I had been, quite frankly, terrified at the prospect; both because when they've called me in the past I have been absolutely unable to comprehend their rural dialect, and because they'd sent pictures... So I had an inkling what I was in for.
|My grandfather Eugène|
They live in a small village, maybe 100 people, outside a bigger small village, and only about 20 minutes from Chartres. Roland is retired from being a painter, and both Céline and Sévèrine are unemployed. I have no idea how much the French government provides its non-working citizens; unlike the U.S., I think it might actually be enough to live on, albeit a very plain existence. They shared a typical lunch of bread, cheese, cured meat, scrambled eggs, and thoroughly cooked canned peas and carrots with me. But life looked grim.
|My grandmother Suzanne, center|
Aside from doing a little work in the vegetable garden out back, knitting or cross-stitch, and now taking a hospitalized aunt's two dogs on a daily walk, they have not much else to do. At least the TV wasn't on when I was there; we spent most of the day in the tiny kitchen reviewing black-and-white photographs and family documents -- they have done significant genealogical research, thanks to the Paris Archives. Roland showed me his voluminous stamp collection, which reminded me of my Dad's penchant for collecting.
|Roland with (some of) his stamps|
One of the reasons it took me so long to make contact with the family was that the phone numbers I'd had didn't work. When I asked why they'd changed numbers, it turns out they'd been subjected to relentless crank calls. It makes me sad to think that kind of thing still happens, especially because I've met them, and they're decent people. And even if distantly, my people.
|Sévèrine, me, Céline|
To end on a positive note: I'm glad I had three months to practice my French before this day! I actually managed to keep up in conversation. So proud of myself :-)