In 1966 in a small French village called St. Remy sur Loire about 1 hour southwest of Paris, there was a 22 year old woman named Daniele. She lived in a little house with her husband Roger (Ro-jay) and a brand new baby girl Marie Helene.
In the house next door a young American family was moving in. A woman of 22, her two small children and her military husband. This was unusual for the village and not everyone was jumping up and down shouting “Hurrah”.
Across the street from the American was a nosy old couple who peeked out of the windows every time a vehicle stopped in front of the house. We later learned he was the head of the village communist party, and was apparently keeping track of our social life.
Up the street was a Polish couple who had escaped before the invasion of Poland in WWII and who wanted to know the Americans. She taught me that lima beans grow on bushes and do not naturally come frozen in boxes in the supermarket. Next door, on the other side, was a family that never said anything to the Americans.
In this village it rained a part of every day and the street sometimes became a small river. Roger decided to fix the problem of water running down into his yard and sometimes into his house. He cleverly imbedded a small pipe at the top of his driveway and covered it with gravel. It did indeed work for Roger and Danielle, but on the first downpour the gravel in the street started to fill up the pipe and the water, now backed up to the top of the pipe had no place to go. Since water seeks it’s own level it went downhill into the yard and house of the American family.
I was that 22 year old American woman, home alone with 2 small girls when my house began to flood. Throwing the girls into the crib .. the highest place in the house, I opened the back door, grabbed a broom and started swishing water out like the devil was on my butt.
When the flood stopped and I had swept most of the mud and water out the back door, I went to meet my creative neighbor, Roger! When I showed him the result of his work he apologized profusely and took the pipe away.
His wife, Danielle and I became friends and would just smile and shake our heads when our husbands would get together, neither relenting to learning the language of the other, but understanding each other well enough.
Danielle became my teacher, protector from merchants who overcharged me, and friend. Although I spoke some French (thought I was hot stuff, in those days), it turned out to be book French .. and the people in the village had never read that book. She schooled me on colloquial French. I taught her that popcorn was really good and that corn was good for things other than feeding to animals. She taught me local French cooking; I taught her about Americans.
Several months later, we moved onto the airbase at Evreux-Fauville, and very soon after that we were notified that President DeGaulle said, “Americans go home … but leave all of your stuff here.” We were transferred to Bavaria (heaven on earth) and I eventually lost touch with the Ruelle family.
Fast forward (not really) to 2016 and Albania. One day while I was volunteering at a hostel in Durres, Albania I got the bright idea of looking for Roger and Danielle on Google … and there they were. At least there she was. Roger had passed a few years before; but, there was an address in the obit.
Quick, write a postcard! Thanks to Google Translate … my French had all but disappeared .. I sent it the next day with my email address. And, about 10 days later, I had an email from that little baby Marie Helene saying her mother, Danielle was very happy because the card had arrived on her birthday … what a surprising present.
So here I am, 50 years later in St. Remy sur Loire (changed to Aver), with Danielle who has surprised me as well. Think about people you knew years ago and try to imagine what they would be doing today. I was so far off the mark with this I could have been in China.
She has shared her life story with me … too long to tell you here. She has 3 lovely daughters and several very intelligent grandchildren. Today we went to the elementary school to talk to the class about the United States, English language and travel. That’s Celene, her granddaughter on my right.
Did I mention that she had surprised me?
When I left the village I gave her several small things, among them, a pink jewelry box. She still has the box and keeps her photos in it. The top is gone, but I don’t think it would close anyway, on the stack of photos. When I saw the box, I gaped! I offered to buy her a new box, but she would not have any of it.
I don’t know the manufacturer of this box, but this would be a good endorsement of its quality and long life.
She also kept photos of my children. Who keeps photos of other people’s children for 50 years? When I asked her if she thought we would ever see each other again .. she said, “Yes, of course.” Talk about psychic ability.
I’m staying with Danielle a few days and she is corrupting me … champagne for lunch … who does that? She does and now I do too. Try it. Celebrate the small things in life. Don’t wait for a big thing.
Well, I’ve walked down memory lane, met new people, caught up on life in St. Remy and will be leaving for my next stop, Denmark, in 2 days. We’ve talked about meeting in Dublin in a few months and I hope we can make that a reality. She doesn’t have a computer so I will be writing letters … do you remember writing letters? It’s a lost art, I’ve been told.
Oh, and this is my friend, Danielle
And, this is the demure Daniele and her handsome husband Roger on their wedding day.
Jusqu’à ce que nous nous reverrons. (Until we meet again)