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Sunday, March 20

Walk Down Memory Lane's Sidewalk...

When I was a few years old, and my brother a brand new threat to my hegemony, summer visits to Grandmère d'Albi were always a treat, because of the bevy of older ladies ready to lavish affection and treats on me. Diana was one of those, about a decade younger than GrandMother, and mother of one of Mom's childhood friends. She would bicycle down to our big house where she'd rented a room with her husband decades ago, early in the morning, and bring the croissants, brioches and pains au chocolat without which French petits déjeuners are just slices of bread dipped in café au lait. She was always joyful, smiling and kind, very sharply dressed, blond and too beautiful to be pretty. A kind of fairy godmother of summer breakfasts with a smoky contralto laugh and an attention to what you liked, wanted, or cared about. What kid could fail to love her? Today was her 88th birthday, and her mind and body are still sharp. Both she and I were happy that I could attend the lunch-party along with my parents before leaving the country.
I don't remember when I learned that she had been a working girl. Perhaps I've always known it, and that one of the things about my grandparents that my mother is most proud of, is their acceptance of Diana, her husband (an honest working man I remember as a hulking bear, with a laugh like a rockslide) and their little daughter. From all accounts, Diana was a loving, nurturing mother, and my grandmother trusted her with her own daughter, and has treated her as a valuable friend up to this day. She hung up the stilleto heels years later when French law outlawed the trade and continuing meant a prison term and losing her daughter. Because, you see, she'd already lost her firstborn in the divorce from her first, wife-beating husband. The divorce that had stranded her in Paris without a job just after the war... too beautiful to be pretty. Perhaps it takes a fallen angel to fully appreciate how precious basic human love and kindness is, and the best of them shed that surprised, joyous yet calm strength like heat from a chimneyfire on a sweet October evening. I'm priviledged to have had grandparents who judged her by her worth, and to have a mother who grew up, in part, basking in that glow. I'm priviledged to have felt it myself, those long gone summer mornings sitting at the kitchen table amidst the babble of adult voices, munching on a croissant while the Angel spoke to me, to ME! and no one else.

13 Insights :

Blogger gregoire intuited...

I remember her speaking to me too. (thought I'd spoil de moment :D )

And you didn't say she stole the brass tub(now your little brother is really breaking your toy). Because of this, she was a bit persona non grata for a while with Grandma and Mom and the story was VERY old so why it resurfaced and how, I don't know.

What I remember as well is that we always called her Madame P***** and that gave her an extra "touch of class." But she didn't want to be called that.

I think it's thanks to her that mom wore her first make-up and tried on high heels that were probably a few sizes too big. Hanging out at her place was a huge relief from the austerity of her own mother.

Mom also put tadpoles that she'd captured with Madame P.'s daughter in a bottle once. When Mr. P came back home after a hard day's work, he just swigged that bottle down before choking on the gluey bits.

Now you have to write about Marcelle!!!

3/21/2005 02:46:00 AM  
Blogger Aussie Shiraz intuited...

That is a beautiful memory... I am certain your words will make her proud.

3/21/2005 05:25:00 AM  
Blogger schuey intuited...

wow, a little bit of melancholy and even a hint of your own feelings... Be careful mat, soon you'll have to write more..

3/21/2005 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Mathieu intuited...

Ah, Greg, by the time you were old enough to talk to, she'd lost some of her aura for me... not that there's anything connection there :P

Yeah, I remember that there were times when she was less welcome than others, but it remains that it was never about her career choices.

As for Mr P., I was gonna do a bit about his silicosis and the tadpoles, but I guess I'll leave it to you! :D

Marcelle is coming in a bit, but she deserves a longer, more thought out piece...

AussieShiraz, always a pleasure, and an honor, to have you drop in! Many thanks :)

3/21/2005 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Mathieu intuited...

Oh, and Step's here too!

Still feeling your way around commenting, I see?


3/21/2005 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger gregoire intuited...

Nice scan by the way. I don't remember the silicosis or know what that is (thought it was lung cancer).

3/21/2005 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger james intuited...

J'adore les pains au chocolat!!!! MMMMMMMMM!!!!!

3/21/2005 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger Marie intuited...

WOw! What an endearing tribute to a woman who is too beautiful to be pretty. I gotta go and check out your mom's blog. Hope I can still read French.

3/22/2005 01:53:00 AM  
Blogger Mathieu intuited...

It was silicosis from his mining career, and that's not a scan, it's a rip off the internet.

Marie, Hi! How are you doing?

3/22/2005 02:43:00 AM  
Blogger ozbhoy intuited...

Great blog!!

As for those damn brioches I could never make the bloody things properly. Mine always came out as little boulders, pastry was never my thing :(

3/22/2005 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Mathieu intuited...

Brioches are hard, but croissants are worse! You need to turn the risen dough into pâte feuilletée... Managed to do it only once!

Thank Skippy that one can now find good croissants and pains au chocolat in NYC, now :)

3/22/2005 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous JP intuited...

Things are coming up now that you have shaken them...Remember that sometimes Madame P. would need to work out of town for some days, and leave her daughter alone. So Mister P. would injure himself his hand or his foot, and so be excused at the mine where he worked. He could then take care of his daughter himself. Maybe this forbids him for the stealing of the brass tube ?

3/23/2005 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Mathieu intuited...

Hi Dad!

I've certainly forgiven them :)

3/23/2005 11:33:00 AM  

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