Next week we will celebrate Christmas in France with my whole family. There will be good food and good wine, lively talks about many different topics, including “yellow vests” and other recent French events, games with the kids, and invigorating nature walks. Everything that makes family reunions feel so fulfilling.
We will spend several days together in the village of my late maternal grandparents. Calling it my village may be a stretch but there is no other place that comes this close to fitting that description. It is the only place I have been returning to for all my life. My French home, my parents’ house, came into my life when I was already 10.
Growing up I spent a lot of my vacations at my maternal grandparents’. We always celebrated Christmas there. Today it is my aunt and uncle’s turn to have us over. It is the turn of Minette and of my brother’s children to make memories in the small peaceful village.
When I go there it feels both strange and familiar. Even though I never lived there for long stretches of time – except for a couple of months as a pre-schooler, which I remember faintly – I have always known these landscapes, these houses, and some of these people. It is my closest connection to rural France, this village that chose my grandfather as its mayor once upon a time.
I remember watching the hills from my grandparents’ house; walking on the paths around it; playing corn dolls with my aunt, who was just a few years older than me; picking mushrooms with my grandmother; helping to corral my grandfather’s cows. So many memory layers attach me to this place.
When I am there the rest of the world seems to lose substance. Both the parts I know and the parts I don’t. I feel life is steadier, less transient there. Maybe that’s just my way of seeing there is no way for me to be as grounded as the people who have lived in the village for all or most of their life. It reminds me of this story I once heard on the radio. Someone asks an old man if he has lived in his home place all his life. “Not yet,” he answers.
I am glad Appa and Minette now have their own way of relating to the village. Appa has taken to its simple quietness. Minette enjoys visiting the chickens and the sheep outside and playing with the family dog and cat. I guess the village will probably mean less to her and to my brother’s children than it means to us because they spend less time there. But I think it will still mean something.
The closer it gets, the more impatient I feel to be back in the village, to spend time with my folks, and to add another memory layer. Let this be a white Christmas!