25 years ago, I spent my junior year abroad at l’Université de Caen in Normandy, France. During that time I met a very special man named Fabrice. He was a kind, gentle person, and we maintained our friendship when I returned to the States.
Throughout the years we would correspond, first with letters and an occasional call, and then later through email. We rejoiced when each of us married, and I was thrilled to pick out a gift to send overseas when his daughter was born.
Then, quite suddenly, 11 months later, Fabrice passed away due to a very aggressive cancer, and it was his widow, whom I’ll call Emile, who gave me the news. She and I had never met, but we then corresponded from time to time over the next decade. As both of our daughters became older, we connected them as pen pals, and they sent messages and photos to each other using the moms as interpreters.
Last weekend, we had the opportunity to meet in person in their hometown in France.
We arrived for dinner on Friday evening. It was originally going to be our family of 4, Emile, her daughter whom I’ll call Marie, and her partner whom I’ll call Laurent. But I received a very special surprise as Fabrice’s sister, whom I’ll call Dany, and her older daughter joined us as well.
And that was the beginning of a wonderful weekend. We all got to know each other, and Dany and I caught up, often surprising each other with small tidbits we remembered from decades ago. We laughed and talked while the kids played “Loup” (tag) in the yard, and suddenly it was midnight.
Not yet ready to leave each other, Dany invited us to brunch the next day, and we had the opportunity to spend time with her husband (whom I also knew 25 years ago) and younger daughter. Unfortunately that time passed too fast, but we know we will stay in touch and see each other again.
After brunch, we got back together with Emilie, Laurent and Marie, and also brought Dany’s daughter with us. It was hot, so the kids cooled off whenever possible, even getting showered by a mechanical elephant! I cannot begin to do this beautiful creature justice, but you can see the crowds following it as it walks through town, and the kids made sure to get in front when it sprayed water!
The day continued with a carousel ride unlike any we had ever seen — three full stories of mystical underwater creatures that you could manipulate. The kids chose a fish and moved its eyes, fins, and tail throughout the ride.
After a stop for a drink and some wandering, we went out to dinner. The girls had struggled a bit due to the language barrier, so I helped them ask each other questions. They connected over Harry Potter and when “What do you want to be when you grow up?” evolved into “Which would you prefer? To have three ducks follow you the rest of your life or to have to read a poem in front of the class in your underwear?” I knew we’d made a breakthrough.
After our late dinner the previous evening, we vowed to make it an early night, but food, wine and laughter got in the way, and we found ourselves getting the kids in bed around 11:30 pm.
No rest for the weary, however, as Emilie and Laurent had planned a spectacular day exploring the seaside. Missa B hopped into their car, sharing her Lego magazine with Marie and showing her how to play Minecraft, even figuring out how to switch her iPad to French to make it easier for Marie. Marie then taught her a card game which allowed Missa B to learn how to say the words for different family members in French.
Our day was filled with moments that will forever be etched in our memories as we explored the seaside with our new friends.
When we later stopped for drinks, Missa B declared, “We have breakfast, lunch and dinner and maybe a snack. Here in France, they just stop for drinks. I LOVE this!” And we too loved the relaxed environment.
Afternoon became evening as we all headed back to Emilie and Laurent’s house for a light dinner. The kids played Uno, teaching each other the words in French and English for numbers and colors. They even made up a rule that when you set down a card, you had to say the number and color in your non-native language.
The adults talked for hours. Politics, education, religion…no topic was left untouched which is pretty amazing considering that Emilie and I spent a lot of our time translating. But, as Emilie said, “We just feel like being with your family is easy.” And we felt the same way. It seemed like we had known each other for years. And we know we will be friends for years to come.
As we once again continued into the late hours of the evening, I took a minute to listen to the children’s laughter and our animated adult conversations. Fabrice and I had always wanted our families to meet. And while this is not how we wanted it to happen, I have to think he was watching us and smiling.
Rest in Peace, my friend. You have left an amazing legacy.