My Madeleine

Burgundy France

It’s funny how it goes.

One minute,

you're a child born into an upper middle-class family in France with no apparent problems. The mere things you have to concern yourself with are being decently mannered and doing well at school.

The next,

You are forty years old and you are filled with sadness as your beloved grandfather’s casket gets lowered into the ground. You finally realize just how much time has passed since you last sported fresh cherries as make-believe earrings.

It is then it hits you hard: you, your loved one, aren't meant to be around forever.

My dear Papy is gone.

I still have vivid memories of my childhood. Surrounded with two loving parents, four grandparents and five great-grandparents as well as a myriad of cousins, it was a good one.

Summers were spent in a castle. There were mad races in the fields of my native Burgundy, astronomy sessions held in the middle of the night, five-course birthday meals, hours spent reading.

I can still taste the blackcurrant meringue pie, smell the Sunday lamb roast, feel the sting of nettles on my shins. And with that, the smell of the vinegar my grandma used to rub on my stings and rashes haunts my nose again.

I remember how great-grandma Méjeanne’s caramels stuck to my teeth while she squarely beat me at dominos. 

I remember the touch of heirloom linens against my skin as I slipped into a cold sleigh bed.

I remember my grandfather forever swirling a tartine of bread and jam in his morning coffee until it near disintegrated into the dark brew.

I remember…

So much. So much I could almost feel it.

And yet, I am left combating the feeling that with every person lost, slices of my memories fade away.

My grandfather is gone but his spirit combs through the fields of wheat in the Burgundian plains. I can feel him alive in the breeze, in the frozen rivers on the cold mountain days, up in the cherry trees where the juiciest fruit are.

His creative genius lives on every time we use that improbable bathroom he built suspended above a barn.

Popping a Champagne bottle will forever remind me of him. The bubbles in my mouth will tickle like his joyous laugh did.

I look over this view from my childhood. It has barely changed, and yet it has changed so much. Nature has claimed a few sick trees, and with them my beloved grandpa.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply. If I stand still, really still, he is there, right there, resting in his hammock in the shade of our weeping willow, smoking his pipe, whistling, and watching over us.

Arvi pa, Papy.