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Le Plus Beau Village

“He wants your purse, Mom,” I said through clenched teeth as I grabbed her wrist and led her down the dark alleyway.

“No, he was trying to tell me something.” She looked back and offered him an apology in immaculate French.

“Pick-pocket!” I shook my head. We walked a few more blocks, my pace quicker than hers and my tone of voice exasperated, “It’s ten pm. Where are we, Mom?”

“Shortcut, see?” She pushed me through another alleyway, this one darker. I wanted to protest. Then we turned a corner and light streamed ahead.

At the next opening, there stood the Eiffel Tower. It stretched up into the night sky with an illuminated “2000” written on its side in golden-orange lights to celebrate the turn of the century.

We stared at it, and my posture softened.

The next day we journeyed by train to a small village where we argued over a water fountain.

“Just take a drink for a quick picture,” my mother said.

I looked up at the gargoyle whose face spouted water from a stone wall. “I’m not touching that. It’s green with algae.”

“Because it’s ancient,” she laughed. “Just imagine, Medieval villagers once gathered here. There’s probably an underground spring and locals fill up their water bottles.”

The cobblestone road sat empty. I crossed my arms, a teenage habit I still kept at age twenty-one.

“Lean in and pretend to take a sip,” she prodded. I complied, yet my facial expression showed distrust and hints of contempt.

That afternoon my mom ordered “Carbonnade à la Flamande.”

“Mad Cow Disease, Mom. You promised we’d stay away from beef.”

“This place is upscale.” She waved her hand around and grinned widely as if the rule no longer applied.

“But we read in the newspaper, and you said…” The waiter came up to the table where we sat at odds, and she began speaking to him in French. I wiped away tears while they conversed.

Was she trying to rattle me? How had we become so different?

After our plates arrived and we’d folded napkins onto our laps, we found a new subject of conversation. I let the Mad-Cow-Disease argument fall to the floor with the breadcrumbs I wiped off the mauve polyester tablecloth. “Mom, tell me about our plans for tomorrow.”

“Annecy,” she said. “It’s at the foot of the French Alps. You’ll love it.”

And she was right. But that was after we entered an expressway driving in the wrong direction.

“Give me the keys,” I told her, upon our exit in the nick of time. “A semi-truck could have flattened us, Mom,” and my face showed no grace.

The final day of our trip, after crossing kilometers of French countryside, Mediterranean seascape roads, and train tracks of the TGV (French speed-train), I washed my hands in the tiny bathroom sink on a train to Paris where we’d board a plane to head home. Little drops splattered up, so I washed my hands a second time. The reality of my control issues stared at me in the mirror as the train bounced, but it would take time for these habits to unravel.

When I walked back to my seat, there sat my mother, holding the mini fancy-breed dog that belonged to the woman sitting near us. She chatted, but my unpolished French kept me quiet. I listened as my mom gushed about France and our most recent sightseeing in Marseille, all while fully unburdened by timidity or hesitation.

“Ah, and you?” the woman looked at me and asked, “What did you find the loveliest part of la France? Le plus beau village?”

I exhaled. These past weeks my mom led us through the country she adored, and I followed along reluctantly.

“Annecy is a beautiful town,” I said, recalling its narrow bridges crossing over winding canals lined with flower boxes. There we fed bites of a sandwich to swans as a backdrop of snowcapped mountains sat behind us.

My mom nodded, affirming my response.

As I tell the story now, I see her holding that little dog. She delighted in the mundane, the marvelous, and the mishaps, like when we sampled a dozen perfumes and felt nauseous, or when we chased a cat along cobblestone paths of a cliffside village for yet another photo. She relished adventure without worry. She let go of conflict, refusing to let it brew. She clothed herself in a joy that surpassed sheer logic and control.

Writing this short memoir with my mother in it caused me to consider our time together in France. On the five-year anniversary of my mother’s passing, my husband asked me about memories of her. These were the ones I told, two decades later, strung together between laughs.


Writing Prompt: Writing memoir can include describing a particular event or life experience from a new point of view.



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