The Gentleness, the Gifts During the Consuming Storm

Well, here we are at the very end of May and I am still trying to write about September. Every time I begin this post, I sit and I look at that blinking cursor and my eyes fill with tears and no words find their way onto the page. As the tears course down my face I sit back in my comfy chair and nothing gets done. The words remain stuck in my throat, in my heart, in my very soul. But. But, I am going to get through this. You are my friends and you deserve to know what happened to me.

I was writing about my college girlfriends arriving in France. Oh, what a marvelous few days we had in my favorite country in the entire world. We ate at wonderful restaurants – top notch, starred restaurants, as well as hole-in-the-wall perfect restaurants. We tootled along in our little car up one road and down another. We visited wineries, castles, fortresses, tiny villages, and large towns. We walked for miles, and then walked some more.

It was perfect…until it wasn’t. You see, on 13 September 2021, we three had spent the day out eating, sightseeing, drinking, relaxing, having a good time, living our best life. And, then. (Deep breath) And, then we arrived back at our wonderful house and prepared for a fun day the next day in Bordeaux. As we were getting ready for bed, I received a text from my husband. We knew he was going back for some tests. We knew he was ill. We simply had no idea.

His text was short and to the point: “Bad news. Had biopsy today. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Spread to liver and nearby lymph nodes. I love you.”

The worst text ever. Even now, so many months later, I can hardly write the words. Even with all we have been through, even with how well he is doing, even so…even so, writing those words fills my heart with a dread that is so dark, so complete, it takes my breath away. Breathe, just breathe.

My college girlfriends were in my room in a nanosecond. As soon as they heard my keening wail. A sound, they say, that still brings chills down their spines. We all slept, sort of, together in one bed. They were my constant and total support. I still don’t know what I would have done without them. After all, we thought he wouldn’t have the biopsy until the end of September, long after I would be back. The doctors had decided that they could not wait. Thank the Lord for them. Their determination was a gift.

The next morning I was up at five o’clock and starting working on canceling everything. The Bordeaux wine tour scheduled for that day. The rest of the contract for the house rental. The rest of the contract for the car rental. Once my college girlfriends were up – they had taken turns watching me during the night – they got on the phone with their travel agent and got us plane tickets home. And a hotel. And car pick ups at the train station and the hotel.

It still took us two more days before we were home, but they were my rock, my support. Their presence was a gift. I barely remember the car ride to Angers, the dropping off of the car, the train ride to Paris, the car service pick up to the hotel near the airport. Although, I vividly remember the hotel. It was the Pullman Paris Roissy CDG Airport hotel. I will always be so grateful to them. They set us up with a wonderful two bedroom suite, we had an incredible meal in the hotel restaurant, they made sure we were up and going in plenty of time to make our plane. I will always stay at that airport hotel every single time I return to Paris because of their kindness.

Even now, I have to stop and wipe the tears away. Not with angry hands batting at the tears, but with quiet movements, remembering the gentleness during the storm that was consuming me.

The long plane ride, with a forever-long layover in Dallas Fort Worth, was made bearable only by the kindness of the flight crew and my college girlfriends. One shining light of that trip was the strange, Heaven-sent confluence of events that sat me right beside the best person to be by. That is a story unto itself, and one that is worth the write, and the read.

Because they were last minute ticket changes, my college girlfriends were sitting in the left side two seats, then there were three middle seats and then the right side two seats. My friends were worried about me being in the last (farthest from them) of the three middle seats. The nice couple sitting in the two middle seats to my left, said they would be happy for me to switch with the husband so I would be by my friends with just the aisle between us. Great. We made the switch. Then the flight attendant came by to check with the woman who should have been in my (new) seat. I said that I had switched with her husband. No problem. Just then a voice piped up from the row ahead of us and said that she was the woman the flight attendant needed to talk to. The flight attendant looked quizzically at my seatmates. They shrugged and said the lady and her husband were already sitting in their seats, so they just sat back a row in the others’ seats. So, no one was in their assigned seats! But, the truly incredible things was, the thing that was truly Heaven-sent, was the fact that the woman I was now sitting beside, who should have been one row ahead of me, was a surgical nurse who only assisted with the whipple procedure. That is a surgery done on pancreatic cancer patients. What are the odds that we would have ever sat beside each other? God provides.

She and I talked about pancreatic cancer for a few hours. She told me everything she knew about it. She told me about the surgery and what the odds were for those patients who had the surgery. She comforted me and she prayed with me. She was an angel in disguise. This I know.

Finally, finally, finally, I was home. Home with my husband. Where I belonged. A long road lay ahead of us. But that is a story for the next time. Please hug your loved ones. Tell them you love them. Don’t ever take them for granted. They are a gift.

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One Exhausting Day

So, the evening my husband and I went back to Paris, I received a text from my college girlfriends saying that their flight had been canceled and they had been put on a plane two days later! Incredible!! They had called their travel agent (don’t ever travel without a travel agent in these crazy times!!), and he had worked his magic and got them on a plane that left two hours earlier than their original flight…as long as they could get to the airport immediately! They did. Then they would fly from Greenville, SC to Charlotte, NC to London (Heathrow) to Paris! They finally arrived in Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport at three-thirty in the afternoon, rather than the original nine-thirty in the morning. I guess six hours late is better than two days late!

I, however, having spent the entire day at the airport, now knew everything about the airport (go ahead, quiz me), as well as getting to know all of the security agents. They actually clapped when I finally came walking out of arrivals with my college girlfriends! What really shocked me was the fact that CDG airport was so closed down. Of the three terminals, there was only one active (Terminal 1), the other two were closed completely. And, in Terminal One, half of the airline gates were closed. One security agent told me that there had not been a flight on Turkish Air in almost two years. I was gobsmacked. Yes, that is one of my favorite words.

Anyway, once I had gathered them and their luggage, we jumped on the RER from the airport to the center of Paris – my favorite way to get from the airport. However, my girlfriends did not find it as enjoyable as I did. Perhaps, it is because they were short on sleep. Or, perhaps, it was because they had over-packed…in a big way. I had told them: one checked bag, not too big, and one carry-on that was big enough to hold your purse. They, however, assumed that was just a suggestion, and had two checked bags each, and two large carry-on bags each. One does not travel like a Parisian with that much luggage. They needed “people” or staff, but alas, they had neither.

Once we arrived in the center of Paris, we hoofed it through the metro to the Montparnasse train station. I already had our tickets ready, so I quickly picked up sandwiches to eat on the train. At that point I had a mutiny on my hands. They did not want to get on another mode of transportation. I told them we either boarded the train or slept in the train station. They needed a few minutes to think about it. Oh, and did I mention the fact that we had to have our French Health Pass checked at each junction. No? Well, we did, and since one of my girlfriends never got hers, they kept checking her COVID test results. Yeah, not really fun.

Finally, we were on the TGV train, settled in our awesome seats with the table between us, and eating sandwiches. Everyone felt better after ham and butter sandwiches, water to drink, and a bite of chocolate. We watched the scenery pass by as we barreled south to Angers. Once there, we collected the car from the car park, where I had left it two days before on my way to Paris with my husband. (I’m no dummy, I would never drive in Paris.) And we were off to our lovely house in the Loire Valley. We pulled in just before dark, so they were able to see the outside, but would have to wait for the next day to really take it in.

I had cooked supper two days before, thank goodness, so I heated everything up and we dug in. Even though we had done nothing but sit around for almost two days, we were all famished. Pasta with a rustic tomato sauce, salad, and bread never tasted so good. As soon as the last dish was done, we crashed. Determined to not miss a moment of our time together in France, we vowed to get up early the next day.

Well, come back next time and see how that went…

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A Week in the Loire Valley, Just Hubby and Me

My husband and I settled into “our” home easily enough. Our bedroom was quite spacious with large “French” windows. (Aren’t all windows in France French?) The bathroom was divided into two rooms: the commode was in it’s own room separate from the double sinks and shower room. That worked for us. The salon or living room was the perfect size, small enough to be cozy but large enough for plenty of seating and a large television. The dining room sat eight. The kitchen was every chef’s dream. The front and back garden were perfectly proportioned, with a lovely olive tree in the back and a great deck with a casual seating area as well as an alfresco dining area. That house was absolute perfection.

We took off to the massive Super U to purchase groceries, as our little village market was closed. (Who knew that after a month of having Parisians about, the market owners needed their own vacation for a short time during the first of September. Something that had escaped my research.) Note to self: wait until the second week of September to head out into the French countryside.

We were quite impressed and saddened to see this massive grocery store that resembled a Publix, Costco, and Sears all rolled into one. Although, on the plus side, we were able to purchase everything on our list and a few dozen things we had not even thought about. Driving there and back was still quite the ordeal, but I knew that eventually I would feel more comfortable behind the wheel in a foreign country. After all, I had spent months researching the driving rules in France. No, I am not obsessive at all.

We wandered all over the countryside that week. We went to a few chateaux. Our hosts had actually recommended the Chateau de Brissac, and it did not disappoint. It was stunning and incredibly enough still in the same family for over five hundred years. In one room they had the current Duchess’ wedding gown, as well as their daughter’s wedding gown – she married a prince, naturally.

We found a few family owned wineries with their own caves. It was only neighborly to try some, right?! There was nothing fancy about them, just great wine, with grandma helping out. Who could ask for more.

We wandered all over our lovely village eating at all of the restaurants, which was no easy thing since my husband’s French Health Pass never came in. (Who knows why mine did but not his?) He had to keep getting COVID tests every three days. Not fun, not fun at all. There was a great museum about the Loire Valley called, Loire Odysse’e-Bateau Loire de lumiere in the village. It told of the history of the Loire Valley from the earliest times to the present. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

All too soon my husband’s time in France had come to an end. You see, what I have not yet mentioned was that just before we left for France, the doctors had found a mass in my husband’s abdomen. They told us to go on our trip, and when my husband returned they would have him scheduled for a battery of tests. It was a difficult goodbye. I wanted to go home with him but he would not hear of me leaving. My college girlfriends were coming to France as he was leaving and he would not have our trip canceled. He can be quite stubborn when he wants to be.

Our daughter was going to be at our home when my husband returned and would take him to his appointments. We did not expect a biopsy until I returned toward the end of the month. These things actually take a lot of time to schedule. It’s not at all the way they portray it on television.

We headed back to Paris so he could catch his flight the next day. The staff in the Angers train station could not have been more helpful. The TGV staff were equally wonderful. We stayed at an IBIS hotel at the Paris airport and they were horrible. I vowed that I would never stay there again. American Airlines did a tremendous job making sure my husband was comfortable, as he had begun to be in a great deal of pain that final morning. I kissed him goodbye at his departure area, hoping that the tests he would be having would answer so many questions.

Then I went to the arrivals gate to meet my college girlfriends. And that is a a story all by itself. Stay tuned for the next installment of this once-in-a-lifetime-trip…at least, I hope to never have a trip like that again!

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The Loire Valley

After several wonderful days in Paris, it was time to head out to our home-away-from-home in Saint Mathurin sur Loire. We repacked our suitcases, took the metro to Gare Montparnasse, and boarded our train. The second class seats are very spacious and comfortable. We had purchased lunch in the train station to eat on the train – eating lunch on the train always reminds me of my very first French train ride so long ago!

Within just a few hours we were in Angers. We picked up the rental car and prepared to drive to the house. I have driven in other countries before but never in France. I was terrified I would forget to watch for traffic entering our road from the right. Do you know about that little law in France? That people coming from a road to the driver’s right have the right-of-way, unless they have a yield or a stop sign…which are very rare. Yes, it’s true. If you are driving down the road, main road or country lane, you must watch for drivers coming from roads on your right. They don’t even slow down. They know they have the right-of-way, and you had better be watching! It’s amazing to me to see traffic on a main road come to a stand-still because someone is coming toward the main road from a side road on the right. Yup. Truth!

Anyway, we drove along the beautiful Loire River for about thirty minutes and entered the village of Saint Mathurin Sur Loire. Such a lovely little town. Actually, it is a perfect little town. One pharmacy, one Boulangerie/Patisserie, one creperie, one seafood restaurant, one tabac, one market, one boucherie (butcher shop), one incredible restaurant called La Luciole, one church, one cemetary, one post office. Everything one needs and nothing more.

We got to our house and met the owners. We had rented the entire house for one month. The house is called La Petite Echauguette, which means “little watchtower” The owners, Corinne and Bruno, were absolutely wonderful! They had everything ready for us. They took time to make sure we understood how to use everything, and where everything was located. They had written most of it down, because they knew it would be a lot to take in. Then, they were off on their holiday.

Here is a picture of our lovely house. We fell in love with it. What do you think?

My husband and I just looked at each other and grinned. We were in the Loire Valley, in the home we had rented for an entire month! The world opened up to us and we grabbed it. And we did not look back.

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Paris…and Then

Yes, I know it’s now January 2022. Yes, I know we went to France in September 2021. You would not believe how our lives have changed. But, I digress. First Paris, then the Loire Valley, then the life-altering episode.

Ah, Paris. We stayed in the Hotel Jardins d’Eiffel, a three-star hotel. A lovely hotel with an impeccable staff. Our room was spacious (according to Paris standards) with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower (according to any standards). Yes, it was incredible. There was a lovely hotel garden where we could relax in the afternoon or where we could have breakfast in the mornings. We opted for the hotel breakfast in the mornings and were not disappointed. The ladies offered a large American-German-styled breakfast, so no one went away hungry.

We walked out the front door of the hotel and into the heart of Paris. A few blocks from Les Invalides, a few blocks from La Tour Eiffel. A few blocks to Rue de Grenelle, a few blocks to the Musee Rodin. And, of course, it is just a few blocks to Rue Cler…one of my favorite streets for, well, everything.

The weather the first of September could not have been more perfect. Warm and sunny with brilliant blue skies. We wandered hand in hand for hours checking out everywhere we love to go and finding new spots. Then we stopped for a bite to eat, one day at a cafe, another day at an English pub. Who knew we would find a pub in Paris.

Even in a pandemic, Paris did not disappoint. The Parisians were welcoming, the tourists were glad to be there, so everywhere we went it was wonderful. The metros were not packed. The museums were easy to enter. The restaurants were excited to show what they could do. Even having to wear a mask indoors was not really a hardship, just something we had all gotten used to.

After a few days in Paris recharging from the trip over – and for me, recharging my “French” batteries, we were ready to head to our new home-away-from-home in the Loire Valley. But, more about that next time.

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France…Really…We Made It!!

I must apologize for the length of time between my posts, but I really have a good excuse…really, I promise. You see, the hubby and I were finally able to travel to France. Now, France is my absolute most favorite place in the entire world. I kid you not. I am of French ancestry, but it is more than that. If I believed in reincarnation, I would insist that I was French in my very last past life.

I have a deep affinity with France and all things French. I never get lost in France, especially Paris, even though I can get lost in the town I have lived in for most of my life. I never get tired of French foods, or drinks, or soaps, or perfumes, or architecture, or, or, or. The list of French things that I never grow tired of is endless. Literally. I can get a whiff of something undefined and it will transport me back to the France of one of my many visits. I carry all of that in my memories, my mind, my very DNA.

We didn’t get to go to France in 2019, because we had so much going on. Had I known 2020 was going to be a complete bust, I would have carved out a couple of weeks to go. Obviously, last year was not a year to travel anywhere, including France. But, that was okay, because I knew we were going this year. Well, one trip was canceled a month ago, and I was sitting on pins and needles to see if this trip would make it from the planning stage to the fulfillment stage.

I am happy to say that France did not close down, the flights still carried happy Americans to their French happy places, and we were among them. Our flight over was about three-fourths full, which I found interesting since the United States government was trying desperately to tell Americans not to go to France. I guess others listen as well as we do.

We flew American Airlines, which is my favorite (American) airlines to fly. The flight attendants were wonderful. The pilots were in top form. The plane was one of the new Boeing Dreamliners. A great aircraft, if I do say so myself. The biggest disappointment was the food. It was awful. I got the pasta and my husband got the chicken. Neither was any good. Both were so highly spiced that I couldn’t eat either. My husband had a few bites of each and then gave up. Elementary school cafeteria food gets a higher ranking than that mess.

Sleeping on the new Dreamliner was actually quite comfortable. The main cabin had wide enough seats that reclined as well as shifting forward slightly to take strain off the back. We were provided a blanket and a pillow, which was exciting for us because we had heard the airlines were not going to continue to provide those due to COVID.

When we awoke, it was breakfast time. I was excited because I adore French food, especially croissants. What a disappointment. The second meal was even more of a let down than the first. There was no croissant. No French butter. No French jam. There was yogurt, but it was terrible. It tasted like pink-colored mush. There was a fig newton-like cookie. Really? For breakfast? There was something else in there that was absolutely unmemorable, as evidenced by the fact that neither of us can even remember what it was. American Airlines really dropped the ball on this.

Ah, but when we disembarked, we were in Paris! Which you will be able to read about next week. So come on back then to get your Paris fix.

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Edi-Slo, Not Edisto

We just returned from four wonderful days at Edisto, South Carolina…beach, not just island. (Trust me, there is a difference.) Oh, what a heavenly visit it was. We watched the international space station zip across the night sky. We sat at the beach and did nothing more strenuous than lift a bottle of water to our lips or wade ankle deep into the lapping surf. We ate great seafood at several awesome restaurants.

Edisto Beach has a well-deserved reputation for moving slowly, and we like it that way. We do not need those busy beaches with massive condos and hotels taking up every inch of land – and sand. We don’t need the constant noise of beach shops and amusement parks that litter so many beach places. We need to recharge our batteries when we go to Edisto. We need to slow down and just be. We need our little slice of heaven, so we go.

My husband and I have been going to Edisto since we were children. It truly is a wonder we never met there. It took until we were out of college and settled in our careers to meet each other. I really think one of the reasons we ended up together was because we each thought the perfect vacation was a week on Edisto Beach.

We have been going together to the beach for more than thirty years, and we look forward to many more years there. We raised our children on Edisto seafood, ice cream, and sand. They may have chosen homes and careers a world away, but they, too, treasure their memories of Edisto. As a matter of fact, our one daughter invited high school friends for a few days at Edisto Beach to celebrate their ten year reunion a few years ago. Everyone had a fantastic week remembering the past while making memories for the future.

I never want Edisto to be just a part of my memoires. So I keep going back, season after season after season.

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Sipping and Wandering in a Special Winery

We have just spent a lovely few days winery wandering in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. The weather was glorious, and the wine delicious. We went to several wineries but, by far, our favorite was Hanover Park Winery.

A small, family-owned winery located in rolling hills at the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Their farm is perfect, an old farmhouse surrounded by acres of gardens and vines. There is even a wonderful picnic area, and rocking chairs on the front porch. But it is the owners themselves who really make all the difference. Michael and Amy’s love for their winery, their product, and each other shine through the entire visit. They, and their staff, are dedicated and knowledgeable, as comfortable around true connoisseurs as they are helping novices.

The Cab Franc and the Michael’s Blend are wonderful, as are the whites, but my favorite – especially this time of year – is The Pearl. A delicious, gentle, refreshing rose’ that sits lightly on the palate. Oh, gosh, don’t take my word for it, just try them all.

The next time you are wandering around North Carolina, do turn your car toward the Yadkin Valley and wander over to Hanover Park Winery. Try their wine. You will love it. I promise. Please sip some for me.

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What Do You Choose?

Goodness, it has been a couple of weeks since I posted. What was I thinking? Oh, yeah. I was thinking that I had a house full of friends and family and had no time to write anything. Do you ever have days or weeks like that? After last year, when we had no visitors after March, I despaired of ever having anyone visiting again.

One thing I have learned from last year, and a very busy few weeks this year, is that life really is what you make of it. I could have been frazzled or aggravated that I had no time for my blogs…or any writing whatsoever…but that would have been self-defeating. I loved having a full house. I loved the hustle and bustle of all we did. I loved spending time with my wonderful mother.

The reality is that we make choices. Every day. All day long. Choices that help our lives, fulfill our lives, enrich our lives. Or, conversely, we make choices that tear down our lives, cheapen our lives, destroy our lives. I made the intentional choice of stepping back from my computer and spending that time with the people right in front of me, eating at my table right then. I do not regret it at all.

I did, however, miss you…and my writing. I like opening myself up to the greater world. There is so much to see, so many to meet, and so little time in which to do so. It seems sad that many people live in the small bubble of their making and never venture out into the great unknown.

The best part of so much activity is the slowing down after everyone leaves, and the opportunity to turn some of those conversations, some of those sites, some of those personalities into my writings…into characters…into settings…into dialogue. All of my friends and family know that anything they say or do, anywhere we go, can be (and probably will be) fodder for a story. They accept that idiosyncrasy of mine and I appreciate them for that. Besides, I think they look for themselves in my writings!

Anyway, I hope you have had a great few weeks and have taken time to smell the proverbial roses. I certainly have, and they are fragrant and wonderful. See you on Tuesday.

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Our Final Day Aboard the California Zephyr

We awoke to our final day on the train. We were surprised to discover that so many people had gotten off the train at Salt Lake City. I cannot imagine having to disembark during the night but I suppose they did alright. After breakfast (remember, we still had the COVID menu, so we were thoroughly tired of the breakfast menu by now), we went into the observation car and found it mostly empty. We sat for a while and watched the flat desert land of Utah and Nevada pass by. It was still incredibly beautiful to me.

This is scenery we never see at home in the deep South. We watched huge cattle ranches pass by. They were spread over massive stretches of land. We watched land filled with absolutely nothing except scrub shrubs. No trees, no animals, no water. The land was achingly beautiful. Stark, still, somber…majestic.

That morning, we met a wonderful couple from Indiana who own a ranch and used to raise and show Western Quarter horses. We had the best time visiting, and lunching, with them. That is one of the best thing about train travel – all of the great people you meet.

Within a few hours we were climbing again. Right after our stop in Reno, we began climbing into the Sierra Nevadas. Glorious scenery once again. In places, we rose above the treeline where the snow never melts. We looked down on Lake Tahoe. We stopped at Truckee, California and my husband and I reminisced about the time we stayed in Tahoe and and spent the day in Truckee. Such a great little town. We went on up, through Donner Pass. The thought of all that land had witnessed is not for the faint of heart.

All too soon we were slipping down out of the mountains and into Sacramento. We were running terribly late, so the stops were quick. Smokers were simply out of luck. We arrived in Emeryville about five-thirty in the evening – two hours late but we didn’t mind. The trip had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A two thousand, four hundred, and thirty-mile journey through seven states. I’m ready to do it all over again next year. Come join me!

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