la toile


Snapshots of France: the Basque town of Bidarray. 

noun, masculine
an announcement (of birth or marriage or death) 


This morning I received an email from a longtime reader. Only, on closer look, there was something unusual about the courriel: the sender's full name was repeated in the email's subject line. The last time that I received such a letter from a subscriber address it was bad news.

Clicking open the email, I soon learned that the sender was not a reader of my newsletter, but the son of a reader. The email was a faire-part announcing that his mother, Ginny, had passed away.

Ginny.... Like Cher, Madonna, Oprah, or Martha, it took only a prénom for me to recognize her each time her name popped into my inbox. I never hesitated opening her emails, which were full of warmth and self-depreciating humor. How could she be no more?

Caught off guard, I clicked shut the email and sat back to stare at my inbox, where the letter was sandwiched in between dozens of emails labeled "SPAM". Heartless spam! I quickly deleted the intruder messages in order to safeguard this delicate nouvelle.

Clicking back open the email, I noticed how the next line of the letter reflected the newly-peeled sentiments inside of me, including sorrow. 

The writer was apologetic about the delivery format of his message:
"I'd prefer a more personal way to let you know, but for many of you, this is the only contact information I have...."

I wanted to thank Ginny's son for informing this stranger, who, under the circumstances, felt something like a voyeur or an illegitimate mourner. After all, how to explain the relationship that I had with his mother, who was, in effect, a "virtual" acquaintance—someone I had never seen or spoken to before?

My mind was normally as busy as a hummingbird's wings, and now a new and sorrowful stillness reigned inside: a stranger's grief... my own.

I began to wonder. Had I answered Ginny's last email? I went back over the 61 courriels received from Ginny in the four-and-a-half years since she began responding to my internet column.

She addressed me as her "Chère amie du courrier électronique". Other times, I was "Chère Madame" or "Chère Kristin" or, simply, "Chère amie", to which she added, in her signature humble way "si l'on ose à le dire" ("if one might be so presumptuous as to say").

I noticed that self-effacing "P.S." that she usually added: "Réponse Pas Nécessaire" ("No Response Necessary", she always insisted, as if to say "you must, or should have other priorities than answering this silly note").

In the dozens of to-the-point emails that Ginny sent, she rarely spoke of herself and, when she did, she mostly poked fun at her persona: "Salut d'une vieille dame de Californie," she once wrote, and I can still remember the smile that it forged across this rigid-while-working face.

I learned that the "vielle dame" was a teacher, and "when lucky ... taught French". Mostly, Ginny offered encouragement and support. As to my first, practically pasted-together book (which she bought) she wrote: "I hope you sell a jillion of them!"

Whether in French or in English, her signature lines varied, and light-heartedly so, bringing to life one unforgettable character in my inbox: "Ginny 'la bavardeuse'," or "Ginny in the foothills of the Sierra, off Highway 50". By associating a "place" with her name, I could better identify this French Word-A-Day lectrice in an inbox full of unfamiliar names. For me she was "Ginny dans le piédmont.... where we are three inches low in rainfall" and "Ginny in Placerville, just downhill from Lake Tahoe" and, finally, "Ginny en californie... qui rêve d'un voyage en Norvège cet été."

Ginny, wherever you are, in the piedmont or, finally, up north (yes "up north" I trust...)—YOU ARE MISSED. And while I never knew the color of your hair, the tone of your skin, or the twinkle in your eye—you were indeed a mystery to me—I knew a charming precious bit about "la vieille dame de Californie".

P.S.: I wished my own signature line had as much zip, character, and warmth as yours... I'm sure that the teacher in you would be encouraging—so here goes:

"une moitié-vieille dame de Provence qui a beaucoup apprécié votre éloquence életronique"
("a half-old dame in Provence who very much appreciated your electronic eloquence.")

Le Coin Commentaires

To respond to this story, please leave a message here in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

le courriel

le faire-part
announcement (of birth, marriage, death...)

le prénom
first name

news, update

la bavardeuse
 (le bavardeur)
the chatty one

la lectrice

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Thank you for sharing this with us, Kristin. In so doing, you remind us of the enormous benefits that courriel electronique brings to the world. In so doing, you underline for me yet again what a skill you have in convincing us that you speak to each of us individually.

Encore merçi beaucoup.


I may have met or run into this person at some time since I moved from Placerville
(a very small town) 15 months ago. So sad. No more e-mails from her. Kristin, she obviously touched your life. Just as a ship that leaves a port, it leaves memories behind while it continues. It has not sunk but rather just continued with it's trip to another port. Larry

Becca Hillyer Claudé

Dear Kristin,

Your stories always makes me smile, and especially this one... as if it is a sign of sorts.

You see, this 7th of February was the would-be 70th wedding anniversary of my paternal grandparents (I wear my late-Grammy's ring, with the inscription : "To Ginny from De, 2-7-42").

And only yesterday I passed along a subscription of your French Word-a-Day to my father. He has not yet come to visit me here in my transplanted French life, but is certainly awaited with a full heart when he decides to come. I figure that if he reads your stories, he will know how much French he already knows, if even by association to other languages.

We are both word-junkies, most definitely because of Grammy Ginny, who happened to be a teacher, who happened to be a very accomplished lover of many languages, who happened to be a very special and faithful correspondent, too... endeared to so many people.

Your story today is surely a message to me that nothing happens by coincidence, as this will be the first day my father opens his French Word-a-Day, only to be greeted by a beautiful story about an uplifting teacher named Ginny !

Thank you for your constant inspiration and your reminders to remain courageously human, especially when crossing over various divides - be they physical, cultural, spiritual or simply geographic.

All my very best to you as you continue to touch those of us who read your thoughts.

Ann Marie Corcoran, Sydney, Australia

Thank you for your warmth and deep concern. I enjoy reading about your far flung friends and recipients. Ginny certainly added a certain spice to your life. Long will she be remembered. Ann Marie

Pat, Roanoke, VA

Chere Kristen, thank you for sharing the news about Ginny, "la vielle dame de Californie."  What a dear sweet soul who loved to connect with you, as do so many of us virtual amis.  And how lovely that her son would make the effort to inform you, and others, of his dear Mother's passing.

There was a very beautful card I saw once which said:  

      "Released from earthly bonds, this soul if free to travel further."  

A few colorful watercolor brush strokes adorned it.  It spoke to me loud and clear as I had recently lost my chere grandmere, Mollie.  I purchased it and framed it along with a photo of her standing alone on a beach, the ocean behind her with the sky lit in an aura of colors by the setting sun.  It has given me much comfort.

I have thought these words when others die, knowing that in a way I cannot understand, the adventure continues.  We give thanks for the lovely ones who have crossed our path.  "Traveling mercies," Ginny and again milles mercis,  Kristin, for your blog.  you open the circle wider.  Oh, and in honor of Valentine's Day:  xox!

Michelle Taylor

Friendships can take so many different forms, can't they?! I wish I had known "your Ginny"...she sounds like a remarkable lady...Thanks for sharing her with us!









Jimm Hughey

Cher Kristin,
You've done it again. You've opened up your heart for all to see...silly girl, now we are forced to love you for what you bring. The gift that you are sharing, is not just about being a loving person, it is also about expressing what you feel in such elegant language that we feel what you feel. And we all feel the pain of losing those we love and sometimes those we just barely know. We lost both of my wife's parents in the last 6 months of 2011.
Thank you for being yourself and sharing that.
Jimm Hughey, CA Jimm ~ le pharmacien vieux qui aide les gens grandir en bonne santé dans les hôpitaux (smile)

Debra Lesser


How lucky we all are to be able to share so much of ourselves with each other! I was so touched by your account of Ginny's poignant contributions to FWAD and also by the sensitive and meaningful way you shared the news of her passing with us. So often, when I get to work in the morning and read your latest entry, I'm overcome with emotion and reach for my Kleenex, hoping that none of my co-workers notice the few stray tears on my cheeks. Always, after I've read the post and your readers' thoughtful comments (especially those of your amazing mother) I find that a calmness comes over me, I relax a little and I feel more ready to face my day. Thanks again for all you do and have done for so many years.

-Debbie from Baltimore

Karen Whitcome (Towson, MD. USA)

Dear Kristin.

What a touching post you've written so perfectly today. I'm so happy to hear that Ginny's son reached out to you. He may have heard his mom refer to you in recounting stories over the years - much as I do to friends and family. When I do this, I always refer to you as my friend. This is a circle with many open hearts - yours being the most open of hearts. You don't just write your blog and go away. You are always right there in our "coin".

It's an undefinable relationship but, at times, I feel like I speak to you and to the other "friends" here more often than I do to the friends I have right here with me. We take time for one another here and when one of us goes missing, it's noticed. We are literally "friends at hand" but also "friends at heart" - what could be better than that?

Thanks for sharing this with us. I think it validates the depth of connection we have for one another - virtual though it may be.

Julie S. from San Diego

Thank you, Kristin for this very thoughtful post and tribute to Ginny. I also feel blessed to have you in my life through French-word-a-day. I am still amazed at the contact we now have with people from around the world whose lives we might not ever touch. Ginny touched your life and others through her messages here. Many thanks to you for giving us all the opportunity to share a common interest here together; a love for France, its beautiful language, culture, and traditions. Thanks also to you for sharing your family and life with us.
Julie de San Diego

Cheryl in STL

I have more than a few tears in my eyes because of your sweet tribute to Ginny. I have to agree with Karen that you are more a part of all of our lives than you probably realize and that we are all more interconnected than we have understood. Thank you for this post...and as for Ginny, she'll be one of those stars we'll hear laughing in the sky.

Tom from Detroit

Merci, Kristin.


Kristin, your "Ginny" post today is beautifully expressed and truly touching.

Larry Mason


Well, you've done it again, brought tears to my eyes as I read yet another wonderful French Word-a-day. You've touched the hearts of untold numbers of people around the world, dear lady. Thank you for being you.

Alice Halliday

I did not know how to respond to the moving blog and then read the one from Lamy Mason just before that sums up all I felt.
Une autre vielle dame d'Oxford, Angleterre!

mhwebb in NM, USA

To all of you -

You are helping me so much this morning! I woke up with signs of illness, but I will not detail them here. All of you lifted my spirit. First, your (Kristin's) account of Ginny was a warning to take care of myself. Second, I was struck by the thoughtfulness of Ginny's son to let us all know about his mother rather than to leave us all wondering about her absence. Third, you, Kristin, cheered me with your phrase, "My mind was normally as busy as a hummingbird's wings...". I experience that often. Fourth, Pat (of Roanoke, VA) touched my heart with her words, "In a way that I cannot understand, the adventure continues." Pat's description of the photo of her grandmother, Mollie, standing on the beach reminded me of a 35-year-old photo that I keep of my departed mother and our son (then 3 years old). The photo rests in a plastic frame anchored to our refrigerator with a magnet. My mother and our son smile at me in the photo from the Pacific shore near Santa Cruz, CA. The photo reminds me of a sunny winter's day when my husband used one of his precious few days off (while we lived in CA) to take our visiting Nana to the beach so that she and her youngest grandson could walk along the sandy shore together. We all enjoyed that memorable day. Fifth, Jules described best what you do, Kristin: You lead with your heart. The gift of words flows freely here. Merci to all of you. And, my condolences to Ginny's son.

Mary in NM

Alice Halliday

PS Above blog written while watching fieldfares and other birds hovering in deep snow while pecking off the catoneaster berries. Makes me think of the many hungry people, as well as birds, in the world today. La vielle dame d'Oxford (Alice)


Dear Kristin,

Loved reading your loving comments to Ginny. My best friend's name is Ginny so it really touched me. You have such a lovely way of expressing thoughts and feelings that we all have. I have your first book, and will get "Blossoming.." when I get a few extra dollars. Love to you and Chief Grape and your children!

Betsy Ritzel

Dear Kristin,
Thank you so much for this sharing of your
relationship with Ginny.. It is truly heart


Kristin, Thank you for sharing the passing of Ginny. Even though this is the first time I have seen her name, your story brought tears to my eyes. The passing of a friend, even virtual, is sad. Even though never meeting her, it leaves a hole in my heart - maybe because of our shared interest in France and French. My heartfelt sorrow to her family.

Sharon: in Montague, Michigan


Merci Kristin,
You have a place in all of our hearts. The New York Public Library recently posted this Lewis Carroll quote on their Facebook page - " One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others." Thank you again for the many ways you connect with us your readers.
Ginny's life now has reached even more by your sharing.


What a lovely person and a lovely homage to Ginny. I wish to have known her.

Susan in Bozeman, Montana

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Bonjour Kristin,

This was the first e-mail I read this morning. It was so bittersweet, warm, & touching. Thank you for sharing this with us.

It reminds me not to take anything for granted and to cherish our family & friends

I hope you are recovering well.

Thank you for your wonderful words today!

Joy Greenidge

Dear Kristin,
I never thought of writing to you. Today I read the story of your friendship with Ginny. Thank you Kristin, for Truth of the Heart, which touched me deeply, as it did all of those who responded in the comments. Their comments were touching also. You remind us all of the joy of connecting, in both languages. Thank you.


Bonjour, Kristin, et merci for all that you do! I, too, am a Francophile, a teacher of French, and travel vicariously to all the charming corners of your world with each and every one of your posts. You are probably single-handedly responsible for boosting France's reputation with your charm, lecons de vocabulaire, photos, your love of la belle France. You have touched many lives, and as Ginny was une amie to you, you are to all of us.
Merci pour tout ce que vous faites!
Une autre vieille dame une fois de Calfornie, mais maintenant fortement transplantee en Colorado

Karen from Phoenix

As I read the beautiful tribute to Ginny it brought tears to my eyes as well. We are all so connected here at FWAD and losing one of our friends, whether we knew her or not, effects us all. My heart goes out to her son. I know if he reads all of these messages it will ease his pain just a little. Thank you all for being my friend!


Angela Fowler

Kristin ~

Thank you for sharing the lovely and heartfelt story about Ginny. I am reminded of a quote by Kahil Gibran:

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

As always, thank you for being a friend. Take care of yourself.


Salut Kristin, tu vas mieux?
It was such a moving post today. Ginny must have talked a lot about you to have made her son reach out to you, so that you would not think Ginny had suddenly quitté sans dire Adieu.
This story also reminds me of the blog created by the girls in my former lycée pour filles. I was looking for old classmates by reading all the commentaires. And there, I came across a message from the son of my favorite teacher. He announced his mother's death and I was stunned for a moment. I remember the young vivacious teacher du cours de dessin who always gave me motivating advice.


So touching.


Our dear Kristin,
Yourpost today was not only a beautiful tribute to a caring friend,but also a wonderful (and timely) reminder to all of us on just exactly how fragile life is.,,
How God has our destinies in the palm of His hand.I love this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt "Today is a gift,that's why it's called the present."
Feel better,dear Kristin. You're in my prayers.XO

Judi (Lake Balboa, CA)

There is magic healing in your words. I just lost my Mother-in-Law a couple of weeks ago - and your kind letter and loving 'eulogy' to Ginny helped me, too - along with so many wonderful words from all your caring readers. What a wonderful tribute you paid to Ginny's life, I'm sure her kind and thoughtful son was very touched. I certainly was - actually, having quite a teary day - but it's good - I love the '.. free to travel further' phrase from Pat - I copied it and want to keep it when thinking of my dear "Mom." Thank you all for your inspirational words - Ginny traveled in good company!

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Hello dear Kristi,

It is so nice to have you back, though very sorry for such sad circumstances. I adored your tribute to Ginny. In doing so, you opened our hearts to her and her family, connecting us. The past three weeks have held much loss and grief for me, losing many of my dear animal friends. Yes, friends come in all forms and touch our lives so deeply and dearly…even those we’ve never met. Such a beautiful gift!

Hugs and Love, Stacy...your long-time(sounds better than old) friend in the foothills of Sugarloaf, just off highway 238 :)

Bettye Dew

What a lovely literary essay, Kristen. It will go in my to-keep folder for FWAD. You painted a beautiful picture of Ginny, blending strokes of her delightful and self-effacing French with your own thoughtful responses. It is an impressionistic remembrance that seems just right.

Bettye in St.Louis


Wow, Kristin, what a testament to your connection with people. Not only with the marvelous Ginny, and -- thanks to this post -- her granddaughter Becca, but with all of your readers.You have the knack for sharing and inviting others to share. I've been reading for over 2 years now, and haven't put in my 2 cents very often, but I'd like you to know that you're an inspiration to me. (I'm marrying a Frenchman next year and am making my way in the wine industry, so you see we have a few things in common!)

You're the kind of gal so many of us would greet with arms wide open on first meeting you: indeed, we feel like we already know you!


Eileen deCamp in Charlottesville, VA

Thanks for sharing Kristin. Ginny is smiling from "up north".

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