My mother-in-law has discovered google translation as a way to read these posts in French. I hope Michèle-France will enjoy today's story! (Picture of the red sunflowers growing in our field of cinsault grapes. To see the yellow tournesols, join me on Instagram.)
oreiller (oh-ray-yay) noun, masculine
prendre conseil de son oreiller = to sleep on it (re decision making)
une taie d'oreiller = pillowcase
une bataille d'oreillers = pillow fight
les confidences (f) sur l'oreiller = pillow talk
Ma belle-mère m'a offert son propre oreiller. My mother-in-law offered me her very own pillow.
Blossoming in Provence, "The sort of book the one can read many times and still find it a pleasure." --JH
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
At a beachfront café in Marseilles, Jean-Marc is buttering his mom's toast. "Honey or the confiture d'abricot?" he asks.
"T'es gentil," my mother-in-law thanks her eldest son. "Abricot, s'il te plaît." Taking a sip of her tea, Michèle-France turns her attention my way. "Tu es toujours si jolie," she says.
"I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on you," my mother-in-law continues.
My thoughts race back in time. Guiltily I wonder, Did I remember the exact moment too? Little by little, I begin to see the Espinasse family's apartment, in the Roy d'Espagne neighborhood, near the end of Marseilles. I don't remember the pine forest or the sea. I do remember the shining white tiles in the hall entry. I remember that it was just Jean-Marc, his brother, and his mother who lived there in the three-bedroom apartment. I don't recall which floor of the high-rise they lived on—or even taking the ascenseur—though we would have had to.
I do remember the kitchen, where Jean-Marc's mother prepared an exotic-to-this-American dinner (or was it lunch?): lapin à la moutarde. I remember sharing the meal with Jean-Marc's friends, Rachel and Stephan. I do not remember Michèle-France eating with us. Did she discreetly withdraw to her room, to leave us, les amoureux, to dine?
As I reminisce, Michèle-France fills me in on where it was, exactly, that we met the first time she laid eyes on me:
"I met you in the hallway, after you shuffled out of my son's bedroom!"
I vaguely remember the awkward encounter. Had I been leaving Jean-Marc's bedroom? Behind me, the disheveled sheets would have covered the mattress. You could just see the desk, where Jean-Marc had been showing me his brand new 1989 Macintosh—when we lost interest in computers. I could also see the hook on the wall, where a green robe hung; it was a gift from Jean-Marc's sister. Was I wearing that robe when I met Michèle-France in the hall?!
I must have needed the bathroom. I could almost hear Jean-Marc assuring me no one was around—just go on down the hall. The restroom was at the end of it....
That is when I must have come face to face with Maman. My fears were now materialized and I could not have been more embarrassed. Jean-Marc must have come out of the room, in time to make the introductions.
Any discomfort quickly disappeared when Jean-Marc's mother smiled an unmistakably warm welcome. I will never forget her words: "You can stay as long as you like. You are most welcome here with us. Bienvenue!"
I could not take her up on her generous offer at the time, as I would need to return to Tempe, Arizona, to finish another year and a half of school at ASU.
Taking a sip of my café au lait, it is 20 years later now and I do not seem to have overstayed my welcome. My mother-in-law's eyes continue to glimmer la bienvenue!
Michèle-France sets down her tea and looks at me softly. Next she shares with me, for the first time, what her thoughts were that first time we met.
"I remember thinking: this girl will make my son happy one day!"
I return my mother-in-law's gaze. Her words echoed in my mind as I try to etch them there, on a gray-mattered blackboard.
"Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux!"
Almost as soon as she's said it, I recognize the beginnings of a rascal's smile as it spreads across my belle-mère's face... evidence her mischievous side is waking up.
"Yes, you were une bouffée d'air frais—a breath of fresh air," she winks, "especially after some of the girls he brought home!"
Recognizing the direction in which we are heading, I raise my hands, quickly inserting my fingers into my ears. "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!" I laugh. Next I begin to hum.
When I take my fingers out of my ears, my mother-in-law is in the middle of reciting a string of sultry names, "Ma..." (MArilyn? MArie? MAnon?) but I will not listen to a word of it—just as I won't listen when Jean-Marc's longtime friends tease me about les anciennes copines.
Jean-Marc laughs as his mom continues her innocent taquinerie, and when it seems safe to unplug my ears I hear this doozy:
"Ah, and that one! What-Was-Her-Name? Je l'ai jetée de mon lit! I threw her out of my very own bed!"
I can't help but appreciate the colorful scenes my mother-in-law paints with her words, and I finally give in, picturing Jean-Marc's mom yanking some hussy, some fille de petite vertu out of her very own bed (sheesh, Jean-Marc—your mom's own bed!).
On a final, tender note, Michèle-France colors in a bright ending to the story:
"But for you," my mother-in-law says as she reaches across the café table and squeezes my hand, "for you I would have offered my very own pillow!"
la confiture d'abricot = apricot jam
t'es gentil = you're nice
Tu es toujours si jolie = you are still so pretty
la belle-mère = mother-in-law
un ascenseur = elevator
le lapin à la moutarde = rabbit with mustard sauce
bienvenue = welcome
le café au lait = coffee with milk
Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux! = Yes, I knew it was you who would make my son happy!
une bouffée d'air frais = a breath of fresh air
l'ancienne copine = old girlfriend
la taquinerie = teasing
In love in January 1993... only six months before Jean-Marc bought me a one-way ticket home! Find out what happened after that, in the intro to the book Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language (the Polaroid image includes Jean-Marc's notation "la cloche ) fromages"--which is the cheese restaurant where we ate that night.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety