Meeting Grandpère

My image of grandpère changes over time.
r_corvol1Robert Corvol

Image one: Paris. 1967. I’m four. Grandpère, a raconteur, is holding court at the large family lunch table where about 12 people listen with quiet attention.

Image two: I want to speak. He frowns at me and warns that I’m to remain quiet. He goes back to telling his tale.

Image three: I peep up again. He glares and raises a finger. He continues his story.

Image four: He is pulling me by my left ear, from my seat, around the table, and through the swinging door into the kitchen where I get surprised looks from Yvette, the angelic housekeeper and Hector the grouchy cat. Apparently I’ve broken the silence again.

Years later as a teenager, I learn that he died of a “massive” heart attack in 1968. Obviously, I think, he was always “mad,” so he must have conniptioned his way to death. So goes the unchecked imagination of a frightened child.

With time, I’ve heard more stories, and the image of this complex character becomes less ghoul and more grandfather. Here was a French journalist who after managing to get out of a German prison during several months of World War II, reappeared at home quite suddenly one day announcing to his wife and five children “Me voilà!” (“here I am!”) He also published a few books, including “La Côte d'Azur à la Belle Epoque,” of which I guard my immediate family’s only copy. I’ve toted it to each new place I’ve lived. I really will read it one day.

Having just that one brusque memory of him at the Boulevard Henri IV apartment, I never saw him telling jokes to a charmed group of friends or expressing sweet nothings to his children and grandchildren. My repeating story is the lunch table yank-out. My mom’s repeating story to me is how he looked at me as an infant one time and proudly asserted “Il a des yeux de biche.” (“He has the eyes of a doe.”) A detail about his life slips from my mother’s lips on rare occasions, and the ghost keeps taking on more flesh.

On a 1987 bicycle trip through France, I spent two idyllic days at the home of Yvette and her husband in Saint-Benoît, eating eggs and vegetables from their small farm, and drinking way too much of their home made hard apple cider. She was my hero in that luncheon tale. Yvette had no recollection of my expulsion from the lunch table, but ever the gentle soul, she conceded that grandpère could lose his temper from time to time, poor chap.

Image five: as the spirit of story next presents it.

by Eric Pomert signup
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