My uncle Louis passed away Monday night and I’m going to his funeral today. He was 93, a year younger than my father. So now there are 2 brothers left out of a family of 9 siblings (first child was Madeleine, a second mother to her bothers). My uncle Georges just celebrated his 100th and my uncle Jacques is 86. As I get older, so does my family, and this is the way it is. Time to leave this world for some and time for those who are staying to move on.
I feel a need to share my thoughts this morning
, not about dying or suffering but about our society’s values concerning family. What is a family today? It seems to be changing so much! Do people give time for their extended family anymore? Are the elderly really cared for? I am shocked at what I see and hear! Elderly to admitted to hospitals when they are suffering, or left in Nursery homes to be forgotten, or not allowed to leave this world when it becomes unbearable.
And who goes to funerals these days? Time has become so precious. We have so little of it in our very busy lives. We want to do everything, be everywhere so we need to make choices. Where are our priorities? What are we teaching our children concerning family? Is it really important? What about belonging? So many thoughts keeping me up at night…
I remember as a child growing up as an expatriate in the US feeling very left out when Thanksgiving came along. Our very French parents didn’t socialize with Americans so we didn’t get invited to anybody’s homes. My mother would take us to a fancy New England restaurant upstate New York that had a huge fire in the ancient hearth. You could smell and feel the history in the building’s old stones. It was often cold and rainy and we put on our nicest wooly clothes. I remember the extraordinary meal and how I had to taste everything. This only happened once a year! I needed to take it all in. Corn muffins, stuffing, cranberry jelly, sweet potatoes, pecan pie…. I felt like a stuffed turkey!
The food made up for lack of family. My parents were in the middle of a divorce so we were just my sister, my mother and me often times. It wasn’t the way most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving I remember thinking. On TV or in books, you would see huge family gatherings with beautifully decorated homes and steaming dishes of delicious food on carefully set tables and desserts that make your mouth water. People give each other hugs and maybe would leave quarrels behind just to spend some quality family time. Of course I thought about the poor Indians’ fate. But it isn’t about that anymore. It’s about being thankful for what you have now, and especially for your family.
I was living in America but not like real Americans. However, when we went to France for Christmas, I finally got my “bain” de famille. I have a vivid memory of a family gathering when my Grandfather was still alive. I was maybe around 9 or 10, my son’s age today. My family had rented a huge room in an old castle: ‘la salle des armes”. It was the castle of Tournon in the Ardèche. We were about 80 people. There were dishes of foie gras, saumon fume, dinde aux marrons, and many kids of “buches de Noël”. We would exchange presents. It was all like a dream. I felt so strongly belonging to this family. It was Christmas time so we were excited about the presents but also this huge gathering was warm and joyful. Every generation was there. I will never forget the feeling of being loved and tied to these people. We had the same blood, the same origins, and the same history. Then my grandfather died when I was 13 and the Christmas reunions became more rare.
Also during the summers at my childhood house in Cornas, we had huge Sunday meals below the big chestnut tree. My father would call his brothers and sisters in law on Saturday to remind them to come up to his home with their bathing suits, and to bring a dish! He provided the space and they brought the food. It worked well that way. Meals would begin around noon with an aperitif, then continue until 3 or 4 PM, usually with an uncle or two snoring in their chaise longue. We all needed for a nap after drinking huge amounts of Côte du Rhone wine! Such good memories! Then cancer took my father away 9 years ago, and those gatherings suddenly stopped too.
I inherited the house in Cornas. It’s called Pintedru and it’s an old stone farm house in the middle of a forest surrounded by vineyards. It has been a real struggle to upkeep it but the sentimental value is great so the battle will continue. Our children enjoy running around in the meadows and climbing trees. We have enough land around us that we don’t see any neighbors! Wild boar and deer live on our land. The pool makes a refreshing break during hot summers. We have an amazing view of the Vallée du Rhône and Vercors and we see many different fireworks on Bastille day.
So I have the space to continue the tradition. I feel I also inherited a certain “role” as family reunion planner. I try to organize and sometimes succeed in having summer barbecues under the big chestnut tree with some of my cousins and old uncles and aunts. I will try again this Christmas and again over the summer. The house comes alive when the Bouchardeau family occupies it! I truly believe the souls of my father and uncles come alive during these gatherings. They are always there, snoring under the big chestnut tree, satisfied with a huge Sunday meal and feeling safe because they belong to this family and place. I know my father is smiling from up there when we are all there. Maybe he’s proud of me and would tell me if he were still around. I hope my children are happy to be part of this family and will continue this tradition too. I hope they feel loved, safe, and belonging.
Let’s drink a big glass of wine, Cornas of course, and give a toast to our parents for Thanksgiving to thank them for giving us these beautiful moments in our lives!
PS: And if you’re alone and would like to try a Thanksgiving meal, come join us Thursday night at Carabistouilles!