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Memories of Grand-Pere


Harry Buschman

The loveliness of spring in the valley of the Auvergne! It will never cease to amaze me. In early spring it is even more beautiful. I have lived here all my life, here in this little town of Issoire, and every spring my heart takes wing and it is as if I am seeing it for the first time. Issoire has been good to me, I have known much happiness here. Yes, and sadness too. It seems impossible my wife has been gone these fifteen years .... that sadness is still with me, it shall always be with me, but it does not detract from the beauty of spring.

Now with the jonquils in bloom and the sheep at last turned out to pasture the valley is a joyful place to be. I am not a traveler, and there may be other valleys and perhaps other towns as beautiful as Issoire. I am not likely to see them, nor do I wish to. Issoire is enough for me.

Every afternoon I meet my little grandson, Etienne at day school. He has much to tell me. Every day he does new things .... such a new and exciting world for little Etienne. We spend an hour at the playground before walking home hand in hand. There, he seems to burn off some of the boundless energy he is blessed with. I wait until his face grows red with the exertion of hanging upside down and his climbing of the monkey bars; he would stay there until dark if I let him, but with the promise of a gelati from the wagon he agrees to call it a day.

I look into his soft brown eyes. They are the eyes of his grandmother. He has flawless skin, now turning brown from the sun. It is skin so easily bruised and yet so quick to heal, he runs on stubby little soccer player's legs. They cover more ground in an afternoon than mine do in a week.

With a measure of relief I turn him over to his mother, and now she, too, must sit with him and listen to his adventures. It is one thing to tell them to a grandfather, but quite another to confide them to your mother. My day's work is done. I must go home now and dress for dinner. I do not live in this house, for in Issoire the elderly are encouraged to live alone. It is best, I think .... the busy life of the young should not be mixed with the memories of the old.

I kiss Celeste goodbye. Her eyes -- so like her mother's! The same flawless skin that seems to be the special benediction of the women of the Auvergne .... so easily bruised and yet so quick to heal. I kiss Etienne too, without him knowing -- for he is curled up on the sofa, drifting off to sleep. Exhausted from another day of discovery.

Celeste and her husband Gautier are the proprietors of the "Grand Issoire." It is the finest restaurant in the valley of the Auvergne -- though not the largest. Celeste buys the fresh vegetables and meat in the morning and together with the chef arranges the menu for the day. Gautier, I have known as a child when he was as young as Etienne. He is a good man, a man born to wait on tables, and a man, as we French say, who "knows what you want before you want it." Gautier is fond of me, and that is another blessing.

I enjoy my daily dinner at the "Grand Issoire" as the guest of Gautier. We eat together long before the rush of diners and we discuss Etienne's progress at school. It is not necessary for me to order, Gautier knows what is best on the menu. We may have hare, which at this time of year is young and tender. It will be cooked in a sauce, the recipe for which my wife bequeathed to my daughter many years ago. Or, perhaps, poisson from the spring run of perch in the valley. Maurice, the sommelier will join us with a bottle of Batard-Montrachet, and we will drink to our health, one man to the other. The restaurant will charge twenty four American dollars for this Chardonnay at the evening meal, but for now we will drink it like water.

It grows late. I must say good night to Gautier and Maurice and leave them free to serve the patrons of the "Grand Issoire." There will be people on their way to Marseilles, Anglais on holiday and noisy Japonais accompanied by tour guides.

I am no longer in the company of family and friends. I am alone on the slow walk to my rooms on the outskirts of Issoire. I consider how fortunate I am. A man of meager means and modest mentality, a man no longer able to contribute to the human equation, yet a man blessed with a grandson who loves him, and a daughter, who fifty years ago might have been her mother.

My rooms are sparsely furnished. I keep only what I need .... it is simpler for the cleaning lady. The things I've kept are the things I cannot live without. Pictures. Books -- a letter or two. Things of memory. The front window looks out over the town of Issoire, and as the night settles over the valley, it is the time for remembrance. Orchestre Nationale will play Mozart tonight. She loved Mozart so deeply -- I never knew why until I listened to him after she was gone. Now I can only listen for the two of us .... so strange that music can bridge the gap between the living and the dead and the even wider gap between those who live. It will be the 21st concerto. How sad she cannot hear it with me.

It is so short, like life -- how can anything that beautiful be so short? Then silence, the sound of nothing. I take a last look at the little town of Issoire before closing my window. Issoire is sleeping and only the distant voice of a nightingale accompanies its sleeping. Perhaps he thanks me for the gift of Mozart.

It is time for me to sleep too. Will there be a tomorrow? I hope so, for there is much to live for. If, however, God chooses otherwise I pray he takes me with grace and dignity. I thank Him for the spring day, for little Etienne and for the privilege of living one more spring in the valley of the Auvergne.

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