Monday, May 24, 2010

I stand before you*

I stepped off the train from Paris. A little over two hours earlier I arrived at St-Lazare station and headed northwest. I had no itinerary, no agenda, no car. I looked around train station in Caen, and immediately spotted him. Standing in the corner, quietly, amidst the throngs of people, was a man. He was close to 80, I’d say – mid-70’s, perhaps, but certainly no younger – and he was wearing a soldier’s uniform. I don’t know if there’s anything more poignant in this world than an old man in a soldier’s uniform. His blue stiff hat perched atop his head.

I smiled at the man as people with backpacks and briefcases, milled around him, everyone rushing somewhere, everyone sipping a coffee, train station announcements blaring from the speakers. He carried a sign in one hand; his finger clasped an old tin in the other.

As I first walked past the man, tossing him another smile to add to the collection of smiles other people had tossed him. And then I realized that I couldn’t stand knowing, for the rest of the day, that I’d walked past this tall, proud soldier without stopping. I poured over my guidebook, I looked for an information booth, and I kept wondering how long he’d been standing there. I turned back, and reached for my wallet, realizing almost simultaneously that I didn’t have any small bill Francs or coins. Irish pounds and Dutch Guilder coins mixed together among my coin purse, “I’m so sorry,” I said, sheepishly in my halting French. “It’s all I’ve got. It’s just change.” And this man, this soldier, he looked up and he beamed at me. He beamed. “Well, that’s just what I need!” he replied, holding the tin steady as I tried to stuff my coins in, maneuvering them around the crumpled bills. He sounded like anyone’s grandfather, like anyone’s father with his thick French accent. It embarrassed me how grateful he sounded; how pitiful my contribution was. Who knew what this man had done, whether he’d lived in trenches, flown airplanes, missed his wife, watched his friends die, and what was I doing? I was gallivanting through Europe: young, blithe, and unconcerned.

I wish I could tell you I said something more than merci. I wish I could tell you I said something pertinent and poignant and appropriate. But all I said was thank you. I’ve never forgotten the man.


I’ve always been fascinated by war, the people who experience it, the scars the land bares, and the way it impacts history. When I was younger it was the Revolutionary War, and after my first trip to Austria & Germany it was the Second World War that I was interested in. When J and I went to Vienna a few years back, we discovered a WWII museum on the outskirts of town and spent the better part of the day exploring the artifacts, pouring over the wall maps, and endlessly discussing what if. During our courtship we drove through the Pennsylvania countryside, stopping at Gettysburg National Military Park. The rolling green hills, the dew on the grass made us pause and remember the bloodshed that happened among the trees.


I am captivated by cemeteries. The serenity; the peacefulness; the stillness. Most people visit France and see the Eiffel Tower, drink wine in the Loire Valley, sun-bathe in Nice, but I was drawn to the D-Day beaches of Normandy. After a series of bus rides, a long walk with a few wrong turns, I found myself at Omaha beach. There were rows and rows and rows of white headstones of Christian crosses. I walked silently through the cemetery, passing only a few other people, even though it was June, thus the beginning of the tourist season. The cemetery overlooks part of Omaha Beach, and is high upon the cliff with a breathtaking view of the English Channel. It was still, sort of quiet, a restfulness. I walked through the rows reading and repeating out loud the names on each headstone before moving on, noting how young these men were that summer of 1944. As I looked out among the gravestones, feeling the cool breeze on my face, and smelling the salty air, I silently said a prayer, thanking the soldiers whose ultimate sacrifice gave me my freedom.


For this Memorial Day, I hope against hope that all your men and women are safe, all your brothers and cousins and husbands and boyfriends and friends. I hope you hug them a little harder, smile at them a little longer, love them a little more fiercely, just for the fact that they are here.

*”I Stand Before You” written by Roger J. Robicheau.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blast from the past

I’ve been packing away old pictures, reorganizing new pictures, and cleaning out the photos on my hard drive the past few weeks. And, since I’m spending all sorts of quality time with my teenage mementoes, I thought I’d share with my fans a “Five Things You Don’t Know About Me – Now With Embarrassing Pictures!” which, due to my coke-bottle glasses during the 90s and my veritable minefield of unflattering photos, really turned into Four Things You Don’t Know About Me.

And so, I present to you the following:

1. When I was in kindergarten, I told my teacher I was Jewish because I felt badly for that religion since no one in our class was Jewish. On a side note, doesn’t my brother look dashing in his homemade superman costume. If I remember correctly, he wore that costume for days before and after Halloween, but refused to go out trick-or-treating on the big night. Ah, to be three.


2. I had an ugly phases that started here, in 1990, and lasted until 1994.


In case you were curious, I was “pretending” to push my brother down the volcano (I believe we were in Hawai’i) for this photo op. Looks pretty realistic, eh?

3. Oh, you thought I was kidding about the ugly phase?


Look at those glasses. Look at that metal mouth, I mean teeth. Also, please note my shirt. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

4. When I was 15, my best friend and I didn’t have dates to the homecoming dance. So instead, we went on a date ourselves - dinner and a movie. I even remember the movie, Now & Then. I loved that movie. But, we were supposed to bring flowers for our date, and I MADE them. That’s right. I made a corsage out of paper. I was pretty crafty those days.


But, I think my favorite part of this picture is Kristine’s vest. That is awesome.

5. The following year, we were in a fashion show and these were the outfits we got to wear. Look! Look at those outfits. Look at the rolled up coat sleeves. Look how I’m rolling my eyes at having my picture taken because I’m too cool to be wearing a dress out of Working Girl.


And, one more bonus picture. It’s not all that embarrassing, but I like it. You can’t tell, but that is the dashing superman from the first picture hidden behind the mask and goggles. And, my cousin is holding on to me as I was about to go backwards down the slope. Because I’m that graceful on skies.


Monday, May 03, 2010

I’m still here

So I’m not dead. You know, in case you were wondering. I haven’t been lying in a ditch on the side of the road and I haven’t even been, like, eaten by wolves or something cool like that. Or wildebeests, that would be even cooler.

Nope, I haven’t been dead these past three weeks; I’ve just been pinned down under the weight of an 11 pound newborn, as well as writing, writing and more writing for my final requirements of my masters’ degree. I have much to tell you about, including my wonderful weekend getaway to Palm Springs, or waking up this past Saturday morning to breakfast in bed (it was like an alternative universe with J and Daisy making breakfast while I lounged around like a sloth), visits with very important family members (V.I.F.M.), and the fact that my very first Mother’s Day is next week and my Mom is out of the country sailing around South America (and I’m only a bit jealous, well maybe like 10% jealous and 90% happy, or maybe 90% jealous and 10% happy. One of the two).

Instead, I’ll leave you with some photos of my sweet pea. And, just to brag a bit my 9-week old has been sleeping consistently from 9pm to 6am and taking a couple 90 minute naps throughout the day. She’s the stuff new Mom’s dream of.



watching baseball