My Mother’s Voice

Alzheimer’s being the conniving thieving bitch that  it is, my mother wasn’t herself in the final years of her life. The  woman I visited in the Alzheimer’s special care unit was a stranger wearing my mother’s skin but not much else, like the invasion of the body snatchers had taken place, month after month beneath the surface, until one day we looked and the woman we knew was gone, replaced by some alien being. An imposter. Intruder alert. Intruder alert. She died back in 2012. Don’t worry; I won’t be getting maudlin on you.  My real mother–not that stranger in a wheel chair, head nodding on her shoulder–is who I want to think about today.  My real mother —Enid Maude Good nee Hayden, a prim, old-fashioned name, perhaps the only thing about her I didn’t love— was British-born and had a lovely London lilt to her voice her whole life even though she left England in the mid-1950’s. I suppose at thirty, her vocal patterns were already frozen in place.  Sounding like a cross between

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Le Walk: Now available to listen to on my podcast [memoir]

It was our last night in the little beachside town, and we were waiting to say goodbye to the two Canadian boys we’d met on the train from Paris. If not for them, we’d never have even found Bandol. We were sitting on a bench in the dark, away from the promenade, the black water of the bay burnished in the moonlight before us, the hazy tinkle of laughter and voices from the bars behind us, and I, at least, felt like some character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, idling the time away, waiting for the next chapter to reveal itself. 

The boys brought friends. French friends who, as they say, had very little English. Michel had next to none. What he did have was dark hair that flopped over his eyes, a wrestler’s body and the confidence that guys who look like that always have, no matter what the language. He reminded me of Ilie Nastase, the tennis star who I’d watched win the Wimbledon doubles championship with Jimmy Connors earlier that summer of ‘73. Nasty, they called him. Sexy, I thought.

Catching Michel watching me from under that flop of hair, I was grateful the dark hid my tell-tale blush. Laughing, he held out his arm, making a muscle, the way guys do all over the world, and gestured for me to feel his bicep. Ooh la la, I said, laughing too and making a big deal out of squeezing his muscle. I thought he was perfect. 

He rattled off something to me in French but it was too fast, too many words, too many French words.
“Sorry. Je ne parle pas français.” 
We both turned to Peter who translated, telling me there was a dance nearby and Michel wanted to know if I would go with him. Did I? I looked at Michel, his head cocked in that charming questioning manner. He brought his hands together like a child saying his prayers. 
“Go on! It’ll be fun,” my little sister urged.
“Should I? What about you? Will you be okay?” 
“Yeah. I'll be fine. I just want to talk to Peter for a little while, then we’ll come too. We’ll be right behind you. You should go Simmy; he’s really cute.” 

I knew Nancy was right. She’d be all right; I assumed one of the boys had a jug of wine or maybe even some pot, but there was nothing I could do about that. Nancy was the wild child, the one that caused my parents more sleepless nights in a month than I would in a lifetime. If I thought about it, Nancy probably lost her virginity before I did. I didn’t want to think about it. No, I didn’t have to worry about Nancy. I was the one I had to worry about. And she was right about Michel. He was really cute. I took her advice. I went.

It was a night much like the one we’d arrived on. A mid summer’s eve, the mediterranean air mild and balmy, quiet as we walked along a gravel road lined with homes behind rocky walls. We struggled to understand each other, speaking in simple sentences like babies learning their first words, thrilled when the most elementary meaning was understood.
“You like the dance? Oui?” 
“Oui!”  As if he wouldn’t understand me if I’d simply answered ‘yes’ in English. “Je t’aime bailer.” Oops, I’d dropped into high school Spanish by mistake. “I mean danser! Je t’aime danser.” 
 He smiled, nodding. Thinking of what to say next.
“You like rock ‘n’ roll?” 
 I forced myself not to laugh. I loved how the French asked if you liked rock ‘n’roll like it was all of a piece. In the states we broke it down into bands and genres. Do you like Black Sabbath? No, I hate heavy metal. So, like, what, are you into soft rock? Neil Diamond? Is that your speed? I like Creedence, they’re not soft rock, right? Fleetwood Mack, the Eagles, the Beatles—Okay, stop. Those are all basically soft rock bands. 

To Michel I simply said“Oui. Je t’aime rock ‘n’ roll."

We laughed a little together, awkwardly, not sure what else to do except carry on walking towards the sound of music. Of rock ‘n’ roll. I’d never danced to rock ‘n’ roll with a French boy. 

When he slipped his hand in mine I kept my eyes straight ahead, like it was the most natural thing in the world to be walking down a country lane with a French boy I’d met less than an hour ago. As if I walked hand in hand with French boys on my way to dances all the time. 

And then he kissed me.

[continued: Part Deux]


Image: White House at Night, Vincent Van Gogh

I’m linking up with Dreaming of France 
hosted by Paulita at An Accidental Blog. 
Take a look at what fellow francophiles are sharing.


  1. Sim, I'm right there with you on that lane. Gorgeous story and can't wait for the rest.

  2. Wonderful blog, I will become a follower so that I don't miss the next, hopefully you will join mine,

  3. I love the details in this story and hearing you read it as well. When I visited Corsica and Bandol, F. Scott Fitzgerald seemed like the perfect reading material, so I'm right there with you. Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme


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