READER POST: For seven years next September, this American has lived in a tiny European village.
Where I live now is home to 550 inhabitants and is named after the brook it nestles. This village is quiet, surrounded by fields of corn, hay, and the bright yellow flowers used to produce canola oil. The noisiest sounds are the traffic on the main road.
We live in an old farmhouse on the left, just after you cross the bridge into the village, coming from the nearest city. Our house is directly under the flight path of storks passing from the river to their high treetop nests.
Although our village is small, it does not feel isolated. Very typical of many European countries, it’s one in a network, one village accessible to the next by a short walk. So although the closest thing we have to a grocery is the corner bar-restaurant, which is mostly a bar, it’s still only a two or three minute drive to arrive there.
With a large family that requires plenty of shopping, I visit my favorite grocery store several times a week, sometimes several times in one day. I can reach it by travelling either way on the main road.
The left connects to a winding route through fields, travels under the mammoth arches that support the tracks of the high-speed train, passes a rugby pitch, and then runs beside a field allotted for the annual use of a travelling caravan community. At the street for the grocery, there’s a turn quickly followed by a roundabout, so when I go this way it means a very pleasing zip right, zip left, and then right again. (Driving roundabouts here, I’ve come to understand the appeal of being a race car driver.)
But if I travel to the grocery by taking the right, I cross over the bridge, newly fitted to accommodate a pedestrian path, then pass a small and new business, a gym with banks of windows that expose the sweaty efforts of its clients to passersby. This way crosses another section of the TGV tracks, then brings us to a very dense neighborhood. One side is where I find the family doctor. The other side offers the middle school, music school, and a home for mentally-handicapped adults. I’ll often stop at the crosswalk here while a troupe from the adult home returns from a supervised walk. Without fail, at least one among them will turn, smile at me, and wave. This road comes to a T near this village’s towering church which recently celebrated its thousand-year anniversary.
A couple years ago, this village grocery store was purchased by a national chain, but the employees did not change. Annick lives across the street from us and has been working at the in-store bakery for fourteen years. Regine, Maripole, and Betty have each been at this store for over thirty years, Maripole at least forty. When we first arrived, from time to time, I’d be behind another customer in line who was engaged in conversation with the cashiers. I could get annoyed when the talking seemed to prolong, and I still do if I’m in a rush. Yet now, odds are that if a cashier is having an intense conversation at their register, it’s with me.
Last week, while at the cash register, I told Regine we were moving. In about the space of the time it took to scan, bag, and pay for ninety-four euros of food, we spoke about the challenge of moving, of what we parents do to help our children, the importance of communication, how she’s open with her adult children and I’m open with mine, how life is meant to be lived now. When I thanked her and wished her a good day, her clear eyes meet mine and she returned the saying. I felt like she meant it.
I’m going to miss it here.~~
Rebecca was chopping lettuce in the kitchen of the BYU Cougareat when she fell in love with the dishwasher and his heavy French accent. Twenty years on, they and their children have lived on both sides on the Atlantic.
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