A Christmas Story – Part II & A Happy New Year To You All

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Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan! I had a great post lined up for today but I haven’t managed to take all the photos, I’ve been having far too much fun with the family. So for once I told myself it was ok. We’ve been walking and running and cycling. We’ve eaten delicious meals and cooked so much food. We’ve sat around a roaring fire chatting. We’ve been gardening, a little bizarre at the end of December but the weather is gorgeous. We haven’t done anything remotely glamorous or travelled any distance but we have had such a good time, all of us, together, just enjoying my favourite holiday of the year. So I changed plans and I am giving you the final part to my Christmas story. I really hope you enjoy it.

But most of all I hope you have had a very happy Christmas, a wonderful holidays and thank you once again from the bottom of my heart for following along and your friendship. I wish everyone everywhere a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. XXX

A SHORT CHRISTMAS STORY – PART II

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It was two days before Annie managed to get back to the old man’s house. Isabella had not noticed her absence the evening Annie had fainted, but had listened to the story of her encounter with Christophe with quiet interest, even though Annie left out the parts concerning the woman in the painting and the fainting episode itself. Annie remembered coming round on a hard floor, from which she had been gently lifted by Christophe, before finding herself sitting on the bench again, staring at the portrait across from her on the whitewashed wall.

Christophe had seen the direction of her glance and glanced across to where she was looking.

“Ah, you like your namesake, I see, Annie,” and he had smiled gently and patted her hand.

Annie was startled, and had muttered, “My namesake? I don’t understand?”, and she had looked at him with her head cocked uncertainly like a small sparrow.

“The woman in the painting,” Christophe had said slowly, “She was called Annie too. I painted that picture for her husband, as a present, in 1961. He and I were friends from boyhood.”

There was a pause, and then Christophe’s soft voice continued softly, “He never came to collect it; he was killed in a war faraway and never came back” and his voice had trailed off. Annie had sensed a great, enormous sadness, reached for Christophe’s hand, and she’d squeezed it gently, as kindly and sincerely as a 10 year-old could when faced with one of life’s most enormous truths.

It hadn’t seemed the right time to ask more questions, and five minutes later she’d found herself walking gingerly through the gateway in the hedge, waving goodbye to Christophe with a promise to visit again soon; a small wooden fruit-box full of apples balanced on her other arm. She’d turned for the house, hoping her mother had not missed her, aware that dusk had been starting to creep across the Marais, sending dark fingers of shadow into the gnarled corners of the garden.

For two days though, something, she knew not what, had curbed her enthusiasm for the painting; it was as if there was a bone in her memory that needed mending, but she did not have the will to do anything about it. She had felt lightheaded with the memory of the woman, gazing mournfully out of the picture to a husband she would never see again.

And then that morning, her mother had looked up from her coffee and said something quite clearly and so suddenly that Annie had started with alarm.

“Annie, that man next door,” and Isabella had put down the coffee and rubbed her hands together with enthusiasm, “do you think he could come for apéros on Christmas Eve, and perhaps meet us properly; what do you think? Is it too late, perhaps a little too forward?”

The end of the question curled off into the air with a hint of loneliness, and Annie had a glimpse of what life once might have been, but now was not. But despite the taint of melancholy she’d felt a little flip of excitement, for it would be fun to have someone else here for an hour or two. The past few days had just been a blur of monotony; of unpacking, carrying, stacking and burning boxes in the huge fire-place in the salon. There were just the two of them, and Annie had wished in the darkness each night that there was someone else to talk to.

They had nothing planned for Christmas Eve; no oysters lay on ice in the kitchen, and no great triumphal piece of fish slept in the fridge. Isabella’s only concession to the Christmas period was a capon hanging in the larder, a decanter of cognac alongside a small decorated Christmas tree in the salon, and two bottles of champagne in the fridge. Isabella might have been a woman without most of the good things in life, but as she said brightly to her daughter, ”Annie, a girl should always have champagne.”

It had been one of the merrier moments in another day of gloom, and Annie wondered how her beautiful mother felt, having struggled without a husband for seven years, and no other family to help apart from the old lady in the chair in the home, nodding her life away for a decade in the late Versailles sunlight.

Annie had never delved deeply, for she knew a girl of her age would learn about things at the right time, but she understood enough to know that whatever money her mother made had gone towards the care and comfort of the old woman, a sacrifice that had meant few luxuries in the small white apartment save for schoolbooks and the very best of everything that they could actually could afford with what money was left over. The income from the tenants that had stayed in the old family house here, a million miles away from Paris in the Marais, had helped enormously too, of course. But all of this led in turn to something else, a daily realisation that Isabella was now the owner of a family house that neither had ever lived in. They were in a village where people knew her mother by name, and treated her with respect, but had never even met her before. Everyone in the village said how nice it was to have la famille Hierot back in the old house, but it was a sentiment that bewildered Annie a little.

It seemed strange to Isabella also, but with her own mother dead and the house available at the end of a another lease, it had seemed a good time to leave the city, to retreat a little to a life less hurried, to a place where little Annie could learn about another side of life and where Isabella, perhaps, at nearly 54 years of age, might meet someone who would not keep their distance from the tragedy that she wore about her like a cloak of protection. It had seemed a good time to move on, so they had.

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Annie came to the door of the big house deep in the Marais and saw there was a light on inside. It was lunchtime, and she hoped that Christophe would be there for just that reason. Reaching up, she swung gently on the great brass knocker, and it tapped timidly on the huge door. Immediately there was a cacophony of barking the other side and she realised with a smile the Labrador was on watch. A long minute later, just as the barking was easing off and she was thinking about knocking again, the door opened steadily, and she saw Christophe standing there, a napkin tucked into a worn grey sweater and that dazzling smile of welcome lighting up the porch.

“Little Annie,” he beamed, and then he welcomed her inside as though she was a long lost friend.

 

It was six o’clock on Christmas Eve when Annie opened the door for Christophe, welcoming him into their home. Her mother was still upstairs and had told Annie to keep watch for a second or two for everything was late; the electrician had been in the house until it was dark, resurrecting lights after installing a modern fusebox to replace the bakelite contraption from a century before. Annie dutifully kissed the old man on each cheek, watching as Christophe keenly looked about him. He stopped under the ancient chandelier in the hallway, and looking up he seemed to grin at some thought before he set off without a word for the salon; and as Annie watched, bemused, he unerringly turned left into the old graceful room without hesitation.

She followed him in to find him standing at the left-hand ‘great’ window, a stretch of glass that looked out onto the street garden. He was pulling the right-hand curtain to one side and as she watched quite spellbound, she saw a little torch appear in his hand and shine up the sideboard. She moved closer, wondering what on earth he was doing, the fire in the huge fireplace flickering long red shadows about the alcove the window stood in.

Sensing her, he turned around, grinning like a schoolboy, and beckoned her to look up in the torchlight.

“See that, Annie?” and she could faintly make out some letters, scratched on the wood perhaps ten feet up, close to the ceiling. “Those are my initials, and also those of Philippe Hierot, the friend I told you about.”

Annie stood stock still, her face suddenly aflame with the realisation she was standing next to someone who had known her grandfather, a person she had never met and also a father Isabella had never known; it was almost a repetition of Annie’s own life. Her jaw dropped, anf her eyes moistened uncontrollably with the enormity of it all as Christophe continued; “We scratched those intials up there in 1943; my family and I were living here with the Hierots as some German officers had moved into our house,” and his voice lowered into a tone of suitable sadness for memories suddenly brought to life. Annie felt instantly that there were echoes in the room, giggles of small children, the strident voices of an occupying army, and she imagined faint whispers of snatched love. She felt the world grow large about her, the room became quite still, and the universe seemed to slowly tilt to one side.

She saw Christophe was looking at her in concern, “Are you all right, cherie,” he asked with alarm, and she nodded, breaking the spell, wondering what to say.

He looked closer at her, and then saw the question in her face, for he kindly asked, “What? Is something the matter?”

She could not contain it any longer, the question came surging out, her words running over in her haste to understand.

“You, you -“ and she paused with the thought of it, and then she breathlessly said “You knew my grandfather!” into the kind face, and instantly the pale blue eyes in front of her widened in shock, and Christophe’s face froze in astonishment.

“What?” he blurted back in answer, “You’re an Hierot?? Why did you never… why, oh my goodness…. who are your parents?” and at that moment there was a noise by the door to the salon and Isabella came into the room, her neat figure in a black dress and her swept-up fair hair aflame in the glow from the fire.

Christophe swivelled towards the door, his mouth still agape with another question that died on his lips as he saw Isabella standing there, stock still as she realised that something momentous was happening before her. She saw the old man, and Annie, standing there, eyes wide, and the curtain over the window swung to one side.

There was a huge long moment of silence, punctuated by the pop of a log in the fire, and Christophe simply stared, and stared, and stared some more, until Isabella could no longer contain her curiosity, and simply said, “Hello?”

At the sound of her voice, Christophe jumped a little like a startled rabbit and seemed to draw himself inwards in wonderment, as though he had suddenly understood a great secret of life. Then there was a long exhalation of breath and he finally made a noise of reply, and took one step towards the woman before him, standing straighter as he did so.

“You,” he said steadily, and he moved another step closer to Isabella, who stayed where she was, feeling strangely comfortable at what was happening, “you are Annie’s daughter!” and the voice quavered slightly at the truth of it.

Behind him, Annie watched intently as she realised that her whole family’s history was about to be revealed, a thousand questions were going to be answered, and her body quivered in excitement.

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But her reaction was nothing compared to Isabella, who hearing her mother’s name spoken with such accuracy and authority, stayed rooted to the spot on the old worn carpet in total shock, her insides churning with the sudden burst of wonderment that suddenly enveloped her.

“You knew my mother?” Isabella asked, and instantly realised how normal that must have been, for her mother had lived in the house 60 years previously; of course she would have known her neighbours. Christophe stood there, nodding slowly, and Isabella gave a little cry of sympathy and crossed to the old man quickly, kissing him tenderly on each cheek as she simply said “I’m Isabella.” His arms hung by his sides, his hands clenching and unclenching, and then she stepped back.

Christophe was trembling, Annie could see he was in the great depths of some reverie, and she started forward and took his hand, breaking the spell. She pulled him gently to a chair, “Christophe, sit down, here.” The old man sat down with a start, and a thump, and Isabella snapped out of her own spell and came to kneel beside the chair.

The old man stared at Isabella without speaking and she muttered something about a glass of cognac to her daughter without taking her eyes off the Christophe’s face.

It took Annie a minute to pour the drink; it was the first time she had ever touched a decanter, and in the time she poured the cognac not a word was spoken. When she turned around, she saw Isabella and Christophe were deep in an embrace of sympathy, a gesture that seemed to gather all the intervening years of time that they had missed and surrounded them with a cloak of dark star-lit time.

Slowly Isabella leaned away from the old man and repeated her question, “You really knew my mother? And my father?”

Christophe nodded, afraid to speak.

There was so much to say, so much lost ground to cover. Isabella threw two logs onto the fire, poured herself a drink and then she and Annie sat each side of Christophe and waited until he was ready to tell them about a time long ago.

Childhood friends since they’d been old enough to walk, Christophe and his family had gone back through the orchard to their big house when the war had ended in 1945, a five year period of hardship that had forged an unbreakable bond between the two boys. In the light from the fire, Christophe showed Annie and Isabella the small scar on his wrist from the day the two boys had undertaken a blood-brother oath under a long-gone pear-tree in the orchard, their exchange of blood aided by the use of a well worn penknife. The story continued through the 1950’s with shared years at university, where Philippe had studied to become a lawyer, and Christophe had progressed through several years of a fine-art course. In 1956 Philippe had suddenly left his chosen profession, appalled at the stories of outrage and violence coming out of the developing war in Algeria, and instead had signed on to become a reporter for Paris Match, a publication still in its infancy but growing alarmingly in circulation. He’d spent the next three years on assignment in north Africa, returning home to his parents and Christophe when he could; it was a pattern that included a winter break in 1957 when he appeared in the village with a beautiful young woman called Annie, a daughter from a famous military family whose father he had met as the war straddled the Atlas mountains of north Africa in a cloud of smoke.

Christophe, Philippe and Annie; they made a fine trio of debonaire youngsters that had set the countryside alight in Christophe’s open Citroen, making pilgrimages to Paris and Biarritz when there was opportunity, and making the most of whatever time they could have together. Christophe was always followed by a string of girlfriends, and so those few short sweet years were a time of light and love, overshadowed by the dark clouds of Algeria, to which Philippe returned again and again.

Then, in 1961, a year after marrying Annie in a wedding that lasted for a week, he went once more to North Africa to write about the war and he never came home. The week he went missing there was a series of bombs in the country, many of them placed by young women specifically recruited for the task. Dozens of people went missing, and some of the carnage was so appalling that there were no precise records for many of the dead, making it impossible for some to get definitive answers to their many questions.

Annie had sat bereft in mourning in the house by the marsh, while Philippe’s parents did their utmost to find out exactly what had happened to their son, masking their grief as best as they could. That year, 1961, stood like a cold stone in Christophe’s heart, and the long hot summer passed slowly as Christophe’s big open car stayed locked in the garage of the big house. Instead, Christophe and Annie walked for miles each afternoon, each alone in thought but companionable in grief. Then in August, word came that a petty thief had been arrested in Tangiers, and amongst the possessions that the police found in the robber’s small dark house was a wallet that had once belonged to Philippe Hierot. It was returned to the family by post, with an official letter of notice, and when Phillipe’s father opened it they could all see the leather was deeply stained with dried blood.

There was a crackle from the dying fire at this point in the story, and Isabella wiped away a tear and went to fetch more wood as Annie busied herself with the adults’ drinks and then went to get a glass of juice for herself from the kitchen. She paused in the doorway as she returned, sad with the history unfolding by the fire, but curious and happy to find out so much about her grandparents. As she stood there, she heard her mother ask a question, and she paused, hidden in the darkness of the doorway, watching the two figures, both now standing at the fire. Listening, she could make no sense of what her mother was saying.

“But he died in 1962, Christophe, you must be mistaken, surely?” and there seemed to be a dreamlike quality to the words.

“No, my dear, he died in 1961, the spring of that year,” Christophe replied firmly in a small voice, and there was a pause and a hush as the room held its breath. Annie felt the hair on her neck rise in a glow of supernatural unease. She heard her mother snort a little with irritation, and knew the sound only too well. Something was tugging at Annie’s brain, the bone in her memory was pricking her consciousness.

“Christophe, my mother knew when my father died, why would she have got it wrong?” there was more than a hint of irritation in her voice now, and Annie knew well how her mother reacted to misunderstanding.

Christophe was replying again in a low voice, but then Annie’s consciousness burst into life and she suddenly remembered; she pushed into the room and broke the moment of confusion apart with a statement of absolute clarity.

“Christophe,” she stammered, “the painting – you said you painted it in 1961, I’m right, aren’t I?” and she stood proud, as sure of her facts as a young girl can be.

Christophe turned to her, his profile outlined clearly in the firelight, and he nodded, his head agreeing without trusting the words.

“Did you paint it before he went away, or after he was missing,” Annie continued, her brow was furrowed with other thoughts as she stared determinedly at Christophe.

“I painted it just after he had gone, maybe February or March; it was so cold that year and I remember showing it to Annie over Easter. It was just weeks later that Philippe went missing,” and he raised the glass of cognac to his lips and took a small sip, his head shaking a little with the effort of remembrance and some premonition of what he knew was about to happen.

“Painting? What painting?” demanded Isabella, and she swung to face Christophe, her face also illuminated by the firelight behind her.

Annie interrupted, “The picture in Christophe’s house, mama, I told you about it when I…..” and her voice trailed away into silence as she took in the two outlined profiles and suddenly became terribly aware of something so monumentally possible, and so impossibly important, that the glass of juice dropped from her hand onto the carpet with a thud. 

Annie’s mouth opened in a murmur, “Oh my goodness,” and Isabella swung to her with alarm at the sound of the glass falling and the surprise she could hear in her daughter’s words. 

“Annie, sweetheart,” and she took a pace forward. “What’s happened? You’ve gone as white as a sheet; are you alright?”

Annie stood there, nodding slowly, mentally adding and subtracting as best as she could, and even as she did so she saw Christophe cross to the chair and sit down, rubbing his eyes. Annie shivered with growing excitement as her sums made sense. Slowly she crossed to him, and trembling, picked up his hand.

“Christophe,” she said gently, and the old face turned slowly upward towards her with growing acceptance, “Am I right in thinking you have something more to tell us?”, and she leaned downwards and whispered in the old man’s ear. Isabella saw Christophe spasm, as if in shock, and she started with alarm. But then, as she moved forward, Christophe’s tremulous voice broke the moment.

“Oh dear sweet girl, you’re a smart one, aren’t you?” and Annie grinned down at him, her eyes enormous with excitement and she squeezed the old hand tighter, in awe of the speed with which her life was changing.

Isabella could contain herself no longer, and moving closer said, “I don’t understand, what on earth is going on?”

Annie and Christophe looked at each other, and he said in a barely audible voice, “You tell her, my clever little girl, and then hold me tight while she screams,” and he grinned a little lopsidedly.

“Tell me what?” demanded Isabella, her hands on her hips in perplexity.

“Mama,” Annie spoke up, “Mama…… mama, this,” and she stopped and turned to Christophe with uncertainty over the enormity of what she was about to say. He squeezed her hand, colour returning to his face as he grew in strength and he nodded for her to go on.

“Mama,” said Annie again, a little more sure of everything now, and looking up at her mother she said quite suddenly and clearly, “Mama, this…this  is your father,” and in the pin-quiet silence that followed she squeezed Christophe’s hand as hard as she could.

There was a bluster of noise from Isabella, and her face grew taut with annoyance. “My father??? Don’t be so stupid. If that’s my father then my mother……..” and her voice trailed off into a mutter of disbelief as suddenly so many things became apparent and her eyes grew as wide as a spreading ring of water; in a split second 53 years of her life suddenly made so much sense, from the old house in the Marais that had never been visited, but was always let to tenants, to a birth certificate she had never been able to find, and to a mother who could shutter up like a grey Sunday shop when questioned about a father called Philippe Hierot. The snapshots of memory blurred as they spun through her mind.

Weak with the shock and the weight of the moment’s gravity, Isabella slumped back into her chair, her eyes glistening with sudden grief, for she had suddenly lost a father she thought she knew, but had never known. Thoughts spun wildly as a carousel in her brain, and suddenly she burst into tears, her body shaking. In the midst of the turmoil, she felt an old hand touch and grasp hers, and another under her chin, lifting her face up. It was Christophe, looking into her face with a steady gaze, the mark of a man at last content with his lot, and then he smiled, and she felt unfamiliarly unafraid, though still cold with the shock of it all; her extremities burned like fire as her body reacted.

She felt so very crumpled in her new place in life, and pulled away from Christophe, still not trusting totally.

“I don’t understand,” she said in a small voice, aware that Annie was there, watching with the intentness that only the young can give. “How?” and her speech trailed to a stop.

Christophe stooped forward and took his daughter’s hand with assurance and kinship, and told them all.

He told them of a car-crash that autumn in 1961, a sudden plunge off the road into a canal along the Marais, and a young woman suddenly beset with fresh grief, for her husband’s aching parents, and the burden of a house and an inheritance she had no urge to take up. He told them of a mutual grief, a dull fire of despair out of which an ember of feeling had grown, glowing so strong over two months that it swept all before it and coalesced into a surge of companionship that inadvertently blossomed into that truest of loves, the rich passion that people share through all of the dark places.

And there the story might have ended, except that love took its true course and Annie fell pregnant, a product of love that might have endured but for one thing – the village.

It was Annie who realised first, who took the decision herself, to get out before the gossip started and her belly swelled with indiscreetness. She left in February of 1962, carrying Isabella in her womb. The train to Paris has taken six hours, and she had wept the entire length of the journey, knowing that the letter she had left behind was a poor excuse for a departure. Afraid, desperate, imagining herself in a state of sin which would have shamed her own family, she had slunk into the metropolis of Paris and disappeared without trace, mourning for a husband, a family, and a man she loved, but could never have. She found a lawyer to arrange the house and its leases, and she had rebuffed all of Christophe’s attempts at contact. Over the years, his grief and sadness had manifested itself in his art, and despite a failed marriage he had enjoyed some considerable commercial and critical success. Nothing though, ever compensated for the loss of his true love.

The old man stopped in the telling of the story and leaned forward to touch Isabella’s face with great tenderness, “For 54 years I knew you existed, but did not know your name.” Christophe sighed, the deep quavering reath of a man high on emotion and overcome with discovery. Isabella looked at him with growing understanding, and Annie felt her little eyes moisten with something she could not place.

“I,” and he paused, stroking a hand that Isabella finally stretched out towards him, “I’m sorry for the part I have played in this,” and his voice sidled away into silence. Annie waited, watching her mother closely, and then she exhaled with relief as she saw Isabella lean forward and clutch her new-found father, and it was only then that she let herself smile.

The moment of contentment was rudely interrupted thirty long seconds later, by a bang at the front door as someone swung the iron ring against the oak planks in some determination. Isabella and Christophe drew apart, faces streaming with tears, and Isabella smiled lopsidedly and said, “I must go – there is someone at the door,” and she got to her feet.

“Oh my goodness!” said Christophe, looking stricken with guilt as he rose up too, “That’s my fault, I’m sorry, I left a note in at home saying where I was so they could find me.”

“Find you?” exclaimed Isabella and Annie simultaneously, “Who is finding you?”

But there was no reply for Christophe was already in the hallway, heading for the door at a rush, and as Isabella and Annie reached the hall, he was by the door, flinging it open.

There, in the darkness, stood a middle-aged woman with dark hair, a pretty face and a small, petite body. Behind her were two teenagers, a boy and a girl, wearing friendly but uncertain smiles.

Isabella stayed where she was, glued to the spot in disbelief at the invasion and the turn of events; everything was fast becoming too much for her to comprehend clearly. But then Christophe took matters into his own hands, and reaching out to the woman in the doorway, he drew her face towards him for a kiss on each cheek, exclaiming in a loud voice, “Annie, my love, come in and I’ll introduce you,” and he bent slightly and gathered up the two children and brought them into the light through the doorway too.

The two women faced each other across the hallway table, not understanding what was going on, and each slightly bemused at the interruption to their respective Christmas Eves; Isabella was even more confused with the introduction of another ‘Annie’ into the equation. But then that all began to change with Christophe’s next words.

“Isabella, this is my daughter Annie, and Annie this is Isabella,” and he grinned at their discomfort, watching for realisation. But it was little Annie who realised, for she was the clever one, and the thought blew into her head like a bright white Christmas snowstorm.

“OH!!” she lurched towards the table in excitement, and the the two women turned to face her in some small alarm, “OH MY GOODNESS!” she continued loudly.

“You’re sisters!!!” she exclaimed in a huge innocent voice, as the two women stared at each other in amazement, the next thought possessed her and without pause she turned to the two children and blurted, “And you’re my cousins!!”, and shrieking a little with excitement she bounded towards them.

It was going to be a truly, monumentally, magnificent Christmas.

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135 thoughts on “A Christmas Story – Part II & A Happy New Year To You All

      • oh how wonderful, I could see it unfolding and I guessed, I actually guessed. Please continue this epic story. Suzana from Australia xxx

      • I am so glad you guessed but I hope that didn’t spoil the story for you? It might be rather fun to continue the story, I shall have to think on that one! Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • Having taught English for nearly three decades in high school, I can tell you your talents are clearly wasted writing a blog, you should be out there writing novels, this is much better written than most of the published stuff I give my students to read

    • Thank you so much Bev, I truly value your high praise coming from an English teacher and it is much appreciated. The truth is, I just love writing stories! Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • Loved every second of this, I didn’t want it to end. I am going to read the whole thing again at the weekend. A very happy New Year to you too.

  • Dear Susan,
    ABSOLUTELY devoured this beautiful ‘A Christmas Story’, thank you!!!
    Your short stories are so much better than any novels that i have downloaded from Amazon! Such a gift you have; and thank you for ALL your time you put into your blog. I never miss a post, you are truly appreciated by this older woman across ‘the pond’.
    BLESSINGS and PEACE for the New Year to you and your beautiful family!!!
    Sincerely,
    S

    • Thank you so very much Sherry, I feel truly honoured. I am so glad you enjoyed the story, it was such fun to write. But most of all I am so happy you are so enjoying the blog, you have no idea how much I enjoy sharing our life here all the time. Hope you have a very happy and healthy New Year. xxx

  • Such an incredible talent. I love every one of your posts, your stories, the photos. You have enriched our lives. Wishing you a. very prosperous New Year

    • Thank you so much Amanda, I am so happy you are enjoying the blog and thanks for being such a loyal commenter. Hope you had a lovely Christmas and wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

      • I have never commented on a blog before. Somehow it felt like a really odd thing to do, but I feel now as if I ha e got to know you, not only do I love your articles but I find I really enjoy letting you know how much I enjoy reading each and every one, I look forward to them each week, and twice a week if we are lucky. I don’t know how you find the time but please don’t stop.

      • I feel truly honoured Amanda and I really hope you know how much I love reading all your comments, they are what makes the blog what it is, it would be nothing without this interaction. It is time consuming but then so are so many things, one just has to find the time, it has been the cause of rather too many late nights, but it is worth a few dark circles under the eyes! Hope the weather has been behaving for you, I have seen the UK has certainly had a mix of all things this past week!

      • We’ve had a real mixed bag, ice, fog, wind and rain and amazingly we’ve even seen a little sunshine too ☀️

      • Sounds a bit like our weather here, although we have had mostly sun thank goodness! Today we left home under clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine, it was gorgeous. We were meeting some friends at the coast, no more than ten minutes down the road we ran into thick fog, quite literally we went from one to the other in the space of two seconds and that was the last we saw of the sun. They said they had had fog all day and it never lifted or cleared! Our journey home was treacherous, dark and thick thick fog, not my favourite driving conditions!

      • I hate driving in fog, I had my only ever accident some 20 years ago in dense fog, totally misjudged where the road went and ended up upside down in a ditch, I was fine except for a few bruises, the car was a total write-off!

      • OMG, so happy you came out of that virtually unscathed. I can tell you I had a couple of moments this evening when I truly couldn’t see where I was going, it was quite scarey, horrible conditions out in the depths of the country with no road markings. I was glad to get home.

      • So glad you got home in one piece, as you say it is the country lanes which are the worst. They are bad enough in the dark without the added hazard of fog!

    • Thanks so much Ali, hope you both had a truly lovely Christmas. Did you ever get the tree up the drive? Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year and so looking forward to seeing you again xx

  • Ah, what fun and a very lovely ending; we both enjoyed that very much Susan, thank you. I wish you’d write a little collection of these for some holiday reading. All of your fiction is simply wonderful to read.

    Hoping you all have great New Year, and many thanks for all your posts in 2016. Amy and I have enjoyed everything you’ve done. Your blog is quite simply, THE BEST!

    • Thanks so much Simon, I truly appreciate your comments so much. I thoroughly enjoy writing these stories as you probably know by now. Hope you both had a lovely Christmas in Devon and wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year. Lets hope you both make it down this way, it would be lovely to meet. xx

  • I’m very envious of the idea of gardening in mid-winter! We did last year clear an entire bank of overgrown ivy, but this year it is bitterly cold, and I doubt our fingers would stay warm for very long. Enjoy the new year celebrations and indulge in family until school begins again. Have fun!

    • We have had such a mixed bag with the weather. Wet over Christmas itself, but this week has again been lovely, brilliant sunshine and temperatures around 14C, I’m still hanging the laundry out to dry and it dries in a few hours! Hope you had a lovely Christmas and hope you have a wonderful happy and healthy 2017, and you too enjoy these last few days before school begins again! xx

  • What a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing. Best wishes and blessings to you and your family in the upcoming year! Love following your blog and seeing what is happening in your part of the world.

  • Certainly the best story I have read this Christmas. I wanted to save it to read at the weekend, but I start s the first paragraph and found I couldn’t stop ! Oh well I shall just have to read it again and again!!

    • Ha ha, thank you Susan, I often do that, I intend to read things when I have a quiet moment with a glass of wine in front of the fire and then I just find I can’t stop! So glad you enjoyed the story. Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • How do you dream up these stories? The plot line had me guessing until the end, I loved every word of it. Truthfully your blog is my favorite, everything is always so original, a real treat to follow along. A very happy 2017 to you all x

    • Thank you so much Shari, as I have often said I dream up so many stories whilst I am in the shower, no idea why, but that is my place of inspiration!!! Hope you had a lovely Christmas and wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • I really, really enjoyed your story. Thank you….I loved having a tiny piece of quiet within all the craziness of the season to read your story….it was a wonderful moment. It made me smile. 🙂

  • Susan,
    I wanted to wait until I had a few moments by myself amidst the hustle and bustle of the season to sit down and read your charming story! And you did not disappoint. What a truly Heartfelt story filled with intrigue…friendship…and love! So wonderfully refreshing during this Holiday Season.
    Enjoy the rest of the weekend with your loved ones. Your family is BEAUTIFUL…The love you ALL SHARE IS RADIATED throughout everything you do! Happy Year and a Very Big thank you for your friendship and Our French Oasis! ❤️🍾✨🎈

    • Thanks so much Stephanie, quiet moments are rare at this time of year, but glad you managed to find one! So glad you enjoyed the story, as you probably have guessed, I rather enjoy writing these. Hope you had a lovely Christmas, it has been a wonderful week here, filled with much laughter and much fun with the family doing nothing in particular, just as it should be! Hope you have a very happy and healthy 2017 and looking forward to hopefully meeting you. xx

  • Susan; I read your post yesterday on a train in Switzerand and I composed a lovely comment for you – only I couldn’t ever send it (I have a really not very good smartphone plus ….. it just wouldn’t happen and I was quite annoyed about it)
    Basically, I was gushing WOW OH JUST WOW…. 🙂
    Thank you for this most unexpected and joyful gift – you are not only a fab mum, photographer, blogger but blessed with an abundant and fertile imagination. PLUS you have created a wonderful family which is bursting at the seems with so many good things seemingly no longer of much value in this time and age and which makes me thankful that it still happens here and there. Sometimes I think I myself and my family members were utterly priviledged to have a ‘simple but loving’ upbringing, the kids could still run free outside the home, there was not the constant mobbing and teasing amongst school classes etc and we have so much to give to those who never knew How to have it so good! It’s not money that’s important – it’s pure and simple love – looking out for the next and sharing our inner riches.
    You do so well – and I do hope that this is transcending the frontiers between the countries and gets to you. Greetings to all of you and best, heartfelt wishes for a HAPPY JOYFUL AND HEALTHY NEW YEAR
    KKI

    • Thanks so much Kiki. I totally understand what you are saying, that is one of the main reasons we moved to France, to enable our children to have some of the same childhood experiences that both Roddy and I had, and it has been so much more possible here than in other places. Of course it is very different, but they are able to enjoy some of the freedom we had. A very good friend and I were talking last week about the differences from when we were growing up. I think we appreciated the small things so much more, just because we grew up in a different world, now it is a society of have have have, and so people expect more and are satisfied with less. The internet has been hugely responsible, but then where would we be without modern technology, I for one welcome it and use it every day. But still at the bottom of everything, as you so rightly say, is pure and simple love, money cannot buy that. Hope you have had a wonderful Christmas in Switzerland and wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • Il n’y a qu’une seule chose à dire à propos de ceci, et il faut bien l’écrire en français, pendant que j’ai encore les larmes aux yeax, et c’est: Bravo. Mille fois bravo.

    • Thank you so much, what a simply lovely comment. I shall reply in English for the sake of everyone else, but I am truly grateful that you loved the story. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • I waited until I had a little free time and then I savoured every word of your story, parts 1 and 2. What a talent you have. I felt as if I was there, your descriptions were so perfect, I was there in the old house, I didn’t want it to end. Can’t wait for more now.

    • Thank you so much Elaine, I am so glad you enjoyed the story. I shall, I am sure, be writing more stories in the New Year, I simply love writing them and thinking them up. Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • Great story to end a year of perfect posts from you, I have enjoyed every single one, each has been an inspiration. Wishing you a very blessed New Year

    • Thanks so much, hope you had a fabulous New Year’s Eve, in the tunnel!! It has started well here so let’s hope it’s a good one for the world over. Big kisses for a very happy and healthy New Year xx

      • Thank you and the same to you. We arrived home at 3 a.m and decided that since it would be midnight somewhere in the world we could wish one another bon année then and there and swallow copious champagne, nibble the foie gras stashed in the boot and generally be grateful for all we have xx

      • For 6 months. We will be based in Grenoble where hubbie is working at the institut he was based at for a decade before he moved to Harvard. We will track back and forth to Cantal to try and get a jump on the work on our maison secondaire. If things go to plan I will faint!!!! Xx

      • Oooh, I know we are going to meet! Maybe when we come skiing, maybe we should head to the Alps rather than the pyrenees this year. One way or another we will make it happen. Hope it’s not too cold with you. freezing here! xx

      • -10 this morning when we set off to attack the Maison Secondaire which will take up most of our free time whilst we are here (5-6 hour drive from Grenoble so I have to pray the car survives the trip every other weekend!). Certainly do think about heading for the Alpes. We should be around but do give us a little warning – I’d hate to miss out on meeting xx

      • -2 here and -3 where they are at school, I thought that was bad enough but -10 is really cold! You must certainly love driving, good luck! We shall certainly meet. Xx

      • Touch wood, no problems! Funnily enough I was thinking of your comment as I was driving back from Bordeaux airport today, just a two hour drive, but I was thinking how I love driving, it was such a beautiful day and the roads were near empty, France, on the whole, I find such a lovely country to drive in. Have a great weekend xx

    • Thanks so much Betty, I am afraid I also love happy endings! I am just a little envious of your snow, it always looks so so pretty and the children are desperate for snow, it has been really cold here and we have been hopeful but the skies have remained resolutely clear despite snow in the East of the country! Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • Wow, such a great story! I’m glad you decided to write about this story instead of the original post that you intended to write. Sometimes the spontaneous decisions are the best ones. Have a great 2017! Can’t wait for more great content during the upcoming year! xo, Stephanie

    • Thanks so much Stepahnie so glad you enjoyed it. I am a great believer in spontaneity and fortunately it worked for the best this time! Hope you have a very happy and healthy 2017 and looking forward to chatting more here in the comments! Xx

  • A beautiful story Susan, thank you. Just what I needed today. A very Happy New Year to you and your lovely family. We begin the year with an egg from Florence as well as Boo!! two down, one to go!

    • How exciting, what a great way to start the year, so happy for you, hope you are really enjoying the three of them. Bitterly cold here but at least it is bright and sunny too so can’t complain! Very best wishes for a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

    • Thanks so much Emily. I think it is so important to spend good family time together, it always makes everyone so happy and envelopes us in a warm cosy feeling. Sadly the children are now back in school so I am counting down the days until Winter holidays in February! Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • I just finished reading this beautiful store of love and hope. You pulled me right in as I began to feel that I was in the room with the characters, identifying with young Annie because she posesses such an analytical and curious mind at her young age, as I did/do. Also a good story about unconditional and forever love – the best kind!
    Thanks for always sharing your love of family, the beautiful photographs of happy children and parents and those wonderful adventures you take your readers on.

    • Thank you so much Judi, I rather liked Annie too! She is just like our daughters, an extremely enquiring mind which I love! So glad you are enjoying the blog, lots of fun things to come this year I hope. wishing you a very happy and healthy 2017 xx

  • Thank you for a wonderful Christmas story. I love your stories. Every story has touched my heart. I write this with tears in my eyes from the sweetness I have read. Happy New Year! Best wishes to you and your family for peace and love in 2017.

  • Your Christmas story was such a delight to read. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think about Sharon of My French Country Home’s stories. You two are among my favorite authors. Thanks for sharing at Monday Social.

    Judith

    • Thanks so much Judith, I love Sharon’s stories too and I take that as a great compliment, thank you again I love writing short stories, it’s something of a passion of mine and I am so grateful to have an audience to share them with. Have a lovely weekend xx

  • Oh, how much I enjoyed this two part story!! We lived in France for three years, and spent two or three weeks at an old manoir in the countryside. The library was filled with old books that smelled of dry mold, and the owner (who worked with my husband) was fixing the house up little by little, and had invited us to stay with him for a month of the summer vacation. It was great fun.
    So interesting to read the french words in the story.
    I enjoyed the song, L’Amerique, also!!
    Thank you!

    • Hi Ruth, sounds as if it was a magical time, where were you in France. I can smell those musty books, it is such a unique smell and not a bad one in its own way. I can imagine a month in the summer at an old french Manoir must have been fabulous, full of history, especially if he was still renovating it. Have a lovely week xx

  • Yes! A collection for reading at Christmas, please. Plan to reread to savor it, like a glass of good wine.
    It’s my first visit here. Yvonne at Stonegable blog shared your Tartiflette recipe and raved about your blog. I met my husband our first day of French class in 1971, so I had to check it out. So glad i did! Sure didn’t expect to read such a well-written story! Many blessings to you and your beautiful family from Oregon, USA.

    • Hi Karen, so glad you came over and thanks for taking the time to comment and welcome to the blog. I love writing these short stories from time to time, if you go back through the blog you will find several of them, my favourite was Audrey, in several parts which I wrote last summer, starting in June 2016. Hope to ‘chat’ with you more in the coming months and have a lovely week in Oregon xx

    • Hope you enjoy it, it is in several parts, if you like short stories there are others too, I wrote one the previous Christmas in December 2015 and a halloween story in October 2015! Do come back and let me know your thoughts if you have a free moment. Have a lovely week xx

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