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In the last entry, I mentioned some terrible news that Fabien shared with me at lunch. Fabien’s mother, Elizabeth, died after a long illness. I arrived one day after her funeral. After our meetings in Paris, we drove the 35 minutes along the city periphery to Noisy-le-Roi, to the quiet suburb home of my French father.

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Zabeth and Jean-Pierre (JP) soon after they were wed.

My French mother/host was elegant, funny, diminutive yet mighty. As the mother of four boys, she ran a household with efficiency and grace. Her sons rarely went out of line. She loved to knit and paint and she loved music. Missing a last chance to see her broke my heart. And I was entering a house full of a family in grief.

Especially poignant are two memories. At a family wedding in 1987, Zabeth (as she was called) introduced me to her friends and relatives as “mon fils Americain (my American son).” Second, during my honeymoon visit in 1995, she hugged me goodbye when we were leaving and whispered, “someday, your children will visit my grandchildren.”

My French father’s quaint country home was abuzz with activity. A dozen grandchildren, in laws, and sons moved to and from in a choreographed frenetic fun. The pall I expected did hang over this family, picture books sat on many laps accompanied with the occasional tear. But brothers being brothers, my arrival provided a much needed chance to tease. My French relatives wasted not time in chiding me for getting lost at the airport, stammering my way through French grammar, and clumsily putting my bread in the wrong place at lunch. For boys, teasing knows no cultural boundary or language barrier. As the wine flowed that afternoon, we laughed together and I quickly felt at home.

I slept in a basement that can accommodate dozens. The walls painted with murals of playgrounds, castles, and country scenes … evidence that Zabeth wanted to create a home in which grandchildren could play and sleep.

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My four brothers and French father. Axel, Christophe, Jean-Pierre, Fabien, and Aymeric. The white scarves worn to honor their mother on the day of her funeral.

I spent one great Sunday with my family. We started the day with mass and had a large family brunch. Fabien and I visited the grounds of Versailles and had a wonderful talk. We drove to Paris to visit Christophe and his family. For the first time ever, my eldest brother allowed someone else to drive his  

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Yours truly behind the wheel of the nicest car I’ve ever seen. And no, I did not drive it down the Champs Elysees.

prized vintage MG around the city. Make no mistake, Fabien did the driving, and I did the worrying. Alas, I was flattered that I was considered such a VIP that we toured Paris in rare style.

After that, I had little time to play as I needed to wake at 5:00 the next morning to catch a train to travel to Amiens. One by one, my brothers also departed to make it to their respective homes across France.

For the next week, I planned to visit 6 Lycées in 5 days. It was a whirlwind tour of France that would culminate in a wonderful weekend in Six Fours La Plages, a suburb of Toulon. Fabien, my counterpart exchange student from the 1980s, awaited my arrival where I could live and stay with my very own French children.

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