This past March 31, 2019, marked one year since my mother passed away from a painful battle with lung cancer. This has been a difficult and intense year at so many levels. Marking this time with my daughter and her family, especially my young grandson has helped to ease the pain of her loss.
Last summer, I decided to visit my mother’s family in Hunawihr, in the Alsace region of France. She came from a family of nine girls. One of the sisters, Aunt Marie Jeanne, remains alive in that area. It felt like it was the right thing to do I asked one of my sisters to join me as I had heard she wanted to visit as well.
I wanted to start my journey to Europe in my mother’s homeland before I go to Granada, Spain, where I will co-present a talk on Divine Feminine at the Religion and Spirituality conference. I learned on my birthday last June that our presentation was accepted, and we committed in the moment to go. I will share more about that upcoming journey soon in my blog.
Road trip to south of France
I have not been to France since the mid-2000s, when I went with my mom. My mom remains the only one of her family who emigrated to the United States. All of her relatives remain in France near Hunawihr except two cousins. On that trip, we stayed with my Aunt Marie Jeanne and her husband, Charles. That trip was marked with laughter and nostalgia. Spontaneously, while in Hunawihr, we decided to go on a road trip with my aunt and uncle. Christian, my first cousin escorted us in his diesel Audi sedan to visit his sister, Chantal, in the south of France.
At the highway stop, we got lunch, a full buffet of local cuisine featuring chicken cooked in a wine sauce, beef roulade, endive salad and sautéed zucchini. The regional wine was a refreshing rose that complemented the meal. Dessert followed with French pastries including Napoleons with an espresso touch. We had a leisurely time together. No McDonald’s in sight!
In the car, Alsatian jokes flew back and forth with my mother asking for mercy as she was laughing so hard. One joke was about passing gas but as with most jokes, the humor was in the language being used. It was about a person walking to another town and simply passing some gas, thinking no one was behind them. Yet, a voice behind them reminded this person that there was some one right behind them. They took her back to her childhood and teen years. She shared many fond memories that included the men and her sister in the car. My mom sounded so carefree and full of life during that time. She had been widowed suddenly a few years earlier. I enjoyed seeing her happy again.
My cousin Chantal was ever so happy to see us. She always has been the most connected of the cousins. She has been to visit us in the U.S. She was eager to share the beauty of this part of France.
In the south of France, we toured the island of Carmargue where gray mustangs still roam and paella is served as if one is in Spain. There is even a bull ring. We went to mountain desert monastery as well. The arid land felt very much like my home in New Mexico with similar foliage. Yet, the Mediterranean Sea adds a whole other dimension. We all enjoyed going to the beach one day.
Looking ahead to my return
With my mother’s passing, only one of the nine sisters is still alive. This will be the first time I will be there without my mother or father on this earth to share the stories of our reconnection. My first time to go to France to visit my mother’s family was when I was age 6. We went back as a family on two other occasions then in my college and medical school years, I went on my own. As the years have passed, my French and German are rusty. I need to remember that Google translate may be a good option to remember in a pinch.
Yet as I look ahead, I welcome the presence of my sister as we return to the childhood home of my mother.
A sister-in-law of my sister has compiled a genealogical study in the past few years that dates the lineage back to the 1600s in the same town and neighboring villages. What drew my mom to emigrate to the United States when her heritage in Alsace was so rich remains a bit of a mystery. I know she loved my father but I often wonder if other factors were at work.
I seek to reconnect with my mother’s family so we can share and remain in touch as the next generation grows up. This is tenuous link that requires some nurturing for it to remain viable. Social media certainly helps us yet the personal visit to break bread together (and cheese with some wine) allows for what I hope is a more resilient connection.