Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Sound of Music, Summer Camp and La Gloire de Mon Pere

The Sound of Music: seven children, one parent, in this case, the mother, the father, a doctor on a submarine, was at sea.

Summer Camp: a large property, a pool, woods, sand pile, and staying up until all hours.

La Gloire de Mon Pere: a French movie, based on the novel by Marcel Pagnol, featuring a XIXth century family's search for a summer home, Everyone is well-behaved (at least on the outside), dressed in white, the interior is all cream and white and the house is in the middle of nowhere, beautiful yet simple.

This is what our last days of vacation outside of Mont-de-Marsan looked and felt like. We were treated to a moment outside of ordinary time, beginning in Bordeaux and continuing in a region of France known as "la Vendee". My friend E. and I have been hoping to meet up again for the past ten years. We met in Bordeaux, when our first babies were at a mother's day out center, We were both putting in our "adapting" time (i.e. staying with your child for short periods over a month, until you are both adjusted to the place and the separation, standard procedure here.) Neither of us was comfortable leaving our tiny person with anyone else, it was instant and enduring friendship. We've kept in touch over the years, many of our phone calls have been to say, "I'm expecting number 3, 4, about you?"

Finally, we made plans long about November to see each other this trip, for sure. They move a lot for her husband's military assignments, but have a house in the country for holidays. It is in a tiny village in a part of France known as "la Vendee", north of la Rochelle, full of houses made of stone, a castle in every village and magnificent countryside. I apprehended, like always, heading to someone's house with all of my munchkins in tow, especially in this case. E.'s family had moved on June 27th, out of one house into storage, stopped by another town for a family wedding the next day, arrived in their summer house, then left again for an unexpected funeral, returning only a day or two before our arrival. P., the father, needed to leave the night before we arrived, as he was expected on his ship even before that. He stocked the refrigerator and freezer and left us supplies with which to celebrate July 4th, how thoughtful! The whole family was to prove just as thoughtful and kind and fun to be with. We had a fantastic time. Our friendship has not budged through many changes of family and career and location, what a good thing it is!

Their children, in a rare case for France, are homeschooled as well. One more point in common, and one that allowed the children immediate common grounds. They are also extremely well-behaved. They lined up, in their button-down shirts and khaki shorts to greet us with a "bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur." There are six boys and one little girl. She, of course, had on a sweet summer dress in shades of pink. The eldest is thirteen, the youngest one and a half, and I threatened to stick name tags on them until I could straighten out who was who.

Instead of being tedious, it was simply lovely. Everyone pitched in to do whatever needed to be done. Pierre often took on the task of kitchen clean-up while the older children looked after the little ones and E. and I put the youngest down for naps or for the night. We fed the children first, then sat down for a calm meal each time, which meant lots of adult time despite the twelve of them.

The house is one they fell in love with head over heels, bought, and then began to consider how they would ever restore it to a livable dwelling. It is wonderful. They have removed the stucco that was hiding the stone on two sides and are working on the others, renovated the second-floor which used to hold grain and hay, making the whole long length into bedrooms and a "dormitory" for boys. We were given our own room, there was a girls' room and the boys joined the others in the dormitory, to their great delight.

Besides hanging out in the pool, we took a walk around the lake and through the village. You have to have once in your life lined up twelve children with their shoes, hats and all to understand the undertaking. The kids played dress-up, army, knights and princesses, and their favorite; a world cup tournament of something called "flipper-kick" that looks like a cross between that air hockey game we used to play with no air and a wooden, horizontal pinball game.

The three adults spent a good deal of time on the break-down of the refrigerator the second day. What to do, in the middle of nowhere, with a fully stocked fridge on a Saturday afternoon? Close the door, hope some of it makes it and go buy another one. E. "ran to the store" thirty minutes away, but came home with merely the promise of a delivery on Monday. The bummer was that her own refrigerator will arrive on July 26th, so she didn't really want to replace the other one. We packed what we could into the freezer, took some to the neighbor's house, and fed the kids as much as we could stuff into them. The next day a serious lack of freezing was noted in the freezer, as well as an alarm light. Too much food? Too much moving things around? Back to the neighbor's house to fill her freezer with the contents of E.'s freezer, now the house was approximately empty of food, but full of happy children who had each been given three or four ice cream cones for dessert that night.

How fun it was for our kids to have the opportunity to share some of their culture with a French family. Sunday morning twelve of us went to mass, then came home and made real hamburgers, fries and served it all with soda and ketchup outside on paper plates. We had brought along s'more fixings and showed them how that was done too.

We are all amazed at how well we all got along. Our families are very different, yet joined by the loving parenting that happens in both households. The children were sad to leave each other, they said they felt like brothers and sisters, playing, arguing, teasing. Our friends spent much time showing us different houses that were for sale in the area...who knows, maybe we'll have our own house in the French countryside some day. Here are the photos of many happy memories.

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