If you have a TV or radio or computer, I imagine that it was difficult not to think about the D-Day landings yesterday. I’m always hugely moved by the human stories of the period and the levels of desperation people must have had to endure and move beyond (if they were lucky enough).
I have my own tiny story. It’s not a fiction, though it is blurred by a failing memory and the piling up of the years.
It was 1984. I’m pretty awful with dates and can rarely be bothered to work things back to find out when things happened. In this case it’s pretty easy. As part of my adventure, I remember being dropped off in Paris by a German in a sporty car who had a love of continental thrash punk. The rain poured and the cafe we took shelter in was showing the Olympic Games from LA. I was with my good friend Gareth and we were hitchhiking around France and were having one hell of an adventure.
The part of the holiday I wanted to mention here was near to Bayuex in Normandy. Gareth and I were in the area. Must have been dropped off by someone at a junction where his plans and ours went in separate directions.
The area was rural. It was boiling hot. With a typical lack of preparation, we had hardly any food or drink with us and the road seemed pretty deserted. After an hour or so, things were looking bleak. The car-drivers who passed looked disinterested and usually refused to give eye-contact. The evening was drawing in and the prospect of sleeping in a field seemed to be very real.
At that point, just when our spirits fell off the scale, a van drove by. A guy popped out and had a chat with Gareth about our plans. Said that if we hadn’t been picked up by the time he returned in an hour or so, he’d take us home and we could stay at his place.
For a while, Gareth and I were full of joy and I’m pretty sure we didn’t stick out our thumbs again until the man came past again.
True to his word the man came back, threw our bags into the back of his van and drove us back to his house.
I remember experiencing some relief when we were introduced to his wife and his child, a toddler who should now be well into their thirties. There were dogs, too. I wasn’t comfortable with children or animals back then and just did my best to seem at ease. We had a home cooked dinner, shared some wine and were given beds for the night.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, the man took us on a tour of the area. My French is shocking so much of it went over my head. Thankfully, Gareth was a very capable translator. Still is. The tory was about the war. How the tanks had appeared in the area. How one of them had got stuck and was rescued by the local people, including the man’s father. How grateful everyone was to the soldiers who had come to liberate them. How pleased they were with the outcome. There was a real power to his words. He was conveying his own gratitude to us for the freedom that came, passing on his father’s joy and filtering them to us as if he just couldn’t help himself. As if the hospitality he’s shown us was a thank you to those soldiers who’d passed through his land way back when.
I was amazed by it.
Not that they’d finished.
The man’s wife took us to visit the cathedral after our walk and then dropped us off at a spot where she felt we were bound to find our next lift.
To thank the family, we bought a rather lovely looking cake for them to share over lunch. It was a small thing to do to, buying them that flan, but it taught me a lot. I’m grateful to Gareth and to the family for the lesson.
Et voila. Nothing earth-shattering, but a tiny speck of a thought on something that happened a long time ago that had me thinking about a time even further back in history.