Thirty six hours after departure, I made it. Catherine and clan were hovered around a vending machine as I arrived; Rachelle spotted me first, and started walking towards me, wordlessly, but with a big smile blooming with each step. A few seconds later, one by one, everyone turned--all 5 kids, Catherine, and a new puppy whose acquaintance I had yet to make.
Catherine was the very first friend I made in the North, where I moved one year after arriving in France and completing language school. She adopted me on first contact, and drew me into her family, culture, and life. I learned to love the North through Catherine’s eyes: the infamous stinky Maroilles cheese, the adorable windmill of Cassel, the winding cobblestone streets of Old Lille, the monastery of Mont des Cats, and the cinnamon Dutch waffle cookies, to which I remain irrevocably addicted.
I was there to meet the man who would become her husband, and for the birth of two of her children. I introduced her and her female family members to the American bridal shower. Eventually, I would stand as a witness for her marriage. Eighteen years and five children later, Catherine remains one of my two French soul sisters, and maintains better communication with me than I do with her! Our friendship has been deep and rich.
All five children (and the recently acquired pooch Eskia) hugged me and began talking at once, in good French style. And Eskia, who knew me not, jumped and licked in the contagious joyfulness.
The car ride home included a quick English lesson, a query as to why I spoke French from one of the kids, and a car-sick Eskia requiring immediate attention from those nearest her. We arrived at the family's new home in La Buisse, a nearby suburb of Grenoble, shortly after 10 pm. I got a quick tour of the new home, a few apricots to tide me over to breakfast, and watched as the children fell asleep in mid-sentence one by one on the couch. Catherine and I made it till midnight I think, when I collapsed into little Eli’s bed. Catherine tucked him in on a mattress on her bedroom floor, and then we knew no more....