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Chapter 1: The French Connection | Strawberry Moon

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

By: Joy M. Lilley

Dad would spend days away from home, looking for work, much to Mum’s angst. However, his perseverance eventually paid off, and he was offered a job as a handyman and overseer to a housing complex in the Dordogne, France, made up of residents from a variety of different countries. He returned home in March of 2010, full of excitement about what he referred to as ‘The Life Anew.’

After months of weighing things out, going over the pros and cons, and trying to imagine what this new chapter would be like, finally Mother, me, and my brother Dan agreed to take a chance on France.

It was early summer 2010, if my memory serves me right, when we started to put our lives into boxes and prepared to leave the only home we had ever known. I was sixteen years old. Dan was a month away from turning 18. Out of the four of us, I’d say Dad was the most on board for this move, I was second, and Mum and Dan were in a distant third and fourth place. They weren’t exactly thrilled about uprooting their lives to another country.

Dad loaded the car until it was full to bursting. He drove alone so room was available to take more stuff. He hired a large van at great expense, and his friend (the one who told him to look abroad for work) drove it. They went in tandem and drove for the whole day. It took them a good nine hours to get to Saint-Severin. We traveled behind them, taking the boat across the English channel, and then hired a car in Calais, yet more expense. It was decided that we would break the journey at the approximate halfway point. We stayed at Le Logis des Tours. Dad made sure Mum had a good map and explained the route thoroughly to her and Dan. Me, being a mere girl, was excluded from this conversation.

The journey was long and I began to feel very car sick. I hadn’t experienced this before, so I put it down to Mum’s bad driving. She had trouble navigating the country roads. Driving via these bumpy highways was to avoid the tolls on the main motorways. Dan kept on at Mum to let him drive; even though he had only just passed his driving test. And that was after the second time taking it. Still, he felt sure that he could do better than she was doing.

“You have only just learnt to drive properly, and here we have to drive on the other side of the road,” Mum said. “You may forget that small detail and kill us all.”

“Oh, Mum, don’t be so hard on me,” Dan argued. “I will be very careful. After all, we don’t want to die just as we’re beginning this new life of ours, now do we?”

“Get on with it, then, and you just be careful, son, as you have precious cargo on board,” Mum said.

That night, we ate far too much of the lovely French food and drank rather more than we should of the cheap wine. Whatever money we saved from avoiding the toll roads, I was all but certain we spent it on that heavy dinner. All of us were suffering from some indigestion that night when we checked into our hotel. This led us to a restless night of sleep in strange beds. The next morning Mum settled our bill and thanked the hotelier, as he wished us bon voyage and happiness for our future life.

Mum finally turned the wheel over to Dan. He actually drove very well, slowly and cautiously. There were no complaints except for the one instance when a tractor had the right-of-way coming out of a side turn; a rule of the road that was unheard of back home. It was quite unexpected. Dan pulled our car to a sudden stop and there was just enough room for the tractor to pass by us. It served as two good lessons for us all: always slow down when driving in these countryside villages. And beware of tractors.

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As we meandered along the twisting and turning roads towards our new location, I felt the first wave of homesickness. Combine this feeling with some of the remaining indigestion from the night before, plus the motion sickness from the drive, and my stomach was doing some gymnastics in the back seat.

I looked out my window and saw this canal that looked awfully similar to the Hythe Canal, close to where we lived back home. We had lived in Hythe, in Kent, The Garden of England, where time seemed to move at a slower pace. In the late spring and early summer, the hollyhocks were just beautiful. They seemed to spring from everywhere, even poking out of walls and up through some of the cracks in the pavement.