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  • Writer's pictureClaire Gilbert

My Grandfathers home in the north of France.

We are on our way to Peronne, a small French town where my grandfather’s house has been since the 1800’s. France is so incredibly green. Bright yellow fields are spread out in the lush green surroundings. It’s breathtakingly the purest yellow I have ever seen. My cousin tells me they use these yellow flowered plants as a component for biofuel. I can tell we are nearing the home by the trees that I call the “soldier trees”. As we drive along this road, about 30 trees are separated equally on each side. They stand straight and tall with their branches raised, as if to salute my return. They always make me feel welcome. My heart jumps as we pull up to the outer gates. Large brick walls surround the property and trees lie on each side of the large gates, which make it difficult to see anything inside. The gates open and I am not surprised by what I see. The comforting, familiar sight of my grandfather’s home. Although in reality, this home now belongs to my uncle Phillip. My grandfather, Bernard Paul Larue, passed away in 2006. That was also the last time I was here. This realization hit me with an uncomfortable tug.

I believe my grandfather is the root of my thirst for adventure and wanderlust. When I was little, he brought me on trips to Tunisia, Africa. There I was taught archery and windsurfing. I spent my days competitively shooting targets and braving my massive fear of sharks to fly over the water on a windsurf. He once bet me a camel (stuffed) that I couldn’t make it around the last buoy (very far) and back. He was careful with his words. I made it past the buoy all right, but back was easier said than done. Lets just say, hours later, I ended up on the beach at least half a mile away. They had to come get me with a four-wheeler. But I refused to give up or call for help, so I got my camel.

After jumping out of the car, I experience something for the second time since arriving in France. My younger cousin, Alexandre, is taller than me! All of my younger cousins are outgrowing me, and not by just an inch or two! After saying my hellos, I walk along the lawn to get a better look at the property. The house never changes, but something is always different with the property. I wandered about the yard for a few minutes, bursting with the joy that can only come from childhood memories.

Entering the house was like coming home. The wallpaper, the smells, the antiques all comforted me. I marveled at everything with a newfound fascination. Slowly walking through the first floor, I head for the stairs. On the way up, photos of my ancestors are displayed in very old frames. History in general has always interested me, but to know that the blood of these people ran through my veins piqued my interest immensely. Making my way through the next two floors, peeking into the rooms, I felt like a child again. My cousin later said that I was a 12 year old in a 22 year old’s body. I didn’t disagree. I remember the epic games of hide and go seek that I played with my cousins. One time I went as far as to climb out of the large window in the winter garden. The winter garden is basically a large room mostly composed of windows, including the roof. I hid on the large ledge behind the corner cement pillar. I felt like a gargoyle. Needless to say, I won.

Walking towards the forest accompanied by Doria, my cousin’s dog, I noticed that the water was unusually high in the river running through the property. Past the bridge I could hear the water that flowed back into the pond. I felt like I was on a nature channel as everything around me was so alive. I came across several ducks, rabbits, and geese on my ballad. I was following a trail that I knew well, so I didn’t notice when it began to disappear. I finally realized that something was up when I noticed Doria was now following me, versus leading the way. The back of the property was flooded. This presented a real problem when I approached the place where a thin, make-shift, bridge was supposed to be. Instead, I saw just water, grass, and mud. Reaching out my feet to search for the bridge didn’t take long. However, it was still invisible, I was going just by touch. This was one of four bridges I ended up crossing. All of which weren’t exactly “up to code”. I thought back to my cousin’s earlier comment as to my true age and smiled. I love that I can still feel like a child. Why would you ever want to lose that?

Unfortunately, we were only able to stay one night. I am so grateful for the chance to sleep in my old room in my grandfather’s house. The memories that flooded back are priceless. I discovered some of the family “chronicles” so to speak. Before his passing, my grandfather organized photos, letters, and other mementos. I stumbled upon them while being nosey in the living room. As soon as I realized what it was, I took everything out and began reading. I discovered that my namesake, Claire Larue, helped the Americans fight the Germans in WWII. I read through letters of recommendation from the U.S. Army with stars in my eyes. My name has new meaning for me now. I’ll have to go into detail another time. Let’s just say, my family is badass.

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