Time away from one’s normal day-to-day life generally leads to new perspectives. My family’s time in France has offered its share of insights.
For example, though I had heard of the time the French take to eat a meal, I didn’t understood how agreeable the process would be until I experienced it myself. From the aperitif to the entrée (appetizer) to the main course to the salad to the cheese board to desert to after-dinner drinks, I’ve enjoyed them all. Rather than putting all the food on the table at once, the hostess and family bring out each course one at a time. Much visiting takes place between and during each course. There’s no rush. We’ve eaten meals here that have taken more than four hours from start to finish.
Also, I must disagree with the whole business of the French being rude. Of the hundreds upon hundreds of people we’ve had exchanges with, one lone waiter took a bit of an attitude. Other people, including complete strangers on the streets and in shops, have gone out of their way to help us.
I’ve made other observations about my own family. For example, I’ve discovered that our daughters get along better with each other when there are fewer distractions – including television, electronic gizmos and other people. On their own, they’re nicer to each other (and their parents).
Another thing I’ve noticed has nothing to do with France whatsoever. Throughout our time here, at various places, including restaurants, shops and landmarks, one or another of our family members has said, “You know who would love this?” We would then proceed to name a certain someone.
Certain moments have struck expected chords. In Normandy, we all thought of my father. In Versailles, we thought of my mother. Our biggest surprise has been that as much as we’ve thought of a variety of family and friends, it’s been our friend Phyllis Bonhagen who we have mentioned the most. If you’ve been lucky enough to have had Ms. Bonhagen as your high school home economics teacher, you probably understand what I mean.
The woman is memorable.
She’s larger than life in almost every way. If we’ve said, “Phyllis would like this” or “Miss Phyllis would love that” once, we’ve said it 75 times. Certainly, she’s a good friend, but we’ve got many good friends. I’ve tried to reckon what it is about Phyllis that rings so true and has made us think of her so often. I think I have figured it out.
Phyllis rarely holds back. Everyone around her has a pretty good idea of where she stands on an issue. She loves and enjoys as well as anyone I’ve ever known. If she finds something pretty, she acknowledges it. If she finds something ugly, she concedes that too.
But mostly, Phyllis finds beauty – and she shares it with others.
And that, I believe, is why we’ve thought of dear Phyllis over and over again.