Whenever I eat chocolate cake, I must wash it down with milk. Howard grimaces but recognizes with a guffaw that this is my habit: a pattern gleaned from my childhood.
There are so many habits, customs, shtick, stories we bring from our pasts.
On Mothers Day, Ariel was regaling my grandsons with stories from her own growing up days. As always, Erica the youngest, was the trickster. Ariel related how Erica in Montebuono, Italy would jump up and down on her bed screaming “Jolliflex, Jolliflex” and then dive beneath her covers at the approach of Howard’s or my footsteps on the stairs. Ariel reminded us of the demise of Pighead, a makeshift toy(?) made from a styrofoam cup that I finally threw out the window when Pighead had oinked one too many times and Erica raged for hours and hours grieving her “favourite” toy. We recalled her penchant to eat only chocolate and fries for almost three months during Howard’s sabbatical in Europe. We chuckled over the night secrecies of Jordan and Howard who scampered out at midnight to locate Chinese food in the narrow streets of Paris. In a tiny hotel on rue Dauphin, Ariel remembered the walls being so thin that she could overhear the conversations between the couple in the room next door :
“I’m so hot ( no air conditioning in Paris in the summer).”
“ So? Leave!”
We reminisced about the numerous trips we shared with our children and their antics. Listening intently but convulsed with laughter, my seven year old grandson almost burst with merriment at the stories his aunt was weaving about the tricks and mischievous behaviours of her sibs. For me these tales were a reminder of our being together, often trapped in Citroens or Puegots for hours, discovering new gites, and castles.
We, just a family, wandering on shady off –route highways through a carefully charted course: through a variety of areas in Paris, from Dordogne to Brittany, our path engineered around castles and the locations we had booked from pamphlets and brochures. There were castles and churches and art galleries and parks and tourist attractions. And for some crazy reason we had encouraged Jordan to jump the cordon in a castle where Leonardo da Vinci had slept ( apparently) so we could take his picture next to a Louis XIV bed, and the booming voice that shook the room, menacing, “De l’autre cote, si vous plait..”
My son had an imaginary friends( Apple),and alter-egos ( Peter Ishnu, for one) and was a lovable, happy guy . He who cried bitterly to leave his friend in Toronto for the three month trip, weeped even harder to depart Europe. For me, the blazing glory of fields of swaying sunflowers in Arles as Van Gogh must seen them overwhelmed me. At Masion- Carree in Nimes, France built about 12BC and dedicated to Augustus Caesar’s adopted sons, Erica took to the temple’s stage to belt out her own rendition of “ Doctor, Doctor”. Bewildered watchers gathered to witness the irreverent sight.
Our trip that year culminated in a stone farm house in Italy. Across the dusty road from us , Mrs. Joseph, the owner from New York lived or rather grandly and elegantly inhabited her space. She had brought an architect from Yale to build two houses, for herself and her son- who showed no interest at all so she rented his, the one where we were staying for a month .It was to be one excruciating breathless summer, but obviously not worried about the extremities of the impact of heat on fragile perishables, the fabulous lady commissioned a huge cream cake for Ariel’s birthday. As well there was a cream-coloured crocheted top.
I will never forget the scene of entering her house and witnessing a cache of people discussing Thomas Hardy to the whirr of humungous flies circling their heads, like miniature helicopters. To the barrage of scorpions that overwhelmed us that day, she calmly reminded us to make sure we shook out our shoes and socks every morning. Having addressed our query and enquiring if we would take tea or coffee, she continued her conversation on Hardy’s literary style and symbolism.
The Red Brigade was rumoured to have their headquarters nearby in the mountains. We eagerly anticipated our suppers on Sundays in a castle, El Castillo, that offered the best and thinnest pizza ever. At the edge of Mrs. Joseph’s property, were horses that Erica liked to pet. She in particular was covered in bites so large that we might have been staying in some poverty-bound third world county. Lucia, Mrs. Joseph’s housekeeper, made us lasagna, but when we slammed the oven door so hard that the glass splintered on the ceramic floor ,we were without an oven for a week. In deed, it was so hot, (the Monsoon season, they demurred ) that summer that we were prostrate on the beds, fanning ourselves with books abandoned from former renters. When the water stopped running, we had to drive into Rome, for we did not comprehend Lucia’s impassioned explanation, “ Agua, adesso!”
What did my children learn from these forays, what new habits did they form? Certainly Erica’s palette did not expand, nor did Jordan ever forgive my penchant to pinch those annoying me in the backseat or take action against “Pighead”. Nor did he develop a thirst to admire the stained glass of churches in lieu of the crack of a bat. Yet the sweetness of the Mrs. Joseph’s birthday cake has hovered in Ariel’s mouth forever, I believe. Did they develop a predilection for travel, secretly embracing new habits or developing new patterns?
How can I know? We, as parents happily returned home, because “ home is the place…”, yet desirous for more adventures, again packing up our kids and hoping they would imbibe our passion, and into the new generation share their own special adventures with their own children