Even though I knew the 7 hour drive from Geneva to Trouville would be arduous, I am glad I went. Our bittersweet trip down memory lane was made all the more meaningful because our daughter was along.
Mamie answered the doorbell at midnight wringing her hands with worry that it took us so long. We fell into the lumpy old beds and slept, the sleep of the dead. The next morning, we threw open the shutters of our attic nest for a bird’s eye view of the cloud-covered sky, casting melancholy shadows over the spindly old village. Trouville was built where the Touques River meets the English Channel.
Mamie lived in the gangly, 18th century fisherman’s flat chiseled on the side of the cliff that opened onto the Quais Fernand Moureaux. Her front door – three stories up – was on the rue des Ecores on the street above. Underneath her house was a clothing boutique, Blanc de Nil, which sold only white clothes.
Baby yellow rose buds and purple pansies grew in flower pots behind the wrought iron balcony railing where Mamie and Papie stood in their robes waving goodbye as we began the long trek to Switzerland with wind burned faces and stuffed bellies. On that very same balcony our children and their cousins searched for eggs falling from the skies when the Easter bells rang on their way to Rome. In France the Easter bells delivered chocolates instead of the Easter bunny.
On sunny days, we opened the French doors and let the warmth seep into the small sitting room/dining room. An oak table with folding leaves expands for family was squeezed into that 12” by 14” space. A love seat and matching chair faced the TV screen. An antique Normand armoire, storing Mamie’s wine glasses and wedding china dating back 64 years, was tucked against one wall. Every spare inch of wall space was covered with photographs of her 3 children and her 5 grandchildren.
The focal point of any French home was the dinner table, where families shared meals over a lively repartee of word play, heated debates, biting sarcasm, and endless discussions about food: what we ate yesterday, what we are eating today and what will eat tomorrow.
In Normandy where the land meets the sea, dining was of the finest quality in France. On the wharf, fishermen sell mackerel, sole and bar – caught the night before.
At the open market, the locals offer free-range chicken, as well as lamb and veal that romped on lush green pastures only days before. Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, artichokes, asparagus – all locally grown – looked as if they sprouted out of the ocean blue tablecloth.
Mamie, a woman who never served a sandwich in her life, will ask, “What would you like for lunch?”
Lunch meant dinner in the old-fashioned sense – a five-course meal with a starter, main course, cheese platter, dessert and coffee with chocolates that she had hidden for special occasions. Then she would set out thimble sized glasses and poured “just a taste” of her homemade plum liquor. As soon as one meal over, Mamie started preparing for the next one, scurrying around the village filling her wicker basket with fresh supplies from the butchers, the bakers and the creamery.
Like Trouville, Mamie lived in rhythm with the tides and seasons. She served tart apples and blackberries in the fall, fresh scallops and oysters in the winter, succulent strawberries and melons in the spring and lush peaches and cherries in the summer. Once again Mamie filled our stomachs with local specialties and our hearts with happy memories making us always feel welcome back home in Normandy.