Chez Mamie -To Grandma’s House We Go

DSCN1477_copyEven 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 DSCN1453_copyopened 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.

DSCN1449_copyOn 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.

DSCN1476_copyIn 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 DSCN1482_copyone, 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.


Comments

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Thanks Rebecca. Have you been there? I saw your lovely photograph’s from Monet’s home and garden and Trouville is just a hop, skip and jump away.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Thanks Rebecca. Have you been there? I saw your lovely photograph’s from Monet’s home and garden and Trouville is just a hop, skip and jump away.

  1. krpooler

    What a delight meet Mamie and travel with you to Trouville, Pat. You transported me right there and connected me to my own”Nana”, long gone from this earth but never forgotten. The food conversation hit home..gathered around the table talking about the food you are eating , what you have eaten in the past and what you will eat in the future. I guess the Italians are not the only culture that does that! Lovely essay.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Now wouldn’t that be wonderful to have your Italian relations and my French ones sitting around a table discussing food, glorious food!

  2. Debbie

    Pat, what lovely memories of something so foreign to many of us! I can’t imagine eating such a HUGE lunch, then knowing I’d have to do it all over again for dinner! Yet, that’s just the way many cultures do — eating is sustenance, and talking about food makes perfect sense. Thank you for allowing me to visit Normandy via your memories!

    1. Pat McKinzie

      I think you have to train for it. No seriously, at my French wedding which is a 3-day eating extravaganza, for one meal my sister sister put an orange on her plate and insisted that was enough dinner for her.

  3. Debbie

    Pat, what lovely memories of something so foreign to many of us! I can’t imagine eating such a HUGE lunch, then knowing I’d have to do it all over again for dinner! Yet, that’s just the way many cultures do — eating is sustenance, and talking about food makes perfect sense. Thank you for allowing me to visit Normandy via your memories!

  4. Rachael Jefferson-Buchanan

    Dear Pat, you write such evocative, crystal-clear descriptions that I see everything through your eyes 🙂 I love the sound of Normandy, and it’s not too far from Plymouth via the ferry, so sounds as though I might have to take a visit there some day. I dream of visiting markets daily to gather fresh fish and vegetables instead of the once weekly trip to a superstore on my day off to buy enough for the working week to fill my hollow-legged teens!! One day, one day life will slow down and food will become a joy again instead of another ‘to do’.. Hugs, Rach xxx

    1. Pat McKinzie

      I hope you get to ferry over to Normandy one day to see the landing beaches and sample the local fare. I never quite got the hang of bartering at the open markets, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the fresh produce. I have never big on the purchasing, preparing or presenting of food. Remember, when the kids were small, I dreamed of inventing the dinner pill. That said, I sure do love to eat.

      1. Rachael Jefferson-Buchanan

        Hahahahaha, yes I remember that dinner pill you used to talk of – I have quoted you often on that 😉 would you hurry up and invent it please? 🙂 xx

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Have you ever visited Normandy on your travels abroad? I think you would really like the area. Fresh fruits and vegetables are only a few of the many gifts of this beautiful region.

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