One morning she was here, and the next day she was gone. I missed my statue’s presence next to the sidewalk in the front yard—standing there statuesque and serene. I wondered where she had gone after so many years together and without saying goodbye as well. And then I found the first letter peeking out from behind the post box on my house’s front wall.
“I’ve listened to you and your friends talking about your travels for so long, sitting on your colorful, brightly- painted chairs so I have decided to see something of the world for myself. Thanks for your company and Bon Voyage to me, Francine.”
I didn’t even know that she had a name, for goodness sake. I figured that was to be the end of it; however, letters kept arriving over the weeks that followed.
The first piece of mail delivered was an oversized postcard from Vietnam. There was a picture of a small back street in Hanoi. I closed my eyes and could almost smell the the fish grilling on small braziers while women squatted next to the fire flipping the fish skewers, deftly basting them in a mixture of fish sauce and spices. All along the street the women were shouting out to each other and laughing while they worked.
I, of course, didn’t understand a word of it but the pleasure of being surrounded by friends in a community setting while being productive and working with food was most attractive to me. I opened my eyes and was back on my street looking at the open space where my statue once resided. Then I read the card.
“Hello Misses, I have taken a train down from Hanoi stopping at Hue and Hoi An, two beautiful places near the sea. Overjoyed at the friendliness of people and at the ease of travel. I listened well to your stories, and I thank you. Francine.”
And life goes on. I hoped that she was traveling well and safely. The garden at home has bloomed with flowers. A few people left bouquets and cups, sad for me that the place where the statue resided was now empty. And then another piece of mail arrived in my box. It was an envelope with a card from France showing plates of food on a checked cloth and a bottle of wine. I immediately thought of the days my friend Frances and I sat in a village harbor slurping up raw oysters and toasting our lazy life with bottles of lovely, light white wine. A gentle walk almost always followed by a gentle sleep or a good read.
Then we went to Nantes to visit The Elefante, a giant mechanical animal that lumbered down the street of the mechanical animal park. I was five-year-old thrilled that day. I opened the card to see what Francine was up to in France and found a tiny dried blue flower attached to it. There was a sweet, pungent smell as well as a few green spikes of a dried leaf.
“Rosemany” the card read, “reminding me of home with you.” Nothing else. I hoped she had found a nice adventure or two. Maybe a canal trip or a few museums in Paris. At least a croissant and a coffee.
The next envelope that arrived was blue and white and quite heavy. The postmark said it was from Israel. If you know me, you can well imagine all the memories that stamp pulled out of my memory box.
The first is always of Masada down in the Negev Desert where I spent two weeks digging with an archaeological team led by the famous Israeli general and archaeologist Yigal Yadin. It’s where I met my husband. It’s where I began to find my Jewish identity.
Another place that touched my heart was the memorial Yad Va Shem, where one learns “never to forget” the past. When I opened the envelope I found a series of pictures of places I had visited or stayed in.
There was Jerusalem all pink and gold in its special stone outerware, and there was Masada, with the siege wall built by Jewish slaves enabling the Romans to eventually capture the Jewish rebels. Francine wrote, “Stayed on a kibbutz. Work tiring. Lots of singing and dancing. Seeing the world with your eyes. Shalom.”
I am glad to know that I was able to give someone a push to enjoy places that I have loved. If Francine ever returns to me for a visit or to live with me we will have stories to tell each other and ideas to share.
For now her place stands empty except for two potted plants that once sat next to her. Nobody else can take her place. I hope that she will know that. I guess like one’s children, one has to let go and let those who come after you find their own paths. I believe she will choose well.