As the days go by

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, before the Internet or cell phones, a time when time took time to pass, two young girls who lived across an ocean from one another—one in France, the other in the USA, answered “yes” to a simple question.

They didn’t know it, but they were about to connect and remain entwined for the rest of their lives.

Epistolary love at first sight is immediate and mutual. It’s like the answer to a search, and answer to a hunger.

The birth of a mutual passion to discover another life, another country, another culture, is born that day.

In those days, Catholic school girls wore uniforms, and classrooms were segregated by gender. Curriculums for girls included sewing, and sometimes, “home economics” i.e. classes on how to conduct the business of running the home.

In those times, families had only just begun to acquire television, and some had yet to install telephones.

Two friends. Fifteen years old. A foreign language to master. Stammering communication. The effort, the joy and the surprises involved in coming to understand, help, and find, each other.

Two social classes: One, working class, the other bourgeois.

For one, the French girl, an extraordinary entrance into an unsuspected world; escape from a lonely everyday life, familiar and repetitive to the point of boredom the joy of at last, being understood, to at last have found a true friend.

For the other, the American girl, the fascination of a country, a language, an art of cooking, a rich history; the discovery of a way of life and education so different as to be barely believable.

For the French girl, it was in part the lure of a life where everything seemed easy, where everything sparkled. Where shoes were made to measure, where in Winter, one skied in Aspen, in Spring, one shopped on Cape Cod and in summertime, one swam in a Florida bay; a life in which aquatic ballet and piano lessons were part of the education.

For the American girl, it was about the discovery of a simpler life, more down to earth but very interesting, and very different, with holidays spent on a farm in Brittany with no running water and you had to relieve yourself in the back garden.

For the French girl, it meant standing with admiration before a beautiful portrait, compared to the ugly duckling she knew.

And infatuation for a strange practice, that combines worship of body and mind through physical exercise and transcendental meditation—a practice that is entirely foreign to French women!

They discover their personalities, their differences and their similarities. They each envy the other’s life.

They share their common interests: lavender fields, “shabby chic”, stories of their ancestors, and an enormous curiosity about each other’s country of homeland.

At the beginning, the only means of communicating across oceans was by mail: The postal service oversaw delivering their precious messages.

The arrival of each message was a promise from afar, a morsel of joy; anticipation of an opening, then wanting more, and excitement. The day becomes interesting, the mind leaves on a voyage, participates in another life.

Their internet? Telepathy! It worked almost all the time–their letters crossed systematically!

Years go by. Exchanges intensify.

Five years after their first letter, the American girl lands in Paris; the French girl has organized a trip of southern Europe. She forms a small group of girls.

The American girl exchanges her big suitcase for a backpack.

And here they off: Four French girls and one American. Adventure beckons! By train, by boat, and on foot.

The American girl keeps a journal of the trip. So much to tell! Food is awful, she loses weight; many mosquitos, she gets stung; the sun burns her skin. Hygienic conditions are far from her usual standards.

Even so, she is happy! And the French language holds little mystery for her.

In Ceuta, it is chaos! The volunteer program they intended to join to help built a schooll, in the end, did not accept them.

They had to leave. Reorganize the trip. Go to Portugal to return home. But they were nearly without funds.

At night, it’s necessary to sleep under the star. They eat close to nothing, relying on the group’s two kleptomaniacs for fruit and milk products.

They wait a long time for a train that doesn’t arrive; the Portuguese are angry with the Spanish.

Back to France. The French mother is appalled; the American girl has lost 11 kg! But, she?  She is thrilled!

The following year, the French girl goes West. Her head full of legends and admiration for this country where everyone has a chance to succeed.

She loves each and every second of her stay.

Not enough eyes or hears to embrace life.

She left her shackles of complexes and slides with ease into the American girl’s routine.

Outings, shopping, festivals, banjo music …ice-cream dates; costume jewelry.

And fashion! “Body suits” available in all colors, worn with high-waisted jeans with a thin lather belt: A must!

The French girl would like to extend her stay but in France, companies have yet to provide paid vacations to employees.

Back home, she has lost 5 kilos too! Everybody is worried but everything is ok.

No doubt, the cost required for total immersion into another’s customs….

On each side of the Atlantic, destinies take form, families are created; children are born in the American and French homes.

Letters give way to emails; Always the same pleasure to read and write.

Exchanges become fewer, but the link is never severed. It was meant to last a lifetime.

Each are witnesses for the other, a tacit reference, sisters of the heart, their puzzle has all its pieces…since the beginning, they have fit together, perfectly.

…Once upon a time, a long time ago, two young girls, meet out of pure chance, become women, mothers, grandmothers…. the magic that came of their absolute commitment to this meeting, the story of an improbable friendship….

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