(My apologies! Don't know why this didn't post as scheduled yesterday!)
Pauline is a 4'6" French mamie or grandma. Of course I would never call her Pauline. She is Madame Faudemer for me, as I am about a quarter of her age. You read that correctly; she will be one hundred next January.
Fierce is one of the first adjectives I think of to describe her. She is fiercely independent; "I'll get a cab and go home if I want." She is fiercely proud; "I go out to work the garden before light and coming back at dark. I don't want people won't see to see me and say 'oh the poor mamie.'" She is fiercely opinionated; "I love a good pot-au-feu. This is nothing like a good pot-au-feu. My daughter-in-law only makes complicated new cuisine." She is even fierce in her humor; "I tripped and hoped that I had finally killed myself. Then I looked and saw I hadn't, so I tried to get up."
Whatever her eccentricities, Madame Faudemer is amazing, her stories are amazing. As a young woman, she lived in Paris. Whenever she sees me and my son, she tells of working in Galerie Lafayette. There was a nursery on a top floor, where young mothers could leave their babies, coming back every few hours to nurse them. This was wartime France, remember. "I would take the the metro home every night, with the baby in my arms. He would demand to nurse, pulling at me. He couldn't understand why he couldn't just nurse." Since it was the habitual group of people with her, someone would always volunteer to hold and distract the baby.
Later, when her oldest was in the Algerian war, she left France with her younger son. She went to the USA, becoming a French maid for a family on Long Island. She was a nursemaid to two generations of children, cooking for the family and then becoming a companion to her beloved Madame."I always spoke French with them. Madame loved France and wanted the children to be bilingual. I would serve the children dinner upstairs, then put on my maid's uniform and serve dinner downstairs. Then I would eat. I've never had much appetite. But a meal is not a meal for me unless I have had my Camembert cheese."
At the age of eighty-five, she finally returned to France, at first just for an eye surgery, then to stay. Until last summer, she lived alone. Her son, my husband's uncle, brought her groceries once a week and planted her a vegetable garden so that she'd be motivated to go out and take care of it. She sat pulling weeds, throwing out pebbles and crumbling dirt clods all day. But when she started to not be interested in it, her son bought her two chickens to tend. But Madame Faudemer has decided to continue as she has lived, doing it her way, and she is tired of being old. So she stopped eating. This led only to a brief stay at the hospital. Now she is living with her eighty year-old son.
Madame Faudemer represents to me a sort of treasure chest; so much wealth of culture and history, but she chooses when and how she will unlock. She is a Character, a Dickensonian personality. She tells her fifty year-old granddaughter, "Button up your sweater. We don't want to see your chest. Go help in the kitchen." She approves of how I do my hair; "Young girls never do a proper chignon anymore." She adores my son; "He is very intelligent, very alive."
Someday, this lady will make her way into one of my stories. I hope to find out more of her life. I hope I will do her justice. I hope that her fire and passion will be passed on to inspire others.
Have you met an incredible older person? Have you written out their story?