I knew, right then, what her message was.
“Tante Yvette has passed away, hasn’t she?”
“Mom passed away peacefully this evening.”
”Oh, Gisèle, I’m so sorry!” That was all I could say. I couldn’t even focus on the rest of my cousin’s message. I had to ask her to repeat her request several times, to make sense of it, so it could pierce through the images of the aunt with whom I shared a name.
· the matchmaker, in cahoots with her husband, Henri, introduced my parents almost sixty-five years ago. My mother, Évéline, took the bus from the city for a weekend visit to the small town where her sister and her brother-in-law lived. The story was that Oncle Henri didn’t want to venture out alone twenty miles in a torrential July rain storm on soaked clay roads to pick her up, though, so he asked his friend, Hervé, to accompany him. Hervé and Évéline were married the following January.
· the hospitable aunt, welcoming me, the shy university student, into her family for Sunday dinner.
· the proud mother, radiating joy in her children’s accomplishments.
· the grieving widow, rebuilding her life after Oncle Henri’s untimely passing.
· the efficient professional, providing bilingual secretarial services first at the university, and later, in government.
· the storyteller, trading anecdotes with me over red wine, steelhead trout, and chocolate lava cake in a quaint bistro.
· the hostess, eyes alight after an afternoon chitchat with my father, when I picked him up after work to take him home.
Tante Yvette, at 88, is the last of her family, another in the line of indomitable women I am privileged and proud to call my ancestors. Strong, resilient, unbowed, all of them. She and my mother, their mother and their sisters, have taught me well. Now, the torch has passed to me.