Our French Christmas

Our daughter Kelly and the Jouet's dog, Fifi, 1995
We met the Jouet sisters and their father in early May 1995. They hosted Kelly, our middle daughter, while a student of the Alliance Francaise in Paris.                

The spring of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Kelly met us at the Paris train station. A dream come true. Commuters carried home boughs of nodding lilacs. A gardener, I thought it a lovely tradition. 
Kelly relayed some sad news. “Mr. Jouet is in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment. He would like us to visit him before you leave.”
She led us to the Jouet’s door located in a small hamlet outside the city. Marie-Aline and Fifi, the family’s German shepherd, welcomed us. 
“Would you like something to eat?” Marie-Aline said in beautiful English. The kitchen fascinated me. The stove’s large, hospitable size seemed eager for company. At their table I learned a few French foodways: they kept baguettes in a basket, and spooned black currant preserves and Nutella on their bread.
Marie-Aline offered a tour of the house. The spacious living room accommodated meetings for a local Christian youth group. Yes, the Jouet’s home bore the marks of charity. I thanked God they gave Kelly safe harbor while studying their language and history.
We deposited our suitcases in a room with private bath and bidet before Marie-Aline and Fifi led us to their gardens. I coveted their red climbing rose blooming on a terrace.

Iris, Kelly, Mel, the Jouet's house guests outside Paris

Later, Aurelie, Marie-Aline’s older sister, returned from work. We partook in the French’s 9 p.m. dinner hour. They spoke of their concern for their father’s health.
The next day while Kelly was in class, we learned the Parisian habit of sunning your face beside the circular basin in Luxemburg Gardens. We later met her by the garden’s Statue of Liberty to gladly learn the difference between a patisserie and a boulangerie. 
           In the course of the week, our two capable hostesses confided their grievous estrangement from their mother and younger sister. Before we left their home and Paris, we visited Mr. Jouet, a remarkable scientist and inventor who supported his daughters with affection and trust. He succumbed to cancer within six months.
           Several years later, imagine my glad surprise when Kelly relayed a call from Marie-Aline with wonderful news. The Jouet sisters and their mother had reconciled and would love to celebrate Christmas with us in our home.
           What joy! But would they find our little place comfortable, and contentment in our quiet village of Romeo? Would they enjoy my southern-northern American table?
Begin with baguettes, Nutella, and yogurt, Kelly recommended. I built my menus on that foundation.

As the Jouets did us, we welcomed them as family. Mere years after our firstborn’s death, laughter and conversation filled our Christmas with charming French accents. The lone man, my husband reveled in his French-American harem and double batches of homemade Christmas cookies.
We drove our two clans to Detroit for the Jouets to taste Greek Town. I observed the affection of the older sisters toward their younger. What a blessed gift to partake in the restoration of a family.
According to the Jouet’s tradition, we exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. They sang their favorite French carols before Marie-Aline suggested we go caroling. Kelly thought festive Tilson Street in Romeo might welcome carolers.
My two daughters, the three French sisters, and I bundled up to sing Christmas joy to perfect strangers. From house to house, our songs carried our hope for peace to all the Earth.
Dear Reader, a man who understood the dynamics of cause and effect, I believe Mr. Jouet would’ve joined us in this substantial proof of the Virgin’s birth.  From what I understand, he too participated in large doses of Christian tradition.