Sunday, August 9, 2009

Excerpt: About the grandmothers

We grandchildren remember Abuelita Elvira de German-Ribon as a colorful character, quick to dispense treats to her grandchildren. She chain-smoked Craven A cigarettes. She played flamenco guitar, and taught us card games like solitaire or Canasta (which she played for high stakes once a week with a set of other Colombian expatriate women in Paris). When she lost, she would issue a terse “ai, caramba.” She was comfortable showing emotion. Often when saying good-bye, her tears would flow. She never saw a patisserie that did not require a stop and purchase of croissants, brioches and innumerable pains au chocolat. She put out a lavish table daily, spiced with odd dishes that the children got nowhere else—rice with fried eggs and plantains on the side, for example, or frothy hot chocolate with a piece of Gruyère cheese melted into the cup. She was definitely an international bon vivant, whose self-flagellation as a young teen was well behind her and who, thank God, did not try to pass that practice on to her grandchildren!

Our Gatins grandmother, Eglé née de Villelume-Sombreuil, was more reserved and something of a saint when it came to self-denial. Servants saw her that way, and some of the help reported she made a particular point of taking on physical pain, holding her legs away from the floor when kneeling at the prayer stools at Chaillot parish in Paris, which I remember as being the most uncomfortable kneelers ever devised. With Grandmother Eglé, there were hardly ever any tears.

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