My neighbor, Nicole, turned ninety-one this year. She is actually not my official neighbor anymore, since she moved into a retirement home a while back. Nicole is legally blind, partially deaf, and struggling with debilitating osteoporosis. She is also one of the most interesting people I have ever known. And, she is French. Go figure.
On our visits, Nicole does most of the talking. Her body may be failing, but her mind is amazingly sharp. We could get a history lesson about the Napoleonic era, stories about her childhood in Germany, details about her father – who was Chief of Police in Paris and then worked in the French Resistance during WWII, or a story about her husband, Jerry, the love of her life.
Nicole is alone. She has no children, no family in the U.S., and she has outlived many of her friends and relatives. So much of her life is history, yet she does not live entirely in the past. Nicole cares enough to keep up on our lives and remembers the smallest details from our previous conversations. Things I can’t even remember. She is the ultimate life-long learner and she often asks Marvin to look up obscure facts on his iphone. She calls it his “pocket computer”.
Nicole worked for Voice of America in Paris after the war. Jerry was a U.S. military officer stationed in France. VOA staff members apparently were invited to parties at the U.S. Embassy and, as a self-described wallflower, Nicole attended these parties reluctantly. She told me, “most of the time I would just talk to Paul Child. We kept each other company.” Yes, that’s right…PAUL CHILD, as in JULIA CHILD’S husband! Paul’s job with the USIA also required him to attend embassy functions. Apparently Paul hated these parties, too, and since Julia was, according to Nicole, “very busy with her cooking”, Nicole would keep Paul company.
I know it’s silly, but I love knowing this small detail about Nicole. It’s not an important part of her life – just something she mentioned while telling a story about Voice of America. But it’s the six degrees of separation thing…(in this case, two degrees of separation) like I could have almost known Julia Child myself.
Marvin and I try to visit Nicole at least once a month and we usually stop at Bakery Nouveau in the West Seattle Junction on the way over to pick up a treat. Usually it’s a croissant. On our last visit we were in a hurry and grabbed a grocery store croissant instead. As our visit came to an end, Nicole thanked us profusely, then added, “It was a delicious snack, but I am sure you two know that it was not a croissant.”
Next time, Bakery Nouveau! Nicole is French, after all. What was I thinking??