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Once Upon A Christmas Time

I remember every summer and winter I spent in France. A myriad of images spring to my mind… My grandfather’s warm smile, his expertly crafted gravlax salmon, my grandmother’s homemade “potage” using the garden’s colourful juicy vegetables… Even the smells remain in my mind to this day… The freshly turned soil as I wake up to the sound of a spade in the cabbage patch. The crisp scent of freshly cut blades of grass. The scent of wood and lavender permeating the air. The rich, sweet and intoxicating vapour emanating from my nightly hot chocolate…

I looked forward to each holiday with anticipation. If I were to go through a difficult time in my life now, I think that returning to my roots would help me heal. In the midst of university classes and assignments, I long for the soothing winter breeze of the Alpes. Or for the sun kissed vineyards of Alsace. I long to ride my slightly rusty bicycle up and down the hills of the countryside as the sun sets over me. I long for the French breakfasts never complete without the best cheeses.

The memory that stood out for me the most was our Christmas time. Our cottage looked and smelled like a gingerbread house. The wood resembled the heavily spiced dough and the snow covered our roof like thick sweet icing. Each unique snowflake would fall and melt into my outstretched chubby little fingers making both my sister and I squeal with joy “Oh que c’est magnifique!”

Entering the quaint cottage itself would envelop us in a balmy and comforting glow. The boots would come off and we would put on our dainty little red and green slippers. Giggle, giggle. We loved to slide across the tiles and on to the living room’s rug amidst our family’s raucous laughter.

My grandfather was a very active man. My uncle and he wrote a book about fishing together as reeling in various trout and salmon was their passion. They trudged dutifully through the rivers in their thigh-high boots and pulled on the line with excitement at the feeling of each tug. Then they would bring their riverbed treasures back to the family cottage and my grandfather would prepare the fish for dinner. First, he would lather the strips of fish with a generous layer of olive oil. Next, he would slice the skin lightly then rub the salt and peppercorns in vigorously for ample flavour. Then last but not least, he would dab on a mixture of honey and dill and allow it to rest in the fridge for an hour or two. Finally, the salmon would be served raw, as indeed it was that fresh! Delicieux mes amis!

My grandmother is the most kind-hearted and fun-loving woman I have ever met. Her forehead was completely devoid of lines and the sides of her mouth were deep with proof of a life well-lived. In fact, I don’t remember her ever being angry or even slightly irritated. I have no idea how she did it! She would make the most perfect pies and quiches; and her soups were to die for. They were so simple yet only she could make them so tasty. “Il faut toujours utiliser les legumes les plus frais du jardin!”, she would always exclaim emphatically.

I would wear my favourite red coat with big black buttons and a ruby-encrusted beret. My humble coat made me feel like a princess and I looked like the Little Red Riding Hood. Indeed, the colour itself brought out my rosy cheeks and ignited my feelings of contentment, warmth and merriment on such an occasion. I would stride into the dining room majestically, my head held high and my shoulders pushed back. Swish, swish. I enjoyed the attention it brought me and perhaps that is why red remains my favourite colour to this day. Its shade reminded me of the ripe berries we would often pick during the summer time. The material itself was made of soft velvet and the beret was held up by a silky black bow. Little buttons peeked in and out of the fuzzy creases, like jovial black beetles. I used to curtsy in front of each family member before collapsing on one of our many plush sofas and revelling as I sunk to the bottom.

To this day, the French language remains comforting to my ears. I turn on the television to listen to French news whenever I cannot sleep and feel relaxed at the muted tones and rolling “r”s of this stunning language. It is as reassuring as the sound of my own mother’s heartbeat against my ear. Un, deux, trois moutons… And I fall into a peaceful slumber.


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