Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Lovely Story about Lovely People

 Do you like stories about solid, beautiful friendships? That is what this blog is about? Are you pleased when wonderful things happen to wonderful friends? It is of that which I write now, in a quiet moment, when spring has finally introduced itself to us here in Minnesota. The trees are threatening to bud and the snow has receded and disappeared everywhere except in the densest parts of the forest. My mind is on Paris, and Claire and Louis. I read the note again and again, and throw my head back each time and laugh at the wonder of it.
by Charlie Leck

I wrote years and years ago about my infrequent friend, Louis Aumont, a Parisian who I met over 35 years ago. I don’t see Louis and his beautiful wife, Claire, very often because the distance between Paris and here is quite an obstacle to such visits. I think of them frequently, however, and always wonder about their state of health and happiness. We exchange occasional letters that remind us of the warmth of our friendship.

We did not realize, then, that we were young and probably in the best years of our lives. We could not have imagined now then. I was living for a time in Paris and had gotten to know them and spent such fulfilling time in their home and in their company. Now we have become solid seniors and we look into the narrowing and shorter futures we have.

Here’s a little of what I wrote about Louis way back then (in one of my Christmas Books, called My Town)…

“I love Paris, but not the Paris that most travelers know. I like the little streets in Cité Trévise, near Gare du Nord, where tenacious, persistent men of labor dwell. And I like the little garret on Boulevard Voltaire where my friend, Claire, lives. I return to Paris again and again so I can argue with Jean Marie, who lives on rue Lecourbe, about this and that. Le Musée d’Orsay. I love it. He does not. The new pyramid entrance at Le Musée du Louvre. It descends a few stories down to a magnificent wonderland of marble and stone, mixing modernity and the ancient, original walls of the outer city. Breathtaking! Jean Marie shows disdain for it. His lips flutter and sputter and pulse like a motor boat as he dismisses the gigantic achievement.
 “One must climb,” he says. “A grand entrance is always above. You enter and go up to be astonished, as the old entrance did. To go down is not right. You must believe me!” Jean Marie knows. He is certain. He speaks from his soul – from deeper than his soul. He pours me more wine and laughs at me.
“You are a real American!” He says it affectionately. It is not criticism. “So you can not understand!” 
This is the Paris I love. I could sit quietly near Saint Sevérin for hours with big Louis. He speaks no English and I can say nothing in French. Yet, he laughs with me and slaps my back and breaks off another hunk of fromage for me. He lifts his glass of wine and points to a big piece of sky. He winks long and hard. I nod, to explain that I have that same chunk of sky at home, in my town, down at the end of my dusty farm road. And, that cloud! I point it out. I have seen that very cloud form over my farm before.
Oui, he says, “j’ai compris.” He laughs and, with an open hand, slaps my leg firmly, just above my knee.

But now news come from Paris that Louis, my non-religious doubter friend who believes more in the moment than in idle promises of eternity – my friend, Louis, who I called le communiste – he has gone to England and met Archbishop Justin Welby and had front row seats for the installation of this prelate to the position of head of the Church of England.

The letter from Paris said it well…
“Can you see Louis, the socialist, non-believer and the most generous man in the east of Paris in the Cathedral with all the behatted ladies and friends of the new Archbishop?.
I read the account and threw my head back in laughter.

It turns out that his wife, Claire, the beautiful, soft, angel of life, once, as an au pair, more than fifty years ago, cared for the child now become a man and the central figure in England’s official church. As a teenager, she had gone to England to learn English and, for one year, took care of “the darling 5 year old named Justin Welby.”

Claire was reading a magazine and came upon the account of the man now to be ordained as protestant Archbishop. The name rang bells and sent alarms off in her head.

“It cannot be,” she thought, “but it appears to be – as certainly as I sit here.”

She wrote to the magazine and asked them to forward a letter to his Holiness, Father Welby. She was totally surprised by the letters she got in reply. Of course he remembered! How could he forget the greatest au pair of all time? In another letter he invited Claire and her husband to his investiture.

Indeed, Louis and Claire attended and they had front row seast and they were greeted by His Holiness during the very ceremony.

Oh, my! Some stories are just thrilling and bring tears to my eyes. Two of the most real people on earth – so kind, gentle, loving and sharing – right there at Westminster, sharing in Justin Welby’s ultimate moment. It’s no fairy tale  It’s downright true! I’d give anything to have seen Louis’ face during the ceremony – during the standing up and sitting down and recitation of prayers and sacred singing!

Louis and Claire… such kindness and love they shared with me. They are among the great saints of my life.

No one understands un bon moment better than Louis! No one has such love as Claire!

What a remarkable story! Remarkable!

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