06 January 2007

The Sounds of Sunday

For two relatively short periods — once when I was a baby and again a few years later when money was tight — my parents lived with Grandma Annie and Memére in the old cedar-shingled house at the corner of Bellevue and Dunlap in the heart of Frenchtown.

We slept in the flat upstairs when I was a newborn but later moved to the rear wing of the long, narrow house.

I still dream of those back rooms. Along with the old kitchen, which I described in a previous post, there was a large bedroom and a much smaller one.

The room I slept in was close to the kitchen. Usually the smell of eggs or bacon frying woke me in the mornings.

Sometimes on rainy days, Annie would make pancakes or waffles with a fruity syrup. I will always associate the sweet tart aroma of associate blueberry syrup with the sound of rain beating relentlessly on windowpanes.

But it is Sunday mornings I recall the most clearly. Annie and her mother rose early for mass, and the sounds of their voices — arguing, as mothers and daughters do — woke me and kept me from falling back asleep.

Alone together, they spoke only French. I don’t recall their conversations. Perhaps Memére had misplaced her gloves. Maybe Annie was missing a hat pin.

I waited for them to leave, for the front door to slam so I could burrow back down under the covers for more sleep.

When they returned home, Annie would start breakfast. The sounds changed, coffee percolating, eggs breaking, juice pouring, toast popping.

When breakfast was finished, she would begin preparations for Sunday dinner. Pans rattled as she removed them from cupboards, the refrigerator door opened and closed.

Over dinner, there was much conversation, and everyone lingered long over dessert.

Sometimes in the afternoon, relatives from “up north” would visit and the living room would be noisy with the swooping cadences of French Canada.

Other times, the afternoons would be long and somnolent, with the only sounds — save for the turning of newspaper pages — coming from the mid-afternoon mail plane.

The rhythm of my life has changed considerably over the years. But the sound of two women arguing in French, the clatter of pans in the kitchen and the drone of a single-engine plane on a summer afternoon can instantly transport me to that other time.

And the smells, too, but that is another post.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

beautiful post!

Lydia said...

A lovely post, and lovely photos!

Lu said...

Mimi, you've done it again! I almost feel like I'm there. And - lest you grow weary of this comment: "Your photo is lovely!"

Mimi said...

Thank you all for your kind words and interest.

Food is so much more than something we eat, isn't it? It is inextricably linked to our histories.

My photos are the way they are out of desparation and lack of equipment, but I am growing to like them.

Welcome Rachel! So you are the talented Food Maven!

Tanna said...

You always say it so well Mimi. Yes food is so much more than what we eat.

Mimi said...

It's so much, a mother's touch, a calming feeling, even a painful memory.

By the way, there are still fresh cranberries in Wisconsin supermarkets. . .

FarmgirlCyn said...

Oh Mimi, once again I am there in the back bedroom, hearing the very sounds you describe. What do you do in the "real" world? I hope it involves the writing of stories like you tell so well here. Yes, food is SO much more than our daily bread. It is woven into our very being, strung along by memories and sounds and smells.

Mimi said...

Thank you, Cyn. I do write for a living, and teach, too. The teaching pays for my trips to France, because the writing sure doesn't.

I am happy to have you join me at Annie's house.

Lu said...

Ahh, France. Someday will you tell us about the Lot Valley? I need to venture west and south someday....

Mimi said...

Lu, there is a post on the way. . .

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the others. You have a lovely blog with beautiful photos and postings. I am envious of your cooking powers and French heritage, and am grateful you share both. Merci beaucoup!

Mimi said...

Welcome — I mean bienvenue — French to Be! I just popped over to your blog. It's delightful!

I am with you all the way - I would like to live in France, too. So would my husband. I guess we will have to settle for two weeks a year.

When I was lying out among the vines and the bees nearly two years ago, soaking up the French sun, I kept wondering why my ancestors left. . .

Jann said...

I enjoyed your post today, Mimi. I always enjoy them-you are a natural story teller!I really think you should move to France-"two weeks ain't gonna hack it!"

Mimi said...

You are quite right, Jann. Do you think it's too late to become repatriated?

Thanks for the visit and kind words. I am always aiming higher.

cityfarmer said...

I am transported almost daily to my Mom's kitchen or my Grammas...can't boast of being French but the farmlife style of living trandscends all cultures...the smell of pork chops sizzling in a black cast iron skillet and bread dough rising by the warmth of the radiator...now those are some memory making thoughts to ponder...daydresses and aprons, a tradition that remains in my kitchen...I'm glad we've met.

Katie said...

As someone who did it let me say that it's never too late!
It's a big world and you can live anywhere; it's a short life so don't wait too long. It's amazing how much 'stuff' one finds is not necessary.
Lovely post.

Mimi said...

Ah yes, aprons! My grandmother had plenty of them and tablecloths and napkins to match. She did not live in a rural area, but it felt rural sometimes. A neighbor kept chickens and roosters. People had huge gardens and old sheds. It really wasn't until the 1980s that so many of the vestiges of early 20th century life disappeared. . .

Lu said...

Where was your Frenchtown, Mimi? Is that a real name or the name of a certain "area"?

Mimi said...

Lu, many towns in Michigan have sections that were called "Little Canada" or "Frenchtown" because that is where most of the French Canadians settled.

It was a section of town.

Terri said...

You had me right there with you, Mimi.
But you also transported me back to when I'd spend the night at my Polish grandmother's house. So many sounds and scents floated from her kitchen to my bedroom. And it was nice just now to take a few moments to recall those wonderful mornings.

Mimi said...

A Polish grandmother is just like a French grandmother, Terri. I went to grade school in an old Polish neighborhood. I remember those wonderful ladies...

Julie said...

I loved this post -- so evocative. Quiet summer afternoons and rain against a window pane are two of my favorite things and you've captured both so well here.

Mimi said...

Julie, I know exactly what you mean. Somehow I associate those rainy summer afternoons with piano music and books. Don't know why.

Kristen said...

This is such a great post. I love waking up to the sound of breakfast being created in the kitchen!

Mimi said...

Me, too, and like any meal I don't make myself, it's soooo good. Not that my own cooking isn't. But it tastes better when someone else makes it.