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Grandmère’s Eyes

May 19, 2011

Five foot tall and shrinking, size eight, white hair borne in a tired loose chignon, my grandmother was the ruler on her patch. As far back as I can remember, Grandmère ran her household with a rod of steel. She didn’t shout, she didn’t threaten, she only had to look at you and you felt her displeasure. Two little extra vertical wrinkles would appear between the brows and the eyes,…oh…the eyes! Big dark brown eyes, you couldn’t see her pupils but you knew the daggers were flying at you. And you melted, feeling so wretched! She could have extracted the worst confessions out of you, on the very spot.

We all loved our Grandmère, so did every one else. She was kind and generous but never fooled. Her old rickety, worm eaten house was always spotless and she worked long and hard to make us feel like royalty when we invaded her place for the summer months. Royalty? Well, we were expected to share the chores but we never baulked at the chance to please her. She may have been economical with her thank-yous but the reward came in her eyes,… oh… the eyes! You could feel the dark chocolate velvet of her look envelop you whole.

Grandmère loved nothing better than to have us to herself. She cycled with us on her ancient bicycle through the pine forest to the sea shore and taught us to catch shrimps for supper. She sang for us, told us old folk stories, she was full of fun. She played skipping games, she was an adept at marbles, she laughed at our silly jokes and her eyes,… oh…the eyes, full of dancing lights, little wrinkles forming in the corners.

On a Sunday, in her best black frock and scarf, she would walk to the church with her sister, holding her Missal and praying beads. Before leaving the house, she would scan our faces, hoping that at least one of us would accompany her. Her eyes would slide away in disappointment, our father didn’t like us to get involved. Her eyes,…oh…the eyes, full of sorrow. By the time she came home again, she would find we’d been good about the house and all the sadness had gone from her face. The house rang with laughter again, Grandma was happy.

Grandmère and Grandpère

Grandmère and Grandpère

Grandmère loved our Grandpère but she did give him a hard time sometimes. He had to be perfect at all times, just like the perfect crease on his trousers, the perfect white shirt and stiff collar, the perfectly trimmed tooth-brush moustache and the pristine finger nails.

She didn’t allow him to talk at table when my father was there. These two tigers of the World Wars couldn’t tolerate hearing each other’s competing stories. Grandpère sat at the head of the table but Papa had total control, so he thought. Grandmère was an expert at smelling out the warning signs of an impending disaster and knew how to steer away the chariot on fire. Even Papa couldn’t withstand the look of thunder that landed on him…oh…the eyes, the eyes!

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