Our children were a little short on grandparents.
After my mother died in 1996, just two years after Marie-Hélène and I and the four older children had moved in together, just one year after Charlie was born, their sole remaining grandparent was grand-père Berhaut, Marie-Hélène’s father.
He was already in his 70s in 1994, when he first became acquainted with our hyperactive little crew, and did very well with them all, especially considering the age difference. They couldn’t really slow down, and he couldn’t really speed up, but it worked from day one.
He lives in La Grée, a cottage on the edge of the Forêt de Brocéliande, in the middle of Brittany, and his good health afforded him the dubious privilege of hosting the entire Stock Berhaut Brun brood (you see why we didn’t formally join our assorted surnames) regularly for weekends and vacations!
Like my mum, he too was already living alone when the household formed. He had lost his wife Régine, Marie-Hélène’s mother, a couple of years before we moved in together, and was still in mourning when I first met him. He had written his wife a long and moving tribute after she died, called “Rhapsodies de Tendresse,” a phrase which doesn’t need translation, and memories of her surrounded him at La Grée like an old pullover that he never wanted to take off. It was all very touching.
Grand-père was a very gracious host at La Grée, which was where we almost always saw him. Our four or five children sometimes visited at the same time as Denis’s (Marie-Helene’s brother’s) two children, Cédric and Bertil, and there was almost nowhere for him to go. Without a word of reproach or complaint, he adopted the caravan parked outside as his home away from home during those times.
His home, La Grée, became our family’s vacation home, for many years. I for one was very grateful.
He is a devout Catholic, playing the organ in his local parish church, and attending mass with clockwork consistency. One of his better local friends is l’abbé Texier, the retired parish priest of an area of Bordeaux and a very charming fellow. When I convinced Marie-Helene that Charles and Alexander should be baptised, even though they were not being raised Catholic, l’abbé Texier did the honors. Needless to say, grand-père was delighted, even if he shared his friend’s concern that his grandchildren were not being raised in the faith.
Unfortunately, grand-père’s presence rarely extended beyond La Grée, and almost never outside France. Of course, I understood his inability to travel abroad in his eighties, but did not understand why he almost never gave his grandchildren any gifts, not for birthday, not Christmas, literally almost never. My parents were cut from a very different cloth, constantly spoiling their children and then their grandchildren, and I missed that constant love and care for my own children.
Marie-Helene too wished for something different and talked about how her papa used to leave 500 franc bills (those were big bills!) out for her when she was a young woman, just to help her go out with friends. She thought that things would have been different for us if her maman was still around. Same if my mum was still around!
In addition to Marie-Helene’s four children and Nick and Tom, grand-père had two grandchildren through his son Denis. All were welcome at La Grée, and all loved to be there. If possible, the Berhaut siblings would stagger their respective family vacations, so as not to over stress the facilities or the space. The children didn’t care about all that; for them, it was always the more, the merrier!