This is a picture of me, my sister, and my mom. Don’t we all look alike? Let’s take a leap back in time about 14 years to 1998, and that was the first time that I lived in Béziers. I had just gotten married (three times, all to the same man), and we were living in France, waiting for my husband’s Green Card approval. All of that is a story for another time. What I’d like to write about is the time Mom came over to visit us. It was October, and that’s my birthday month. Mom was still working back then, but had taken a few weeks of vacation. She’d already been to France once, at the time of our wedding, and felt adventurous enough to make the long trip from Louisiana on her own.
Getting to Paris was no problem. She just hopped on a direct flight from New Orleans, and ten hours or so later, she was at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. My father-in-law very graciously met her at the airport and drove her to the Gare de Lyon. She was to take the TGV directly to Montpellier, then make a connection to Béziers. This was our big mistake. We should have just had her fly down to Béziers, because she doesn’t speak any French, and she’d certainly not had any experience with train travel in Europe.
The ride on the TGV was perfect, and she made it down to Montpellier with absolutely no problems. Before getting on the train in Paris, my father-in-law had spoken with a fellow traveler (who spoke English), and had asked him to direct my mom to the right platform to make her connection to Béziers. The kind traveler did just that, or so mom thought. Trusting soul that she is, she didn’t think about double-checking to make sure she was in the right place.
Long story short, she hopped on a non-stop TGV that took her directly back to Paris. I don’t think she realized it right away, with the jet-lag she was certainly experiencing, but before too long she understood that she should have been in Béziers by then! But it was a non-stop TGV. When the conductor came around for tickets, and she didn’t have one, he was kind and patient enough to finally understand what had happened. They didn’t charge her anything, but there was no option except to sit back and enjoy the ride to Paris. Now by this time, she’d been traveling for quite some time, and was really getting tired. This was in 1998, and it wasn’t like today when everyone has cell phones. She didn’t have one, so she couldn’t call us.
When we got to the train station in Béziers, with my husband and son who was then only 7, we fully expected to find “Meme” and bring her home with us for a nice two week visit. But there was no Meme getting off of the train. I was desperately worried. Had she fallen asleep on the train? Where was it heading to next? We only had two or three minutes to look around on the train for her before it left for the next destination. No Meme.
Not knowing what in the world to do, we waited for the next train from Montpellier to arrive. Still no Meme. I could just imagine her having fallen asleep on the train, only to wake up somewhere in Spain not knowing where she was. I was worried sick.
We went back to our apartment, called my brother and sister-in-law (who also live in Béziers), and told them what had happened. We waited by the phone, not daring to leave the apartment for fear of missing her call. About two or three hours passed, then the phone rang. It was my brother-in-law, Jean-Marie. He had only one declaration to make, and that was, “J’ai trouvé Meme!!” (I’ve found Meme).
“What?? Where is she??” Jean-Marie explained that he’d received a phone call at home from my mom. She’d arrived in Paris, and had called the only number she had with her, which was his. You know how it is, hind sight is 20/20 when it comes to traveling, especially to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. She’d explained to him what had happened, and thankfully his knowledge of English was MUCH better than what he’d ever led me to think! Not wanting to disturb my parents-in-law in Paris (though she should have, but that’s not her style), she’d purchased another ticket to Béziers that very night. How many hours had she been traveling?? I’m not sure, but we’re probably beginning to move beyond the 24 hour mark. This particular train was not a TGV, it was too late for that. It was a very slow-moving night train. Meme was scheduled to arrive in Béziers around 8:00 in the morning. Poor thing, and as a born and bred southerner, there’s only one phrase that fits. “Bless her little heart”.
I sure didn’t sleep well that night, and keep in mind that I hadn’t yet spoken to my mom. At 8:00 in the morning, we were at the train station waiting for her, still with a doubt in my mind whether she’d step off of the train or not. Lo and behold, an understandably exhausted and somewhat frustrated Meme emerged (though she’s a Southern Lady, and you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong if you’d seen her).
We brought Meme home, had a big ole pot of American-style coffee brewed and ready, and heard her firsthand account of her adventure. Now how many grandmas have that kind of story to tell? I can tell you one thing, now that she knows we are moving back to France, she hasn’t sworn off traveling over there to see us. However, she will not be taking the train.