It seems like yesterday I was on holiday with Mom and Dad in Paris. It was nearly 60 years ago this week, that awful week that Dear Old Dad suffered a massive stroke and passed away following a six-week European tour.
It was July 14, 1963, Bastille Day (their version of the 4th of July) and we were looking forward to the fireworks above the Eiffel Tower later that evening. Dinner was at a small café near our hotel, where we were to meet a lady Dad had known (quite well, apparently) while he was fighting World War I in France in 1915.
“A young man goes to Paris, as every young man should. There’s something in the air of France that does a young man good. Raspberries, strawberries, the good wines we brew, here’s to the girls of the countryside, the ones we drink them to.” (“Raspberries, Strawberries” – Kingston Trio – 1960)
Dad, who had left Virginia Tech to enlist in the Army and fight in what he called “The Great War,” had planned this trip for years and had arranged to meet the lady he once knew.
“Paris nights are warm and fair. The summer winds are soft. A young man finds the face of love in every field and loft.”
As it turns out, the woman who joined us for dinner was not the one he’d known so many years before. Instead, she sent her daughter. I guess the surprise was too much for Dad because he passed out at the dinner table. Though it didn’t occur to me at the time, years later I surmised that this woman must have been his daughter…my half-sister!
I can still hear the wailing, multi-toned honking of the Parisian ambulance, as we rode to the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-Sur-Seine. He passed away just before midnight, hours after the now-missed Bastille Day fireworks.
We buried Dad in a quaint cemetery on the banks of the River Seine. We figured he’d want it that way. Thirty years later, my sister visited the cemetery, only to discover Dad was no longer there. Apparently, we never got the bill to renew the 20-year lease on his cemetery plot.
Several years ago, a man walked into the newspaper office seeking directions. Upon learning he was a visiting English professor from Paris, I explained the weird circumstances of Dad’s disinterment, and he promised to look into it. Weeks later, he emailed, informing me he’d visited the city hall in Neuilly-Sur-Seine and learned that Dad’s remains had been moved to the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, along with six million others who’ve been entombed there over past centuries.
Someday, I will return to Paris and pay my respects to Dear Old Dad.
“An old man returns to Paris, as every old man must. He finds the winter winds blow cold. His dreams have turned to dust…Raspberries, strawberries, the good wines we brew. Here’s to the girls of the countryside, whom we must bid adieu.”
Keep it flyin’, Uncle Mott