Posted: December 3, 2015
The last post was all about Risotto and it was also a story about how much I had been enjoying my life with Marc and Lotte and their kids in the summer of 1993. But as August progressed a plan was hatched for the family to go on a one week or ten-day trip with the boat. They had never gone cruising for more than a night or two but both Marc and Lotte and the two older ones had become pretty competent at both navigation and at maneuvering this large boat. There is little question that the introduction of bow thrusters on recreational boats meant that the art of docking something of that size moved more into the science or learned skill category. With that said, it still takes experience and some conviction to handle it well and that was the stage all four of them but Lotte and Marc especially had made it to.
So in mid-August, they were heading off for ten days cruising up the Dutch coast, German coast and over to the English coast before coming back to Harlingen. I was to make up a lot of prepared food and they agreed to pay me half my usual wage and I would go somewhere on holiday too!
I had not seen my grandmother in Rennes France for some years and had not even kept up with her by correspondence but decided that now that I had some dollars ahead I would take the train and go to see her.
It was a shocking ten days for me. When I arrived I found her in good health but quite upset for many reasons. She had not heard from me nor had my parents heard from me for several months and assumed that I was still working for the cruise line that had fired me. Several calls and faxes to the ship and to the cruise line had gone unanswered until it was learned that I was no longer employed there.
My grandmother was the one to tell me that my parents had both died in a car accident at about the same time I was sacked – almost nine months earlier. They had been on a slippery road with the first big snowfall north of Ottawa where they had rented a ski cabin for the winter and were setting it up. It highlighted that I had not checked in at any point during that time – not at Christmas or my parents or grandmothers birthday or even to let them know where I was.
My father’s coworkers and some of my parent’s friends and their lawyer had dealt with everything including the sale of the house, the cremation … everything.
As a woman in her eighties, my grandmother or Odie, as I called her, (her real name was Odile), had lived as a child through the first war, then as a young mother through the depression and into the second war. She had buried her husband and daughter from illness in the 1950’s and now one of her two sons. Her other son she refused to see as he had made some bad decisions during the second war. Like me, she felt like an orphan. Unlike me, however, she had always been disciplined and hardworking and supportive.
For the first time Odie told me how bad a child I had been and the sacrifices my parents had made for me. As part of the French Diplomatic corps, my father had many opportunities to move to a higher position by moving to other postings but stayed in Ottawa to try to have a nice life for me to grow up. He became a senior, but not very senior, part of the French Embassy in Ottawa, and would train incoming roles junior to his to be his senior but he like his life with my mother and me in Ottawa. By the time high school was over for me most of his opportunities were behind him and it must have been frustrating for him and my mom to watch me not focus on my future. My cavalier attitude and irresponsible lifestyle after quitting university were tolerated at first but then became tiresome for my parents and eventually an open disappointment. With no siblings, I was their focus, pride and joy and then disappointment. Their two urns sat on a shelf in Odie’s living room.
I won’t share how bad my visit with my Odie was, but after the second day, I left on a train from Rennes to Paris and a flight to Canada. As the child of a foreign diplomat from France, with a mother from Canada and being born in Canada I carried both a French (EU) passport as well as a Canadian passport, but my Canadian one had expired so I traveled on the French one.
In Ottawa, I went to see my fathers office both to speak to them about any outstanding issues and to have them re-apply for my Canadian passport for me and to send it to my grandmother. My fathers assistant was pretty upset to see me. Apparently, my parents fought all the time about what to do about me. She had a few mementos from his office, one of which was a postcard he prized, I had once sent them from Turkey. The look on her face when looking at me was so disturbing. This was the second person in a week who needed to make sure I knew that I had not deserved the love and support they had for me.
My next stop was at a lawyers office who was a personal friend of my parents and who had handled my parents will. Apparently, between my mother’s parents who were now passed and my fathers’ mother (Odie), they had fed some of their income each year to help their parents and after the sale of their house in a real estate downturn, there was very little left. My mothers work had been for a not for profit that paid very little as well. Given what a disappointment I now knew I had been to them I was embarrassed even having the conversation with the lawyer about getting an inheritance.
The life insurance company documents the lawyer had me sign and would submit but I would have to set up an account with a Canadian bank with operations in Europe to have the insurance annuity they had set up for me paid into each month. It would be $763.54 Canadian each month until the earlier of the age of 90 or my death.
I was at day five of my ten-day “holiday” from my work with Marc and Lotte and decided to look up some old friends to try to reconnect with someone. I really had not been back to Canada much since quitting university about eighteen years before. Most were on summer holiday or had left Ottawa, so I headed off to Toronto where many had ended up. An old girlfriend hung up on me and my call to Jim’s place and the response of his eight-year-old daughter was fairly typical of a busy family who didn’t know who I was. She told me her mom was outside packing to go to the cottage, her dad was at work and asked if I was “the crazy Django my dad went to high school with”. I assured her I was that very Django and told her to just wish her mom and dad well.
So I had been a bad son, an absent friend and everyone I knew in Canada had moved on. I had felt pretty good about how my life had been going with Marc, Lotte, and their family but knew that even that little achievement would soon end as the summer was coming to a close.
As I sat on the plane back to Europe I did not really know what I would do but just felt that whatever it would be I would have to create as I had burned out any real links to my past. The guilt I was feeling about my parents was overwhelming but my grandmother and my fathers assistant had only seen it from one perspective.
My parents were pretty absent in my life. As an only child, you would think they were an ever-present part but my father was very focused on his work and because my mother worked for an NGO that was often at odds with the French Government they never talked about his work or hers so there was a big gap in their relationship. I was treated very much just as a third adult in the house and on the rare occasions we would eat together my mom couldn’t tell me what she was up to, nor could my dad and they would rarely ask me about school or my interests as it would highlight how strange their own relationship was. The only things they seemed to share were skiing, occasional cooking, and house stuff, a few trips, and a lot of sex. This pair were like rabbits. They couldn’t talk together about work but boy they made up for it sexually. Not my favourite memories, especially when I would have friends over for a sleepover in high school.
Even my name had been a result of their strained work conflict. My father, seen to be an up and coming diplomate did not want me to have his surname as the protocol at the time for diplomats (who were much more senior than he was, but that he aspired to be) was to name their children their wife’s surname to protect them somewhat from kidnapping. So that is how I came to have the last name Bisous, my moms’ last name. Now Bisous is a pretty “out-there” name and was one that my mother was also happy for me to have because I was the last in the line and she liked the idea of keeping the name alive. It was a name that originated with her grandfather, Henri Bissonette, who on the ship from France to New France decided somewhere on that crossing that his nickname should be his formal name. So he stepped onto the ship in France as Henri Bissonette and off the ship in what would later become Canada as Henri Bisous. The snickers that it would attract all the way through my school life my mother assured me were nothing compared to the experience she and her three sisters endured and that it was a fine name. For any of you who do not speak French, Bisous means “little kisses” and the act of greeting a friend with alternating little kisses on the cheek also falls under this term.
My parents also were unanimous apparently on my other names. Django was my middle name, as they were both fans of the duo Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, but Django in particular. Giving that as a second name was also a safe, personal element to my identity as they gave me what they felt was a fine first name – Pascal. Oh My God – Pascal! I know that my buddy Jim was named after James Dean and jokes that he could have as easily been named Fabian or Elvis. I think those would be in the same category as Pascal. My parents and Odie still called me Pascal but from about grade four on I was Django to everyone else. Well, my parents wouldn’t be calling me Pascal anymore. It was a sad thing.
Maybe it was partially having a unique, almost cartoon name that made me a class clown or so self-focused- I don’t know. Other kids had multiples of their name in every class and were usually called by their last name. In one year there were seven Jims in a class of less than thirty. Maybe that’s how my great-grandfather ended up being called Bisous – too many Bissonnette’s?
As the flight back to Europe drew on I kept wondering how much of my strange childhood had been my fault and how much was my parents doing. When I looked at the warmth of Marc and Lotte with their four kids it was nothing like my life growing up. But when I reflected on most of my friend’s relationships with their parents when we were growing up it wasn’t all that close either. But to put it in perspective none of my school friends experienced two parents forgetting to get a tree for Christmas and going out on Christmas day to find one. The next year my mother bought an artificial one and it sat decorated in the basement for every year thereafter.
I was hopeful Odie I could still have a relationship with if I worked at it. It was a long overnight flight and I had the opportunity to write her a letter telling her about what I had done in Canada and that I would stay in touch once I had a more permanent place to live.
So for those of you who thought these posts were going to be all happy thoughts … sorry, I let you down too. But as I am writing this many years later I can tell you it does get better. Don’t give up on me.