Wishes Are Like ...
Hand-in-hand Wren and Devlin wander through a grape arbor, around a small fountain and onto one of the several porticos. This portico serves as an outdoor kitchen. Frêne Estate and Winery is a stone house like Bay Farm, but it is hundreds of years older and the maison looks like it, too. It seems to have grown from the earth.
All the aqua shutters and doors are open wide to the world. Children and chickens run through the gardens, into the house, back out again, down one of the many pathways, zigzagging in all directions. Many of the rooms in Frêne have vaulted ceilings. As you walk through the maison, you can feel the history surround you. The land and the house are one. Time seems to stand still. All of life’s demands are abandoned at the imposing front iron gates.
“Come help cut gnocchi,” Madame Mimi calls to Wren and Devlin.
Mimi turns to a tall, striking woman with bright eyes standing next to her. “This is Camille. She is my dear Pierre’s wife.”
Then Mimi points to a young woman sitting across from her. “This is Aida, eye-E-duh. She is from Rome and has come to help Camille with the vineyard. She is teaching us today how to make semolina gnocchi’s. They are different from our lighter gnocchi’s made from Pâté a Choux.”
“Or the traditional Italian potato gnocchi’s!” Camille points out, looking to Aida, trying to pull her into the conversation, but the girl just looks at her hands.
Wren gleefully runs over to the table, always ready to learn a new skill.
Mimi smiles at a young girl, who has Camille’s bright eyes. “You met this little colombe, dove, Aimee when we arrived this morning.”
Camille hugs, and then kisses Wren and Devlin on both cheeks. “It is lovely to meet both of you. I have heard so much about your dairy and the cheese you make. I am sorry I was not here to greet you this morning. I needed to run errands with Aida. She is still getting to know the village.”
Wren notes a sad look in Aida’s eyes. She is very quiet, but has the look of a strong Roman God with her long neck, dark eyes and full lips. Wren can tell there is a story there and not a happy one.
“Well, after all these years of Mimi telling me about Frêne, I relish my time here. How long have you been here Aida?” Wren inquires.
“A week Signora.” She keeps hers eyes down.
Mimi pats Devlin’s arm and encourages him. “Come. Take this dough and flatten out a disk on the marble. Thank goodness we have the marble to keep the dough cool on hot days like today.”
Devlin is used to being pulled into helping. Mimi has told him many times: “Your food will taste better if you have a hand in making it.”
He pulls up a chair next to Aimee who is eight, but is already an expert at cutting gnocchi’s, even though she has just learned.
Aimee instructs him with her broken English. “Take petite aperitif glass. Cut circle. We bake gnocchi’s with oncle Marc’s gorgonzola.”
“Uncle.” Mimi helps translate as needed.
“Marc is not actually Aimee’s uncle but, an old family friend. Pierre plans to take you this week to see his dairy.” Camille points out.
Devlin struggles at first handling the delicate dough with his large hands but soon learns the hang of it.
“Bien Cuit, well done, Devlin!” Aimee encourages him.
“You know, Aimee, I know a girl named Lily. She is the daughter of the caretaker of Bay Farm and she would love to cook with you.”
The little girl nods her head. “Mimi tell me Lily. I want to play with Lily. She has lots of brother’s, who tease her, too!”
Everyone laughs and her mama tells her someday she will visit Bay Farm.
Pierre strides up the pathway smiling a mischievous smile and sporting the largest handlebar mustache Wren has ever seen. Everything about Pierre seems bigger than life. Twisting the end of his mustache, he booms. “Ahhh, something smells delicious! But you have Devlin doing woman’s work! Come, Devlin. Come tell me about your dairy and your cheese. I want to know more. I think you also need a glass of vin! You don't mind, do you Wren?” and he smiles his most devilish grin.
“Go,” and she pecks Devlin on the cheek.
“No! It is your honeymoon. You must give him a proper kiss. No pecking allowed.”
Devlin, bends down so his hair is covering Wren’s face, sparing her the sight of everyone staring at her, as he kisses her goodbye.
After cheers Devlin walks away and Pierre throws his muscular arm around Devlin’s shoulder. “Devlin, I am sure your Bay Farm is belle, but you have to admit it cannot compare to the beauty of Frêne Vineyard?”
Devlin turns his head back, looks at Wren and winks.
Camille watches her husband saunter down the pathway with Devlin. “You are blessed, Wren, to have such a kind and gentle husband.”
“Yes, I am very blessed. He is the kindest man I know. Pierre seems like a very happy man.”
“Yes, very. Until he is not!” Camille laughs and then asks Wren in a kind, but questioning way. “Mimi told me Devlin served at the Somme Offensive and had a head injury. Most men who have come out of the Great War have many burdens they carry, but your husband does not?”
“Oh, he has days where he struggles. The pain of it all did not really hit him for the first three months he was home. I think he was so happy to be home and to be alive, but he carries a lot of guilt. He still has terrible nightmares once in awhile even though he has been home now for three years.”
“Soldiers do!” Aida suddenly interjects.
“I don't mean to … how do they say it in America? Be nosey?” Camille asks, “but it seems to me as if you and Devlin have turned toward each other, instead of away from each other.”
Wren looks at Camille not quite understanding her.
“I know I have only met you, but I can see how you two support each other. You are one, no? I can imagine in times of hardship you draw on each other’s strength, instead of letting your hardships pull you apart.”
“Why, yes, that is true. Even though I will never know what Devlin or the other solders of your country have endured, Devlin has been able to share his pain with me and let me love him. It has bonded us together, but there will always be scars he carries.”
Suddenly, Aida starts crying and runs off into the vineyards.
“Excuse Aida,” Camille sighs. “She has just lost someone very close to her. She is the daughter of my half-brother. I offered to have her come stay with us, hoping we could help her. Support her. She is only 18 and her parents have been so unkind, not thinking about her pain. She seems very uncomfortable here. I am not sure if the vineyard is the right place for her, but it has only been a week.”
Mimi clucks. “Poor dear, I can see she is holding things in her heart. Give her time.”
“Yes, time. I am actually blessed to have Aida here; she is an excellent baker. I will have her make a lavender cherve tart for dessert. A little twist on a Roman dessert.”
Camille takes Wren’s hands, looking her in the eye. “I thank you and Devlin for the sacrifices you have made for my country, my home. I do not have the words to express what is in my heart,” and they hug.
After gnocchi’s are made and aubergines are stuffed with bread crumbs and herbs, the women chat away.
“We eat le` diner later in the evening, eight-ish. Would like to go to your room and rest a bit first? We should recue Devlin from Pierre. He will go on and on about wine,” Camille rolls her eyes.
“Well, I am sure Devlin is enjoying the conversation, and the subject, but, yes I could use a rest. We got up very early this morning to catch the train.”
Wren kisses Aimee and Mimi goodbye, who are now stuffing zucchini blossoms with herb cheese.
They find the men sitting on a south portico comparing last year’s syrah with three years before. Pierre, with lots of arm waving and exaggerated language, explains the complexities of the two wines and how the young one is still "too tight" and needs time in the bottle to “open up and develop.” Devlin is just happily sipping away and nodding his head, but his eyes light up when he sees his wife. You still take my breath away, he tells himself.
Wren leans over and kisses the top of his head. “Dear, I am tired from travelling and could use a rest. Camille is going to show me our room. Would you like to come?”
“Yes, I would.” As they stand, Pierre assures Devlin he will find the red Bandol to his satisfaction with le` diner tonight.
Camille walks ahead of them, meandering up narrow stone walkways lined with thyme and nasturtiums. Up they go, following the path and then makes a sharp left, through an arbour onto a small patio completely shaded by large trees.
“This way,” over a path of strewn flower petals, they step through double filigree iron doors into a small cottage, split into two rooms. The sitting room is small with a clay fireplace in one corner. A fire has been laid for later. Two small loveseats surround the fireplace and a coffee table. In the centre of the table sits a tray of fresh fruit and a bottle of rose`.
“This is the bedroom,” she says as they step into a large round room. A frothy canopy bed sits in the centre of the room and looks across at more filigree doors which are open. They follow Camille and step out on the balcony, gaping with sheer joy. The cottage seems to be hanging off the side of the stone wall. Their sweeping view looking over the vineyard and the view seems to go on forever. A strong scent of lavender and thyme perfume the air.
“Camille!” is all Wren can express.
Camille steps back, “A cottage fit for a honeymoon.”
“Well, we have been married for four years now. It is not a real honeymoon,” Wren says, suddenly shy.
“Pouf, one day, four years, forty years, it does not matter. It is a honeymoon and our gift to you.”
Before they could say more, she kisses each check and is gone.
They just stand there feeling as if they are in some dream, and one of them will pinch the other and they will wake up.
“She is right. I do not know why I am embarrassed about it. Even though we have been married four years, I feel like a new bride. A bride who is madly in love with the most handsome man in the world. I feel like my heart started the moment I saw you in that park. You have loved me unconditionally from that day. Thank you, I am a better person because of you.”
Devlin sweeps her up in his arms. “And, I am a better person because of you. Our marriage has had its challenges. Our separation while I was gone, the war, you learning to live on a dairy farm, but you have always been by my side. You have never lost faith in me. You have been patient and have loved me through my struggles. I love you. You are my better half!”
Devlin holds the lantern as they step down the pathway back to the main house. The sun is starting to set; they can smell lamb on a grill and hear a guitar strumming softly. They follow the music. Past the portico where earlier they had made gnocchi’s, around a stone wall onto a larger portico. This one, like the balcony in their cottage, seems to hang off the side of the house looking over all the fields of grapes. Their powder purple fruit, glisten in the dimming light. A dozen lanterns hang overhead giving the portico a soft aura.
Quietly they listen to a young man softly singing. He finishes and everyone stands, yelling, "Bravo!" as he blushes.
Pierre comes over and hugs Wren and Devlin at the same time as if he has not seen them in years, his eyes misty. “My ma mere, mother, bless her,” he makes the sign of the cross over his heart. “Mimi’s sister used to sing that song to me as a young boy. She would tell me about Frêne, she missed it so. She would sing me lullabies so I would go to sleep.” Then he laughs a hearty laugh. “Poor ma mere, I would give her no peace. She could not leave me alone for a second for fear of what mischief I would cause. I am sure she was grateful when I finally fell asleep.”
Everyone laughs and Camille hugs him. “Pierre you have not changed one bit.”
“And you would not have me any other way.”
“Beautiful song, my boy.” Mimi kisses the young man on the cheek.
“Merci Madame Mimi.” The young man’s dark eyes look grateful for the attention.
Mimi is always drawn to sadness in others and tries to help where she can. “This is Luc.” Mimi beckons Devlin and Wren over.
Wren surveys the handsome young man. He looks like he is probably 20, just a bit younger than Wren, although there is a type of maturity about him. It is what you see in someone who has lead a sad childhood despite his youthful features. His chestnut brown hair falls straight just above his shoulders. He has dark blue eyes and a long, straight nose. There is a quiet, French gentleman, quality about him.
“His grandfather was a cheese maker in a small village north of Bordeaux. I have been telling him about Bay Farm.”
“Really!” Devlin says, shaking his hand.
“My Grand-père raised me, but he died six months ago. I want a different life, so I came to Provence and now I am making cheese. I am renting a bit of land and have two cows, but am hoping to own more. I am having trouble getting the locals to buy my cheese. Even though I am French, I am not from Provence and the villagers seem to consider me an outsider. Pierre has been most welcoming and buys most of my cheese.”
“Yes.” Pierre adds, “I invited Luc to dinner, thinking you could offer some advice. Maybe tell him about America and how he could make cheese there.”
Devlin and Luc chat more.
Wren notices Aida carrying large platters of food to the table. She never looks up, never smiles.
Wren follows her to the kitchen. “May I help? I would be glad to carry a platter.”
“No. Grazie, Signora; it my work.”
“I really do not mind; there is a lot of food here. Please call me Wren by the way.”
“Grazie, thank you Wren.” Aida stops and looks at her. “Why you think your marito, husband, able to turn to you? Like you say, share his pain with you.”
Wren’s heart just breaks seeing the pain in her eyes. “I am not sure, Aida. When I met Devlin it was the day he came to Boston to claim the bodies of his deceased parents. He was lost and I helped him. It bonded us. So I think he feels he can share the pain he carries from the war with me, too. He has a deep faith in God and that has helped him to hand over the wounds he carries. Somehow he knew he needs to share and not hold all that pain in or it would just kill him.”
Aida bursts out crying. Not knowing what to do Wren just holds her.
At dinner Wren keeps looking at Aida, wanting to help her. She is a beautiful girl with long, straight black hair which she weaves into intricate braids, showing off her long neck and beautiful shoulders. It is hard to see her face because she keeps her head bowed low, not saying a word or enjoying the feast before them.
After dinner, Luc offers to help Aida wash dishes. Wren carries in a tray of dirty glasses and for the first time she sees Aida, laughing and smiling. As Wren sets the tray down in the kitchen, Luc tells Aida a story about when he was a boy trying to rescue a cow out of a mud pit and how his Grand- père had then come and rescued the cow and him.
Wren notices they would make a handsome couple, which makes her think of her handsome half. She finds Devlin, sitting with the men tasting more wine and looking a bit too happy.
"Hello dear, ready to go?" She questions.
"Of course." Devlin says, the smile clear in his voice and they stroll off to their cottage.
Devlin opens the patio doors so a soft breeze blows across their bed, cooling the room.
He stretches across the bed and lays back on the cool linen sheets.“I am full of good food and wine," he groans a bit. "They sure know how to live life to the fullest here in France."
Wren smirks. "Well, Pierre sure does have joie de vivre. I have never met such a happy person. Maybe it is living here and making all that wine."
"I think he is just so happy the war is over and he has the winery back. Do you know how he got it?" Devlin runs his finger across her narrow wrist.
"No. Mimi just said it was restored back to the family."
"Ha, restored. That is one way of putting it. It turns out the family who bought the winery when Mimi's family could not pay the back taxes were German spies."
"Spies! Here in Provence?"
"Yes. Since Pierre was turned down as a soldier, due to health reasons, he did counter-intelligent work. They lived in Paris and every once in a while the name of a woman, Marie, would come up. No one paid much attention because no one was looking for spies in Provence, but Pierre told me it just stuck with him. So he took a trip to visit his family and came to find out that this Marie, and her husband Marc, had bought the winery. His family's winery. Can you believe it? Well, Pierre was not going to let this go by without his getting to the bottom of things, of course. It turns out Marie had German family connections and she was spying on everyone. She would send a German commander, who was a distant cousin, information about the village and everyone who lives here. Both the husband and wife were shot for spying. And, as a reward, Pierre was given the winery back."
"Oh my. I am not even sure what to say, but I am happy they have the winery back."
"The crazy thing, Pierre found out later, is the Germans did not even care. They were not paying any attention to what Marie was doing. This was all her idea. Her contribution 'to the effort', so to speak. Supposedly her husband didn't even know about it, but he was still executed."
"How could someone spy on their neighbors and friends? Do you think she spied on her husband? It's very sad how a person can get lost in an ideal and not think about the people around them." Wren shakes her head in wonder.
"Well, I think people can hide the seed of hate in their heart, then something like a war comes along and it is the field in which the seed can grow. I saw it over and over. It was like there were those looking for something, anything, to give them a reason to hate. And then, have a reason to act out on that hate." Devlin stands, and pours himself a glass of water. He tries to clear his mind of the war and all the death he saw. "I am going to write Seth tomorrow and have him inquire if anyone is in need of a cheese maker. Luc is really struggling here. Maybe I could find him a job?”
“I think that is wonderful idea. Everyone needs help now and then.”
Wren grabs the blue velvet book on the dresser. “Now, what should we write for our blessing tonight?”
Devlin had given Wren a book to write her blessing in each night, while he was gone to war. He did this so she could see all she had been gifted with, even if he was not there, hoping this would help fill her loneliness and give her hope. They continued the tradition after he came back.
“There is a lot we have been blessed with today but I think Frêne should be our blessing tonight. And the friends we have made.