The last time he saw Etienne ( A T N) was more than forty years ago, when he was just a child and Etienne was even younger. That was also the last time they spoke.
Until that Bonne Année (bun ahh neigh) call, when things changed by happenstance.
You see, Etienne was to be in New York City, in Manhattan, for a month, ‘supervising the installation’ of the brand new Louis Vuitton store at 74th and Madison Avenue (Lou-ee Vee t o –o like in the beginning of only-the n is silent). And New York City is only 100 miles from Philly. Much, much closer than the 3,682 mile distance between Philadelphia and Bordeaux. After a long, animated rediscovery and an English test, it was settled. They would find a way to spend some time together.
Etienne is an ébéniste (A bin east), a tradesman de luxe. High-end carpentry. But not exactly that. He began his apprenticeship dans le métier at the age of 14, at Les Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France, one of the best feeder schools to exclusive French universities, a school sought out by students worldwide, including American students. During his seven years in the program, Etienne worked for various companies in different regions of France where he learned skills in the field, directly from the guys working the wood. His contracts have taken him all over the world: Spain, Italy, Sydney Australia, Miami, Russia, and Morocco to name a few. He works like a dog. Six days a week. Eleven hours a day. Until there’s a glitch. And nothing is ever installed without a hitch.
Lucky for them, the glitch didn’t happen in the first two weeks of the installation, and Etienne decided to change air. He made the trip from NY Penn Station to Hamilton, NJ, where they picked him up late last Saturday night.
Fortunately, Etienne resembles his father, who resembles the mother-in-law, so it was easy to find him in the throngs of people exiting the train at Hamilton station. Fortunately, because looks often change from childhood to adulthood. Men are taller, and grayer, if they have any hair at all, wear glasses, gain weight, etc. But Etienne was an easy find. He looks as remembered all those years ago, except he is taller. Well over six feet. After a firm hand shake and a bit of small talk, the guys approached the car. She is introduced, and goes in for the bise. But, being Almost French, she never knows how many, so it is a bit… awkward. Is it 1, 2, 3 or 4? she wonders. (This is a French guy, and France is know for many things, among them, their kiss…). She really didn’t know the custom from his neck of the woods, so she goes for 4. Mwah. Mwah. Bisou. Bisou. Left. Right. Left. Right. After all that kissing, they all got back in the car for the ride home.
Nonstop chattering. Ils n’arrêtaient pas de parler.
Nonstop laughing. Ils n’arrêtaient pas de rigoler.
Nonstop asking. Ils n’arrêtaient pas de demander.
Nonstop explaining. Ils n’arrêtaient pas d’expliquer.
Nonstop excitement. Excitation sans fin.
The entire drive back home. Well into the early part of Sunday morning. Four. chatter-filled. long-overdue-catch-up. hours.
As a second grade teacher, she is accustomed to all-day chatter, but this brought talk to a whole new level. She had to go to bed, just had to, or Sunday would be exclusively English, et pas un mot de français.