And then came the time to do the same-procedure-as-every-year things for the last time…
… apple picking – same rows, the Galas look great this year, the deep fried apple rings afterwards are a must, and it’s THE meeting place – to the point of «where everybody knows your name». And then you cook with apples until you can’t stand them anymore. Did you know you can cook almost anything with apples? And then a friend of your daughter’s comes to your house and shyly admits that she always tries to come this time of year because she knows she’ll get apple treats and you have a hard time answering her because you know that next apple picking season you won’t be there but she doesn’t know and neither does your daughter. Not just yet.
… the Annual Ardennes Game Meal (AAGM) with friends, same menu, same kitchy interior, same staff who welcomes you back every year, except… Walking off the wine in the forest or the quaint village with a castle afterwards, you have trouble having the usual amount of fun because they don’t know just yet either and you feel like a liar and you hate it that you can’t tell. Not just yet.
…the picking of shiny new chestnuts, remembering the street you renamed «Chestnut Road» that you’d take on your way home from kindergarten.
…the Christmas market – chocolate covered fruit, glühwein & gromperekichelchen (fried potato cakes), Ferris wheel, a new Christmas hat every year for your youngest daughter.
…Christmas concerts with your beloved choir in the cutest little churches with the most appreciative and faithful audience, and this time you look around you at all their singing faces and realise you’ll miss them so much and you remember how joining a choir was sort of a lifesaver when you first arrived.
… the annual joint hubby anniversary – same friends who are actually your family here because that’s what happens – friends become family, always the same restaurant. Only when you’ve just broken a piece of sad news, it’s not quite the same.
… the miracle of magnolias
… first picnic of the year – secret picnic spot and all (yet you have taken a selection of friends there over the years), among the vines overlooking the Moselle and Germany on the other side. Picking nettles with rubber gloves to make nettle soup with boiled eggs for a taste of home. Picking cherries when they ripen.The stealing of grapes for dessert comes later, in autumn, for the closing of the picnic season.
Spring & summer
… the weekends and long weekends of getting in the car, already being in the middle of Europe, and go to Paris, Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, even Lille (slight preference for France, yes), or some quaint town in Germany (there are a few of them) or Belgium (a few there as well) or the Netherlands.
… the pleasure of going home in the summer, to the people and the things that you miss, and to the sea. Circle closed.
In the midst of doing these things for the last time, you take slow motion moments to take it all in, a half smile of the nostalgic kind on your face. You see your daughters fitting into apple boxes and high chairs around restaurant tables. And as you watch them grow in your head, you also see that you’ve gone from quite young still to middle aged actually alongside your friends. When you left, you were certain you’d come back and still be youngish, but you won’t be and that’s a bit scary.
And you take regular quick checks of your own feelings. They seem to always be in agreement; a mixture of nostalgia and relief. Sometimes a «no, are we really doing this?». Sometimes a shrug, «what the heck» and/or a sigh of relief “wow, we’re going home”.
That tells you it’s time now. Time to go. Quite possibly long overdue, on your part at least. It’s that bloody comfort zone. And to realize that moving back to where you still very much consider to be home is actually now out of that bloody comfort zone is strange and that’s a bit scary too. It even hurts a bit.
And then there’s the fear of not doing the right thing for your children. That one can be overpowering. But you never know, do you?
So you just work on that, with yourself and with them, for quite a while until you’re more at ease with the decision and the idea of it, and you feel more safe that everyone will land on their feet on the ground where their roots are.