Returning to the Unfinished

Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes, work never begun.”

Christina Rossetti

Way back in September of 2021, I wrapped up my recollections of visiting the Beaches of Normandy with an emotional post, stating that I would be giving myself some time away from these harder travel stories for a little while. I have a ritual about writing these types of posts which often means sitting with those dredged up feelings of overwhelming sadness at the incomprehensible loss of life all those years ago. After spending so much time back at the beaches, remembering all the mental anguish I had experienced walking freely and unhindered where so many fell, I needed to focus on the lighter sides of life for a while. Little did I know this would translate into almost an entire year off from blogging.

Well, it’s now been 16 months now since my Beaches blog went live so…I’d say it’s OK to finally return to that unfinished travelogue. That said, I will be easing into it with a little human interest story to start things off.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

After the intense physical and mental strain of our journey through the Beaches of Normandy, Dad and I were pretty excited for a real day off. Me for some potential quiet time (both in terms of the noise of the tourist crowds but also some mental tranquility free from the previous constant storm of emotions) and Dad for a break from all the driving we had been doing.

On several days in a row we had been driving more than 400 kilometers in a single day. And that was all Dad. Our car was a standard after all and there was no way I was going to learn how to drive this complex machine (certainly harder than an automatic!) on those insane French roads. I can still remember holding my breath when Dad, being the exceptionally confident driver that he is, took a wide corner out in the country. I couldn’t help but panic thinking that if someone were to do the same thing on the other side of one of those infinitesimally small country roads there wouldn’t be enough time for either of them to correct. It turns out, however, that I should have had more faith in my father’s driving as there were no accidents, or even close calls, in our entire two week adventure. Sorry for the backseat driving, Dad.

Dad doing some of the aforementioned driving through the French countryside (Photo: Erin of the Hills)

Well, on this day, Dad would get a break from both driving and my no-doubt frustrating cries of panic as he did so.

Wanting a break from driving but not adventuring we decided to spend this day exploring Bayeux properly, starting with the beautiful cathedral at the center of town which we had only thus far glimpsed at night.

However, before getting to that snippet (in my next post) I thought I would spend some time on our perhaps less adventurous but no less interesting experience that morning at the B&B. I do love me a human interest story, I hope you do too. If not, feel free to enjoy the pictures and skip reading this post in anticipation for a return to travel stories in earnest in a few weeks’ time.

The stunning cathedral I’ll be revisiting in my next post! (Photo: Erin of the Hills)

That morning in the beautiful courtyard of our B&B, we got to breakfast at our usual slightly-late-morning time (thanks to night-owl me, not my lark of a father) and found a young man waiting to serve us rather than either of the young women or the kind matron we were expecting.

I figured he was somewhere between 19 and 21 years old so I wondered what he might be doing working the early shift at a B&B at an age where you better believe I was still sleeping in until 1PM whenever I had the chance. It turned out that he was the owner’s son. She clearly wasn’t kidding when she said she had gotten the whole family involved in her business!

In his case, he was still going to school in Paris and would come home all the way to Bayeux (some 300km away) every single weekend to help his mom out and give his sisters a break. I would call that some serious dedication to the family business.

His French, thankfully, was much easier to understand than his mother’s had been though he did profess a preference for practicing his English as they were getting more and more English-only guests in that time. He admitted rather sheepishly that this second language didn’t come easily to him.

While he did attempt a few English sentences to me (I remain certain that he thought I knew no French because I was so quiet) and while I thought he sounded great I could definitely hear the hesitation in his voice as he spoke somewhat haltingly. At the time, I imagined this is exactly what I sounded like when I attempted to speak French on the rare occasion. Oh how that has changed in the intervening 7 years!

I always find it fascinating to hear that fear and trepidation in the voices of non-native English speakers attempting conversation in their second language. I find this so interesting because I was (and still am to great extent) so nervous about my French. It has taken me a long time to realize that I’m not alone in this feeling, which is a comfort of sorts. It’s always nerve-wracking to step outside of your comfort zone but so worth it when you finally do so because most people are wonderfully supportive and just happy to see you making an effort. I have certainly found this to be true with my husband’s family and friends, many of whom are either bilingual or only speak French. It is because of their unfailing kindness and support that my French has improved as much as it has since Louis and I started dating.

Me practicing my French at the B&B? Nope…more like me writing down my recollections of the day! (Photo: Erin of the Hills)

But…I digress. This is but one of the two stories I planned to tell today!

The young man stayed with us through much of the breakfast, mostly talking with Dad as I stuffed my face with all the bread, butter and coffee available. At some point, Dad must have asked about the proliferation of dogs we encountered when we first arrived. I had thought the night previously that there was a whole swarm of them. It turns out there were only three and the story behind their presence made it clear what an important role they played in the lives of our hosts.

Just before breakfast, I had noticed a small brown terrier bump into a garden barrier while walking around. He had seemed shocked when he did it as if he hadn’t even noticed that the barrier was there in the first place. I reached down to pet him, I think I was hoping to comfort him in some way, and he bristled a little at the touch. Not in anger, as I recall, but in fear and confusion. He snapped lightly at me until I gave him the chance to sniff my hand after which he calmed down and allowed me to stroke his little head.

It turned out that the dog in question was incredibly old, 15 years old in fact, and had recently gone blind. In slow, careful French (again – to make sure I understood, I’m sure of it), the young man explained that this dog had once had a son who had recently died after a sudden illness. Apparently his father hadn’t been the same since and his health rapidly deteriorated after his loss. By the time we arrived, he had almost no vision left and was constantly bumping in to anything and everything, poor little guy.

The old dog’s former stomping grounds in Bayeux

This story has a happy ending, though, I promise. After the younger dog died and the older one got sick, the kids managed to convince their parents that they needed another dog to replace the one who had passed away (as well as, sadly, the older one who didn’t seem to have much more life in him). When they went to the rescue to chose a new dog, however, they encountered two white terriers who quickly grabbed hold of their heartstrings. Before the mother knew what was happening, she had agreed to take both of them home.

And the best part of these two new dogs joining the family? They had taken the old one on as a surrogate father, helping him to make his way around the compound and always deferring to him when it came to food, treats or attention. I’m sure that the older dog is no longer living at this point but I’m glad to think that his last months or years were spent in the company of two loving pups rather than on his own. I would call that a happy ending indeed.

That’s probably enough about dogs to last you forever…but I hope you enjoyed this little snippet of my travels through France back in 2015.

Hopefully this work (being my travelogue of the 2015 France trip) won’t stay unfinished for long. Stay tuned for the next chapter in a few weeks!

And, remember, even when tasks are left unfinished (temporarily or otherwise). Life is beautiful.

xo Erin

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