Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Best Years of Her Life - Part 2

Isabelle Anne (August 17, 1916 to June 10, 2013)
At the end of “The Best Years of Her Life – Part 1” it was 1949 and Isabelle had just landed in France on the SS Ile de France from New York.  The money she had won on a radio quiz show would make Isabelle’s long-held dream come true.  She would finally meet the family of her fiancé, Louis, who had been killed in action during the War. 

We pick up the story from there. 

Paris, Spring 1949…”Unavoidably Detained…”
During the voyage Isabelle meets a very attractive Parisian Philosophy Professor named André.  He offers to show her the “real” Paris when they land.  Isabelle sees the advantage of not passing up such an offer. 
She sends Louis’ sister, Jeanette, a telegram:  “Unavoidably detained in Paris STOP Will see you very soon STOP”

On the surface, Paris has survived the war remarkably well and is just as Isabelle remembers it.  The Nazi officer in charge of the city had so fallen under its spell that he ignored Hitler’s orders to destroy it.   But the scars below the surface run very deep. 

Isabelle falls in love with Paris and the Parisians all over again and, in turn, the Parisians, crazy about all things American, are charmed by this stylish young American who speaks fluent French. 

Normandy, Summer 1949…”Battle Scars…”

Isabelle travels by train through the countryside of Normandy.   Looking out the window, she sees the true battle scars and open wounds of war. 
Isabelle and Gérard
As she steps off the train Jeanette, her husband, Marcel, and their little boy, Gérard, are there to greet her.  The little boy smiles shyly while waving a small American flag.  It feels more like a reunion than a first meeting.   Tears, hugs and laughter and Isabelle, an only child, will become forever part of Louis’ family. 

Isabelle, Marcel and Gérard. 
Don't you just love the bobby sox and wedgies?  My Mother was always on the cutting edge of style.

Canteen Girls Isabelle and Millie
Mom and Millie were best friends who spoke on the phone every day until Millie's death seven years ago.
Philadelphia, Summer 1950…”The Fleet’s In…”

Isabelle gets a call from her best friend and fellow Canteen Girl, Millie.  A French ship has just docked at the Naval Base and there is a party for the officers that night.  The party is in full swing when they arrive. 

She is introduced to a group of young officers, one of whom is tall and dark.  His face is gaunt but handsome, and his deep set eyes are large and sad.  She notices his wedding ring, so she writes him off, but he asks her to dance and she accepts.  Well, she thinks, there’s no harm in an innocent dance with a married man, is there?

René says very little and smiles even less, but he is an excellent dancer.  He thanks her politely for the dance and walks off. 

One of his friends tells her that René spent the last two years of the war in a German prison camp and that his wife had died the year before.  Isabelle suddenly finds herself not only interested in but intrigued by this serious young man with the sad eyes; but, she is once again in demand on the dance floor, so off she goes for a spin. 

All at once, Isabelle sees René walk up to the bandstand, grab the microphone and begin to sing.  He has a beautiful baritone voice and everyone stops dancing to listen.  The song is called “Isabelle” and he is singing it to her. 

Isabelle's wedding suit, made for her in Paris, was a deep blue velvet.  I still have it.
Toulon, France, March 1951…”Wedding Bells…”

Isabelle and René are married in a little church near the naval base in Toulon.  They honeymoon in Nice and Monaco. 

France is still suffering from the effects of the War.  Everything is rationed and their tiny apartment has no refrigeration. 

René tries to teach Isabelle to cook with only limited success.

11 months later, I make my appearance, and three years after that my brother, Paul, makes his. 

Philadelphia, November 1963…”Everything Changes…”

It is a crisp autumn afternoon as I make my way home from school.  I walk into the house and everything is strangely quiet.  My Mother is wearing black in the middle of the day and has been crying.  Father Coyle has a cup of coffee in front of him that he has barely touched.  No one needs to tell me what has happened. 

The best years of Isabelle’s life are over.

One week later, on a sunny day in Dallas, Texas, a single bullet takes the life of our handsome young President, a man for whom my Father had proudly cast his first vote as an American Citizen. 

America’s Camelot years are over. 

Isabelle never remarries. 

For the past five years, my Mother had lived in a tiny room at St. Mary’s Catholic Home.  St. Mary’s is run by The Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who are devoted to the care of the aged.  They still wear the white habit and veil of a nursing Order, and are among the happiest women I have ever known.  They are doing God’s good work, and it shows in their smiles.  Of course, that never stopped my Mother from giving them the rough edge of her tongue when she felt they needed it.  Not surprising, really.  My Mother was born ready and eager for a fight. 

“Life is a battle, ma chère enfant,” she would say.  “Choose your weapons wisely.”  She fought long and hard to defend her dignity as she aged, and she won that battle. 

They say that when the time comes, God sends a loved one to fetch you home.  I’d like to think that He sent Louis and René to escort my Mother from the battlefield of life.  I love the image of the Warrior Maiden walking off, arm-in-arm, with the two great loves of her life.  It would have been a beautiful and fitting end to a life well lived.  Besides, Isabelle always preferred the company of men. 
R.I.P., Madame Mère.  You will be greatly missed. 

For Part 1, click HERE.


  1. Ma chère Marie-Thérèse,
    Je pleure... What an exceptional Madame Mère you had and I can see her being greeted into heaven by her two great loves! You have so beautifully written this story of her life and the title chosen is so powerful. Those best years only entitled her to 12 happily married years and having to grief way too much about a lost love.
    How cute your picture with baby-brother Paul. You certainly can treasure these fond memories and be mighty proud of your Madam Mère!
    A tight hug to you and my condolences for this loss... Like a novel being closed.

  2. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    Had to come back after cleaning up in the kitchen. Made us a tiramisu for after dinner tonight with friends. Just wanted to comment on certain things that caught my attention earlier.
    Madame Mère Isabelle was a romantic dreamer in the first photo. Sad that she gave her budding opera career up at such a tender age. What a sacrifice and yet, she went with full passion into the next role as secretary and translator. She must have had a very strong will that carried her through her long life with grace and dignity. Louis, her first love, was such a fate for her... It speaks so highly of her character for staying in touch with Louis' only sister! Lots of loyalty and perseverance. She is looking so bubbly and elegant when in Québec. Louis took that picture but I bet she was forever embedded on his retina as well. Such pretty legs and I admired her bobby socks so much. Love those and she did wear them extremely well with her wedges. As the nuns at St. Anna where I studied fashion always would say: 'Fashion comes around every 40 or 50 years'. So true in many ways.
    Isabelle & René; two wounded souls with a lot of human suffering at a young age found each other and it was love at first sight. Your Dad probably didn't need many words; he seems a very keen observer! He was a serious guy and he had actually not that much to laugh about with his fate of life so far. But what a feeling it must have given Isabelle when René too showed love for song. With his warm and beautiful baritone voice that made an everlasting impression on her.
    By the way, just in-between, my Papa got interviewed on Friday in The Netherlands in regard to his 75 years of being a choir member. Not a baritone but a first tenor. He always dreamed of pursuing a career by studying music but when the war broke out; all that went down the drain. Dad is born in 1921.
    People nowadays don't understand the sacrifices they made back than and one was lucky for having a decent wedding dress or suit for those days. Mom's was in black viscose crêpe and my sister Diny has it still; like you do!
    Those post WWII years were not easy and as a child I even do remember the sober lifestyle with very little luxury. Only in the 60s that started to change. How dramatic for you to loose your dear 'Papa' at such a young age and your brother Paul even younger still. Your Madame Mère was a fighter all her life and considering all she lived through, there's nothing negative about giving one the rough edge of her tongue. It probably saved her many times from loosing her sanity. She held herself up so well; incredible and if her only flaw were some sharp words - in order to reach her goal. It also shows her love for family again; she did it for her two children! She did already so much for the family of her fiancé, let alone her own blood.
    For sure writing this kind of memoir about her life has helped you a lot in dealing with her absence. But she did not live in vain; she left a mark. You can be so proud!

    1. I am completely overwhelmed by your wonderful comments. Mme Mère would be so moved by them, as am I. Our fathers would have been the same age -- both born in 1921.

      It really is something that only our generation can truly understand -- the sacrifices made and sorrows endured by our parents during an amazingly wonderful and sad period of history.

      I can only hope that you and I meet one day to share all our family memories, as only children of "The Greatest Generation" can do.

      Gros bisous ma chère amie, M-T

  3. Thank you for sharing the beautiful story of your mother's life. I am sorry for your loss. She was a remarkable lady.

    1. Dear Marilyn, Thank you so much for taking the time to write. She was, indeed, a remarkable lady, as were many of her generation.

      She would be so happy that she was able to touch and inspire you.

      Merci beaucoup de la part de Mme Mère et moi.


  4. Ma très chère M-T,
    Tu sais à quel point je compatis à ta peine. Ta maman était d'une beauté à couper le souffle et surtout elle faisait partie de ces femmes qui sont fortes et qui sortent des épreuves grandies. Tu as eu beuacoup de chances d'avoir une telle mère. Comme je te l'ai écrit, un jour viendra où le sourire remplacera les larmes quand tu penseras à elle. Ceux que l'on a aimé nous quitte toujours trop tôt mais une part d'eux restent toujours avec nous.
    Je t'embrasse très fort et pense bien à toi,

  5. Ma chère Anne, tes mots m'ont beaucoup soulagé. C'est bien vrai que ces femmes qui ont vécu et survécu des grandes épreuves ont fort à nous apprendre.

    Je t'embrasse très fort,


  6. Dear Marie Therese,

    I enjoyed reading the wonderful story of your lovely family and beautiful Mother and her life. The photos are all so wonderful and the one of you and your brother is sweet. I also read in your comments from Mariette that your Fathers, were born in 1921 - my Father was born the same year, in March and he died when he was 89.
    Thanks for sharing and was great to discover your blog.
    Happy new week

    1. Dear Carolyn,

      I'm so glad you enjoyed my Mother's story. She really was a remarkable lady.

      1921 was clearly a year that produced wonderful Fathers. How lucky you were to have had yours for so long. Although, as a wise man once said, "It's never long enough."

      That was particularly true of my Brother, whom I adored. We were so close. He passed away just before his 32nd birthday. What a beautiful person he was.

      I look forward to a long and happy connection with you via our Blogs.

      Warm hugs,

  7. Dear Marie- Therese,

    So sorry for your loss!
    Your mother's life is inspirational.

    many hugs,
    Irene, Sydney

    1. Dear Irene, How sweet of you to leave such a lovely comment. Mme Mère would be so happy she was able to touch others. She was, indeed, quite a Lady.

      Hugs much appreciated,

  8. Dear Marie-Therese,

    My sincere sympathy towards your loss!
    I love their wedding photo!
    many hugs,

    Irene, Sydney

    1. Dear Irene, They do look happy in that photo, don't they? Like most Frenchmen, my Father rarely smiled, but, when he did, he could light up a room.

      Hugs back to you,


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