I was destined to take root in France. I know that now, even if I didn’t know it back when I had the dream. This path was ordained for me as surely as my brown hair and green eyes, my ample flesh set on an Anglican frame. My path was ordained for me as surely as yours was, even if it’s just a whispered promise from a distant dream.
Of course it’s only now, mid-journey, that everything starts to form a picture that resembles something—the rich-hued threads of identity woven together, the nearly forgotten events tied in tiny silk knots—all this has transformed itself into a tapestry of a story, almost without my perceiving it.
My journey begins in Avignon, on the bare fringes of adulthood. It seems fitting, somehow, that my story would start in a place that was both the beginning of a path taken and the source of closure—the healing of a wound that had been gouged out by grief. It wasn’t with any set purpose that I returned to Provence in the time of my sadness, but our family’s visit there collided in sharp contrast—who I had been, with who I was now—the hope with the loss, with the hope again. And it was with this sense of heightened awareness that I walked down the broad cobblestone streets towards the Pope’s palace in Avignon for the first time in twenty-three years.
I kept holding off from taking pictures, confident that I would stumble upon that special square or shop or street that would unleash all the memories from a period I now regard as a turning point. I kept looking around for something to hold onto that would bring me full circle, but two decades soften the details. Time shrouds in foreignness what was once a significant city to me.
I was nineteen when I landed on French soil for the first time, shedding everything that was familiar and comfortable in my decision to study abroad junior year. And in the strangeness that had given way to daily habit, I stepped off the city bus in the small town center of Montfavet, and started walking towards the house I was staying in for those few months. I was alone on this particular day, as my roommate, Jamie, had decided to linger a bit in Avignon. The small non-descript square, which held the bus stop, led to the country road away from city traffic and bus fumes. And I was grateful, for once, that I lived so far outside the city.
My surroundings were delightfully foreign to me. The pastures on the right where sheep grazed were quartered into small, green patches of grass by low-lying trees and tall bushes. The scent of burning leaves brought gentle notions of fall to my senses, without accosting my nostrils. A few large stone manors intermingled with more modern houses—the former set back on the hill and the latter bordering the street with thick cement fences. Just ahead on my left was a larger field with a straight row of tall trees, dividing the space in two. Breathing in the crisp air on this deserted road was like breathing in the spirit of adventure.
After a twenty-minute walk, I reached the house in which I spent those few months. I turned into the tall, wrought-iron gates—left permanently open with their flaking white paint—and headed down the gravel path towards the back of the house. The dog bounded towards me, but he knew me by now.
When I walked around to the front of the house and opened the heavy wooden doors, I found the interior as still as a crypt. The floors, stairwell, and steps of the corridor, all made of grey stone, were cloaked in the shadows of late afternoon. I turned to open the door on the right, which led to the echoing living room, whose threadbare oriental rug didn’t completely cover the floor. No one was there. I then peered into the study on the other side of the corridor and saw the matriarch of eight children, sitting at her messy desk and staring straight ahead, lost in a cloud of smoke.
At seventeen, Jennie Goutet has a dream that she will one day marry a French man and sets off to Avignon in search of him. Though her dream eludes her, she lives boldly—teaching in Asia, studying in Paris, working and traveling for an advertising firm in New York.
When God calls her, she answers reluctantly, and must first come to grips with depression, crippling loss, and addiction before being restored. Serendipity takes her by the hand as she marries her French husband, works with him in a humanitarian effort in East Africa, before settling down in France and building a family.
Told with honesty and strength, A Lady in France is a brave, heart- stopping story of love, grief, faith, depression, sunshine piercing the gray clouds—and hope that stays in your heart long after it’s finished.
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Genre – Memoir
Rating – PG-13
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