My mother told me the news at lunch on a cold February day during our mid-winter break. Our family was moving to Paris. Yes, Paris France, the city of Les Mis, the Bastille, Marie Antoinette and an eager American teenager. The plan was for my father to go ahead, establish his place in the workforce, find a home for the family and then send for us to come after our school was finished in June. The plan left the majority of the work to my mother, to prepare our small suburban home for rental, gather our school records, sort through belongings to store or sell, schedule immunizations and maintain our life in New Jersey. There seemed to be so much time between the announcement and the departure. I was on the brink of adolescence and cranky teenaged angst. The February announcement would forever change my life and by June 1966 I would begin to walk a different path than that of the ordinary suburban schoolgirl I had been.
My father left first, in March. I remember taking him to the airport on a cold March afternoon, driving through the dark slushy streets in a car loaded with his entire wardrobe of suits, ties, casual clothes and at least one hat. It was 1966 and dapper men wore hats and overcoats, suits and ties and shiny shoes. My mother was remembering all the details of their last separation during World War II. I hoped this would be shorter. “Do you have your passport, your traveller’s checks and the ticket?” my mother asked over and over. “Yes, dear,” he repeated to her every question. I had never thought he would be gone, not present every night at the dinner table, presiding over the family supper with jokes and job stories. Yet, here he was, leaving on a jet plane with hugs and kisses, tears welling in his eyes as he looked one last time at my mother. In a moment, he was gone with his heavy suitcases and his leather briefcase. We watched as long as we could.
Predictably, my mother accomplished miracles in the next three months. She organized repairs on the house, scheduled my brothers and my immunizations, prepared the paperwork for our passports and turned over her Women’s Club presidency. I remember walking into the house from school to hear an attic floor being hammered into place, the noise reverberating throughout the neighborhood. My brother and uncle were preparing a storage area for our furniture and personal treasures. While they hammered sheets of plywood into place, my mother was supervising the workmen setting new steps and a walkway at the front door. Weeks of endless workdays, hectic schedules and farewell parties almost overwhelmed her but at last, the house was empty, the back steps had fresh paint, the dog had a new home and the four of us were loaded into cars en route to JFK airport for a Pan Am flight to Orly airport in Paris. The family was moving to a two bedroom apartment in Ste. Germain-en-Laye, France. The transformation was underway.