Family Matters in Fougères

Last week we woke up to a surprise email. It was from someone named Guido. And he wondered if we would like to meet up with him.

Wait. Guido who?

It turns out that our mysterious correspondent is Cherie’s relative. Guido is the son of Wolfram and Elke, her german cousins. Cherie has an entire side her family which remained in Germany while the other half scarpered off to the United States toward the end of the 19th century.

Cherie and Guido in Fougères

Due to some good old-fashioned philandering by her industrialist great-great grandfather, two branches of the family were born. The first, German branch, was established in the traditional manner – marriage, children, building a substantial business empire manufacturing linens.

But, then, the aging industrialist had a change of heart. Enter the secretary. Smitten with his new, much younger love/employee, the linen tycoon decided that a new life in the New World was in order. He took his new wife to California, had some more children (as one does), and established a second dynasty: the American branch. Despite my lightly pointed remarks, I’ll be forever grateful that this man had a wandering eye. His mid-life crisis resulted in the family that produced the love of my life.

An Energetic Man: Cherie’s Great-Great Grandfather Friedrich

The old man’s capacity to produce not only prodigious amounts of linen but also marriages and children resulted in two groups of progeny separated by some 20 years. As a result, the same generation of the American branch of the family is much younger than their corresponding German cousins. Even though they are first cousins, Wolfram is 84 and Cherie is 48. Guido, her second cousin, is only a couple of years older (54).

A Visit With Family in 2011: (from left to right – me, Rudolf, Wolfram, Angelika, Herbert, Cherie, Elke – missing is Herbert’s wife, Heidi, who took the photo)

Guido (pronounced “Ghee-doh”) was in the midst of his summer vacation, touring the north of France. When he emailed us he happened to be in Mayenne which is a mere 47 kilometers east of Fougères. He was planning to travel west into Bretagne on his way to visit Mont St.-Michel. We happily arranged to meet in Fougères the next day and spent several hours of the afternoon and evening walking around the town and getting to know each other. The weather was blisteringly hot. But, with Cherie’s legendary shade-seeking skills and liberal application of smoothies and ice cream, we managed to avoid heat-stroke.

Guido (middle ground, left) and I (middle ground, center) Exploring the Château

We really enjoyed meeting Guido. A lovely guy with a passion for photography and classic Citroën cars. Like his mother and father, he is kind, knowledgable and curious. He and I had a good look around the Château de Fougères while Cherie much more sensibly took refuge from the sun in the shade of an adjacent café. It might come as a surprise to those of you who know my particular obsession with all things medieval, but I had not yet been to visit the château; for some reason I was avoiding it until the time was right. Guido’s visit seemed like an appropriately special occasion. The high towers were especially impressive, although challenging – for me, the vertiginous heights; for him, the pain in his knee from the many stairs. The château is amazing and I will be back many times. Together, the three of us toured the town’s gardens, its historic streets, and (of course) our house-to-be.

Sadly, we had to say goodbye in the evening. We had to get back to Malestroit in order to tend to Saxon. Wisely, we had left him in the cool house, sparing him the misery of sweltering in the heat. Our dog is even less tolerant of hot weather than Cherie, so he was much better off sheltering alone in Malestroit. Still, it had been several hours and he needed relief. Literally. The poor guy can hold it for quite a while but even he has his limits. After repeated hugs and farewells we parted ways, wishing we had had more time to visit. Now we have yet another reason to return to Germany (as if we needed one).

It was nice to discover more of Cherie’s German relatives. The world is indeed small and our connections many. A cordial and pleasant meeting between Americans living in France and their German cousin reminds me of just how wonderful, fulfilling and peaceful the world can be. If only we all tried to get along with one another just a little bit harder. To be less prideful, less selfish, less greedy. To have more empathy for each other. To see the “other” in ourselves. What a world that would be, eh? John Lennon really had it right. Imagine that.

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