|Simone surveyed her Buche de Noel with satisfaction. Admittedly it was hardly to be compared with the luxurious chocolatey confections that she fondly remembered her mother producing before the War, and many of the other treats that had adorned the Reveillon tables of her childhood were missing too, but, considering how many foodstuffs were still in short supply, she didn’t think that she’d done badly at all. Even if she did say so herself!|
The appartement was quiet at the moment, for Andre had gone to collect his mother, who would be spending Christmas with them, and Tessa was fast asleep in her room. The youngest member of the de Bersac family had objected fiercely to being sent for a late afternoon nap, insisting that she was far too old for resting during the daytime; but Simone had insisted, pointing out that it would be well into the small hours of the morning by the time they’d returned from Midnight Mass and ate their festive meal. Despite her complaints, Tessa had soon fallen asleep, but, once her father and grandmother arrived, they would wake her, and then she would put out her shoes for Pere Noel to fill. A few carrots for Gui, Pere Noel’s donkey, and a biscuit for the man himself had been spared from the kitchen, to set out alongside them. Tessa was very excited at the prospect of the evening ahead, and Simone smiled, remembering how excited she and Renée had always been on Le Reveillon when they’d been children.
She couldn’t help wishing that Rene and their parents could be here to celebrate Tessa’s first Christmas in France, but her mother and father had chosen to remain in Québec, where they’d gone to join her aunt during the War, Renée had gone out to join them once she’d completed her music studies, and they seemed happy and settled there and she was pleased for them. She and Andre, though, had always longed to return to Paris, their home city, and to bring up their daughter in their beloved France; and now they were back here at last.
There might well have been little for them to return to, given that Hitler had ordered the city to be destroyed once it became clear that liberation was near; but, mercifully, that order had never been carried out. The city had suffered a certain amount of damage during the wartime years, and the psychological scars of the Nazi occupation, and of the purges afterwards when those who had collaborated with the Nazis had been hunted down, remained, but Paris and her people were trying hard to put those days behind them.
What was it that de Gaulle had said? France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. Well, she and Andre and Tessa had also returned here, to Paris, to their home. The appartement in which they were living, in one of the city’s suburbs was small, and Andre’s job in his great-uncle Pierre’s business didn’t pay enough for them to live in the sort of comfort which some of their friends enjoyed; but that didn’t matter: it was enough that they, and their families and close friends, had survived the War, and, like the city itself, were moving on, in the new post-war world of the Fourth Republic. Their one great sadness was that, so far, there was no sign of a brother or sister for Tessa, but they kept on hoping, and praying, that another child might be granted to them. If not – well, they still had so much to be thankful for.
She heard the sound of a key turning in the lock, and knew that Andre was home. She welcomed her Belle-Mere, with whom she always got on very well, and then they roused Tessa and the three adults watched fondly as the little girl set her shoes out by the fire. They would fill them with presents before she awoke in the morning, and enjoy seeing her face as she saw what Pere Noel had brought her.
The time slipped away as the four of them chatted companionably and, almost before they knew it, it was time to leave for Midnight Mass. It was a cold night, and they all wrapped up warmly before they set out for church. It was the first time that Tessa had been allowed to stay up for the night-time service, and what a special occasion it was for all of them - their first family Christmas in France … in Paris, the beautiful city of lights. And, as they slowly walked home to enjoy their Reveillon feast, exchanging cheery Christmas greetings with their neighbours, Simone’s eyes filled with tears. She missed Joey, and Frieda, and Marie, and all the other friends with whom she’d shared the wartime years in Guernsey and then in Armishire, but it was very good to be home.
“Fluctuat nec mergitur” she murmured. It was the Latin slogan of her home city. “She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink.”
“What did you say, Maman?” Tessa’s hand tugged at hers.
“What? Oh … nothing, cherie. Well … only, Joyeux Noel!”
“Joyeux Noel,” Tessa chorused happily. “Joyeux Noel,Maman! Joyeux Noel, Papa! Joyeux Noel, Grandmere! Have a very happy Noel, everyone!”
And they did.