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The greener grass of Albion, a short story Part 1
Grass, they say, is always greener somewhere else. I am no exception in believeing it. To me, the most appealing green grass was located a stone throw away from where I lived, but at the tender age of fifteen, it seemed so far away. In another world. Unreachable, actually !
I was born in Paris. Sounds glamourous enough, doesn't it ? But only a few years after the end of World War II, there was an acute housing crisis in Paris which, and that was to be my first lesson in economics, drove the prices of real estate way up. This, combined with the fact that I was afflicted with asthma, made my parents decide to move to the suburbs, where the real estate was more affordable and the air of better quality for me to breathe. So, we moved to a small town eighteen miles south of Paris. Suddenly, we were living in a house with a small flower garden in the front and a vegetable one in the back, with plenty of room to play in between. It may not have been much of a house in terms of architecural standards, but to our eyes, it had three major attributes : it was new, it was ours and it was paid for. We even had, for the first time ever, our own garage, where dad would proudly but carefully store the 1949 Simca 8, our family transportation. He had to drive the car in and out with great care, as when it was inside, there were only about twelve inches of free space on each side between the vehicle and the walls. I remember vividly Dad playing contortionist to get in and out of the car. In the process, he managed to create all kinds of facial expressions, which made us children laugh, so he laughed with us. Did I mention, well, did I really have to, that those were happy times. We didn't have much, less than the average family actually, but we had everything we needed if not everything we wanted. And some of it was second hand!
I was eight when we moved to the new house. For the first time, my brother and I shared our own room. My little sister was still a baby at the time, but I guess my parents were quite happy about the move too, as a few months later, we were informed that another little sister was on the way. So, the house became too small again ! But our father was a creative and resourceful man. So, behind the garage, he built an extra bedroom, with its own 'en suite' bathroom, mind you, for my brother and myself to share. This room, when we became teenagers, would have a great feature. We could sneak in and out through the garage and by-pass the creaky wooden floor of the house.
I was a good student. A very good one in fact and at the end of every schoolyear, I would come home with prizes. Usually tall stacks of books that I would lovingly arrange on the shelves of the library in our bedroom. Never mind that the library was a recycled Henri II style china cabinet. Was that of any importance ? Certainly not to me the bookworm ! As years passed, I developed a strong interest in reading and an unhealthy love affair with books, a passion that hasn't left me yet. Come to think of it, it's the longest lasting love affair I ever experienced.
Schools were further away from home than in Paris, so my brother Harvey and I needed bicycles. I inherited a semi-racing version with more speeds that I ever cared to use from one of my father's brothers. And Dad rebuilt and repainted a streetside find of a mount for my sibling. At the beginning, before I went to high school, Harvey and I attended the same school, which was a good thing. Being two years older than him, I could keep an eye and protect him from bullies. But then, I had to deal with my own bullies, and I got involved in a fistfight or two, in the course of which I got a broken nose.
The transition between childhood and teenage happened so smoothly, I don't even remember it. I never became rebellious nor had major conflicts with my parents. One day, a couple of years after my first communion, I headed for high school. There was no high school in my hometown at the time, so students had to transport themselves to another, larger town some nine miles away. We commuted through the means of a public bus, so it was not a schoolbus per say even though most of the travelers were students. But there were some workers too in that bus, carrying their lunch in a shoulder bag. In fact, anyone brave enough to deal with a rowdy, noisy bunch of teenagers was welcome to ride the bus too. Going to high school for the first time was an eye opening experience in many ways. For me, it was the first year where boys and girls were mixed together in the same school, and that fact alone was immensely enlightening. The school was new. It was the second new school in a row that I attended. Considering the ravages of the still recent war, one can only imagine that the focus on education from our government was real.
I made new friends quickly. Boys and girls! A few months into my first year in high school, I kissed a girl for the first time in my life and fell madly in love with her. A week or so later, a charitable soul informed me that she had been seen kissing another boy. I was crushed! Damn, that hurt! Welcome to the real world! Before getting to high school, I had already studied English for two years, and I was quite good at it. The best student in my class in fact. Through books and some short films shown in class, I had discovered a new country : England! A country full of beautiful landscapes, interesting cities, and unusually attractive automobiles. I was hooked! A strange, powerful, undestructible virus had entered my bloodstream and I was suffering from a major case of Anglophilia, a stong disease which in my case would prove impossible to cure.
Besides being heartbroken for a short while, life was exceptionally good. I loved my family, I loved my school, I loved most of my teachers, I loved my new friends and I enjoyed learning. Well, let's make it short : I pretty much loved everything and everybody. Mother sat me down one day and told me all about drugs. It scared the living hell out of me and I vowed to never even get close to the stuff. To this day, I have made good on my promise. Mom didn't say anything about sex though, and neither did Dad. They probably figured I was on my own with this one, and thought I would find out one way or another. I'm happy to report that I did!
At the time, the school year was divided into four quarters. The first one ran from mid-September until the two week long Christmas recess. The second quarter started after the first of the year till Easter when we would get another two week recess. The third and last quarter of school time ran until around mid-June, when our two and a half month summer holiday would begin. So the fourth quarter was like the nineteenth hole in golf : the best time of all! During the Summer since early childhood, my brother and I were shipped via overcrowded, slow steam trains to the middle of nowhere in Brittany, where one set of our grandparents ran a small farm. There, we could roam around freely and play with cousins we hadn't seen in a year. All we were asked to do during the day was to keep an eye on cows and sheep to prevent them from running away, which they were prone to do. After they did and when we became aware of it, which could take some time, we would go on frantic safaris to gather the guilty animals and bring them back to their designated pasture. So cows and sheep too think the grass is always greener someplace else.
To me, the grass was greener in England and I couldn't wait to go there. And I knew I would someday! It was greener through my eyes because I wanted to go there so badly. But it wasn't just a metaphor : the grass of Albion was actually greener than ours. Much greener in fact. And for a very legitimate and biological reason : in England, it rains all the time...
To be continued...
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
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