Three men are responsible for supporting and inspiring me to write this blog: Steve, my husband; Graham, my son; and a 90-year-old Frenchman named Paul Fossat.
Eleven years ago this spring, my husband joined an online game site called It’s Your Turn (IYT). From the very beginning, Paul stood out above the others. Steve and Paul conversed online almost daily about history, philosophy, nature, and art. Paul was also funny and an unabashed lover of women. In so many ways Steve and Paul were on the same intellectual and emotional wave length. I loved seeing how Paul’s friendship lit up Steve’s world. Stretched him. Delighted him. Steve had no idea the age of his online friend and opponent until the day the conversation turned to recreation.
“What do you do for fun,” Steve asked. “Me, I love to golf. Do you golf?”
“No. Not now,” Paul replied. “You see, I am 90.”
Although fascinated by the conversations Steve and Paul shared, I was always content to be on the periphery. In my mind, this was Steve’s journey. He was the one who had reached out to this charming, articulate, life-loving Frenchman. He was the one who nurtured the relationship. I was merely a voyeur.
Now I was hooked. I wanted to know more about this extraordinary man. A man, who at the age of 90, had opened himself up to a man thousands of miles away and 40 years younger. I marveled at his willingness to form a bond with a total stranger, over the internet.
I learned that Paul, like my father, was a WWII veteran. Early in the war, Paul was captured by the Germans when they broke through the Maginot Line. He spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. He and his wife married only weeks before he left for war. When he returned, he discovered he had a five-year-old daughter who refused to accept that the fact that the emaciated man before her was the same man in the photo on the mantle. The man her mother told her was her father.
Steve and I visited Paul in France several times. The first time we stayed with him nearly three weeks. We traveled to Normandy with him. We met his daughter and granddaughters. When it came time to leave, Paul turned to me and said, “Thank you to your father for his sacrifice.”
And for yours, my friend.
Sadly, Paul passed away in 2009. I am a better person for having known him for the brief interval that spanned our friendship. I miss him dearly.
Originally, I had decided to interview Paul’s granddaughter, Celine, for this post on France. But she is young, busy, and a new mother. Perhaps it is better this way. Although Paul can’t read it, I know he would be happy that I am writing this blog, following his lead of reaching out into the world.
Paul once asked me, “So, you will write about us?”
Yes, Paul. At last.
You can read more about my friendship with Paul at Le Colonel and Me.
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