Next Year, Paris

When the fortieth anniversary snuck up on us ten years ago, we laughed off the fact that we hadn’t made any special plans to celebrate. It wasn’t that we’d forgotten the day; we forgot the milestone–another decade completed.

Luckily, the kids hadn’t forgotten. We had a lovely surprise party attended by friends and family. We danced and sang and ate wedding cake. It was lovely.

But that night, alone in bed, we vowed not to forget the milestone years again. We opened a savings account for our 50th Anniversary trip to the most romantic city in the world–Paris.

Enter the dread year 2020 and a global pandemic. As our anniversary and the prospect of a dream vacation grew closer, the chances of meeting our milestone began to diminish.

“Surely it will be over by that time,” Jordy mused. A new year was just over the horizon; 2021 was bound to be better.

January passed in a haze of horror and our Valentine anniversary day grew closer. It had, by now, become clear that we were not going to be able to take our trip. The airline had cancelled our reservations due to international travel restrictions and the hotel we’d booked had refunded our deposit.

“Well,” I told Jordy, “there’s always next year.”

“Next year, Paris!” Jordy tried hard to look happy and sound enthusiastic, but he was as despondent as I was. Ten years we’d been looking forward to this; ten years planning and trying to learn enough conversational French so we’d be able to order a meal, ask for the location of restrooms and tourist spots. We were sad; who wouldn’t be?

A week before the big day, our son Kim called. “We’re making dinner for you,” he announced. “We have a big basement, and we’ve got this social distance thing nailed.”

Jordy and I agreed that it would be nice to get out of the house for a change. If anyone could pull off a socially distanced dinner, it was Kim’s wife Nan. It would be family only, which was a grand total of nine people–our third child lived in England, and there was no way she and her family would be able to travel.

Our daughter Tara and her husband Lyle picked us up that Sunday evening–in a limo! “Kim’s got the baby,” Tara said. “And she’s over the moon about it.”

“We thought a little ride would be nice,” Lyle added.

Limos are the perfect “social distance” vehicle. The driver was separated from us by a plexiglass window. I don’t know if we were six feet away from Lyle and Tara, but we certainly weren’t close. I longed for hugs we didn’t feel free to give and receive, and so I tried to express my love with my eyes–the only part of my face not covered by a mask.

Lyle served us little glasses of champagne and we toasted our fifty year milestone, carefully lifting our masks to sip. The limo driver took us for a drive around town. Valentine decorations had gone up all over–I’d never known the town to go so all-out for the holiday before, which speaks to the level of desperation people have when they can’t get out much.

Still–hearts and flowers in gloomy February cheer things up a lot.

When we got to Kim and Nan’s, we walked up the driveway to go inside through the garage. Kim met us, along with our grandson, James. They were costumed like a Maître D and waiter. Jordy and I exchanged amused looks.

Kim gestured grandly. “Madame, Monsieur, follow me, please.”

The garage was decorated with photos that made it appear that we were walking along the Seine River in Paris at dusk. I gasped in delight, and heard Jordy chuckle. On the far wall was a huge photo of the Eiffel Tower. It was amazing, but I didn’t want to break out of the illusion by asking how Kim had pulled it off.

We went into the house and down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs, there was a sculpture of the Eiffel tower on an occasional table. On closer inspection, there was a placard that named it “Eyeful Tower”, and we could see that it had been constructed out of old eyeglasses. We burst out laughing.

James giggled. “Do you like it, Grandma?”

“It’s brilliant!”

“I thought we were donating those,” Jordy laughed.

“We are. I was really careful not to scratch the lenses,” James assured us.

“It’s amazing. It looks just like it!”

The basement was decorated to look like a Paris street front, featuring the Paris Beaubourg’s outdoor dining area. Tables were set up with plenty of space in between.

When we were seated, our granddaughter Janet appeared with a tray. She served us small cups of French onion soup and a plate of French fries. “French food is the best,” she informed us, winking.

You are the best,” Jordy told her.

Everyone sat at their separate tables and we ate our French appetizers. Tara brought baby Alex to us for cuddles and love after we finished our soup. I kissed his downy cheek through my mask, which I had replaced after eating.

Nan came to our table with the second course of our meal. She recited, “I’m very sorry, mon ami–I know we are in Gay Paris. But French food’s not my specialty, and so I offer–this!” She uncovered a platter of spaghetti and meatballs.

“Hey, it was good enough for Lady and the Tramp!” Kim laughed.

Janet appeared and put a plate of sliced bread and a tub of butter on the table. “We have French bread to go with it!”

You know, there’s just nothing better than hearing laughter from your family, especially in these trying times.

French music played in the background as we ate our meal and shared lively conversation and lots of laughs.

Dessert was French toast smothered in mixed fruit and whipped cream.

Later that evening, as Jordy and I sat side by side in the back of the limo enjoying another drive through town, we toasted our lovely evening. “Well,” Jordy sighed contentedly, “we’ll always have Paris!”

“I still want to go,” I informed him. “But I wouldn’t trade our family’s Paris dinner for anything!”

“Don’t worry, babe. Things will straighten out. And then–next year, Paris!”

“Next year, Paris for sure!” I agreed.

We drank our champagne, shared a most romantic kiss and enjoyed the ride home.

Once a month Writers Unite! presents us with a photo and invites us to write a story. This is my February offering, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

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