Chapter 10

The One Appointment We Must All Keep

Memento Mori

January 26, 2000—Paris, France

We arrived at the cold, stone church on a cold, windy day to put the cold body of my aunt into a cold grave in the nearby cemetery.

As we stood outside, waiting to follow the body into the church, one of the gravediggers tapped on the coffin as if to make sure a mistake had not been made. I listened intently, too . . . though I was sure there would be no sound from the other side.

He then began a conversation with Michel, a farm worker who spent his whole life—except for a stint in the Algerian War—on our farm, as his father had done before him.

Michel said he wanted to walk behind the casket, in the procession into church, along with the grieving family. He must have wanted to keep death in front of him—where he could keep an eye on it. He spent a career working with dangerous farm equipment and being shot at by Algerians. But it was his hobby, bicycling, that nearly killed him. A car knocked him from the road, and he hit his head on a rock. A year later, one eye still doesn’t work right . . . and he tastes nothing.

His brother, Francois, was there, too. So were far more of our neighbors than I had expected. They could not have known Aunt Jacqueline. She had a stroke and lost the power of intelligent conversation before she arrived in France. But she still smiled at people when they came to visit and seemed glad to see them.

Mr. Goupil was there . . . the communist mason with Royalist ...

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