Without a doubt the most frequently asked question either my mom or I receive is why we moved to France. Even after settling in Britain, when asked why I came to the UK my answer always returns to France. It’s certainly not a short answer, nor one that can be answered simply, but one with history. Having been asked by total strangers either on a day volunteering or while taking the bus, the short answer comes out as ‘My mother decided to retire there and I moved with her.’ But it was so much more than that.
I have lived with my mom solely since I was 12 years old. We have always been two peas in a pod, there is no doubt about that. She had me when she was 44, with a 20+ year gap between her other children, so naturally I grew up with the wisdom of an experienced mother and woman. I had lived in Arizona since I was born, but unlike so many childhood acquaintances that boast an innate love for the desert, I can say that I was never very fond of Arizona. I was ghostly white, never exposed to the scorching sun. Most of my extended family lived in places like Alabama and Florida. “Too hot and muggy during summer,” my mother would reason for why we didn’t move to one of those states. I would always think nothing could be worse than Arizona.
My mother was an operating room nurse at Maricopa County. She mainly worked in their burn unit. Any person with a parent in the medical industry will know never to ask about your parent’s day in front of a friend, unless you want to be horrified. It was no wonder my mother wanted to retire early.
For our own reasons, we both needed a change. Neither of us could see a future in Arizona. A feeling seemed to be telling both of us we needed to leave, to move on. We searched all across America via the web for potential places to move- every state, every town, the weather conditions, potential schools. We wanted a smaller town that we could get to know and enjoy during our down time, a house with a bit more character than our current townhouse and someplace with seasons. We really thought we had found ‘the one’ a few times, but it would turn out to be located with a clear visual of the state penitentiary or the town’s Mother’s Day celebration would be a Hog Tying Festival. We kept looking.
Finally, we made it all the way across to New York. Upstate New York near Syracuse, to be exact. My mother had lived in New York during her 20’s and 30’s, and really enjoyed it when she did. The house looked perfect. Full of character, surrounded by trees and Upstate New York would certainly give me all four seasons. My mother spent a fair portion of our available funds flying us over for the winter break to view the house, and to see New York City during the Christmas season. We spent Christmas in the city and would view the house before heading back down for New Years. Christmas was magical. Take America’s love of commercialism and New York’s inability to be outdone, and you have one magical Christmas.
I remember the hope we both felt as we travelled upstate. As we headed down the forest road, our excitement quickly faded. Trailers dotted all around the house. It was located next to an unregulated campsite. As we drove up to the house we were shocked at its size. It was a doll house. As we walked through it, my mother whispered, “We wouldn’t even be able to fit a couch in this living room… Certainly not the couch we have now.” My mother and father were art glass collectors when they were together. We still have quite a few of the pieces today. There would have been no where to put them in that house. That was, I’m sure, the biggest deal-breaker for my mom.
Disheartened, we headed back to the city for New Year’s Eve. We waited outside to see the ball drop for hours before we had to give up. As the night went on, people began to drink more and became pushier. There are two things that stand out in my memory above all else from that night. Once we left the crowd, we end up in an expensive sushi restaurant and shared a table the Mayor of Mexico City and his mistress (as she was introduced). After that, I remember both of us sitting on our hotel beds, half packed to leave the next day. My mom didn’t even want to watch the ball drop. “This was our final hope,” she said despondent, “I don’t know of anywhere else for us to go. We’ll just have to stay in Arizona.”
The only thing I could think to do was imagine where I would like to live outside of America. Ireland had always been my favourite country to be honest, but I left room for a bigger scope. I googled, “Homes for Sale in Europe.” The first three pages of listings were homes for sale in France. “How about moving to France mom?” She turns her head, “I’ll think about it.”
My mother has very strong ties with France. I didn’t know this before recommending our move there but once you know her story, you know why she was so willing to jump on a flight over there.
When she was in her 20’s, she had, as she puts it, an incredible and unforgettable dream. She was stood in front of a chateaux, when a beautiful Mercedes pulled up and four beautiful and naked men got out of the car. They show her around the chateaux stating that she was once the queen of France. She was not ready to know which queen, but she needed to begin adorning the attire of a queen before finding out.
Not long after that, while walking down the streets of New York, she found a brand new French/English dictionary on the sidewalk. She took this as a sign she should learn French, and studied it somewhat in college.
France was also the country my parents travelled to most out of any other country while they were together. My mother has always said she feels most at home there.
After our trip to New York, once we returned to Arizona, she told me a new fact about living in and moving to France everyday. From Christmas in New York, we started making plans for Easter in France. She picked out five houses in different areas. We made it to number three before she decided it was the one. To be honest, I didn’t expect as big of a project as it was. It was an old farm house that had been completely uninhabited for 8 years. It has an adjacent barn with an acre of its own farmland, but with hundreds of acres of farmland extending beyond that. We weren’t completely secluded as the house is on an estate with a chateaux, two farm houses and a mill but the area is quiet.
I moved over that September to start school in Bordeaux and my mom was to move over in December once she retired. That was our beginning. The first chapter in our new adventure that took my mother full circle from New York City to France. It’s amazing to think we’ve been in Europe (both France and England) for over 7 years. This section is mainly about what happened next. While everyday has been and continues to be an adventure, there were and still are hiccups along the way. Culture shocks, immigration issues (believe me, I’ve had my fair share), learning on the go. After all, how much trouble could a retired American mother and daughter get into anyway?