Portrait of a Forgotten Hero

Portrait of an Forgotten Hero –

The now officially elderly man of sixty-five years hobbled along the cobblestones towards his hammock feeling all his joints, stiffened by arthritis, rebelling with each step. Still, after all these years, Frank could lie in its embrace and hear the gentile breeze rustle the leaves in the trees surrounding him feeling connected to the land that gave birth to him. He was grateful for the shade of his oak trees. Years of working hard in apple orchards from his earliest days had not weathered his skin though. He wore wide brimmed hats, long sleeves, and lived in the shade as much as he could. Yet, at his age, he was also grateful for the warmth of a summer day.

Swaying in the hammock, he closed his eyes and began to think of all the years he spent in this special spot. How did so much time fly by so quickly working in the LaCrosaint family orchards, he pondered. It felt like yesterday that he would run with delight into this yard as a young boy playing with his closest neighborhood friends. One of them would become his future bride, his partner, his lover, and the only true love of his life, his late wife Estelle who died last year unexpectedly. He got misty eyed thinking of how much he missed his Estelle. A gentle breeze lulled him to sleep almost as if sent by his lost bride. It eased the pain of her absence and reminded him how much she cared for him.

He awoke to giggles and the opening of the old wooden gate into the yard. On the other side of the stone archway was a dirt path that led around to the garage for the Domaine d’Houpeville LaCrosaint, makers of Calvados since 1750. He looked over and his eyes brightened. His son, Gaston, strolled in with his little girl and Frank’s precious granddaughter. Angelica was a bright child with reddish tinted hair. Her lovely hair in a French braid cascading down her right shoulder bounced along with her joyfully. She wore a lacey white dress that went down to her ankles almost. She wore simple sandals exposing pretty and delicate feet. She looked like and dressed like the angel her name suggested she was. And the smile that went with her appearance and the joy in her heart made heaven on earth seem more than possible to his aching heart.

But, what struck Frank more was that she was a dead ringer for his Estelle. Her looks, her mannerisms, and her smile. Oh, that lovely smile. His heart melted when he saw that smile on his Estelle. His son had some of his mothers features too, but along with some of his, he thought. But, now, this child, this cherub, was every bit as beautiful as her late grandmother was. He noted she was wearing a backpack which was unusual. They only lived down the hedgerows about 400 meters away.

“Bonjour, Papi!” She ran up to him to give him a warm hug. Her grandfather bent down to receive her hug as well as give one too. Gaston smiled at her embracing her grandfather as though she had not seen him for ages, despite the fact she saw him everyday.

“Salut, Papa. Bonne anniversaire ! Another year older already.” He went up and gave his father a kiss on both cheeks and a hug as well. The two men were about the same size and had the same frame. Frank had old age written over his face while Gaston had youth on his.

“Gaston, you didn’t have to remember. I told you to forget about it, didn’t I? I am getting old. Too old for birthday parties. I hope you haven’t arranged one for me.”

“I know. We haven’t planned any party for you this year. I figure a day with Angelica is what you really wanted.” Tears came to both men’s eyes. They knew how much she was like Gaston’s late mother and Frank’s late wife. They sat down on a stone bench beneath a beautiful old oak tree. The one he carved their initials in so many years ago.

His son glanced up at the weathered inscription and lamented, “I miss her so much dad. I miss coming into the yard and seeing her. I miss her ...”

Frank reached over and caressed his son’s face as if to wipe away to pain he was expressing. “I know son. And soon, you will miss me too. So, let’s just enjoy the moments we have. It is what your mother would have wanted us to do.” Gaston nodded in agreement with his dad. The smiles returned to both men and soon they were laughing and enjoying their time together.

The men watched Angelica run into the house. Almost without thought, his dad asked, “How is the yield on the north orchard looking, Son? That has such awful drainage.”

Gaston remarked, “Favorably. It is out of quarantine now. And no signs of disease. So, the yield looks promising. We will have a good crop of Calvados this year. ”

“Good. Good. I used to go up there with your mother when we were little trouble makers.” he mused. “We so loved to climb trees, skin our knees, and drive our parents wild with anxiety.”

As the two reminisced, Angelica closed the door behind her making sure her dad and grandfather were distracted. She was on a mission. Her dad wanted her to go into the family library and find a few things. She stealthily went into the room and found Bonaparte sleeping. The black Labrador awoke and ran up to her. He was getting older. His face betrayed grey hairs now and he wasn’t as fast as he used to be.

“You want me to throw the ball for you, boy?” The thumping of his tail told her all she needed to know.

“Okay, but I have to find a few things first.” She took off her backpack and opened it to pull out a box. In it was a set of goggles and earphones. She turned the goggles on and pulled out a tablet from her backpack and turned it on too, like she had been taught by her dad. The beep of the tablet told her that everything was talking to each other. She opened up a screen. On it appeared a list of items that she was to scan with the tablet.

Looking up on the shelves, she pulled down an old photo album her grandmother had. It reminded her of her last few times she had with her grandmother before she died of a heart attack. Angelica loved sitting in her lap and hearing what it was like to grow up on the farm so many years ago and how she and her grandfather met and married having only lived 400 meters away from each other their whole lives.

Leafing through the album, she found the starting point. There, wasn’t any pictures of her grandmother or her grandfather before the age of her hitting sixteen in the album. Out of the album fell a single dog eared photo. It was of two boys. One looked like her grandfather with his arm around a younger boy. The other, smaller, about her age, looked like a boy with his hair pulled back in a pony tail. His pants were ripped at the knees. He had splashes of mud all over his arms, face, and clothes. He was laughing and happy unlike the older boy who looked possibly unhappy. Not unlike the somber visage her grandmother had during her last year as she slowed down. On the back of the photo, was a note in her grandmother’s hand writing. ‘The boy that never was -- Philip. May he rest in peace!’ It looked like the writing had been hit by rain or more than a few drops of water at one time.

Flipping the pages of the photo album open, she began to do what the tablet told her to do. A short time later, she checked off the last item on the screen and turned off the goggles. She put the tablet back into the back pack, tied a ribbon around the box to make it look like a present, and slung the backpack onto one shoulder reaching around to pull the other strap bringing the backpack onto both of her delicate shoulders. With it secured, she headed out. As she did so, she grabbed a tennis ball. Looking back to the dog, the dog, Bonaparte, took this as a signal to follow her and he started dancing all over the place with excitement as he followed her out.

“Come on boy. Let’s go play outside.” she commented as she let him out the door after opening it to the outside.

The men were leaning back and enjoying the afternoon breeze. Frank looked at the tall oak at the end of the yard. His eyes were getting dim now. He sighed thinking of how small it was so many years ago when it was planted. He was there. He closed his eyes. The sound of the shovel going into the ground as the worker dug a hole was still as clear as it could be.

His memory then went back to a moment long ago as he stood next to the tree watering it when he was but almost twelve. “How tall do you think it will be?” asked a very young Estelle, about five years his junior.

Frank looked over at this imp of a thing and laughed. “Taller than we will ever be. You really shouldn’t wear that long of a dress out here. Not while dirt is being tossed around by the hose. Stand back please.”

“Well, it’s not like ...”

Frank continued over her and observed, “Besides, I am sure that your mom will get furious with you for wearing it if she sees you in it.” He looked her up and down. “Although, it is real pretty. How come you never wear something that pretty to school?” She glared at him.

She stuck her tongue out at him. “You know darn good and well I wear a school uniform just like you do and ...”

In a moment of frivolity, he stopped her and belted out, “Sur le pont d’Avingnon, on y danse … ” As he dropped the hose into the tree well, he took her in his arms to dance with her twirling her around like she was feather. Estelle had to let him lead for a moment and then when he dropped her back down to the ground she tried to lead him herself.

“Hey. I am the guy here.” He rolled his eyes and put his hands on his hips.

“No,” she stated as she stepped back from him and stood stoically, “I am! You know I am really a boy. I am going to grow up and be a man. You now know that is what is going to happen.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You claim that will happen. But I love and want you to stay a girl. In fact, I want to grow up and marry you.” He reached down and tickled her in her side. She giggled and scrunched her face at him and smiled.

“You would still be marrying a man, you know?” she announced expecting to shock him.

Undeterred by her deceleration, he answered, “I know. One who is in reality all woman.” He stuck his tongue out back at her. She shook her head and was about to say something. Then she stormed off to go get changed because they had things to do.

A little while later, he looked up and saw her come back dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. A tear came to his eye seeing her dressed as a boy so they could go tree climbing in the orchards. It was sad for him now to see her out of her girl clothes. Clothes he would rather she wear even when climbing trees. A tear rolled down his cheek and watered the newly planted oak tree too before they headed off to the north orchard.

Back in the present, he found himself walking with his son, Gaston, in the garden. Frank put his hand on the trunk of the large tree that dominated one corner that he saw grow from a sappling. There was another tear that rolled down a face and watered the tree that Frank had once watered. This time, it was from Gaston as he thought about his late mother.

“Mom loved this particular tree, didn’t she? She told me that it was special for you too. I wish you would explain it to me.” he said pensively. Frank looked into his son’s bright clear eyes and saw her echo in them. How could he tell him about him. The man that never came to be. Even in today’s world, where his mother’s condition would be acceptable, even praised, it would be hard to explain to Gaston his mother’s difficult choice and the kind of world she had to make it in.

Just then, squeals of joy came from the house as Angelica came running out with the family dog, Bonaparte. The two men watched her play with him. She threw a tennis ball and Bonaparte scampered off to grab the ball and then dance with it back to her. His tail wagging, he would race after the ball again and again, sometimes even launching into the air to whisk it away from hitting the ground.

In the moment of watching the child filled with joy overwhelm the yard with her youth and charm, both men lost themselves in thought of the absent one she was most like.

Gaston’s mind drifted back to a day when he played football in this yard with his mother while his father worked.

“You ought to consider Rugby. You have the ability. This is a sissy sport, if you ask me.”

“Mom! There is nothing sissy about it. How can you say that?” he said as he kicked the ball in the air to her and watched his mom stop the ball flipping it into the air and then bouncing it on her knees before she let it fall to the ground and returned it to him. “So, why do you think I would be good at Rugby anyway?”

“You have your father’s muscular build. You are going to be a strong man. Working on the farm here, you will build strong muscles too. You don’t have the speed for football, but you do have the strength for Rugby. Besides, I admire blood sports.”

“Mom, sometimes, I swear, you should have been a guy. Of course, you would be my dad instead of my mother.” he snickered.

She teased back, “In that case, I would be whopping your behind in Rugby instead of trying to talk you into it.” The two laughed.

Gaston watched his daughter play and smiled. She was certainly different than his mother was. She had her looks but was all girl full of charm and sweetness. Not that his mother wasn’t sweet and nice. She was very nice and womanly. But, she was expected to work on the farm along with everyone else in her day. These days, with the advancement of labor saving devices, his tiny little girl could bring in the whole apple harvest with the press of a button instead of the thousands of turns of a wrist and the moving of a ladders done by a company of workers they hired to come down from Autigny in years past.

Seeing Angelica play with Bonaparte, Frank looked back up at the home remembering when he announced to his parents his intentions about asking Estelle to marry him.

“Do you love Estelle?” Frank’s mother asked in a serious tone making sure it was for the right reason.

Frank blushed at the question. “Oh yes, Very much, Mom! I really do want to marry her. I have for years.”

His mother turned to his father and said, “That would be nice. That would allow us to join our farms together too.”

He responded right away. “And these days, with the pressure on converting the land to residential uses because of our proximity to Rouen, it would be a good move too. After two hundred years, think about it. The Croisaint and the Gilles families would become one.” He smiled and patted his son on the back. “Time to go pick up your brother, Frank.” He handed his son the keys to the Cleo. “Get back quickly.” Turning to his wife, he continued, “Besides, Estelle is their only child. I think this marriage would be practical. After all, we are good friends and they will want the farm as well as their family tradition to go on as well as ours. It will be a good match.”

As he left, Frank realized that his dad wasn’t romantic and thought primarily of business first. Estelle could be the hunchback of Notre Dame or the Phantom of the Opera, but if she would enlarge the estate and increase the yield of Calvados, then he would be all for it as if nothing was wrong. The fact that his dad ignored her other old condition was, well, business first and in the past.

Angelica ran up to her grandfather and grabbed his hand. “Can we go to the pond? Please?” she whined. Frank gave her a brief shake of his head saying no and then closed his eyes in thought. He opened them and his eyes now said yes and well as his head. The three walked out a rear gate down a path and onto a wooden deck with a small overhang over a pond. Bonaparte followed reluctantly knowing that his game with Angelica was finished. Frank sat down in a rocker and noticed that the table on the deck had food as well as drinks on it already. His son smiled and winked at his dad.

“I thought I said no party.” he asked worriedly.

“But you didn’t say anything about a little food and family time. Don’t worry. It is still just us.” Gaston said reassuringly and looked out at some ducks paddling across the pond. Angelica sat down on the edge of the deck and watched the ducks paddle too.

After a little lemonade and cupcakes, Angelica got up from watching the ducks and picked up her backpack. She pulled out the birthday gift for her grandfather. Looking surprised, he took the box and put it on the table in front of him. He carefully opened it and found the goggles and headphones. He looked at Gaston as if he was crazy.

“It is a virtual headset, Dad. We wanted to share memories with you.” Angelica picked up the headset and put it on her grandfather. Turning it on for her grandfather, he found himself listening to voices and images from the past. Slowly, the images began to have his happy memories of his life pass before his eyes. Frank saw and heard his son’s birthday party. He saw his mother holding him not long after he was born. The time Gaston graduated from agriculture school. Moments with grandparents, family, were first and foremost. Then there was a drone tour of the farm.

But, most of all, there were moments with his Estelle. It was a virtual tour of his life with his lovely bride at his side.

“It was the only way I could think of bring her back to you dad.” Gaston said with a smile.

Standing up, Frank hugged Gaston and said, “Thank you son. Thank you for bringing back my hero.”

“You’re welcome Dad, but how was she, if you don’t mind my asking, your heroine?”

“No, son. My hero. Haven’t you ever wondered why you are an only child?”

“No. But, why?” he asked cautiously.

“Your mother was born Philip LaCroisant. He was transgender. He was a hero who fought to become a girl. I fell in love with the girl at a young age. As she grew, she took special medication to allow her to become who she was meant to be. By her twenties, she had her surgery turning her into the woman she knew she was when she was but a young lad.” Gaston gave him a look and pointed to himself as if to ask how.

“Years later, we were given a chance to try out an experimental technology right after Dolly the sheep was cloned. The only one it worked with was you. Your half of your ‘Y’ DNA chain is me. The other half, your X side, is your mom. As it would be with any normal offspring. We were told using this experimental technology, we could only have two children. We settled on just having you because it rarely worked.”

Angelica, who listened to the exchange, pulled out the photo in her backpack. She looked at it. Handing it to her dad, she noticed her grandfather looked at it too. “Yes, that is Philip. He was happy that day because I said I would help him become her. I lost my best friend and yet found a new one that day. The day I let my little hero who wanted to climb trees with me and conquer the world say goodbye and become my future heroine.”

The three walked back to Frank and Estelle’s personal tree that was planted in a garden so many years ago in the place where Frank learned who Philip really was, his Estelle. Frank told his son the whole story about the hero who stood by her through thick and thin. Even braving the possibility that they would never have children. The two lovers long ago made a promise to be there for each other for all time. This was their family tree they watered together with tears of joy and of sorrow during play and work. And Gaston was their miracle child born of a surrogate mother and nursed by a doting mother thanks to modern medicine. And Angelica was their future.

As the three stood in front of the tree, Angelica looked over and read the inscription on the gravestone over her grandmother’s ashes and understood it’s epitaph for the first time. “An apple that falls from a tree and dies is still a seed that can still give life to generations to come.”

The End of a Simple Mother's Day Story.

Copyright © 2018 by AuP reviner

[ Author's note: Merci pour l'idée Florent ! Votre vidéo que dont l'inspiration pour ce conte est vraiment sympa et j'espère qu'il apporte la beauté de doute aussi ! -- AuP ]

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