I haven’t mentioned much about the upcoming nuptials since the bloody proposal of December. But Christophe and I are soon to make all our hanging out recognized by the state.
But first, the wedding dress.
I’m not great at shopping. I can’t even pick out Christmas ornaments. I’m picky and can’t make decisions. While I lamented to my mother about the prospect of having to buy a wedding dress. In French… In France… she said one thing:
Go to Belgium.
Now this may not seem like sound advice to the average onlooker, but going to Belgium was going to solve all my angst about the dress. See, my cousins have a wedding dress shop in West Flanders, in a city called Roeselare. I would try on dresses. In English… In Belgium… with help from my cousins. Knowing it was family, I was walking out of the joint with a gown for my big day. This was happening. One decision made.
I took a train. Four in fact.
After a sweaty, stressful few moments in Lille (a border town in France) where I only had French and Flemish as choices at the ticket booth, and even more stressful moments at some podunk outpost train platform in WhoKnowsWhere when I had 4 minutes to transfer trains, I ended up in Roeselare where my cousin was waving and running to greet me.
Being met on the platform: Best feeling ever.
We got busy. I had to a few hours to find a dress, get it altered and leave the next day with it in hand. My cousin Véronique was fantastic. She whipped out everything in my size. I said Yes, No or Maybe. All the Yeses and Maybes were set aside. In the big change room, standing in my delicates, I stepped in and out of many dresses, whittling the pile down to two lovely gowns. That’s when her parents, Lena and Andre, came in and we decided on one. The seamstress was standing by. She came in and pinned it in all the right places, then took it away to sew.
(I’d show you but you’ll have to wait until the wedding day along with Christophe.)
And that is where the fun began. Because even though getting this dress was a delightful experience and deciding was surprisingly easy, I was about to go on… drum roll please…
The Andre Tour.
Andre is a very fast walker. Over the last 30 years, he has taken every visiting Canadian member of our family on the tour of Who Lived Where and Where They Are Now. But we didn’t have a lot of time. “One minute. No more!” in each place. You have to set up this rule early because Belgians LOVE LOVE LOVE to sit around a table with coffee and TALK TALK TALK.
We started off well. A bunch of cemeteries where he pointed out where most of my aunts and uncles were buried. I tried to take photos of all the graves but he was walking fast.
We also saw where my uncle went to school and we stopped in to see Tante Denise, the one remaining aunt for a quick hello. “But no coffee! Don’t sit. Let’s go!”
This is my traveling crew: Lena, Véronique and Andre. While taking this photo he piped up, “One minute! We waste two on a photo of a brick wall!”
We were rushing because we were trying to get to Ypres to see the Last Post, which is a memorial ceremony held each night at 8 pm. Sharp. The Last Post is a post for another day. No time!
We ran into trouble at grandma’s house.
As we stood outside the house where my grandparents first lived and had their first three children, the current owner peered out the window and rushed outside.
She started yabbering at Andre in Flemish. Véronique did her best to translate. This is basically what she said: “Have you got another relative in from Canada? A grandkid, eh? Well bring her in. Let her see the bedroom where it all began. Want coffee? What? You don’t have time for coffee? One minute?! [Hands on hips] Get inside.”
“Come on, we don’t have all day. One minute!” [Hands still on hips.]
“But before you come in, notice the threshold. The brick and tile is new but the threshold is original.”
As I looked at the bed, I wondered if time was cyclical and on some plane, grandma was in that bed with grandpa. Two newlyweds. Was she wondering what would happen in the future? And there I stood like Marty McFly, knowing exactly what happens. Knowing that if she could see me and ask, I wouldn’t be able to tell her because I wouldn’t want to break her heart.
I’d have to preface by saying it’s not ALL bad.
I couldn’t tell her that another war was coming, worse than the last. That she would have to leave her family in Belgium to move with her husband and kids to a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in Canada where she wouldn’t be able to speak the language. That she would have six children, and just when the last was out the door and she was teetering on the edge of retirement, grandpa would die in a stupid car accident. I couldn’t tell her that eventually she could only choose between returning to Belgium and missing her new family or staying in Canada and missing her old family. Choosing Canada, she would get so sick she wouldn’t be able to travel.
I couldn’t tell her any of these things.
But I could tell her that she would be brave. That saying Yes to grandpa’s marriage proposal was a good move. “You need to keep going” I could whisper, “so that I can become who I am.”
Andre would interrupt my thought, “Yes, we all need to keep going. We can’t be late. One minute!”