She always knew she was a writer. Ever since she was little, she was inexplicably drawn to the written word, the swerve and sigh of poetry, the mesmerizing quality of epic tales, the thrill and chill of a good mystery...And, oh, a good memoir...Diving into another's life created a sense of travel and depth that an ordinary conversation could not, for her, yield.
But then there had been this extraordinary resistance...As she reached for the written word, so did it recede to the horizon...A quirky tendency that made no sense. She could never understand this odd dilemma-the natural born writer not able to write with fluidity and ease. She had fought it for years and now the resistance was starting to soften...
Her mother was strict yet kind. Their rural life necessitated a discipline that required early rising and feeding of their menagerie of livestock...Pigs, geese, duck meandered the property and she was in the trenches with her three older brothers tending to their care. The French countryside was remarkably beautiful. A cirilean blue sky arched overhead and the rutted roads that connected the various small farms in the region were lined with wild flowers of startling variety and hue.
Though only five years old, already Isabelle was wandering these paths alone, sometimes sent on an errand to an adjacent farm and sometimes sent the market to help her brothers with selling their wares.She noticed, when at the market, that signs were up indicating the nature of the wares and their price. Constantly, she was tugging on one of her brother's sleeves to learn what the squiggles meant. Her thirst for understanding was enormous - the written word drawing her in an inexorable fashion.
Isabelle was born at a time when girls were not afforded an education. She was not expected to attend school but to work along side her mother and learn the domestic art of maintaining a smoothly running home, while her brother's and father dealt more with the commerce of the area. Because of this more powerful role outside the home, it was expected that her brothers would have several years of schooling and learn the rudiments of reading, writing and mathematics. But, girls were largely not afforded this opportunity. Already, she felt the impatience and injustice of this situation, even at her young age.
Isabelle watched her mother toil day in and day out. Her day started well before sunrise with tending to the farm animals followed by preparing a substantial breakfast for all household members. The brothers, ranging from ages 8 to 16, joined her and their father in tending to the livestock, and a huge breakfast followed their pre-dawn exertions-a meal that could sustain a day filled with physical labor.
This was summertime, though, and in the fall her brothers were able to break away from their arduous tasks and attend a local school a couple of miles from the home for a few hours a day. Over the years, Isabelle watched as her brothers walk the rutted path to the simple one room country schoolhouse. And, a yearning grew to learn the magic of reading and writing...Her mother had a rudimentary knowledge of reading and writing, and simple addition and subtraction. She was not totally bereft of any education. Her mother, Isabelle's grandmother, had made certain that she knew enough to run a successful household. But, the priorities given to girls at that time were knowledge of the culinary arts and how to sew and make clothes for the household members-along with thorough knowledge of cleaning and maintaining a livable environment.
While at the market one Saturday morning with her 12 year old brother, Jean, she pleaded with him to at least begin to teach her the alphabet. Jean had been attending the country school, when time permitted and the harvest did not demand otherwise, since the age of six.
"Come on, Jean. That sign over there, it must say "tomate, hu non?! It's right next to a bunch of them! Tell me if that's right," she insisted. "And, does that sign say "fromage" (cheese) she asked, looking at the mound of gorgeously arranged cheese on the wooden table with rough hewn sign right next to it.
Jean was one of the more patient of her brothers. His blonde hair streaked from the sun framed his beautiful face of porcelain skin and dark blue eyes. He looked fondly upon his little sister and said yes, that she had guessed correctly. Unlike her older brother, who tired quickly of her incessant questions, he would take time to try to explain about letters and sounds. She would be introduced to them, in a limited and rudimentary fashion the following year, when some girls gathering for about an hour or so a day for the beginnings of their delving into the truncated learning offered to girls during that era. But, Isabelle was impatient to learn, metaphorically stamping her feet and insisting upon a more immediate experience.
Jean and Isabelle were tending to their modest booth at the Saturday market. Their green beans and corn, produced with great care, were vivid spots of green and yellow on their planked wooden table along with their other colorful wares, such as tomatoes, turnips, cabbage and potatoes. The French countryside soil was rich and heavy with nutrients and usually would yield plentiful crops, keeping the family secure in its larder and health.
Isabelle was bundled up on this chilly Saturday morning
in November, dressed in wool leggings and a long skirt, and other apparel to keep the cold away. Her mother had knit a substantial woolen cap that partly covered her ears. A pair of thick and lustrous braids hung down to her waist. Isabelle was considered a beauty, even at her young age. Unlike her brother, Jean, her looks were darker with hair raven in color contrasting pale, ivory skin and eyes brown black and almost startling against her light skin tone. Already one could see that she would be quite a bit taller than the average woman at the time, taking after her father who was considered a giant amongst men, at least in terms of his height.
But, it was not her striking coloration or her lankiness, along with a beautifully proportioned face and limbs-which included hands expressive and long-fingered-that really drew ones attention. And, Isabelle seemed oblivious to the attention she drew naturally because of these. It was her great intelligence and fearlessness which shown out of her eyes, along with a curiosity that bespoke a lifelong love of learning and adventure. Even at that young age, it was already hard to imagine she would easily step into the traditional feminine role of the time.
And, this concerned her mother.
Marie, her mother, was a simple woman in terms of education and opportunity. She stood much shorter next to her giant of a husband, but she stood tall, nonetheless. She held her own in a household largely surrounded by boys and men. What she missed in opportunity outside the home, she felt compensated for by her iron rule over the household. She had a sweet heart and a deep love for her children, but she had learned, early in her marriage, that she needed to stand firm over her particular domain-that otherwise her circumscribed sphere of influence of that era would narrow even more.
She was not seeking power per se, but - like her daughter - she was a woman ahead of her time. She, too, had a superior intelligence that could conjure imaginary tales of great gusto, romance and fury. Her nighttime dreams would speak to this cleverness and imagination but the day hours, more mundane and rote, largely covered and made less evident her lively intellect. But, Marie had capitulated to the times in which she lived. She knew of a grandfather who had been lauded for his amazing storytelling abilities. He was known around the region for his way with words, for his excellent dramatic flourish and description.
And, this lived on in Marie. Over the years, a sadness had grown as she struggled with the discrepancy found between her creative spirit and the role she inhabited as mother and wife in her day to day life.
It is not that she did not like this role. It was just that she never really had had a choice. She had married at 16, the custom of the time-and over the years she and her husband Pierre had built a family together. And their sons-each different in temperament and look-amazed and delighted her. Phillipe, her oldest boy-now 16-was tall and striking like her husband. His dark brown hair sprung out in ringlets and trailed down his back. And, his physical strength had even been obvious, as a young child. Over the years, he had worked side by side with his father hoeing the fields and harvesting the crops, and had become invaluable to his father and family as their brood grew and demanded more sustenance. He was quiet in temperament, like his father, and also like him in his simpler ways-intelligent but not very curious about the world around him. No, he would not question the society in which he lived. And, really, why should he? He was not disadvantaged at all by the way things were arranged. It was a man's world, after all. He, unlike his sister and other females that he knew that led very circumscribed lives, was free as a bird-in terms of travel and self expression.
And, Marie's youngest son was a mix of she and her husband. Fairer than Phillipe, Antoine was not as blonde as his mother. Shorter in stature, he was the acknowledged artist of the family. Ever since he could, he would draw the world around him with an accuracy and eye for detail that was stunning. And, his sense of color was amazing. Though not a well-to-do family, they had sought out art instruction for Antoine in the local village.
And, that left sweet Jean, a child fair in temperament and appearance. He was the most like his mother. The middle son, he was not proving himself responsible to his parents-like his older brother. He was more easy going and empathetic, like Marie. Marie was strict because she felt she had to be. But, left to her own devices and without the domestic labor and responsibility that surrounded her in this life, she would have been much more of a dreamer and meanderer. And, Jean exhibited these qualities-much to his mother's delight.
Marie had waited patiently and prayed for a daughter to arrive on the scene. And, her fourth child was a response to her prayers. When Isabelle emerged into the world, Marie felt a degree of contentment that never entirely left her. Her family was now complete.
Isabelle came into this world during mid-August, the hottest month of the year for this family. Marie had felt differently, softer and gentler but also vibrant and very alert, during this, her fourth pregnancy. She knew a daughter was coming to her. All of Marie's deliveries were simple, happening as the full moon came into view in the night sky. All her babies had been born on the full moon. She could count on that. Her water would break as the moon approached it's fullness, leading to the eventuality of a successful birth.
But, Isabelle's birth had a particular sweetness. The pains had come on sharp and steady after her waters broke, as always, and she knew her dark-haired beautiful daughter was on her way. She was certain about the gender beyond the usual certainty. Yes, her shape and the way she felt when she was carrying her sons was different. Her weight gain was more evenly distributed this time, rather than predominantly in the belly - a decent indicator of the fairer gender coming her way.
She had had dreams which started early on in her pregnancy of a gorgeous, raven-haired little girl who would appear and offer her hand in love and friendship. She felt she knew this being, this brilliant and lovely being, from long ago. When these dreams arose, she sensed she was gazing upon a deeply familiar and beloved person who had been a companion since the beginning of time. This friend had accompanied her through many a trial and tribulation-lifetimes flickering across the screen of consciousness. And, they all seemed to be lifetimes where they shared a common advancement, a common breaking through of the status quo which led to a greater temporal and spiritual freedom.
All her pregnancies had gone well. But, this one had a depth and power never before experienced. Her nighttime visitations to far off lands had an other worldly flavor-a cosmic quality that seemed to span the night sky and beyond. It's as if the being growing inside of her thinned the veil between the worlds and allowing for the thrill of experiencing other dimensions.
This being, this soon-to-be newborn, carried an unusual courage and a sense of adventure that spanned epochs and worlds. Marie felt they had shared a relationship and camaraderie over these eons, that through their shared passion they had broken through stifling societal convention time and time again-both together and apart. They supported and bolstered each other's natural fearlessness and understood each other in an unusually profound way...
Marie was puzzled by the depth of her intuition regarding this baby to be born. She had not experienced this with her sons. She loved all of her children deeply but this raven-haired daughter came in with an aplomb and power that was decidedly unusual. And, this actually concerned her. In this lifetime, she saw no evidence of great courage - on her own part. But, she felt the tide of her life turn with the birth of her daughter-that her destiny was now different and her inborn courage would need to come more to the fore. Again, this concerned her, for though she yearned to break through the status quo, the apparent security of it had its allure and she had become its willing prisoner. She felt, and she knew, that she would eventually be asked to step out - with the birth and introduction into her life of this beautiful and courageous being - to step out of her comfort zone. She could feel this challenge coming toward her in the times to come.