An inspiring GUEST POST by Diane Covington-Carter, author of 'Finding Gilbert, a Promise Fulfilled'. Read about her story, her father, and her French adventures.
The seeds of my passion for France began in my early childhood, but I didn’t know that then.
My father landed in the Normandy Invasion, June 1944, and spent five months at the Navy camp on the cliff above the American landing beach called “Omaha”.
I was born after the war in the Baby Boom generation and Dad’s stories about his time in France were as much a part of my childhood as the yellow Formica table we all crowded around for dinner each evening at 6 o’clock sharp.
Dad was a Seabee, a civil engineer in the Naval Construction Battalion, whose motto was ‘we build, we fight’ and their mascot, a bee carrying both a drill and a gun. Dad loved to tell how his high school French made ‘s’il vous plaît’ come out sounding like ‘silver plate’. But he’d smile remembering the kindness and patience of the French at his attempts.
My favorite story was about the orphan boy Gilbert, who Dad took under his wing, making sure that he came through the lunch line in the officer’s mess with Dad every day. They became so close, Dad tried unsuccessfully to adopt Gilbert and bring him home.
I could feel the energy behind the stories, from the man who helped me with my math homework, tucked me in at night, comforted me when I was afraid. I was fascinated by his tales, by the world they created, of a place far away, that my father wanted to remember and talk about.
The French orphan Gilbert felt like a shadow, his presence hovering, slightly out of focus. And France, where it had all taken place, felt like somewhere I already knew. In high school, I chose to study French, though Spanish was the practical language in Southern California.
I became the top student in the subject and dreamed of going to France for my ‘Junior Year Abroad’ in college, then traveling around with an Eurail Pass and a back pack and a worn copy of
“Europe on $5 a day”.
(It really *was that cheap back then!)
I could feel the country through the lyrical, musical and romantic language.
I longed to experience the language first hand, in France. But, as John Lennon put it so well, “life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
My Junior Year Abroad was not to be. At age nineteen, marriage and motherhood replaced my overseas plans. I would continue to study the language throughout my adult years, following a passion I couldn’t explain.
Near the end of my father’s life, his body weak with cancer, when he spoke about his time in France during the war, his eyes shone, he sat up straighter and his voice came out clear and strong. For those moments, he was thirty again, playing his part in turning the tide of World War II.
He spoke about Gilbert then, his voice soft and wistful. “I wonder what ever happened to him?”
Two years later, I stood on the cliffs above Omaha Beach, turning my face into the stiff wind to dry my tears. I was there to retrace my father’s footsteps for the 50th anniversary of D-Day and to accept a medal in his honor.
I’d spent a day touring the invasion beaches and had learned that he’d been a part of the largest land and sea invasion in the history of the world. Though I wasn’t even sure how to spell his last name, I put an ad in the Normandy paper to look for Gilbert. By a combination of miracles and providence, I connected with Gilbert on what would have been my father’s 80th birthday.
In our emotional reunion, I understood my passion for knowing French; Gilbert didn’t speak English. When I told him that my father had never forgotten him, he wept. He had told his wife, daughter and grandsons about the kind lieutenant who had loved him and had wanted to take him home to America.
“Someday, someone will come,” he had said.
My relationship with Gilbert and his family has continued for the last twenty-five years, with four generations there now knowing the story. Gilbert’s widow Huguette feels like a sister to me and I visit every year, when it is possible. One grandson now speaks some English, but otherwise we speak French. I still work hard to keep up my language skills.
In 1999, I fulfilled my dream to live in France, moving to Aix-en-Provence for eight months.
I called it my “Junior Year Abroad Thirty Years Late.” I proved to myself that it is never too late to fulfil a long-held dream. And that some dreams are even richer from the waiting. I have written two “Francophile” memoirs, one about finding Gilbert and the other about my history and passion for French and France.
“Eight Months in Provence, My Junior Year Abroad Thirty Years Late,” came out in 2016 and became a #1 best seller on Amazon the first week.
'What a wonderful story and delightful read as you are taken into the heart of this beautiful culture. As the author navigates French life in Aix-en-Provence, along the way her inner journey will inspire you to follow your dreams'.
'Charming story. I would love to have such an experience.
Easy to read, but I didn't want the story to end'.
'Having been in Aix for a month last year, I wish I had read this book first. It made me want to go back and live there. Diane introduces you to many of the places in Aix and surrounding area while she acclimatés to the area, makes friends, and becomes fluent in the language. All the while she is rediscovering who she really is and becoming a stronger person. I highly recommend this book, And at 75 I am wishing I could follow in her footsteps'.
Published in 2018, 'Finding Gilbert, a Promise Fulfilled' received the Gold Award from the Society of American Travel Writers in 2019. Available on Amazon.
I have traveled to France to write about the 60th, 70th and more recently, the 75th anniversaries of D-Day, in honor of my father, always staying with Gilbert and his family when I am there. Two of my articles from the 75th won recent journalism awards. I feel it is because of my deep and emotional connection to my father and his stories.
Those stories, all those years ago, influenced my life in profound ways that neither of us could ever have imagined. I know that when I look back on my life, along with my marriage, children and grandchildren, finding Gilbert and being close with his family will be one of my most important accomplishments.
'I love, love, love Finding Gilbert! I laughed, I cried. I literally could not put it down, but had to read it beginning to end. I passed it along to others who also thoroughly enjoyed it.
I am grateful Diane shared part of her story within the pages of this book. Finding Gilbert is one of my favorite books of all the books I’ve read… And I have read a LOT of books!'.
'Started it last night, made myself eventually go to bed; woke up about 3am. Fell asleep at about 5am, and finished it when I woke again at 6:30! Wonderful book; cried a few times, and an extra treat is that I knew her 2nd husband years ago'.
Obviously I loved it!
'This book is beautifully crafted, an exceptional story about honoring the past and the connections that link us.
A profound time in our history is woven in with the story of a loving, tender woman as she emerges into her own destiny, healing and full power. My compassion and ability to listen to the nuances grew as I read this story. I loved it!'.
I hope that somewhere, my father knows and feels a sense of peace, that I was able to complete what he was unable to fulfill with Gilbert. I discovered that in the end, life is about who you love and letting them know.
I hope too, that whatever your ‘Francophile’ dreams are, that you are able to dust them off and fulfill them. They contain deep riches that are waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.
For more information about Diane, her writing, and her books, visit www.dianecovingtoncarter.com
It is wonderful to connect with other ‘Francophiles’ and thank you Louise, for allowing me to send in this guest blog piece.
I love sharing how I came to be a devoted ‘Francophile’ and the huge difference and contribution it has made to my life.
10-day Tours to the French Riviera
Small-group Tours for Women staying at Villefranche sûr Mer on the Côte d'Azur
Stay in the *heart* of Villefranche sûr Mer. Discover the Côte d'Azur: the hilltop village of Èze, over-the-top Monaco, gentle Antibes, vieux Nice, artsy St Paul de Vence, and more. Lunch at Beaulieu sur Mer, visit Villa et Jardins de Rothschild and the divine Villa Kerylos, explore medieval Italy, and dine in any of the fabulous restaurants in Villefranche.
Go touring and experience those fabulous Mediterranean views, and have lunch in Italy. Breakfast at the celebrated Welcome Hotel, dine by the harbour, and relax in a beautiful apartment in the old town.