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Home Alone


I traveled through the south of France last summer with my daughter, Linnea.

She is a remarkable traveler. I took photos of her standing on the highest rampart at Les Baux de Provence, the steepest ring in the arena at Nimes, by the black pit at Fontaine de Vaucluse, where the world’s deepest spring first comes above ground.

We drove down twisting streets in medieval towns, through alleys of oak trees, up narrow hairpins in the mountains, across flat rice fields and salt beds and past miles and miles of olives, grapes, lavender and sunflowers. Linnea was my companion in La Colle and le Sommail, Aigue-Morte and St. Chinian—out-of-the-way places where scrub brush, ‘la garrigue,’ alternates with vineyards or marshland.

Linnea is 16 and right now she is in England with her older sister, visiting their father, who lives there. Madeleine hasn’t seen her father in three years. I worried about them going alone, but I couldn’t go with them. And I knew that Madeleine, usually the leader of the two, would be well-kept by her younger sister.

The house is quiet without the girls here. When they were younger and their dad lived nearby, we shared custody. I remember savoring the time I had to myself when they were with him. But it has been so many years that I have been the sole parent, and they are almost never both gone at the same time, so now their absence is palpable. The rooms are neater, but far more empty.

It’s strange to say, but I don’t usually miss people. I adapt to the separation. I focus on the tasks at hand and time passes and that’s that. But I miss the girls these days. The strangest things tug at my heart: their carefully made beds and their favorite stuffed animals awaiting their return; the white board that still says “Happy Birthday, Madeleine” though it’s been month since then; the betta fish, Alfie, who has a cut-out felt Christmas stocking taped to his bowl. Madeleine left me a note: “Feed Alfie two or three pellets of food each day, depending on what kind of a day he is having.”

How can you tell what kind of a day a betta fish is having?

Earlier in the day the girls had called. They gave me an update: They had gone punting on the Cam—the last time Linnea had done it she had fallen in. They had gone to Kings College Chapel. Soon they would go to London for a few days. Joe had a list of places to take them: the Tate, the Globe, the Tower, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park, Harrods and Hampstead.

Madeleine wants to go to the market stalls at Camden. Linnea bought some great shoes there the last time she visited her dad. And a nice skirt, very funky. I hope Joe has planned some kind of clothing budget for them.

What am I doing, they had asked me.

I’m in the garden, I told them. And I gave them an update: there were squash blossoms and no squash, an eggplant blossom, but no eggplant. And I have forgotten what kinds of lettuce I planted so each time I pick it I get a mixed plate of lettuce and weeds.

And how is Huey doing? Linnea wanted to know.

Huey is the name Linnea gave to the raspberry bush on the theory that if it had an identity it might have more self-worth and therefore bear more fruit. As in more than five or six berries—berries that the girls and I eat as ceremoniously as some kind of annual fruit Eucharist.

I took a look at Huey and, sure enough, he had borne his yearly blossoming, half a dozen jewel-red raspberries ready for picking.

Eat them, Mom, Linnea said. While we’re on the phone. They’ll never keep till we get home.

And so I did. I ate them one at a time, knowing that she was right—they wouldn’t keep. They were delicious, but I missed sharing with them the bounty of our peculiar garden.

Tonight I made a salad of lettuce and weeds. I brought some mozzarella to room temperature and sliced it atop the greens. I chopped basil and ground pepper, added some sea salt. Then I reached for the olive oil, the everyday olive oil, extra-virgin but not extra-special.

Behind it sat the bottle of cold-pressed Nyon olive oil Linnea and I had found at a farmer’s market last summer in France. We had sampled lots of local olive oils, but this was amazing—sparky and green-tasting, the single malt of olive oils. We bought a bottle and carefully brought it back with us. Now we use it only sparingly, stretching out the taste of our shared travels.

But tonight I took the good olive oil and I poured a little golden pool onto a plate. I remembered eating the raspberries without them, knowing it would be useless to wait. And I think of them in England while I eat dinner in the quiet house, the darkness soft around me.

I will be so glad when my daughters come home again. But they are travelers now, capable travelers, and because I am a traveler, too, I know they will go forth again.

—Jo Page

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