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