The Secret of the Box

Towards the end of October I received two important communications from the Town Hall in Gensdouce. The first informed me that my Resident's Permit was ready for me to pick up. Even in these modern times it had taken almost six months to deliver, a feat unseen in any other country. At last, I was now a fully recognised citizen of Gensdouce with the right to travel wherever I wanted throughout France. The second was altogether more surprising. It was an electoral card, issued in my name and authorising me to vote at the forthcoming municipal elections. This was obviously a mistake, for I was not a French citizen. I contacted Guillaume to ask what I should do about it. Of course, the obvious thing to do, would be to take it back to the Town Hall and explain the mistake. But Mayor Demille was still not favourable to my being in Gensdouce, and I didn't feel like providing him with a reason for trying to get me kicked out, especially just when I'd received the all-coveted residence permit. And who knows, the card may even have been a plot on his behalf to have me ejected. But Guillaume reassured me, it was nothing of the kind.

If plot there was, then it was one levelled at Margaret Thatcher and her determination determination to block any moves leading towards further European integration. The French government had decided that all citizens of the European Common Market, as it was then known, would be given the right to vote in local government elections. It was a move that brought anger from London but would have passed by Gensdouce unnoticed, if Javert Demille had not decided to sieze an opportunity to take another shot at me. This time he had to be careful, however. Campaigning for the election was heating up and Mayor Demille was claiming credit for one of the most innovating moves of his first period in office, the espace loisirs. If the truth were told, then not only had he had nothing to do with it, but had fought against it tooth and nail, claiming it was a waste of public money and if the people of Gensdouce wanted any culture, then they should go to Besançon for it. But with almost half the voting population of Gensdouce now members, it was being hailed as a great success. As a result, it would hardly be expedient to launch a personal attack on of the centre's teachers. Instead, in typical elephant like fashion he gave an interview on the local radio, to be reprinted in the next day's paper, attacking the government's policy which enabled good-for-nothing Britishers to vote in a country for which they cared but little, and against which they fought tooth and nail whenever they could, as could be seen in his own village of Gensdouce. A simple letter to the paper the next day informing him of the difference between the British and the Irish left the mayor with a fair amount of egg on his face.

But a third letter which arrived a few days later, was the cause of some considerable pain. It was news from Ireland and bore a black stripe around the envelope; news from my sister – my grandfather had died. It had all happened far too quickly for them to let me know in advance. He died peacefully in his sleep. He'd taken his usual glass of port before going to bed one night and never woken up again. I say the news caused me pain, but only because I knew I would never see him again. Knowing my grandfather he would already have taken heaven by storm and would be having the time of his life up there. He was that kind of a person. He'd always lived to the full. He was 97 when he died and he left a widow of 88. They'd been married 72 years... and each day better than the other, he'd always used to say.

I sat in my favourite armchair and relived the many experiences we'd had together. The card tricks he'd taught me, and the one whose secret he had never revealed. I'd never know how he did it now. The day we'd cycled into the hills and ransacked an old, unattended orchard, stirring up a hornet's nest in the process and counting ourselves lucky to get out intact. I remember him on his bicycle cycling off to mass every morning. He'd return with the day's shopping and after a hearty breakfast off he'd go again to get some more shopping for the old people who couldn't do it themselves. These old people were 10 – 20 years younger than him, but he could get out. But most of all I remember the wizard on the bowling green. He loved his bowls and played every day when the weather permitted. Before I was born, he had even represented Ireland at a number of international competitions. He'd been the member of Doylydawn bowls club, one of the greatest in the country and had won all there was to win there. Then, upon retirement he had dismayed all and sundry by moving to Whitebridge, their great rivals, where he had similar success. The one championship to have eluded him here, was the coveted singles title. After several attempts he got to the final just a few weeks before I left for France. The whole family gathered together for this final match when the heavens opened. Destiny had played its hand. The final was put off for one week and would now be played on the 2nd October, the day of his 60th Wedding Anniversary. True, when it was played the match was quite close; at one point it even looked as if Grandfather might lose. Had he done so however, there were several hundred supporters waiting to lynch his opponent, and I guess the intimidation was too much for the poor guy. Never mind, next year's championship would adequately compensate him for his loss. Today, the glory belonged to my grandfather.

It was after the match that he'd presented me with the key to the little box he'd given earlier that year.

“I'll not be around much longer, and I don't want my secret to go the grave with me.”

I stared at him wide-eyed. What secret could Grandfather have? His only reply was the devilish grin he reserved for those very special moments. He gave me the key, but made me promise not to open the box until he was gone. Now the time had come.

I went into my bedroom and took the little box from inside my bedside cabinet. It had pride of place there. I liked the idea of Grandfather being there beside me. Now it was something greater still, he'd be watching over me from heaven. I took the key and sat down upon my bed, slowly inserting it into the lock. I waited over half an hour wondering whether or not I should open the box. What if it's secret was something terrible, something that would change him in my eyes forever. I wanted to remember my grandfather as he was, not as he may have been about to become. Finally, I found the resolve to open the box. Surely, if Grandfather had given me the key, then it was not to have himself demeaned in my eyes.

Inside, was a small piece of paper. The moment I saw the first words written out in careful, deliberate handwriting which my Grandfather reserved for very special documents I burst out laughing. So this was his secret. In fact, it was no secret at all. It was the way he'd lived his whole life.

Andrew Frank's Secret of Longevity

Take per day:

  • one teaspoon of cod liver oil
  • one clove of garlic
  • one glass of port
I'd witnessed this ritual every evening for as long as I could remember. Now I understood its significance. Well, seeing as my Grandfather had lived for 97 years, 4 months and 13 days, then there must be something behind it. I'd start that very evening. Surely, Mme Bouclier would have all the necessary ingredients in her shop, and even if she didn't have the port, a trip to the pub would solve that problem. After all, Grandfather was up there in heaven having a great party with all the saints and angels, so why shouldn't I have a good time in his memory.

I put on my coat and left the house. It was a nice clear night with a nip in the air. Looking up, I wondered which of those stars Grandfather was exercising his charms on at that very moment, and I could swear, I saw one of them twinkle in reply.

I pushed open the door to the grocery store and was struck by an angelic vision. Just behind Mme Bouclier stood a creature so perfect and so wondrous, I couldn't take my eyes off her. She was tall and curvaceous, with long dark hair and a sparkle to her eyes.

“Simon!” greeted me Mme Bouclier.

But all I could do was stammer a few unintelligible sounds. I was smitten.


This is an unusual post, since I've worked into the fabric of Simon's story a story about keys, for a collection I'm writing for the National Novel Writing Month. Everything that is said about the Grandfather refers to my own grandfather. And it's all true. The only things I've changed are the places and his name which I've anglicised. He really was quite a character.

7 November 2007 at 11:05  

So that's the secret to a long life. Your grandfather sounds wonderful. Love reading about older relatives

7 November 2007 at 21:47  

I really enjoyed this, Paul.

They'd been married 72 years... and each day better than the other, he'd always used to say.

It doesn't get much better than that :)

7 November 2007 at 22:31  

a love interst!!!!!! oh no,.... and garlic breath in the same chapter!!!!!!

8 November 2007 at 01:27  

great little story. It had me thinking about my grandpa.

9 November 2007 at 05:12  

Wonderful, as always. Better late than never... (rueful grin)--me, that is.


9 November 2007 at 08:48  

Newer Post Older Post Home

Blogger Template by Blogcrowds