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The only one who always seemed to understand was her niece, Elspeth.
Eloise had missed much of Elspeth’s growing up, as her brother’s career in the Air Force kept his family moving from base to base for most of Elspeth’s early years. She and Eloise had exchanged frequent letters and postcards since the time Elspeth had been in grade school. Elspeth often referred to her aunt as her “favorite pen pal.” The closeness Eloise had always felt with her younger brother seemed to automatically transfer itself to his only child. Elspeth eventually married into a French winemaking family, whose son Christophe she met while on a solo traveling adventure to Europe after graduating from college. Once married, they ended up living near the family’s winery in a small village in central France. Eloise had met Christophe once, when they came to the States for a visit shortly after the wedding. Eloise liked Christophe. Soft-spoken and always attentive to the person he was speaking with, he clearly adored Elspeth, and vice versa. He had a good laugh. It made Eloise happy to see her niece so well loved and respected. From then on, Elspeth’s letters described life in the French countryside, the beauty and hard work of the vineyard. She often included pictures of her sons, Eloise’s rosy-cheeked twin great-nephews, Adrian and Étienne.
Elspeth and Christophe had invited Eloise to visit them in France (now that would be much too expensive, Eloise had thought at the time) and hinted that if she liked it she could eventually come live there — they had a small guest cottage on their vineyard property that she would be welcome to move into. She could have a vegetable garden, and Elspeth had always wanted to learn how to make jam, but had never quite got around to it. And there were the twins, who already were about to start school in the fall, and who Elspeth was sure would love their great-aunt. Eloise wasn’t so sure about this, feeling that her track record with children was not impressive. But she might be willing to try. She had always loved children, and felt like she could very adequately dote on these two. Maybe more freely because they weren’t her own, and not her primary responsibility. It was an interesting thought. But, alas, it would be so complicated, so expensive.
“What’s this?” David picked up the French language tape Eloise had borrowed from the library.
“I wanted to be able to write to Elspeth in French a little bit. I read somewhere that learning a new language is good exercise for the brain. I am keeping dementia at bay — you should be happy for me.” She smiled, wishing her son had a sense of humor. He knitted his brows then moved on to something else he could potentially disapprove of. He decided on the old standby discussion.
“You really should consider getting out of this house, Mom. Seriously, I worry about you living alone. I mean, what if you fell? I swear Priscilla and I are the only ones who come to see you. Don’t you get lonely? You don’t even have your cat any more. I don’t think it’s healthy to spend so much time alone.” He hurried on before she could say anything. “I stopped by that retirement community on the way here yesterday and looked around. It’s nice, lots of trees and flowers. You could have your own apartment and still cook for yourself if you wanted to, or you could eat in the dining hall. You could make new friends. There’s a nice library, and bingo every Friday.” He took a brochure he had been keeping in the inner pocket of his raincoat and set it on the kitchen table next to the language tape. Eloise mused that he looked a little like a dyspeptic bulldog when he was trying to be serious with her, but she didn’t say so out loud. She was touched that he was, in his own way, making a genuine effort to be helpful.
“Alright, I’ll think about it,” she said. He brightened up. Thought he had scored some big victory in the realm of familial relations, she figured. Okay.