Sophia – Piana, France – February 1956…


It’s a beautiful day for a picnic. My relatives have just flown in from London and my mom is determined to show them the perks of living in a smaller town in the countryside.

I slip on my new, baby blue summer dress and spin around in front of my mom’s floor length mirror. Although the dress isn’t checkered white, I feel like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!” I try to inflict my voice the same way I remember Judy Garland doing it. But I am not Judy Garland and I just sound silly. Dissatisfied, I gallop back into my room, grab the shiny white shoes I just picked out for Sunday Bible School, and hop down the spiral staircase into the kitchen. My mom is chopping something on the cutting board- she always feels the need to cook up some extravagant meal whenever she has guests, even family- but she stops when she sees my shoes. I knew she would.

“Sophia! I just bought you those and you know it’s muddy out. Please go change them.” She’s exasperated. But I continue on towards the fridge and take out a pitcher of iced tea.

On the way over to the lake, I still have my Sunday satin shoes on. My best friend Ginny has a matching pair. Or I guess I have the matching pair because she had them first. They hurt my toes but she said we would be like a secret club if I got them too. I swing my left leg back and fourth as I sit in the car, my elbow holding up my palm to rest my head as I stare longingly out the window. My dad drives and we both ignore the fears my mother makes verbal, about what if the tablecloths blow away in the wind or the clouds decide to cry a little, which they might after they see her attempt at crème brûlée. From my backseat view, the world looks like a movie being fast-forwarded. Everything’s blurry.

Sitting at the picnic table once we get there, everything is just as much a blur- paisley summer dresses carry pies from this table to the next, plaid sleeves rolled up to the elbows as the Dad’s work the grille, everyone dodging low tree branches and les caille des blés (those are the birds here). But I’m in my own little world, watching how the kayaks paint their pretty pastel reflections onto the water beside our rendezvous. They have such colorful shadows compared to mine.

I pull out my sketchbook. I’ve been drawing for a few years now, maybe three or four. I’m not very good, but I’ve seen drawings by people who are very good and I don’t think I’m very bad either. I start to draw the kayaks, envisioning them pink, blue, mint green. But I don’t usually color my drawings. I don’t have to because I know what the real things look like. I know what colors the kayaks are. So I just sketch grey lines, some darker, some lighter, shading shadows here and there.

“Hey Soph,” it’s my grandpa, Edmond. “Whatcha got there?”

I slide my sketch to the left, where he sits beside me on the white cloth covered picnic table. He scrutinizes it for a moment and then chuckles that chuckle that is only known to Edmond. “Well I’ll be. It’s beautiful!” But all I have so far are a few lines.

“Papa, I’m not fi-” I try to stop him but it’s hopeless. He’s always so proud. I glance upward, finding my mom somewhere in the summer scene. She’s eyeing us with a polite smile, but I know he was never this way with her. There’s envy behind her thin, polished plum lips. It’s the same way every time Papa makes a spectacle of my drawings.

“Hey!” He’s looking around, presumably for his wife, because he’s always looking for her. He spots the frail woman and beckons with his arms, “hey, Margaret!” His toffee-haired wife comes up to my other side, her soft rose-colored dress billowing behind her.

“Aw Sophia,” she never calls me Soph like Grandpa does, and although he over exudes pride and compassion with each syllable, it sounds more precious coming from her delicate voice than it ever could from his raspy one. “It’s wonderful so far.”

And I think I believe her more too.

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