In 1979, while I worked as an au pair for a family in the Loire Valley in France, I spent a few Saturdays at the local middle school helping the teacher, Madame Bernard, teach English to her students. During the holidays, I visited the school and the children surprised me with box filled with Christmas presents. The doll in this photograph was one of those gifts. I’m so pleased that I kept it safely tucked away all these years. Here is an excerpt from my book detailing this special event:
“Madame Bernard clasped her hands together and surveyed the room. “Who would like to tell Mademoiselle Kovic why we asked her here today?”
Several hands flew into the air. She chose Simone, one of my devoted fans from an earlier visit. Pushing her dark mane behind her back, Simone stood and glanced around the room at fellow students while she spoke. “Mademoiselle, because you were so kind and helped us with our English, we collected money and bought you some Christmas presents.”
I pressed my palm to my chest and I spun toward Madame Bernard. “Presents? I don’t know what to say. I really enjoyed spending time with all of you. This is completely unexpected.”
Madame Bernard beamed. “Madeleine and Sylvie, why don’t you two fetch the gift.”
Giggling with excitement, they retrieved a large beautifully wrapped box from the closet and handed it to me.
My throat swelled with emotion and I coughed to clear it. “How lovely. Shall I open it now?”
“Yes, please!” All eyes focused straight ahead as Madame Bernard brought a chair and encouraged me to sit down. My hands trembled as I gently tore open the red and green wrapping and peered inside. One by one, I pulled out chocolates from the town of Blois, a bottle of Grand Marnier, and a sleepy-eyed French souvenir doll from the Loire Valley.
Clutching them close, I choked out some earnest words. “Thank you, so much, for these wonderful presents. The doll is beautiful—I will treasure her always. And chocolates are my favorite candy. How did you all guess?”
“It wasn’t a difficult assumption. Who doesn’t like chocolates?” Madame Bernard placed her hand on my shoulder. “Alors, now that we’ve given Mademoiselle Kovic her gifts, perhaps she will tell us a bit more about her plans for the future?”
The noise level in the classroom rose once again and Madame Bernard clapped her hands until the children calmed down.
Over the next thirty minutes, I answered a series of questions from the students—so many that I felt like I was on a game show. Questions about my new room in Tours, questions about my enrollment at the institute, and loads of questions about my dream of becoming a flight attendant.
When the bell rang and Madame Bernard excused the children for recess, many of them approached to shake my hand and say goodbye. Simone and her friends lingered to share some holiday plans until their teacher insisted they move on.”