One thing that I silently envied of you was that before we knew each other, you had travelled extensively. You took advantage of the little bits of military leave that you had while stationed in Germany to see Europe. When you spoke about it, I looked forward to the time in our lives that we could do this together. But we had children to raise and a business to keep afloat and the obligations that young couples had. It was not possible then for us.
More than any other place on the globe, I wanted to go to Paris. The Seine River, The Eiffel Tower, The Champs- Elysees. The Cathedral Notre-Dame. I wanted all of that and more, but most importantly, I wanted to do it with you. It was bucket list item, but we both knew it was a long time away.
When my grandfather died, we found his military records and you were astounded at his history. Being a French speaker, he found himself as an aide to General John “Blackjack” Pershing, the general of the European Army. My grandfather’s job was to be a runner and interpreter for the General in his communications with his French counterpart. His life expectancy is the very dangerous job in World War I was 4 days. He told me he survived by crawling o his belly and keeping his head down. Although he was just a Private, his job was crucial to Pershing who grew to trust and depend on my grandfather and was very fond of this charismatic little Cajun man. After my grandfather’s death, a hand-written letter was found written to my grandfather from General Pershing personally thanking him for his dedicated service.
As a true Cajun man, my grandfather was a wonderful cook. He told me that General Pershing would call him to his home to make coffee for him and that there was never a party or gathering where my grandfather’s coffee was missing from the festivities.
You, as a proud military man, were fascinated by this story. When I showed you my grandfather’s military records, you saw that he had participated in 2 major battles in France; The Battle of Meuse-Argonne and the Battle of Chateau Thierry. “We have to go”, you said. “We will do a tour of the Battle Monuments beginning in France. We will go to Normandy and to the battle sights where your grandfather fought. And we will go to Paris”. I so loved of my grandfather and you knew it. Combining these two would be our perfect trip. Paris! Oh my gosh and Parish with you!
We landed in Germany and spent several wonderful days eating schnitzel and drinking German beer. Bavaria was paradise on earth and I soon realized that Germany was your dream place and going to Paris was strictly for me. Early one morning we began the very long drive from Germany to Paris. You had booked a hotel next door to the Palace of Versailles and I knew we would arrive too late on that day to see the Palace, I could see it from our hotel window! I was as excited as a preschooler on Christmas morning.
You loved to drive fast. To be more accurate, you love to drive VERY fast and the German Autobahn was your Nirvana. On many parts of the drive, there was no speed limit and you would push the pedal to the metal until I would beg you to slow down. You planned to take full advantage as you had “A need for speed”. The Autobahn was three lanes east and three lanes west divided by a huge cement wall. The exits and entrances to the highway were very short—not at all like those in the USA—leaving you very little time to change you mind if you made a poor choice while entering into the traffic.
You were driving. You were driving very fast and as usual you were in the left lane next to the cement wall. The Autobahn was very busy that day and in spite of how fast you were traveling, there were cars and even motorcycles passing us at even greater speeds. You were giving me some historical facts about Germany and France and about the Battle Monuments we planned to see. And then I saw it.
There was the car. The driver had made the surely fatal mistake of attempting to enter the very short access to the Autobahn too quickly and had to make a sudden correction. He had jerked his steering wheel to the right to avoid a vehicle in his blind spot. When he did, his car hit the cement wall on his right and his car began to climb the wall. The car flipped over and was now traveling on its roof perpendicular to and in front of three lanes of high-speed traffic. He survived one lane and was in the middle lane when I saw him.
And time stood still. We looked into the eyes of this Eastern European family of 4 vacationing in France now hanging upside down with seatbelts holding them. They are sliding to their eminent deaths by either being hit at 120 MPH broadside by us or by smashing head on into the cement wall. We saw their eyes. We felt the pleading of the father. We had no options. The family in front of us, the cement wall to our left and an endless stream of cars to our right. “We are going to kill them”, I said. I looked at the driver to my right and he nodded for us to go in front of him as he slammed on his brakes. I screamed, “Go right now!”. How you managed to down shift, miss the car to our right and not touch the upside-down family still makes me wonder. All of this took place in a split second, but we both experienced time stopping so that you could preserve the lives of this family.
We watched as the family got out of the car and only by the grace of God, escaped their deaths on the surface of the Autobahn. You just smiled and attributed it your superior driving skills. I was shaking.
The next morning, we went to the Palace of Versailles. We were walking on the cobblestones on the path to the palace and, like every other tourist, taking pictures and breathing in the history. You, of course, had been here before and you watched me living my fantasy with silent awe. “You take pictures. I will go get the tickets”, you said. I watched you go toward the ticket booth and disappear. I stood in front of this breathtaking landmark that I had see a thousand times in books and was overwhelmed that we were really there.
By the time you returned with the tickets, I was crying. Tears had already streaked down my blouse and I was shaking. You seem startled when you hurried to my said and said, “Baby, are you ok?” By that time, I was inconsolable. Through my sobs I said, “Thank you for taking me to Paris and thank you for saving our lives. You saved our lives and the lives of that family yesterday. You act like it is no big deal, but it is a very big deal. I am so grateful for you and I love you”.
You just gave me a smile and soaked in the compliment. You knew it was heroic and that had anyone else been behind the wheel, the story would have ended quite differently. You gathered yourself and you said, “That’s just what I do”. You extended your hand to me and I clutched yours if my next breath depended on it. You kissed me and said, “Let me show you Paris”.