This week, a really mean school friend invited me to party she knows I can’t attend. It’ll be in a café just down the street from my first apartment in Paris. I looked down on that café every night from the one window in my closet-sized, servants’ quarters’ apartment (6ème étage, sans ascenseur).
Thinking about that little corner of Paris reminded me of another evening in that same café, one of the few times in France I’ve ever been a musician and not merely a listener.
I’d flown in from Eastern Europe and was walking home from the St-Michel RER station a little before midnight. I cut through the alley and passed this café where a piano player of my acquaintance was performing…
(Early lesson from Dad: wherever live music is being performed, always make a point of meeting the musicians. If invited, sit in. This will come as no surprise, least of all to someone reading this who once impersonated Don Henley while I was impersonating Stevie Nicks, in an impromptu cover of “Leather & Lace.”)
It was a warm summer night then, too, and all the café windows were open to the street. As I passed by, the piano player waved me over.
In Paris, every night is nostalgia night when it comes to World War II. As much as the French might dislike us in 2010, they’ll never forget who appeared in Normandy out of nowhere and saved them from the Nazis. They realize the enormous risks the Allies took, and the high cost of that success, and are eternally grateful.
He’d been playing “Last Time I Saw Paris,” but now he was singing a World War II love song that some AARP members might admit to remembering, but the rest of us learned from Garrison Keillor’s Saturday radio show. It’s a song that a soldier would’ve sung to his wife or sweetheart before going off to war and sometimes not seeing each other again – since this was long before Skype – for 3 or 4 years.
My love will leave you never,
So kiss me good-bye and smile;
“’Til then” can’t mean “forever,”
But it certainly could mean “awhile.”
I dropped my suitcase in the street, leaned through the open window, and sang the chorus with him:
‘Til then, my darling, please wait for me;
‘Til then, no matter when it will be.
One day we’ll be together again — please wait ‘til then.
I nodded goodbye, picked up my suitcase, and walked the last block to rue de Seine.
This post is dedicated to the late Dell Thornton, MD, who served in the United States Army 3rd Division in Italy, and to his wife Lyla, who waited for him in Seattle. They were married for more than 50 years.