It was July of 1985 and I was an exchange student in France that month. I would turn 16 while I was there. I stayed with the Martinellos in a small village called Gap. Doesn’t sound French, does it? But that truly was its name. It’s near Lyon, in the southeastern part of the country.
The Martinellos owned a flower shop in town and they were there all day, every day. Their mornings started about 7:00am and they didn’t return home till after 6:00pm. Natasha (their daughter) and I had a good time wandering the streets, shopping and talking to other shop owners. She knew many of them since her parents owned the flower shop. Many times I wandered around alone enjoying the sights and sounds, noting how it all compared to what I experienced at home.
We traveled to many different villages each week, setting up a booth to sell the flowers in the street. It was completely different from everything I’d ever seen, having grown up in the desert.
I did grow homesick after a few weeks there. I missed my family and friends. There were a couple times that I’d think about them, wishing I were back there. Especially as my birthday drew near.
On my birthday, I discovered Mom had snuck a present in my suitcase. I opened it and smiled. It was costume jewelry—a colorful bracelet and necklace. I was still sad, though.
That evening, after the shop had closed, Mrs. Martinello served dinner and then came out with a surprise. She’d bought me a birthday cake!! “Bon anniversaire Ellen”, they cried. Really? They remembered? I smiled from ear to ear.
I was their guest for another week or so before returning home. It was my first time overseas and I enjoyed it a lot. Spending time with a family and being involved in their daily lives was eye-opening and holds fond memories for me. Celebrating my birthday was one of them.