By Dolores Schaefer, Becketwood Member
This autumn afternoon, I cleaned out the fruit bin in my kitchen refrigerator. Nestled in the back, I found half a bag of organic apples—all shriveled and rubbery. As I held an apple in my hand, my thoughts drifted to the Jura Mountains in eastern France where Madame Douge opened her spacious nineteenth-century home to international students from the University of Besancon. In 1960, the year I worked as a Teaching Assistant, there were six young adults housed under her roof. We rented rooms and dined at her table.
My sparsely furnished room on the second floor with its adjoining turret overlooked a vast, tangled garden. Down the hall behind closed doors a bathroom with hot running water nestled under a staircase. Gleaming dark wooden floors, slippery and spotless from daily waxing and buffing, united these functional spaces. Everywhere I looked, I noted oil paintings inspired by the celebrated regional artist Courbet.
We prepared our own breakfasts in her kitchen where we kept our eggs in pantry drawers and toasted bread on forks over open-gas flames. At noon, we returned from classes and libraries to join Madame for our main meal. She always served three courses at the long dining room table surrounded by buffets displaying polished silver and antique plates. In an adjacent alcove, we sipped French-press coffee before returning to classes. In the evening, we anticipated hot soup made from noon leftovers along with freshly baked baguettes. Without fail, our dessert was a platter of cheeses and apples.
There seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of apples in the attic. When I arrived in October, they were shiny and firm. As the months progressed, they became more and more wrinkled. Their rosy skins gradually puckered. Eating one in French fashion with a knife and fork required ingenuity.
There was no need to rub the apple in my hand as I stood in my Becketwood kitchen. Madame Douge’s boarding house had reappeared.