I found the letter after my father’s death in a battered tin box in his attic. It was written in 1945 in French to my grandmother by a family he’d befriended during World War II in Belgium. Funny how things fall into place: My friends were moving to Belgium, I’d been studying French and then I found the letter.
I went to Belgium and asked my friend if the village of Wanze was nearby. It was. Off we went, not at all clear on how I’d find the writers of a 46-year-old letter. Other things fell into place: There was a tourist office, a persistent clerk and a phone conversation in French. She’d located the family. Yes, they were still in the village and, having been told of my quest, were expecting me.
Mimie greeted me with a warm hug and tears, as if I were long-lost family. In her hand she held photos of my father, taken that cold winter.
“Oh, you were able to find the pictures so quickly,” I remarked. “But, of course,” she said, “ I look at them often.”
She and her family shared vivid memories of my father, Richard Vigeant, the generous Army cook, who’d brought so much joy to the long-suffering locals with treats such as coffee, milk, soap and a turkey he’d managed to “procure” for them.
“Your visit is an answer to our prayers,” they told me. “We’ve finally heard from Richard.”
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