Toby was our constant companion, and our good will ambassador. Taking immediately to his new life in France, he learned the language, nobody could say more with their eyes than he could, and he quickly acquired the savoir-faire of a native. He helped us meet people wherever we went, and he became known as a bon vivant along the French canals. He adored fine dining, and because of his impeccable restaurant manners, he was always warmly welcomed.
So, what do you do when you're sad and lonely? We decided to take two teenage French girls on board for a short cruise, hoping that they would distract us, make a little noise, and fill up all of that empty space where Toby used to be.
Nina had been our French teacher when we first arrived in France. We were next door neighbors when we were living in her mom's gîte in St. Symphorien. We had originally booked our room for two months, while we made some changes to our newly purchased barge, but since remodeling projects always take longer than expected, we ended up staying there for seven months. We hired Nina to come over a couple of evenings a week to help us learn French. At the time, she didn't speak English, but she would come over with a blackboard, chalk, children's books and sometimes a shopping bag full of items from her kitchen that she would show us and ask, "Qu'est-ce que c'est?". She was always very well prepared for our lessons, and she tried her best not to laugh at our mistakes. She was ten then, and now she is thirteen and studying English in school. She needs to practice speaking English, so we thought it was only fair to pay her back for all of those evening lessons three years ago.
Early the next morning we cast off for Dole. The girls took their positions up on the bow, and we were treated to the pleasant sound of their conversation and their laughter.
Once in dole, we settled into the mooring where we would stay for a couple of days, while the girls went to shop in town. Later, we joined them at a café, where we spoke English together and they had to find the words to explain what was making them giggle as they watched people walk by. Sometimes it was someone's flowery purse or an unusual pair of shoes. They had to really stretch their English vocabularies to explain some of the things that they found funny.
People seemed to find us amusing too. We noticed at lunch one day that people at neighboring tables were turning around to take a peek at us.
Nina and Emilie were clever, amusing, very well behaved, and a pleasure to be with, just like Toby always. With their smiles and the sound of their laughter, they helped us begin to heal.