Boomers embrace when they have to

We have all lived long enough that many of us have thrilled to great triumphs in our lives, but many also have suffered terrible tragedies. Pittsburgh-based editorial cartoonist, writer, and artist Tim Menees has had his share of both. Maybe more than his share. Some of that came together in a recent trip to Paris, a city that stirs one’s emotions … bad and good.

Our purser on the flight to Paris could have been one of those bygone Hollywood “Latin lovers,” a modern Rudolph Valentino: sensual lips, dark combed-back hair and mellow voice. At daybreak, he collects our breakfast remnants and says, “Trust me, you’ll get much better croissants in Paris.”

By Tim Menees

We’re still over the Atlantic and a few doze, or pretend to.

After we land and check into our apartment we go for groceries and cheap wine. We listen to a woman busker on the sidewalk singing “Stars Fell on Alabama.” We get hot chocolate and a coffee at a sidewalk cafe. That night we pass by a favorite restaurant, then a gay bar, its sidewalk packed, male voices echoing off the old stone buildings.

At four the next morning the streets are vacant save for a man in an apron sweeping a café and a woman searching through a supermarket dumpster.

We visit a community center where a group of Parisians are trying to learn English and having the same fits I do with French.

Rue Jacob in Paris.

Outside the Picasso Museum we wait in line behind maybe Brigitte Bardot, aging, lots of lipstick, huge sunglasses and a scarf over her hair. At Pontoise to change trains and head to the final home of Vincent van Gogh, a young railway employee says our connection has been changed. He shows us where to grab a coffee, gets us through the turnstile and jots down the best train back to Paris. In Auvers sur Oise and van Gogh’s sparse bedroom, the fields and church he painted and his grave on a hill.

In a small ice cream shop a Parisian friend, the longtime editor of a humor review, tells us she knew the cartoonists gunned down in early 2015 at Charlie Hebdo. A mime takes a cigarette break and chats with a buddy. A father and small son play accordions on the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf, the boy’s eyes locked on his dad’s fingering.

Tim Menees

A striped cat sits on a chair in a bistro.

As we gradually carve out a tiny space for ourselves — for two weeks the apartment is ours — we wonder. Paris is rambunctious and impersonal, yet also famous for art and, important this time, light.

At dinner my wife tearfully says that I’ve just made an expression like our son. Two young women at the next table notice. I explain it has only been eight months, and they pass us part of their salade au chèvre chaud.

In the morning we hear the chirping and laughing of children as young moms escort them to school.

Would our son have wanted this for us? We’ll never know. I put little stock in that. We can surmise but is that even relevant? I do know he always bounced back, even in his dark times, and he never stayed down for long. It wasn’t like him to die.

Our daughter says this trip is a good thing. She always prefers we visit her and her family — our grandchildren — in California, but this is what we want. We’re moving forward, overcoming the horrific moments which no longer seize us as frequently.

It’s about small rewards. It’s about embracing each other.

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49 Comments

  1. Very nice article. I’ve had two siblings lose one each of their adult children. It’s a difficult path after that. God speed, as our parents would say.

  2. I’ve known Tim and his wife for a few years.We have listened and shared his ability to push on and his openess falling back to the first pain..He tells it all with reverence and sensitive connection to those who have experienced the same. This article shows all.
    Thanks Tim

  3. Tim, you certainly have a way with words. I enjoyed reading the piece which was moving. I certainly would like to read more.

  4. Tim, Lovely piece. Joanne and I stayed on the Rue Jacob in 1970–I was doing prints at Atelier Desjobert.At night we went to a small cafe at the end of the street and became sort of regulars. Early morning I had to be at the print shop before the stars got there—I had my croissant and caffe American with the street cleaners , who drank little shots of some kind of alcoholic juice. You brought it back, Thanks. Bob

  5. Tim,
    This story is a treasure, a memory of friends and strangers, a carte postale of places we adore. And what a gift to be reminded of those we love in those we have.

  6. Heartfelt and deeply moving; life realization and hope.
    With such love, Timmy was smiling in Paris.
    Well done.
    Anne and Bill

  7. Well, Tim, you’ve done it again – taken me on a journey I hadn’t planned with just enough description so that I looked forward to the next stop, not knowing what the destination was but enjoying the trip by filling in the blanks from my own experience. That’s what you’ve always done in each of the short stories we’ve shared. When you gently disclosed this story was about Timmy, you not only connected all the pieces, but made the destination deeply personal as I saw flashes of our own kids and grandkids. You are truly an original voice in all that you write (or draw). I hope we’ll see more here on Boomer Café. Jack

  8. A lovely snapshot of Paris -bittersweet, hopeful, peaceful,eternal … but full of life at the same time…just as I would imagine Paris would be, just as life is when we reflect on our joys and tragedies. Thank you, Tim, for taking us there with you for a minute.

  9. Hi Tim and Kay,
    We enjoy spending times during the summer with you having you share your experiences of travel and life. Your article has painted yet another picture of words descriptively giving us a vision of your setting within Paris and your present feelings. Take care and may we share more wine together,
    Mike and Tamara

  10. Tim, you are a very good writer-fella. This was a tough thing to do for you, but you pulled it off in your original manner.

  11. Moving forward with your lives doesn’t mean forgetting the past. Although a loss like you’ve experienced will never be forgotten, your beautiful essay captures the importance of finding another level of peace with it. Thank you for sharing it.

  12. A memorable, beautifully written and illustrated, tale reminding me of our brief visit to Paris some years ago.

    Little did I know what a talented wonderful friend I had met one afternoon in August 1964 at Mylopota beach on Ios. Tim’s talent is amazing in so many fields and I feel very privileged to have experienced his skills and companionship, albeit on too few occasions. It is a pity that he lives so far away from Sydney.

    Always thinking of you and Kay.

  13. Talented writing (and art) that comes from the heart… and touches hearts. Keep on making positive decisions, and continue the gift you have for sharing with others.
    Your friends and admirers, Mike and Kathy

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