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Sarah T. Schwab: Crickets’ lullaby brings me home

If I could choose one noise as the soundtrack of my childhood, it would be crickets. Ten acres of forest and fields were the perfect stage for their performances. On many nights my mom, dad and I would build a bonfire and roast hotdogs for supper. We’d sit at a picnic table out back, nestled in the woods behind the house and white picket-fenced garden. Crickets would sing; we were happy.

Other sounds have replaced those choirs since I left Eden at 18: the loud music and drunken laughter of downtown Fredonia on a Saturday night; Manhattan’s taxis and fire trucks. It’s been difficult for me to fall asleep since leaving home. But whenever I go back, I am soothed by the crickets’ lullaby.

It’s been six years since my dad’s death. I was feeling melancholy around his birthday this past winter, so my friend Jason from the Philippines generously invited me and my friend Kathryn to share his holiday.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked. “You choose,” he said. “Anywhere in the world.”

There are many places I want to explore. But southern France kept coming to mind. Specifically Provence. My parents visited in 1984 for their ninth wedding anniversary. To celebrate, they spent a month traveling and visiting with our French family.

A favorite story is when they stayed in Nice. Many women sunbathe topless along the Riviera. My mother was uncomfortable doing this, so she wore a one-piece black bathing suit with white trim. She also wore a gold cross necklace my dad had bought her. One afternoon she sprawled on the beach while the rest of the family went sightseeing. When they returned a few hours later, my mother was confused; people kept walking by and dropping money onto her towel. My Aunt Therese laughed. “They think you are a nun!” she exclaimed.

After visiting Nice, everyone drove to Provence. It was the height of lavender season and the land was patched purple. The fragrance was everywhere and it made my mom queasy. The trip signaled a change in my parents’ lives. Mom was pregnant with me.

So Jason, Kathryn, and I flew into Nice. We rented a car and drove straight to Provence.

Everyone in the car was silent during the last leg of the trip, first with fear as I navigated the winding, extremely narrow, mountainous bends, and then in awe as we rolled through the country.

Old plane trees lined the roads. Olive and cherry orchards grew past that. The mountains looked purple as the sun set. The smell of cut grass, churned dirt and ripening grapes filled us all with olfactory pleasure.

We arrived at our lovely accommodations at dusk. We stayed in a cottage large enough for a family of four. While Jason and Kathryn unpacked, I took a walk around the property. The rural farmland and castle initially belonged to a 13th century knight. Various families inhabited it since. Over time the property fell into despair. When the Bon family took over in 1979, Francoise and her daughter Catherine set about restoring it.

On my walk I discovered a fruit orchard and a rose garden, and then a field of lavender, its fragrance and purple arms beckoning me. I stood at the edge and listened; choirs of crickets were singing therein. I smiled. I knew I’d sleep tight that night.