Truth is, she’s not my aunt, she’s my husband’s aunt. But everyone calls the aunts the French equivalent of “My Aunt”. So Solange is “My Aunt Solange“.
“There’s a cruise ship at the dock in La Baie,” she tells me, “and there are guided tours all afternoon. Would you like to go with us?” Us means her, and her younger sister, Diane. Ma Tante Diane.
I said “Yes!” right away. I love going on excursions with the aunts, even if they’re not my aunts. They know so many people, know so much history of the people and the region and it’s always a lot of fun. And it helps my perpetually-in-need-of-improvement French. Français.
I got dressed in one of my favourite dresses and comfortable heels; I don’t get as many occasions to dress up as I’d like, and the day was warm and seemed nice enough for a dress. When I stopped at Solange’s house, I told her she’d need to change. We were going out with dresses on.
And so she changed. As she left, she kissed her husband good-bye. “À bientôt, mon amour!” “See you later, my love!” They’ve been married for just over 53 years. “My love, my darling, my little one” are all part of Solange’s vocabulary for her husband.
When we got to Ma Tante Diane’s house, Ma Tante Rita was also there. Rita is the widowed wife of Claude, Solange and Diane’s brother. To make things even more confusing, both Diane and Solange’s husbands are also named “Claude” and sometimes I have no idea which Claude they’re talking about! Rita has strawberry blonde hair and is as cute as a button and I don’t know why I didn’t get any pictures of her, but I didn’t. Shame on me.
Diane had just finished putting the pins in a pretty pink blouse of Rita’s that was too large for her and was in dire need of an alteration. Although both Diane and Solange are excellent seamstresses, Solange had offered to take the blouse in, custom-fitting it to Rita’s size. As they made the final adjustments to the blouse, Diane had to go and also get changed into a dress.
We were finally off to La Baie to see the C.T.M.A Vacancien.
La Baie is about 25 minutes from where Diane lives and to get there, we pass by the Bagotville Air Force Base. As we do, Solange begins to tell a story of an airman stationed at the base who had been interested in courting her before she met and married Claude. Her Claude.
“Oh yes, my tall, handsome airman,” Solange reminisces and Diane agrees. Solange is sitting in the front seat of the car in the passenger seat; Diane is sitting behind me. I’m driving. And Solange, as she tells the story is giving me directions (as if I was a newcomer and had never been here before). “Oh, he was handsome. He was 6 foot 4,” she explains dreamily. Six foot four, I think to myself, that’s a rather great height to be matched with someone as petite as Solange, who would have trouble reaching 5 feet with heels on.
“We saw him once, years later,” she continues. “He’s dead now. He told Claude,” she says in a guarded whisper, ‘She’s just as beautiful now as when I first met her.'”
“And do you know what Claude said?” she asks, rhetorically. “He said, ‘She’s so beautiful because I make her happy!'” To that, the two aunts laughed, and laughed and laughed some more.
When we finally got to the dock, we’d walked a fair bit, and Solange, uncharacteristically, had to stop to rest several times before we got there. She’d been sick the week before and was still a little bit weak. We waited in line for our turn for a tour and soon we were at the front of the line and the handsome Vincente was there to guide us around the ship and, perhaps, make us interested in booking a cruise for ourselves.
Down the walkway we zig-zagged until we came to the entrance to the ship. There, on that floor, were cars and semi-trucks and bicycles. Since this cruise begins in Montreal and goes to the Iles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of the St. Laurence, the people who take the cruise can take transportation with them to explore the islands.
After a couple flights of stairs up into the ship and a tour of one of the dining rooms, Solange was now exhausted. We parked her in one of the sofa chairs close to the ship’s information desk, promising to pick her up on our return.
When the tour ended and we left the ship, I saw the now uphill catwalk and decided that would be too difficult for Solange. Then I spied some wheelchairs with the Ville de Saguenay logos on them, and got one for Solange, who although is very bossy and tried to say “No” to me, finally gave in.
After a few meters of pushing, the valiant Vincente was there, offering to help.
I let him.
Back on dry land, Solange wanted to go and have a coffee at Au Pavillion Noir, a restaurant where her granddaughter’s godfather’s girlfriend, Caro works. It’s a nice place in a great location with a wonderful view of the bay. Solange ordered a beer and French Onion soup; Diane had a diet coke and onion rings and I had a virgin Cesar. It was all very good and, with Caro there, of course, it was even better!
I dropped Diane off first, going inside to pick up the top that Solange would be remaking for Rita, and Diane’s husband Claude was there having a snack at the counter, home fresh from a round of golf. When he saw Diane looking sharp in her dress, he said, “Where have you been?” Still eyeing her as she walked by him, pleased with what he saw, I think she actually swaggered – moving her hips even more – as she passed by where he was, by this time, now standing. After years and years and (okay, you get it,) years of marriage, they still can flirt with each other. And they do!