Saturday, December 1, 2012

December Excerpt: Maman, Maman by Jaime O'Neill

Maman, Maman
Jaime O'Neill

It is bitter cold on Omaha Beach two weekends before Christmas, and so my daughter, Sionann, sits in her car, watching her Paris friends survey this site she knows so well, having brought a succession of visitors from her Normandy house here to this old killing ground to share in the homage she pays to all the young men who died on this stretch of sand so long before she was born.

Her friends sprint near water’s edge, running against the cold wind that cuts across the channel and through their winter coats. Even in the car, she can feel that wind. She turns up the heater, and she turns up the music, too–Joan Baez singing “Ave Maria” in German. It is music my daughter has known since she was an infant, a Christmas album we bought when she was three months old and have listened to every Christmas since then, more than forty years. She is, at first, swept up by nostalgia and it takes a few moments before she even realizes the language Joan Baez is singing in, and how that particular song sung in German must resonate with the ghosts who inhabit this gray seaside terrain, all those young German men who died here more than half a century ago, calling out for their mothers with their dying breaths.

Then her friends – the four of them part of a choral group Sionann has invited here to sing carols in her village – run back up the beach to where he sits in the car. Their cheeks are red with the cold, and they bring that salty Atlantic cold into the car, a gust of it on their coats and the surface of their exposed skin, but they are all aglow with laughter and vitality as Sionann starts the engine and they turn away from the beach to drive inland where they are expected, where they will sing carols at the retirement home in my daughter’s village, just a block from her house in a town called Cerisy Le Foret–Cherry of the Forest–a place liberated by some of the men who survived the landing on this beach weeks after their comrades fell here, turning the water crimson and staining the sand where they bled their young lives away.

The place my daughter drives to is on a street renamed, in fact, for the infantry division that pushed the Germans out in that summer of 1944–Avenue 2 “e” Division Indian Head, an unwieldy name, but an honor no post-war Norman would speak against.

You can read the rest of the article by picking up the December issue available now. Visit the Empirical website for more information about subscriptions, single issues, and submissions.

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