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Crickets take me home

If I could choose one noise as the soundtrack of my childhood, it would be crickets. Ten acres of forest and fields was the perfect stage for their evening 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 and people It’s usually difficult for me to fall asleep. But whenever I go home, I am once again lulled by the cricket’s lullaby.

It’s been six years since my dad’s death. I was feeling particularly melancholy this past winter, so my friend Jason from the Philippines (who met up with me last summer in Bangkok, Thailand) generously invited a friend and me to share his holiday.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“You choose,” he said in January. “Anywhere in the world.”

There are so many places I want to explore before I die: Argentina, the Caribbean, Italy, Fiji But the one place that kept coming to mind was the south of France. Specifically Provence.

My mom and dad went there in 1984 – my mom turned 29 on the trip, my dad was 31. It was their ninth wedding anniversary. To celebrate, they decided to spend a month traveling and visiting with my Aunt Therese, Uncle Gerard and the rest of our French family.

A favorite story is when they stayed in Nice. Many women were topless along the Rivera. But my mom was uncomfortable doing that. So, she wore a one-piece black bathing suit with white trim. She was also wearing a gold cross necklace my dad had bought for her birthday.

One afternoon, she decided to sprawl on the beach while my dad and the rest of the family explored. When they returned a few hours later, my mother was confused: people kept walking by and dropping francs onto her towel. My aunt Therese laughed.

“They think you are a nun!” she exclaimed.

After Nice, everyone drove to Provence. It was the height of lavender season and the grounds were patched with green, yellow and purple turf.

“The fragrance was just everywhere,” my mom has described. “But it was making me queasy.”

The trip signaled a change in my parents’ lives and relationship. Before they left, they had decided they wanted to start a family; my mom was pregnant with me.

Jason, my friend Kathryn and I flew into Nice last Sunday morning. We rented a car and drove to Provence that night.

Everyone in the car was silent, first with fear as I navigated the winding, extremely narrow, mountainous bends. But once we rolled into the country, we were in awe. Old plane trees lined the roads, making it look like we were driving through green tunnels. Olive and cherry orchards were past that. And vineyards. The mountains in the distance looked purple as the sun set. The smell of cut grass and churned dirt and ripening grapes filled us all with olfactory pleasure.

We arrived at our beautiful hotel – Le Chateau des Alpilles in Saint-Remy-de-Provence – 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 history of the chateau spans several centuries. The rural farmland initially belonged to a thirteenth-century knight. Various families in succession have inhabited the land since. In the 18th century, the Blain family took possession of it. With them came the phrase, “la vie de chateau” – “castle life in all its splendor.” But over time, the castle fell into despair.

When the Bon family took over in 1979, it was a dilapidated slum in a verdant setting. Francoise Bon and her daughter Catherine set about restoring and embellishing it, giving it a lovely mix of hominess and elegance.

On my walk, I discovered a fruit orchard, the tree limbs heavy with cherries and apricots. And I also found a rose garden. Then I came along a spread of fine lavender, its fragrance and purple arms beckoning me.

I dropped to my knees and breathed deep. Choirs of crickets performed all around me. I smiled – I knew I’d sleep tight that night.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

editorial@observertoday.com

or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com