Delphine Lambert, a dark-haired, serious young woman, was reading Le Figaro intently in her apartment on the rue du Cherche-Midi on the Left Bank in Paris, on New Year’s Day. She was reading a list carefully, as she did every year on that day, and had for several years. At twenty-nine, a political journalist and historian, she had two books to her credit that had done well, and frequently published articles in the press. Her long straight hair concealed part of her face as she pored over the newspaper, as Georges Poitier, the man she lived with, watched her and smiled. He had already guessed what she was reading. She had been chasing a dream since she was seventeen years old.
“What are you looking for?” he asked her gently. The list was published twice a year, on New Year’s Day, and the fourteenth of July.
“You know…my grandmother,” she answered without looking up, not wanting to lose her place. There were five hundred names on the list, and she feared that the name she hoped to see wouldn’t be on it yet again. It hadn’t been so far, despite all of Delphine’s efforts for the past dozen years, and she had worked tirelessly on the project. “How long are they going to wait?” she muttered, fearing disappointment again. Her grandmother, Gaëlle de Barbet Pasquier, was ninety-five years old, and she was far less concerned about it than her granddaughter, to whom it had become a sacred cause. The list was of the upcoming recipients of the Légion d’Honneur, the most distinguished award in France.
Gaëlle had never expected to be decorated, and had none of the aspirations Delphine had for her, and thought it entirely unnecessary. Delphine insisted it was only right. The entire family knew how hard Delphine had worked to get her grandmother exonerated and recognized. Gaëlle was at peace about her life. The events she would have been acknowledged for were all so long ago, during the war. They were chapters of her life that were a distant memory now. Gaëlle rarely thought about it, except when Delphine questioned her, which she seldom did anymore. She knew the whole story, and her grandmother’s bravery had been a powerful motivating force in her life, and an inspiration to her. Her grandmother was a shining example of everything Delphine thought a human being should be. And whether the government came to its senses, righted the wrongs of the past, and honored her or not, she was a hero in Delphine’s eyes, and had been to countless others during the Occupation of France seventy-nine years before.
And then, as she read, Delphine sat still for an instant, and her eyes flew open wide. She read it again, to be sure she had seen it correctly, and she looked at Georges across the breakfast table with amazement.
“Oh my God…it’s there…she’s on it!” It had finally happened. All her letters and years of careful research, and haranguing every member of the chancellery she could lay hands on, had finally done it. Her grandmother was being decorated with the distinguished Legion of Honor Medal, as a knight.
There were tears in Delphine’s eyes as she looked at Georges, and her hand was shaking as she showed him the newspaper. Gaëlle de Barbet Pasquier. She read it over and over to be sure there was no mistake. It was there at last. He smiled broadly at her, and leaned over to kiss her, knowing how hard she had worked for that. And her grandmother knew it too, and had always said it was a futile project. And now it had finally happened, thanks to Delphine.
“Bravo! Good work,” he said, proud of her. There was no question that her grandmother was an amazing woman, and now the world would know it, as her countrymen recognized her.
Delphine got up from the table a minute later to call her. She could hardly wait to get her on the phone and tell her. She was sure that her grandmother hadn’t bothered to read the paper that morning, or pounce on it as she had. Gaëlle hadn’t been optimistic about it. She had always said it would never be possible. And Delphine had proved her wrong. Persistence had finally won the prize.
Her hands were still shaking as she called the cellphone she had given her grandmother, and it went straight to voicemail, as it did most of the time.
“She never uses the cellphone I gave her,” Delphine complained to Georges over her shoulder. Her grandmother claimed it was too complicated and she didn’t need it, and preferred to use her phone at home. Delphine called that number next, and let it ring for a long time, in case she was busy or in the bath. There was no answer on that line either, the message machine was off, and Delphine went back to the breakfast table in total frustration. She couldn’t wait to tell her that it had finally happened.
“She probably went to church this morning,” Georges reminded her.
“Or she’s walking the dog. I’ll try her again in a few minutes.” But she had no greater success ten minutes or half an hour later. Delphine didn’t know how she would contain herself until she reached her, and she finally called her mother instead, who was as thrilled as her daughter and burst into tears when she heard the news. It had been their fondest hope for her, however modest she was about her accomplishments. And it frustrated both of them not to be able to find her. But despite her age, Gaëlle was healthy and independent, an early riser, and usually had plans that took her out for the day or the evening. She was in remarkably good shape, of sound mind and body, and she enjoyed seeing friends, going to museums or the theater, or taking long walks with her dog in her neighborhood or along the Seine.
“I’ll call her later,” Delphine told her mother, and went back to stare at the list again, to make sure that her grandmother’s name was still there and it hadn’t been an illusion. It was the culmination of a dream, for all of them, and so greatly deserved by Gaëlle.