Disclaimer: This is not a story about our visit to the D-Day beaches. This is a story about something else that happened on the day of our visit to the D-Day beaches. It was the day of the poppy, the day we picked wildflowers at Omaha and crawled through bunkers at Pont du Hoc. Perhaps most importantly, though, it was the day we met The Cider Man.
M and I were driving away from Omaha Beach, back towards Mesnil. We were both silently looking for some procrastination to postpone the hour long drive home when we spotted the little wooden plank signaling “CIDRE”. I gasped, he nodded, and we pulled in past the trees and under a grand stone arch. M put the Polo into park and I looked up to see an open garage, chock full of surfboards, rakes, and other residential oddities. A mustachioed man stood outside, greeting us with a Bonjour! and a big smile. Had we just parked ourselves in someone’s private driveway?
Perhaps, yes. But we decided to get out and acknowledge the kind gentleman, who seemed to be welcoming our intrusion, if that was indeed what was going on. He continued speaking gingerly en français, and we smiled, followed and listened. It was not until we reached the inside of the bar/cider shop area and he pointed at a huge map, land all stuck with little pins, that he broke into english asking, “Where do you come from?”
We placed our pins in Boston and Providence (where there was already one little pin waiting for mine to meet it, how cool!), and our Cider Man offered to try out his “not good” english (ps, it was actually perfect). He skipped behind the bar and told us all about his cider. He taught us about Normandy’s famous Calvados, its bubbly and apèritif counterparts, and the family farm that had been making it for generations. As we sipped samples of the spoils, he told us about Châteaux Normands and Le Portail, the arch we’d just passed through. The tall entryway and the original tower to its left were built in the 12th century, and the estate had been in the family for hundreds of years. He told us about the history of the land, Norman apples, cows and cheese. We talked about his brother (uncle? cousin?) who went to Michigan State, and his visits to Texas. We talked about gun control and terrorism, American politics and World War II. The astonishing thing was, that big smile never faded from its home beneath his pristine ‘stache.
Twenty minutes later we were heading toward Pont du Hoc, fresh Calvados in hand and the reflection of The Cider Man’s infectious smile plastered across our faces. Àperitif and new french friend.