In reading about my great grandfather, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, I learned he was an avid swimmer. During one of his many trips to France, he and two friends walked from Paris to Rouen and on to St. Valery-en-Caux just north of the Normandy Beaches. Despite the high waves and cold temperatures he and his friends dove in and swam much to the concern of the residents. Gus (as I affectionately call him) kept swimming enjoying the challenge of the rough waters.
I marvel at the vitality, strength, and endurance of my great-grandfather and his companions by walking from Paris to Rouen, up to St. Valery-en-Caux and then back to Paris. A total of about 245 miles! Do I have that kind of energy and commitment?
That same general area at the end of World War II saw the lives of thousands of men from the Allied forces be lost or were seriously injured. The shoreline and waters of the English Channel all run along the coast. Some areas were low and flooded, while other areas had high cliffs, and lastly some areas like Omaha Beach had a more gradual incline up hills where bunkers were hidden.
|Pont du Hoc Beach|
As I looked and learned more about these historical beaches of Normandy, I thought of all the stories they could tell...stories about happier times before WWII when families had picnics, children built sand castles, or fishermen cast out their lines. Visiting the American Cemetery was very moving and quite unforgettable. I had to ask myself "Why cannot humankind learn that wars and killing do not bring peace and happiness, which is all that we each want?" I said some prayers and shed tears for all those who sacrificed their lives through death or injury so I can be FREE to be here and live my life without fear.
That is me all wrapped up in layers of clothing trying to stay warm!
It was a very cold and windy day at the Normandy Beaches rather matching the history of lives lost.
Two days later we were at Mont Saint-Michel, a wondrously beautiful and magical abbey that dates back to the 8th Century. According to legend, the Archangel Saint Michael instructed the bishop to build a church on the island. The French and the English fought over rights to it for many years with France finally winning it once and for all. It was converted into a prison from an abbey, and then later into a historical landmark which it still is today.
Did I say I climbed 17 stories, walked 3.8 miles, which meant 7,913 steps? It was an incredible experience and for being 74 years old, I am very proud of myself that I made it to the top and was able to worship in the church.
The town of Aspet in the foothills of the Pyrenees is where my great-great grandfather, Bernard was born. My great-grandfather visited Aspet with his good friend Alfred Garnier in the 1890's. Aspet is a charming small town and the townspeople are warm and friendly. Gus and Garnier also stopped in Salies-du-Salat which is where Gus's father had spent much time when first learning the art of making shoes. For the first time Augustus saw the name "Saint-Gaudens" above the door, which was very exciting for him.
Since I was the first of the Augustus-Davida Clark lineage to visit Aspet, I was given a warm welcome and the townspeople were eager to learn everything I could share about my great-grandparents and grandfather. I showed them photos and passed down the few stories of information I had. It was a joyful visit and one I shall treasure forever.
In Aspet I saw Augustus Saint-Gaudens street on which his father's house still stands today.
There is an association keeping the name of Augustus Saint-Gaudens recognized and honored. It is a small organization of about 30 people. For 25.00 Euros or about $29.00 per year one can become a member and help support their efforts. Here is their website for more information www.augustussaintgaudens.com.
My trip to France comes to end tomorrow, but it has been a very joyful, exciting, and emotional time. I have met very kind people, saw some fascinating places, and enjoyed the very delicious French food.
I am most grateful to God, family, friends, and my husband who have made this celebration of remission possible. Now on to Spain for Part II of our celebratory journey!