The last time I was house sitting in this rural pocket of Normandy, it was three years ago in the height of summer.
The raspberry canes in the vegetable patch yielded masses of delicious berries from July through to September. I would come up from the garden with my mouth and fingers stained deep crimson – ‘crushed raspberry’ – and my bowl full to overflowing with garden produce.
Wild raspberries and blackberries grew along the hedgerows and I would fill my cap with them on my daily walk. The French word for ‘wild’ is sauvage. For some reason, this always made my friend Caz and I laugh. It was one of the many topics on which we exchanged emails during my six months in France. We loved the idea of me taming those savage berries into a tart.
Caz had spent some time in France in her early twenties. We were both besotted by the vagaries of the French language and culture – still are – and found a kindred spirit in each other in all matters français.
We’ve been friends since we were six.
There’s not much I don’t know about her. She’s creative, caring, genuinely interested in the wellbeing of others and a scholar of life. And we make each other laugh. I know when she’s feeling good about herself because she starts to wear shades of brown and purple instead of her usual black.
Having regular contact with friends like her contributed greatly to my equilibrium when I was so far from home. I could offload my anxieties and my small victories, regale them with hilarious stories – some of them true – of my adventures. And importantly, still be a part of their lives: their hopes and dreams, as well as their trials and tribulations.
Caz had been single for a while when I left Australia back in 2015. In one of her texts from home, she told me about an old boyfriend who had contacted her out of the blue via Facebook. They had last seen each other when they were 18. From my self-imposed exile 16000 kilometres away, I followed their renewed friendship with vicarious glee. Two weeks after their reunion I got this message:
I bought myself a crushed raspberry dress.
The significance of that statement was not lost on me.
Our raspberry theme had just gone to a whole new level. Caz had gone straight from wearing black to look-at-me crushed raspberry – no in-between shades of brown, purple or mauve. I knew she must have been feeling pretty special.
And so she was. She had reconnected with someone who had known and loved her as a young girl: who understood the core of her. I believe we are all at heart the same young person we once were, if life hasn’t knocked the stuffing out of us. Having someone come back into our lives with that knowledge is a precious thing indeed. Feeling loved makes us shine.
When our confidence is at a low ebb, it takes courage to step out of the shadow and into the limelight.
Attracting attention to ourselves when we’re feeling less than our best is often the last thing we want to do. At a recent women’s workshop I attended, participants were asked to turn to the stranger next to them and give them a compliment. I told my neighbour I loved the way her hazel eyes exactly matched her dress. She laughed and told me I wasn’t the first person to say that. She was glowing: her whole demeanour changed as she told me a bit more about herself.
I always used to wear black.
She had recently come out of a relationship and it had taken some courage to divest herself of black. The positive reinforcement she had received as a result of wearing her new dress had encouraged her to wear it more often. She made herself step out of the shadows before she felt ready to, and had been rewarded with a kind of fake-it-till-you-make-it effect.
My friend Caz’s mood barometer has – since the start of her renewed romance – taken her from crushed raspberry, back to black, to brown, to navy, to a gorgeous burnt orange that few could get away with. She’s been getting away with it for a few months now, so she’s in a good place either of her own or someone else’s making. Either way, she’s slowly finding her way to that spotlight. I look forward to seeing what colour she adopts next. Mango? Watermelon? Lime green?