We all need time away from work and Forest Park for a while. In my case, it was a forced “vacation”-to France to attend the funeral of my oldest brother, Edward. He died in his sleep just before his 66th birthday, in his adopted mountain village of Autrans.
Ed was the oldest of nine, a pioneer and hero to us younger kids. He was the first to drive a car, date girls and go away to college. He was also the political radical of the family and grew a beard to prove it. He opened our eyes to the truth about Vietnam long before the rest of the country came around to his way of thinking.
Ever the intellectual, Ed met his wife Micheline in Paris, while researching the book he would publish on the French involvement in Vietnam. Ed was not only expanding our political and cultural worlds, he broke racial barriers by marrying a black woman. The year was 1974.
He was always a person of principle and after he got his degree in history, he taught in a number of struggling black colleges in the South. He never made much money and missed out on tenure but felt he was making a difference. The salary he did earn was invested in travel, rather than possessions.
Ed and Micheline moved around, as she taught at Brown University and later Swarthmore University, and they made regular trips to France and her native island of Guadeloupe. During the last decade, they spent half the school year in Grenoble, France, where Swarthmore has a campus.
When Edward returned home to Chicago, Forest Park had a special place in his heart. He admired the town’s working class roots and trade union spirit. He made pilgrimages to the Haymarket Martyr’s Monument to visit the graves of fellow radicals.
In 2004, many liberals said they would leave the U.S. if the incumbent president were re-elected. Ed actually did it-cashing in his dollars for euros and leasing an apartment in the heart of the French Alps. He took daily walks and called often to tell me how much he loved his new home.
Ed totally embraced French culture-the cuisine, the wine and the beret-but kept his identity by speaking the language in a flat Midwestern accent. This made him a “character” in the village, where even the bus drivers knew him by name.
The view from Edward’s apartment was like the scenery in the “Sound of Music.” From the creperie below, he enjoyed the aromatic equivalent of living above Kay’s Bakery.
After his funeral, the little town newspaper announced a memorial walk for Ed. Friends, family and townspeople assembled to stroll Edward’s route and scatter his ashes by a mountain brook. Leave it to my big brother Ed to find paradise here on Earth, where every day was a vacation.