Life Sketches by Terry Berskon: Father of the man

Cousin Ben, age 15

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon
Father of the man

Several years ago I received a wedding announcement from my cousin Francine who lived in the town of Savigny Sur Orge, which is a 20-minute train ride from Paris, France.

She said that her son Ben had finally married his girlfriend whom he had been living with for ten years. The girl, Isabelle, is a doctor and comes from a small French village where there hadn’t been a wedding for 17 years, so theirs was a grand occasion where almost the entire village population attended. Ben and Isabelle worked for Doctors Without Borders and had made friends in many countries from which about 130 people came to attend. Francine wrote that the wedding party walked along cobblestone paths accompanied by musicians who played instruments dating from the middle ages. The reception was held at an old castle and because a majority of the guests were from Latin America, much of the music was from Mexico and Brazil.

News of this wedding had brought on a whole constellation of memories. While in the army I sent a letter to my Aunt Ruta from Richfield Springs who was staying with Francine when she lived in Mexico.

As an afterthought I wrote on the outside of the envelope, Francine: please read. She did — and later answered and we continued to write to each other for more than 40 years. When I was a kid she gave me a book which I treasured and still have.

As a young woman, Francine had been traveling in Mexico with her parents and her small son Jonathan. She met Jean, a Frenchman, who was a flying aficionado and would do anything to be in the air. When I later met him he told me of his adventures piloting for different governments in South America. “One day I’d be flying a high official around. The next day there’d be a coup and I’d find myself in jail!”
The day Francine met him, Jean had been flying a crop duster and later stopped to have a drink in an outdoor cafe. She was taken by his Walter Pigeon looks and cavalier attitude. The planes he flew weren’t exactly cream puffs. They were tired birds subject to shoddy maintenance and cobbled repairs.
“I flew by the seat of my pants,” Jean said. “We whittled

down wooden splints to make needles for the carburetor.” Not surprisingly, Jean crashed his crop duster the day after Francine met him. One of the wings of the plane had twisted, leaving it to tumble toward the ground. He survived the crash but was dragged from the wreckage with almost every bone in his body broken. Doctors didn’t expect him to live. A leg was amputated and one side of his face was grossly distorted. When Francine heard of the crash she went to the hospital and stayed with him from that time on. After many months Jean’s condition improved but he was always in pain and what was left of his amputated leg never healed properly, requiring

periodic operations. They eventually got married, had another child, “Benito,” and later left Mexico for France. That’s where I first met Jean back in 1970. Francine was on a walking tour of Ireland and had left him in the care of friends. We shared some wine-bathed meals together.

The next visit to Savigny was in 1973 when Alice and I were on our honeymoon. Francine and Jean were there and so was their son Ben who was then 15. I think Francine’s first son, Jonathan, was in the American military at the time. It was a very warm and welcoming visit where many of their friends came to their house to meet the cousins from America.

Ben seemed very pleased to be in the company of relatives he had never met before. The next day he ran all the way home from school to try and catch us before we left. He burst in the door all out of breath. I was impressed because at fifteen, boys usually try to act cool and not impressed with mere relatives. I never forgot his sincere open display of connection and warmth.

So later, this kid who ran all the way home, had recently walked his woman, Isabelle, down the aisle. I would think she had made a good catch. Unfortunately, his father, Jean, died long before the wedding. Though I haven’t seen Ben for over 40 years, I know that he turned out okay. After all, the boy is the father of the man. It seems fitting with his having such a caring mother and a daring father, who needed so much medical attention, that Ben would eventually work with his wife for an organization like Doctors Without Borders.


One thought on “Life Sketches by Terry Berskon: Father of the man

  1. Margaret Kroll

    Sitting at my computer reading your column while
    having breakfast (yogurt, peaches, coconut and almonds).
    Very interesting story Terry! Peg

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