Last Saturday, we were invited to a ‘birthday party’. We were supposed to celebrate a neighbor’s 75th birthday, one mile away from Les Tertres (yes, this kind of ‘neighbor’).
We barely know ‘J’ except that he’s related to some friends of ours. We’ve met from time to time and not very often because he lives with his family in La Réunion Island where he’s a very successful tropical fruit grower among other things.
A lot of people from our area have emigrated to La Réunion. It’s far easier to make money there than in Brittany, because of the huge amount of funding France bestows upon its overseas territories and departments. Of course most of this money goes to metropolitan French businessmen... Based on the concept that ‘natives’ wouldn’t really know how to use it.
Yes, France is still very much into cultural imperialism.
I was very reluctant to go but Popeye said that it would be nice to behave neighborly!
When we got there, we realized there would be a very formal lunch with cooks and waitresses. We had been expecting a ‘country’ buffet from which we would easily depart after a while.
We also found out that J.’s wife would not be there and that only one of his sons (the oldest one - 27 years old) would be attending the ‘party’.
We did know a few people there (our friends). But we were a minority. Popeye and I, we started wondering why we had been invited as soon as the real guests arrived.
Distinguished guests, all of them... and the ‘party’ started.
There was ‘M. Surgeon’ who no longer is a surgeon (a good thing maybe) but owns a chain of private clinics (yes, just like in the movies) in La Réunion (where else) plus a huge estate in Northern France.
There was M. Bananas who manages all of the French bananas production from our overseas territories.
There was M. Frozen Pastries & Breads who sells his products all over Europe and actually all over the world (a few glasses of wine later).
There was M. Chicken who owns one of the biggest battery chickens farm in Brittany and maybe France. (Quite freakish - hundreds of thousands chickens all together.)
Et cetera. Et cetera.
All of them very successful businessmen in the food-processing industry...
But this is not the pathetic happening I meant to talk about.
The meal was about to start when J. announced that he wanted to give a small speech. Strange since it was his birthday and someone else could have made a little speech, preferably witty and fun.
Not at all. In J.‘s world: If you want something doing, do it yourself.
So he first told us that his family had been very, very poor when he was born. He went on saying that he had been a great entrepreneur, from his teens. And then he started crying. Tried to say a few more words. Cried again.
I was facing him. While he was crying, his legs started jumping around below the table, sort of. And I got kicked several times. But it didn’t really matter. I was aghast. I kept expecting his son to stand up and put his arms around his old father’s shoulders. No way.
Time froze so did the whole table.
After what seemed to me a very long and uneasy silence, J. calmed down and resumed his speech. And then it got really worse (for him or for me?).
For me. Because the whole speech was about his brilliant career and ventures (60 years in all). He kept on rambling and rambling until he finally got to the day of his birthday party and thanked all of his friends for being there. End of speech.
Even his brilliant friends looked ill-at-ease.
I was stuck between M. Surgeon and M. Frozen Foods. But Popeye and I, we managed to exchange glances. We were so appalled. (Obviously the only ones to feel this way... since conversation resumed on this very same theme: success, power and money.)
You see, J. never mentioned his family, not even once. Not one word about his sisters and brother. Not one word about his wife and children. Not one word about his extended family. Not one word of gratefulness about people who had lived with him, supported him, worked with him and helped him become so successful.
It had been: ‘Me, me and me’. ‘Work and money.’ ‘Money and work.’
When you get this old, you should be able to realize that the most important things you’ll be leaving behind won’t be your possessions nor your financial achievements. What’s more important than the days spent with your family, wife and children, days filled with affection and understanding and sharing?
What’s more important than being a good husband, a good father and a good friend?
How pathetic one can be.
*Good Night, and Good Luck*