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January 21, 2024

Thirteen for dinner

A few days after my book signing event at the Salon du livre de Montreal (Montreal book fair), I still couldn’t stop thinking about all the attention I had received from devoted readers who took the time to stop at my table and chat, give their compliments and pick up a personalized autographed copy.

For a moment, I believed I was back in one of my first restaurants greeting each guest with a huge smile on my face. I was delighted to meet so many readers of my Sunday letters who wanted to get a copy of my book to read more of my stories.

I must admit that these five consecutive days of book signing felt as strenuous as the Sundays long ago when I flipped hundreds of fresh fruit crêpes on the griddle. Today, these same 10 fingers cook up nourishing paragraphs for your delight.

At the book fair, I saw Janette Bertrand (Quebec journalist, actor, writer and speaker, a thought-provoking content creator and a fierce advocate for the rights of women, the elderly and marginalized people), who I admire greatly for having reached 98 years in such fine form. I’m convinced she’ll surpass Canada’s longest-living woman, Cecile Edith Klein, who passed in 2022 at the age of 114. It appears that Ms. Klein’s secret to longevity was that she always remained very positive. Duly noted! Let’s avoid gloom and sadness if we want to become centenarians.

Rested, with my feet back on the ground after this surge of emotions, I quickly started to think about writing again. But before weaving new tales, I wanted to thank my good friends from the local coffee shop who never ceased to encourage me while I was writing my book. I made friends by sitting at the same table, day after day. Men, women and regular patrons who inspired me with their hellos, a quick chat, a smile; and who would even sometimes tell me a story between two cups of coffee. Many have become my supporters, keen to help without distracting me.

To show my gratitude, I invited them to a friendly dinner at my large dining table a few days before Christmas. We defied the unlucky number 13. We were the same number at the table, just like at the Last Supper. My good friend Neil and his wife Adèle, Marie-Pierre the flight attendant, Claude the bush pilot, George the old Sicilian with his wife Carole, Steven the retired policeman, my friend Éric the chef, Denis the 70-year-old teenager, Sylvain who recently lost his wife, my oldest son, his girlfriend and myself. All the wise old people that were my age (and even my son and his partner) really appreciated the invitation. They all brought their big hearts and something in their hands. Sylvain’s fudge, Adèle’s delicious cake, George’s chocolate, the flight attendant’s floating island meringue, the chef’s sugar pie and many bottles of wine. I had already mentioned to the bush pilot, a former electrician-instructor, that one of the bedrooms no longer had heat. He arrived with a new thermostat instead of a bottle of wine and installed it before dinner.

Since it was the first time we were all gathered at the same table, I had prepared questions to break the ice at dessert time so we could get to know each other better and deepen our friendship. We giggled like teenagers when hearing the answers and mostly laughed out loud when hearing individual anecdotes.

All those years spent as a restaurateur and later on as a businesswoman were devoid of any meaningful friendships. I always, always had to be on the lookout, ready to solve a problem, invent a new menu, inaugurate a new restaurant, conquer a province and surpass my targets, year after year. During those years, I didn’t have time to exist, the courage to approach others or the opportunity to develop friendships. At that time, loving was the furthest thing possible.

Nonetheless, I have finally received the immense gift of friendship later in life; the mutual feeling of affection and sympathy that is not based on family ties or sexual attraction. It’s never too late to learn that friendships are a source of happiness, fulfillment and sharing. I realize today that true friends are like angels: We don’t have to see them to feel their presence. They are always there, in our minds.