Chère Dores

My son brought home from his two week stay with a family in another country a suitcase of clothes that were cleaner and better pressed than when he left. His clothes give off the scent of something floral and soapy, which I think in the country he visited, in the home he stayed, is the smell of clean. Under the floral smell, is a very faint whiff of something masculine, cigarette smoke I think. When I hug him, I smell Dores, the mother of the boy he stayed with.

I don’t speak the same language as Dores. My son does. I asked him several times on the telephone while he was gone to thank her for taking such good care of him, but I could tell from the very short sentence I overheard him saying to her in response that he did not adequately convey my gratitude.

If she could speak English, this is what I'd tell her.

Chère Dores,

Thank you for the necklace. It's very pretty — a flirty, dangly chain of green and gold. Although you’re the only woman in a house of boys and men, I can see from your picture (in it, you’re wearing a chain like the one you sent me) that you aren't daunted by that one bit.

I can also see from the pictures you sent that your husband loves toys. There are three cars in your garage, a play station, a mini bike and a lot of sports equipment. My son says you don’t have a clothes dryer. He told me you get up every morning before everyone else and begin cleaning your house. Thank you for washing all of my son’s clothes, hanging them out to dry, ironing them and putting them away along with your husband’s and your two sons’ laundry.

When your husband hit your son hard with a slipper, you explained to my son that when your husband was a child, his own father kicked him so hard, and so often, that some days he had difficulty walking. Your husband’s father was a hard man, and your husband is a little less hard, and maybe your own son will be even less so. My son doesn’t know very much about this sort of thing. Thank you for trying to explain it to him. It is not the whole story, but it was a good place to start.

Your husband is muscular guy — he works hard building houses and provides a good material life for all of you. At the dinner table, he is short and sharp with your children. You laugh at him and wave your hand at him to calm down. He does.

When my son arrived, jet lagged and nervous, you took him to the grocery store and asked him to pick out his favorite foods. Thank you for knowing that this is how children are made to feel welcome.

My son says that eating at your table is like being in a wonderful restaurant. Everything you cook is better than anything he's eaten before. My son could not believe your children would ever complain about your cooking, although they did, often. My son thought you were serving ambrosia. And it never ran out.

You work six days a week. On Sundays, you spend all afternoon with your husband and friends at a restaurant where someone else cooks. My son watched all of you eat and drink and tell jokes for hours. I can see from your picture in that restaurant, where you sit with your arm around my son, that you love Sundays.

Thank you for taking such good care of my son. He’ll remember you, Dores, long after he’s forgotten the names of your husband and sons and long after the clean, floral scent is gone from his clothes.

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