A Moment In Paris

By Hilary Gauntt

This is difficult to write as it happened in less than a minute, and could be construed as a combination of jet lag, wishful thinking, and coincidence. But I need to get it down on paper, so that when I look back years from now I will be reminded of how stunningly real it seemed, and perhaps was.

We arrived in Paris in the late morning on Wednesday, May 13, 2009, with our friends Bill and Terri Stampley, and checked into the Hotel D’Aubusson on the left bank of the Seine. We’d flown the night before from Los Angeles. It was a warm, sunny, beautiful spring day, and the sidewalks were teeming with people enjoying the leafy boulevards. Casey’s sister Laura was already checked into her room next door. She had taken the bullet train that morning from her home in Switzerland and was looking forward to three days with us shopping and dining in Paris.

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We couldn’t wait to stretch our legs and head out to find a spot, hopefully outdoors, for our first lunch of the trip. After wandering a bit, Laura suggested Café Les Deux Magots, which she said wasn’t too far away and a place she had been before with her daughter Claire. I loved the idea, as we have had a lithograph by Michele Delacroix in our family room for 20 years of that same historic restaurant and the Saint-Germain-des-Pres across the street, the oldest cathedral in Paris. Fourteen years ago I had dragged Casey and our children, Brittany (then 15)  and Jimmy (11), on a hot, evil-smelling Metro ride to tour the church, so it seemed like a meaningful start to our trip.

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The restaurant looked beautiful, with banks of hydrangeas lining the sidewalk tables. It was absolutely packed, and after we stood for a moment or two we were starting to face the reality that we weren’t actually going to be able to have lunch there. The tables were small, café size, and as a party of 5 we would need two. Amazingly, right in the center, facing the church, two tables paid their bills and stood to leave, and they were right next to each other. Perfect! Feeling a real stroke of luck, we settled in, ordered our first glass of wine and surveyed the bustling square.

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Then came the moment that defies explanation. Casey, to my left, was turned away from me and speaking to Terri and Bill. Laura was on my right. As I watched the lunchtime crowd ebb and flow in front of us, I saw a young man in a dark suit carrying a briefcase walk by, intent expression, head down. I stopped breathing and burst into tears. His cheeks were unnaturally red, and I think that is what helped draw my attention to him. It was over in a matter of 10 or 15 seconds. The next thing I felt was Laura squeezing my thigh and saying “Oh My God, did you see that!?” I looked at the tears streaming down her cheeks and was so grateful to have confirmation that it wasn’t a hallucination—that we had just seen our Jimmy walk past.  We didn’t say it—we didn’t have to. It wasn’t just his face—it was the body, his posture, the gait. When you love someone all their life they are unmistakable to you even when you aren’t looking for them. Even when it’s actually impossible for them to be there. Casey had turned to us, saw both of us crying and shaking, his expression imploring “What happened?” I wouldn’t tell him until we got back to our hotel. Laura and I wouldn’t talk about it until several months later.

Our twenty-four year old son Jimmy had died nine months previously—hit by a car and killed instantly while walking home late one evening on a dark, windy road. We hoped this trip would be therapy for us—a brief distraction from our relentless grief would be a gift. My deep regret is that it was over so quickly and I didn’t have time to get Casey’s attention. I would have so loved to have him share that moment in Paris with Laura and me. Maybe he will get his turn one day?



I recently asked my sister, Laura, if she would write something about her recollection of her moment in Paris with Hilary.


The Moment In Paris

By Laura Gauntt Butie

I really don’t know why it’s been so hard to reply to my brother’s request to add something to Hilary’s account of what we saw at the Café Les Deux Magots that day—I just don’t.  I’ve thought about it so often my head hurts and now I still don’t know what to write.  All I know is that it all seemed to go pretty much the way Hilary described it—lovely Spring day, table opening up like magic, me sitting next to Hilary, watching a young man cross the street in front of us—was he wearing a trench coat over the suit? Was he carrying a briefcase?  Did he look up at us?  I definitely recall looking to Hilary and saying “Did you see that!?” and realizing before I’d finished the question that of course she had. And that finally, somehow, we’d found a basis for our grief.

I feel very lucky to have visited Paris, and my favorite café, several times since that day—not every expat is so lucky, I know, to have a train  that transports you into another culture, and especially one I know Jimmy would have loved to know better.  St. Germaine is so full of literary history, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald might very well have sat at the same tables we have. The last time, though, at the end of September, just a few weeks ago, we arrived at about 11:30 at the Gare d’est,  and took a taxi to Montparnasse. On the way, we took what seemed like a dreamlike tour through the Paris I’ve come to love, including a drive-by of the Café Les Deux Magots. Without missing a heartbeat, I thought not of all the other times I’ve sat there, but of that Spring afternoon in May of 2009 when Jimmy (or was it perhaps some Scottish boy new to the Continent?)  walked—no, sauntered—confidently by as if to say, “All is well..life goes on….don’t look for me… I’m just fine…”

And I believe he would hope that we would visit, in massive groups of friends and family, Paris more often.

Eiffel Tower 360 degree view with music

Some Fun – Here is a 360-degree panoramic view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower:

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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