Chapter Two: Childhood Dreams
1952 – Porrentruy, Switzerland
“Giselle, s’il te plaît! Please, you are six years old now. When are you going to start behaving like a proper young lady?”
“But, Mother, I don’t want to be a ‘proper young lady.’ Besides, I think there must be a mistake because I love things boys can do, and not what girls do.”
“The only mistake is your behavior. It’s time you start behaving like a girl, because that’s how life is, and it’s not going to change.”
“Well, I’m going to change it,” Giselle retorted. Her stubbornly optimistic attitude always made her mother smile.
“You will try, just as I did, and like so many others before me—and in a thousand years, we will still be having this same discussion.”
“But I don’t want to be like other girls, Mother. They… they… do girl things!”
The smell of freshly baked biscuits had lured Giselle into the kitchen where her mother, Odette, a stylishly beautiful dark-haired woman in her mid-twenties was preparing dinner. She rinsed off a summer squash and began chopping it on a well-scarred wooden cutting board. “It would be good if you did more of those ‘girl things,’ instead of always running off to the woods with your brother, and coming back with scrapes and scratches all over your arms and legs—and your dresses all torn. I don’t have time to keep making you new clothes.”
“If you’d let me wear trousers, I wouldn’t tear them.”
“Young ladies don’t wear trousers,” she sighed. “How is it possible to have raised such a daughter, such a tomboy?”
“But, Mother, I can climb trees higher and faster than most of the boys. And we’re going to build a tree fort. I figured out how to make it!”
“You’d be better off learning how to sew. Honestly, Giselle, you’re like a butterfly in a storm.”
Giselle’s nose wrinkled at the thought. A butterfly? No. No. No. Her hazel eyes squinted. “I’m not a butterfly. I’m a lion. I can do anything.” She pawed the air with a ferocious grin.
“That you can, my courageous young tomboy,” her father said as he entered the warm cozy kitchen. Tall and handsome, with blonde hair and blue-green eyes, André Fridelance always had a smile on his face—even when he was being stern: “But right now, you need to help your mother get dinner on the table.”
Giselle’s eyes lit up. “Father, you’re back!” She gave him a big hug. He travelled a great deal and it was like a celebration when he returned home. Though he never contradicted her mother, Giselle knew he supported her passion to be the best at everything she did—as long as it wasn’t “those girl things.”
“Did you sell a lot of watches, today?” she asked, excited to hear about his day-to-day activities. His job fascinated her—going back and forth to France.
It was, after all, her birth country. She was born on June 1, 1946, in Pont-sur-Yonne, France. The family left there when she was four years old. Her father owned an import-export company, selling Swiss watches to France, and importing French porcelain, crystal, and home décor to Switzerland. Many of these items were sold in the family’s shop that was situated on the street-level just below their 500-year-old five-story home.
“It was a good trip,” he softly replied, hugging his daughter, and then kissing his wife hello. His warm smile was kind, but firm. “Now, you need to help your mother set the table. She’s had a long day in the shop. Tomorrow, you can build your tree house.”
“Fort, Father. We’re building a tree fort. And when I grow up, I’m going to help you build your company. We’re going to sell a million watches.” Giselle knew that one day she would work for her father in the watch manufacturing company he intended to start. No, one day, she would run it for him! “And then I’m going be a cowgirl, and ride a white stallion across the Jura—and give food to poor people.”
“Such lovely dreams, Giselle.” Her mother’s pretty face concealed a sad reality. At twenty-six years of age, her own dreams were only a distant memory, pushed aside for the more practical and “acceptable” life of a shopkeeper and mother of three children. “I had dreams, too, when I was your age. I was going to be a famous singer. But the world is what the world is.”
“Not for me!” Giselle was fiercely adamant. “Besides, you are famous, Mother. Everyone in Porrentruy knows who you are. You even starred in an operetta!”
“Porrentruy is a very small place, my child.” She handed Giselle a large bowl of freshly chopped salad. “Put this on the table, and then go fetch your brother and sister. You aren’t going to change the world tonight.”
“But I will someday—and not just for me. For you, too, Mother—and Father, too.” Giselle handed him the bowl and rushed off to find her two siblings.
“Like a butterfly in a storm.” Her mother placed a dish of steaming hot summer squash on the table.
“Or a young lioness,” her father replied, setting the salad down. “I don’t think anything stops our eldest daughter from doing what she wants. And in Giselle’s six year-old mind, I don’t think anything will stop her from doing what she wants when she grows up, either.”
Her mother just smiled. “She takes after you, my love.”
“And is beautiful like you.” He squeezed her hand with a flirtatious grin, and then called upstairs, “Time for dinner.”
First her older brother, Daniel, and then Giselle came sliding down the thick rope that was suspended from the ceiling, four floors above their main living area. It dangled freely in the center of the spiral staircase that linked each of the five floors of their home.
Giselle’s father was right. Anything Daniel would do, Giselle would do, and often just as well or better—at least, anything that interested her. And one of the things that interested her most was joining in the Cub Scout activities with him. She knew how to make a fire, tie knots, cut branches, and melt snow—all of the really important things. How she loved going with Dany, as she called him, to the Scout chalet at the edge of the woods, not far from the family’s home.
Giselle lived on the Grand-rue, the main street of Porrentruy, a historic city in the northwestern part of Switzerland. Nestled in the heart of the Swiss Jura Mountains, Porrentruy is considered to be the cultural center of the region. An imposing medieval castle dominates its skyline. For two hundred years, it served as the residence of the Prince Bishops of Basel. Though it dates back to the early Middle Ages, (1140 BC) the first traces of human presence in the area were found as early as the Mesolithic period. The earliest settlement dates back to the Roman era. Architectural finds continue to this day. Over the centuries, the bustling town developed from an agricultural trading center to become industrial in nature.
By the 20th century, farming was less important, and most of Giselle’s friends’ parents—if they didn’t own their own shop like her mother—worked in one of the many watch, shoe, textile, metalworking, electronics, or furniture manufacturing companies that had sprung up after World War II.
Giselle made it her mission to explore every aspect of this picturesque town—even places that children were not supposed to go. The Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-classical buildings, along with the lush forest that surrounded the nearby fields of crops, were an endless source of discovery for her and her friends. Narrow backstreets, bountiful courtyards, and crumbling carved stone stairways created gripping adventures for each new exploit. Discovery was captivating and infinite.
Only when the church bells rang at noon, sunset, or for the Angelus (Roman Catholic prayers), would she, her brother, and the other boys on her street grudgingly return to their homes. They were, in Giselle’s mind, “great explorers of forbidden places.”
In 1952, Porrentruy had a population of just over six thousand people. There were hardly any cars and no television, so the entire city was their playground. Joyful shouts often echoed until nightfall. When the stores closed at day’s end, the older children, and occasionally even the parents, joined in their rambunctious games of hide and seek.
For Giselle, it was an idealistic childhood—a carefree and independent life in the safety and security of small town living.