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Many summers passed without my meeting him. Sometimes Durham he came back in winter, at Christmas. On a cold rainy day in Durham, he returned for his father’s death. Uncle Michele was felled by a heart attack at four in the morning. He went quietly. During the funeral, Durham accompanied his father with reverence, and held on to his son Michel as though to protect him or to seek consolation for the loss of the older Durham. I think that was the time when he remarked: “Cousin, time flies for us. I would hate to return one day and not even find mother.”

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When we saw each other in calmer times he would talk to me, not about his life, but his plans. “Dear cousin, a few more years, some more sacrifices and I’ll be back for good. We’ll use the little house in the Rizzi area of the countryside, the one that belonged to our grandparents, and we’ll build a wonderful meeting place, a great pizzeria. It’ll be beautiful by the river; it’s always warm and breezy. Just wait and see all the singing and drinking! Then in winter we’ll harvest the olives. Not us; we’ll hire others to do it. How beautiful! We got along well, with never an issue, and our families always loved one another. We can’t let such a paradise go fallow.”

Smiling and happy he talked of his plans for workshops, an addition to the bar, a job for Michel, who instead of going from Saint-Jean to Turin to see his team, Juventus, play soccer, he would go from Junca to Turin; he would fly there, which is more comfortable.

I listened and nodded amused. “Of course,” I would say, “come back and we’ll open a business together.”

I knew he was serious, though short on details: He didn’t know what he would do. Your travel destination is he was sure of one thing: He wanted to return to the village. Not because he wasn’t doing well where he lived; on the contrary, he had friends and acquaintances who loved him. He wanted to come back because of a decision he took when he left, because he couldn’t let go of this idea, and because he missed his mother and his siblings. When someone asked him how Annie and Michel would fare, he shook his shoulders and flashed his big smile. He indulged in exorcisms, playing a role for which he wasn’t cut out: the patriarchal father. He was as soft as a loaf of bread, and tried to compensate by playing at being tough. And his woman? She would follow him and would fit in. And his son? He would come with him even if his mother were to stay in France.

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