I forget her name.
The girl I took care of after French camp that summer, the summer of '91.
I'd just returned from a college semester in Nancy, France, a time both exhilarating and traumatic. Exhilarating because I'd forged good friendships with students from Brazil, Denmark, Sweden, and Syria. I ate Nutella. I gushed independence. I spoke French all the freaking time.
Traumatic because one day in early March, my long-divorced parents called me together to say that my mother had cancer. Over a crackly, overseas line, I heard my mother's voice, then my father's, and in that instant I knew that something was very, very wrong.
I flew home.
I stayed for a week, maybe two, to be with my mom and to plan for the coming summer. Once she stabilized, I figured, I'd return to France to finish the semester and sit for exams, but then I'd come home again. I'd spend summer in New York instead of in Europe as originally planned.
Before I flew back to France, I talked my way into an interview with the director of a French-American day camp in upper Manhattan. I was uncharacteristically aggressive about pursuing a job as a counselor, one they hadn't started hiring for yet as it was still early spring. But I knew once I went back to France I'd miss the hiring window, so in a create-your-own-opportunity kind of way, I asked for an interview and got the job.
And it was a great summer. My mom stabilized, I loved working at the camp, and I was giddy to be using the French I'd studied so hard to master during my time abroad. I took on the optional role of bus counselor, too. That was the first and last summer I drank coffee. I'd meet the bus each morning at a small deli and treat myself daily to one of those blue and white coffee cups with a picture of the Acropolis.
During camp, I bonded with one little girl in particular. She's the one whose name now escapes me.
When the July session ended, and I went to hug her goodbye, her mother asked if she could hire me for three weeks as her daughter's full-time sitter. The timing was perfect. With just a month left before heading back for my senior year at Haverford, I'd get more time with this kid I adored, get paid for it, and continue to speak French, since her parents really wanted to extend her exposure.
Each morning, I'd go to her apartment. We'd play games on the floor and speak French when her mom was around, and then around noon we'd head out to the park. Day in and day out, her mother would pack her favorite lunch: a smoked mozzarella and cucumber sandwich in a brown paper sack. She'd pack one for me, too.
We'd play in the park, nibble our sandwiches, and laugh in a foreign tongue while the August sun licked the back of our knees.
Recipe for Smoked Mozzarella, Cucumber, and Tomato Sandwiches
The beauty of this sandwich is its sheer ease and the way the cool, crisp cucumber plays against the meaty, smoky mozzarella. I added tomato the last time I made it, and because it's August and tomatoes are at their peak, I urge you to follow my lead. Once they're gone, though, stop with the tomato business. The sandwich is just as good without them.
For each sandwich:
A few slices juicy, summer-ripe tomato
A few rounds cucumber
A few thick slices smoked mozzarella
Mayo, if you roll that way
You could make this fancier by slathering on some tapenade or pesto in place of the mayo, or add slivers of roasted red pepper or rounds of grilled eggplant, but once you start going in this direction, the beautiful simplicity of this sandwich and its clean flavors risks getting lost. Don't make life difficult.