In his bedroom was a low chest with five drawers, and the bottom one was reserved for me. I could arrive unexpectedly, yet find a surprise hidden there every time. A gift, a handkerchief, a lollipop, it didn’t matter. That was a promise he’d made me and he never once broke it. That permanently restocked drawer represented the infallible proof of his love for me. He did not treat me like a granddaughter, like a little girl. He considered me a person with whom to share and exchange things to read, points of view, essential discoveries.
For example, when I was six, one day when the two of us were having lunch in his kitchen, he placed before me a white plate bearing a regal chèvre cendré. He knew that I hated cheese in general and this kind in particular, because to me goat cheese tasted like soap, but he was immensely fond of chèvre cendré, therefore it was impossible that his granddaughter should not share this predilection. So he uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux, placed a bit of chèvre on a small piece of still warm toast lightly spread with salted butter, and explained to me precisely how the flavor of the cheese would be accentuated by the wine’s acidity. His blue-footed wineglass clinked mine to celebrate my first tasting as a connoisseur, in the certainty that from then on, just as we shared a straight nose, drooping eyelids, and the inveterate habit of constantly humming, his favorite cheese would also be mine.
He was facetious, imperious. He understood everything and I could tell him frightening secrets he would never have thought to make fun of. He was not judgmental, never reproving, and aside from lapses in good manners, about which he was intransigent, he was quick to forgive. Mockery was his usual tack, repartee his besetting sin, generosity his Achilles’ heel. His humor made the world cozier, his tenderness cushioned my days. Nothing could ever happen to me as long as he was there, and I had never envisaged a life without him as its center.
Excerpted from La Petite by Michele Halberstadt. Copyright © 2012 by Michele Halberstadt. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.