A Christmas Letter to My Father (Dennis Aubrey)


My mother and father have given me so many gifts that I don’t know how to ever repay them. By their example they imbued their family with a home filled with love and inspiration. For me, they encouraged a love of travel, of culture, and of history. When we lived in Europe they made sure that we knew the French, that we experienced their life and culture. That encouragement opened my eyes, heart, mind and soul to influences that mark me indelibly to this very day. I was so lucky to have them in my life for so long, but as the years passed, thoughts of mortality intruded into the conversation.

On February 7, 2013, I wrote to my father,

Dad, I know in my heart of hearts that some day I will lose you both, but refuse to believe it and try to convince myself that you will live forever. It is so hard to know that one day my life will go on and you will not be there. All that I can do is to cherish the fact that you are both in good health and part of our life. PJ loves you both – you have filled a void in her life, a corner of her heart that has been empty since she was seven years old. I am so proud to be your son.

Chateau d’Harcourt, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Cosmos (CHAUVIGNY DANS LA VIENNE)

Later that year, on June 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm, my father wrote a comment on a post that I had just published on growing up in Chauvigny, France. He wrote:

Dennis: Your mother and I recall another incident in Chauvigny. You remember that dinner time was when we all talked about what had happened that day. It was our time for stories from school or work or car repairs, as when Lucille took our Corvair station wagon to the local mechanic to have the carburetor repaired (it was the alternator). One evening it was obvious that you had something important to share. After we said grace you said, “Mom, Dad, do you realize we live where the Battle of Poitiers was fought?” We recognize that day as the one that began your love of history.

That note meant the world to me, reminded me of so much personal history and so many memories, but I never wrote him back.

Side aisle looking at apse, Église Notre Dame, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

We did lose him two years later, on July 6, 2015 in the same town – Santa Barbara – where he was born on January 14, 1928. In the intervening years he traveled the world over; the Middle East, New Zealand, Viet Nam, Japan, Korea, Africa, and almost every country in Europe, almost always accompanied by his beloved wife, my mother Lucille. She just turned 90 this month and is a force of nature, but she longs to be reunited with her husband of almost 70 years.

Donald Richard Aubrey (1928 – 2015)

So now, perhaps it is about time to write back to him:

Dad, no question that Chauvigny was a turning point for me. I had forgotten about Mom taking the car to get the carburetor repaired! Sounds like something I would do. But I remember the Battle of Poitiers at that time was the Charles Martel victory over the Saracens, and then later, the English defeat of the French and Jean II in the Hundred Year’s War. Later it also included the battle of Vouillé where Clovis defeated Alaric II – the same Alaric who was supposedly buried in the Champs d’Alaric near Vivonne on the Gayet’s property. The Église Saint George in Vivonne was where Ravaillac had his dream to assassinate Henry IV of Navarre. Just up the road from Vivonne is Lusignan, home to Guy de Lusignan, king of the crusader state of Jerusalem during the Crusades. It was as if oceans of history washed over us. And if that was not enough, from the Poitou we moved to Verdun!!!

I think it would have been impossible for me not to love history as I do. I have always cherished the way you encouraged me in this, walking the battlefields and talking to me. I love you and miss you so.

Your son,

Dennis

16 responses to “A Christmas Letter to My Father (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dear Dennis,
    I am so moved to read this post about your parents and all that they brought you, and also to know more about you personally and your family. I love your pictures, I love the texts that you write, I love your love of architecture and history and I share them!… Getting a Via Lucis notification in my mail is a joy for me.
    I wish you a happy Christmas with your family and I hope your health will be good !
    I am from Tournus, in Burgundy …. where you must have seen the Abbey Church ! but I live near Lyons, France.
    EC
    My mother is 94… in good shape, but she has lost most of her memory !

    • Evelyne, you are so kind with your words and your wishes. We know Saint Philibert de Tournus very well. The last time there we visited with Angelico Surchamp and my parents. With Surchamp and my father, I was blessed with “mes deux pères.” Merry Christmas to you in Lyon.

  2. Very touching post. Enjoy your posts and pictures. Am unable to travel now so I am able to enjoy the best parts of France that is so beautiful . PC

  3. Dear Dennis,

    I so enjoy your posts. How lovely to share your precious experience with your parents. It is an inspiration to strive to instill love of history and art (and music) in our children and grandchildren. I would not have become an art-historian without my mother’s passion for it and the trips with a tent and a VW bus to visit sites in my native Germany, France and Italy.
    Dr. Birgit Urmson

    • Birgit, thank you so much for your kind thoughts and words. My father used to walk the battlefields of Europe with us and brought the history alive. I remember being with him at the site of the Battle of Poitiers where Jean le Bon was captured. I asked him how the battle had progressed and his response was “What does the ground tell you?” That provoked a socratic dialogue of sorts that was far more informative than him merely explaining. We have a great debt to those who inspired us, don’t we.

  4. Again, your poetical POV brings up tears and joys about my own father…. may the memory of your Dad always be a blessing to you.

  5. Dennis, we’re thinking of you this morning. Hadn’t seen a post and went back to read this letter to your father. It caused me to remember the Santa Barbara connection and to wonder about your Mom in the midst of the mudslides. Kay and I sent you our greetings, love, and prayers today, as always.

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