We love a good morality tale, don’t we?  The Boy Who Cried Wolf taught us not to lie.  The Little Red Riding Hood taught us to go straight home.  Well, here’s a morality tale ripped straight from Michele’s Epic Romantic Failures.
The time: July, 1989.  The place: Roche-les-blamont, a small village in eastern France.  The cast: 18 mismatched singers ages 17-26, meeting for the first time for a week of rehearsals before hitting the roads of francophone Europe for three weeks of choir concerts.  (Pic below is not of the 1989 choir, but a later incarnation in Roche-les-blamont.)


It was something of a perfect storm.  I was five months away from graduating from college.  I was completely and utterly unattached.  AND I had no desire to engage in the typical post-senior-year activities of sending out resumés, doing job interviews and condemning myself to a lifetime of 9 to 5 torture.
Practice Week went by in a predictable blur: practicing 8 hours a day, eating French food, getting to know the other singers…  I found one of the guys mildly entertaining, a young man by the name of Emmanuel, which he’d shortened to Manu.  (I’m banking on the fact that he doesn’t follow my blog…)  He was—how shall I put it—French.  From the top of his prematurely balding head to the soles of his worn-out Marcel Marceau shoes (and all 5 feet 7 inches in between), he was the absolute opposite of the tall-dark-and-handsome (or tall-blond-and-handsome) I had dreamed.  But physical traits are so unimportant when paired with personality, intelligence, humor and general goodness…right?  In Manu’s case, sadly–they stood alone.  Under any other circumstances, Short-Bald-and-French would have elicited a shrug from me and that cartoon sound that goes something like wonh wonh wooooonh…


But I was graduating in five months.  I was graduating in five months.  I was graduating in five months.  And darn it, I hadn’t been up Wheaton College’s bell tower to ring in an engagement yet.  Oh, I’d been up there with a half-dozen of my friends, which had only served to blur the lens through which I assessed short-bald-and-French.

Fast forward to the second day of tour.  After a particularly forgettable performance, we stayed overnight on a chicken farm lost in the lush fields of central France.  Not just any chicken farm, mind you.  Manu’s chicken farm.  You see, Short-Bald-and-Ew-French was the heir to a chicken dynasty, the Prince of Poultry, the Fidalgo of Foul.
As we were a relatively minor presence in the world of international choirs, our accommodations were often unconventional.  On this particular night, we slept in a collection of tents set up outside Manu’s ancestral home, with a view over the rows of white hen hangars in which 200,000 fowls put their communal efforts into fouling the air for miles around.

Weeks later, when asked how he knew that I was the woman for him, Manu gave this disconcerting answer: “She was good with chickens.”  He based that assessment on the way I exited my tent the morning after our sleepover on his farm.  In typical male fashion, the young men on the tour decided that it would be a swell idea to wake up the girls by throwing chickens into their tents at some ungodly hour of the morning.  If you know me, you also know that it’s not a good thing to mess with me before sunrise.  So I didn’t giggle and toss my hair and say “You guys are so cute!” when four chickens came sailing into my tent at dawn.  The girls around me shrieked, and I opted to tuck one squawking bird under each arm and make a scowling exit through the tent’s flap.


It’s easy to understand that Manu fell for me that morning.  What male in his right mind wouldn’t topple head over heels at the mere sight of a chicken-toting woman, 80s-perm exploding from her scalp, firing looks that growled “Who’s the moron who thought this would be a good idea?”

Fast forward again.  This time, we’re on a small island off the coast of France.  It’s after midnight, it’s dark, and for reasons I can’t recall this many years later, I’m walking around in the pouring rain with a chicken farmer I’ve only known for about 2 weeks.  I’m not sure what prompted him to propose to me at that very moment, as mascara flowed off my chin and my hair made like a wet sheep dog, but something did.  With a poetry and sincerity that, years later, still moves me to throw up in my mouth, he said, “So, uh, you wanna get married?”  Actually, he said, “Eh, tu veux te marrier ou quoi?”  It may sound more romantic in French, but I assure you it’s just as uninspirational.  He didn’t have a ring.  Just the dream-come-true of 200,000 chickens and the stench of their poop.


I said yes.  I.  Said.  Yes.  And there is absolutely nothing I can blame for my terrifying lack of wisdom.  No decongestants zinging around my head.  No recent fall on my noggin from a tall place.  No alcohol in my bloodstream and no endorphins in my brain.  I paused for a fraction of a second, contemplated a future of clocking in and out of some job I didn’t want, and said “Sure.”  Not “Yes!  I love you!” and not “I’m the happiest girl in the world!”  Nope.  I said “Sure.”  And I was about as happy about it as when a waitress tells me they’re out of fries, but would I like to substitute a baked potato.

The moral of the story?  It’s simple, really.

Don’t make life decisions when you’re desperate.  Ever.

And the secondary moral of the story, proclaimed from the mountaintop of being 43 and NOT married to Short-Bald-and-Ew-French:

Don’t be afraid to reverse your decision when you come to your senses.  Whatever your situation, if bowing out is the right thing to do, don’t hesitate: do it kindly, cling to the rightness of your choice, and don’t let the chicken farmers in your path derail the scary mystery (and promise) of your future.



    • jhurshman

    • 13 years ago

    “Don’t make life decisions when you’re desperate.”
    AKA: “Don’t go grocery shopping when hungry.”
    AKA: “Don’t go shopping for clothes when naked.”

  1. Thanks for that story, and especially for the choir picture. Brings back memories from years earlier touring with the Ambassadors.
    @jhurshman: What DO you do when naked and it seems unwise to stay that way? 🙂

    • runnerjim

    • 13 years ago

    Very interesting story, but doesn’t sound like it would result in still being single at 43, especially such a talented young lady. The picture of the island looks like Ile-de-Batz. Can’t imagine why a choir would go there now, let alone 20 years ago.

  2. @runnerjim Oh no, I don’t “blame” my chicken farmer story for being single today! That’s a much more complex issue.. 😉 And yes, it is the Ile de Batz I’m referring to. For ten years, we always stopped on the island for a concert with One Accord. One of my favorite places on earth. Why do you dislike it so much?

  3. All I can say is that surely there is a man out there who will be very glad that you didn’t follow through with Manu.

    • runnerjim

    • 13 years ago

    Sorry for my comment about the island, I didn’t mean I disliked it. I had a very enjoyable visit there. As I remember there is only one small chrch and very few permanent residents, so could not imagine a choir including a stop there in their itinerary. Obvilusly I was very wrong.
    I agree with Dave Lewis’ comment.

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