In and Out of a Ditch | Trip to Europe

Before we took this trip, one of our big priorities was meeting our Belgian relatives. More than two decades ago, brother Tom went to Binche, Belgium with his father, Fernand, and uncle Alphonse and stayed for months. Tom has been back at least one time since then. He has made fast friends with many of our Belgian relatives over the years. Tom has told us many wonderful stories of his adventures in Belgium: how our father helped to mend a family feud there, how he spent many days and evenings in the Cafe Zoauve in Binche drinking and even dancing on tables, how friendly and even loving our relatives were, and many other pieces of family lore. Binche is also famous all over Europe, indeed, even the world, for being the site of the Carnival du Binche, a celebration similar to our mardi gras, where the whole town appears in clown costumes.

You can read about my brother's adventures in the online articles on our father's maternal grandparents (Leon Dorval and Josephine Sebille)and paternal grandparents (Arthur Andrisse and Louise Lebrun) to be found in my family tree.

Tom called our relatives the night before and made arrangements to meet everyone at the Cafe Zoauve, which at one time had belonged to Cyrille Rousseau, my paternal grandmother's nephew.

We got up to a cloudy morning on Tuesday, and after our breakfast in the condo, including some incredibly heavy, but delicious rye bread from Monschau the day before, we set out on the German country roads towards the autobahn to Belgium. We took B258 out of Schleiden to E40 and headed east. We had been to Monschau the day before, which helped us to get a sure start.

As soon as we crossed the border from Germany to Belgium, the landscape changed dramatically. First of all, the Germans use almost every square inch of their land for crops or pasture. Houses cluster tightly in the villages, the rest of the rolling hills are green, with patches of woods. As we drove on the two lane road into Belgium, pasture changed to marsh. The road was very straight with pine trees on either side. Also the quality of the road became much poorer. We were in the French-speaking section of Belgium. People who live here are referred to as "Walloon."

Soon after we got on the freeway, it started to rain, quite heavy at times. Tom said that this was exactly how it was when he was here earlier in July. We managed to stay on the freeway to Charleroi. Tom mentioned that there were beautiful cliffs along the way, I think Luvain was the place, but the rain was so hard we didn't see anything. Eventually we took route 55 south off of the autobahn towards Binche.

Our plans, as I said, were to go to the Cafe Zoauve and stay pretty much all day, allowing various relatives a chance to drop in. However, we were in for a big change in plans, one which at first was frustrating and frightening for me, but which turned out to be a godsend. We had just sighted the Binche city limits sign. Vicki said that she would like to have a picture of her standing under the sign. So like the dutiful brother, I pulled off at what looked like an abandoned filling station about 100 feet from the sign. I backed up to get a better view. CLUNK! Our Opal station went into a ditch. Tom said, "We're done, we're done!" and threw up his hands. I put on the parking break and walked back to see what had happened. The right rear tire was dangling completely free of any ground, and the car was resting on the frame on the right side. Had we gone back any further, we might have ended up in a 5 foot ditch.

I looked at this situation and felt a completely hopeless feeling surge over me. I felt so foolish for doing this. I thought that this would mean that we would waste most of our day dealing with the ditched car. Tom and Vicki were trying to be reassuring. Later they would tease me mercilessly, and Tom would exagerate the story every time. It was really quite hilarious. Each time Tom repeated the story he would gesticulate with his hands to show how the car literally teeter-tottered on the edge of a giant chasm. We weren't quite that close to such disaster.

As we were discussing what to do, a guy drove up in an European SUV and asked us if we were having problems. He seemed quite willing to help. Fortunately, Tom and he were communicating quite well in French. This Belgian walked around the car assessing the situation. He said to Tom in French that there was probably a heavy-duty hook and eye that would screw into a sealed hole on the front bumper of the car. He looked in the trunk, and sure enough there it was. He popped the cover off of the hole and screwed the hook-and-eye into it. Then, almost unbelievably, he produced a heavy duty, plastic-coated metal cable. He attached it to both vehicles. I got in the car, and released the brake as he started to pull. TUNK! As quickly as we had fallen into the ditch, we were pulled out. Needless to say, we were all extremely grateful. I think Tom gave him about $30, which certainly was worth it.

It turned out that this fellow also had a cell phone, and Tom borrowed it to call our second cousin Suzanne and her husband Aginor. Before it was clear that our Belgian samaritan could free us, Tom recalled that Aginor owned a garage. In just a few minutes Aginor showed up in his car. After our introductions and Tom relaying the tale of our close call, Aginor led us through Binche and the downtown area to his house.

Our Lunch with Aginor and Suzanne | Trip to Europe