rand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc is dead," said my mother when she came back from the countryside. Mom surely must have cried because her eyes were red and bright. Then, she went upstairs and disappeared silently into the darkness of her bedroom. Embarrassed, my father looked pensively at Michelle, my elder sister, and me. I was 6 years old and the only thing which worried me at that moment was my mother's sorrow. Yes, Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc was dead, but I could not understand why Mom was so sad. After all, Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc was so old that her death seemed to be an ordinary and almost expected episode.

For the sake of conveniency, I used to name my grand-mothers by the location where they lived. There was Grand-Ma from l'Orfeu and Grand-Ma from le Bas-Lescouet, but my favorite and oldest one was Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc, my Great-Grand-Mother.

She was 98 years old when she died. Her favorite joke was to guess when she will become the smallest among her numerous great-grand children populating her extended family. I was too very seriously concerned by this matter, as it truly seemed to me that she was more and more shortening and crumpling and wrinkling like an old tree.

I was captivated by her face and her hands, that I could observe during hours: they were like the maps I was studying at school. The blue veins on her temples were unknown rivers, the old stains scattered on her transparent skin were sketching continents and oceans, her knotty joints were shaping her hands like sand dunes landscapes. I dreamed that she came from an antique civilisation and imagined untold stories concealed only by her silence and her kind smile.

She was always wearing the same traditional local costume: a deep heavy black velvet apron girdling her thin waist and covering the back buttoned cotton dress. Her white hair, rolled in a chignon, was hidden under a lace coiffe. Though I was impressed by her simple elegance and dignity, I was above all intrigued by how my so aged Great-Grand-Mother could still buttoned her dress and roll her hair.

Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc's face was illuminated during each New Year's day, when her house was the theater of the family's reunion. There were so many people that her place was too small to contain her growing descendance. We, the youngest, were quickly sent out of the house, with a coin and a biscuit. We had generally been preceded in the yard by the family's men, noisily debating about politics and family matters, patting and laughing. The house was the women's kingdom whose queen was Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc. Between two hide-and-seek parties, I used to press my running nose on the window and to peer inside the house: with her long white braided hair descending over her shoulders, coiffed and re-coiffed by three generations of women, Grand-Ma-From-Saint-Igneuc was luminously smiling in the middle of a coloured bedlam made of shouts, bursts of laughter, frantic conversations and secret discussions. I could go on playing hide-and-seek, because one day I will have the privilege to take care of my Great-grand Mother.

Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc was blind. Even if I always saw her eyes closed, I have been many times strucked by the sparkle of her "gaze": it was a fleeting expression on her face, made of sweetness and immense tenderness, which made me feel forever forgiven.

Her eyes were closed too, that day while she lay on her bed.

She was dressed as usual but, this time, the white coiffe seemed to confine her hair, and a scarf was emprisonning her shoulders: it seemed to me that she was smaller than ever. Her beautiful hands had lost their sand color: they were joined on her breast, fingers braided with a nacrous rosary. Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc was resting peacefully, the same slight smile sparkling her face.

I knew she was dead and I thought she was sleeping.

Though it was not the New Year's day, the whole family was there. The people, coming from the surrounding villages, were welcome by the men's family in the yard. Pressing again my nose on the window, I could see them paying a last tribute to my Great-Grand Mother and then, embracing or shaking hand with the women's family, all dressed in black, bowed in prayers, and softly crying.

When one of my uncles gently slapped my head to interrupt my curiosity, I run to the kitchen, where other women's family were inviting the visitors to share a generous snack, a glass of wine, and a word of consolation. The confusion filling the kitchen was contrasting with the respectful serenity in the bedroom: I even heard one or two nervous laughs emerging from the kitcheen.

Even if we were not allowed that day to play hide-and-seek, the eldest of the children organised a quiet Simons-says party. The arrival of the undertaker suspended our game. It was the beginning of the funeral; it was time to say farewell to Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc.

I felt troubled by the smell of incense and burning candles. My father carefully took me in his arm in order that I could kiss my Great-Grand-Mother. I very tenderly put my hand on her shoulder but she did not stretch out her arm to caress my hair. As my lips were approaching hers, I did not feel the warm breath I was used to. But it was only when I kissed her, pressing my lips against her cold and like-stone cheek, that I understood. Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc will be gone forever, taking away the landscapes in which she invited me to wander with her safely. On our way to the church, Gerard, my young cousin, began to weep. "Why are crying?" he asked me.

I felt endlessly alone.

I answered "Grand-Ma from Saint-Igneuc is dead."