My father, William P. Lear, Sr., was also the father of the Learjet. Its original design was based on a Swiss fighter plane. He had this romantic idea of the Swiss commitment to precision, so he figured, “Let’s build it in Switzerland.” When I was a year old, he moved our family to Geneva to do just that.
We lived in rooms at Le Richmond (a luxury hotel) while our home was being built — a sprawling ranch house in a suburb of Geneva called Onex. It sat on a big piece of land surrounded on two sides by a forest. We had a pool, a two-car garage, and a guest house on a hill, near the entrance of the driveway. This is unreliable, sixty-year-old information, remembered by the lonely child I was during those years.
In the corner of this property was my playhouse. The way this playhouse was built, you (even I, as a little girl — with some help) could push it around in a circle so that it faced in whatever direction you wanted. It was divine. It had a little play kitchen and a bed, a little table and chairs, and I never went there. I don’t remember much about it except that I would see it off in the distance, so far away from the house, and remember it was for me.
I had one friend my age. Chantal Bodinoli. She lived down the road a six-year-old’s bike ride away. Her family had a plot of land where they grew potatoes and some other vegetables. They sold them at the market every week. Things seemed clearer, easier to navigate over there.
I spent most of my time at their house. You opened their front door into their tiny kitchen with a bench and their table on the left. There were two small bedrooms beyond the table — one for Chantal and her sister, France, and one for their parents. Now that I think of it, there was a brother, too. Alain. But I don’t remember him being there very much.
The father was a rough man with a three-day beard and I never saw him without his cap. He wasn’t mean, but I was always a little scared of him. He once killed a snake by beating it against the wall like a whip, over and over. These things you don’t forget. Madame Bodinoli was short, plump, loving and kind. Her face lined like an apple doll’s face.
When their harvest came ready, I always wanted to help them gather up the potatoes. They’d give me a little bucket to fill. Eventually, Chantal and I always ended up sitting at their table, a fistful of bread in one hand and a big piece of chocolate in the other.
I never wanted to go home.
The playhouse, beautiful as it was (miraculous, really, from a little girl’s viewpoint), sat still in itself for years. My parents were no doubt trying their best to make me happy. But for friendship and warmth, I had to get on my little bike and pedal for all I was worth down the road to Chantal’s house. A living, breathing house where we got to play.
Children are resourceful. We are resilient no matter what. We figure it out. We find our nourishment however we can. Lucky for me, there was a family that farmed potatoes right down the road, full of the vitamins and minerals of connection that I so desperately needed. And they gave of themselves freely and unconditionally.
This is a long-overdue bow of gratitude to them, wherever they are in the world today.