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Vasseur, D.H. (2018). The Touchstone of Memory: My Parents, Oberlin College, and the Second World War. Am. Imago, 75(2):237-269.

(2018). American Imago, 75(2):237-269

The Touchstone of Memory: My Parents, Oberlin College, and the Second World War

Dominique H. Vasseur

These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing certainly except the past—were always with me.

—Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited


In most respects my parents were fairly typical people, who led lives typical for their time. Yet, when I tell others how they met and eventually married, the response is always “you need to write about this—it's fascinating,” and so this is the story of my parents.

I never knew my father, Jacques Henri Vasseur. I was simply too young, only a little over two years old, when he died at age thirty-three from cancer. One of my earliest memories of him is a photograph in my French grandmother's apartment in Paris. In it he is dressed as a French sailor looking young, innocent almost, but intelligent, thoughtful, and yet curiously detached or distant (Fig. 1). My grandmother idolized him. He was her one and only child, her blue-eyed, fair-haired golden boy, and it was clear to me from an early age on that in her eyes no finer man had ever lived.

Years after my mother, Mary Vasseur, returned from France to the U.S. following my father's death, she did not, as I remember, often speak of him, except to say “he loved you and he would be proud of you today.” His tragic and early death had to be painful for her to recall. Or perhaps I did not ask her enough about him; I suppose it was painful for me as well.

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