Update: Scroll down to see the Fire Wood Processing paragraph.
Little life stories that display at random more than half a century of life as it has been for me and my family with its joys, fears, hopes, etc.
Life is a wonderful gift from above!
At the close of 2009, allow me to start telling the Bernard B: family story with a small tale in the "Langue d'Oc" more exactly a "patois" form of it, local language spoken in the Tarn et Garonne where I was born.
He is born
Es nascut, es nascut, ut ut canto lou poul!
He is bornnnnnn, bornnnnn sung the rooster
Eh oun, eh oun respoundio la vaco?
Whereeeeee, whreeeeeeee? replied the cow.
A Bethelehem, he he hem, he he he hem dit l'ouello.
In Bethle eh eh eh hem said the sheep.
Ic cal ana, ic cal ana, clamo l'aze!
Let's go, let's go clamored the donkey!
(Cute reminder of Jesus' birth.)
Our family story started in a small village, a hamlet in the Tarn et Garonne, a little more than half a century ago! In a small farm of the South West of France , about a month before Christmas, around 10:00 pm, a little boy was born. Maurice and Marthe, his parents, named him Bernard André! He came discretely into this world with the only help of his grandmother Emilie and that of the "Good Lord" as we called him then . The doctor arrived much later.
Quite an adventure! Not in a stable, but very nigh to one. At this late hour in the winter, through the wall of the bedroom one could hear the "music" of a half dozen cow chains. Every time the hungry beasts would bend their heads down vigorously to snatch the hay stored over their heads, the chains would cling against the bars of the ratelier. The extra hay would land like an involuntary offering into the manger to be appreciated later when the ratelier would be empty. So, I too was born surrounded by moo s and baa baa's .Too bad we did not have a donkey at the time ; I would have loved it!
I want to imagine that the rooster announced my arrival when he woke up everyone at dawn: "he is borrrrrrn, he is borrrrrn.
CHRISTMAS AND THE NEW YEAR
Christmas and the New Year are part of my best childhood memories!
The famished looking broom tree, chopped by my dad in the nearby woods and covered with cotton balls by my mother, looked like a wonder to me. That would be the only "snow" we would probably see most of the year. I would place my wooden shoes in the fire place where Santa, "le Père Noël", would alledgedly leave presents. The orange or the chocolate bar I would find there on Christmas morning made me feel happier than the rich gifts lavished in more fortunate homes. The gesture itself and the affection going with it sufficed: we were a family, so what else did we need? You can't buy happiness. We may not have been rich on the little farm but we had good hearts.
Often times during the winter, a homeless vagabond would show up in our neck of the woods carrying an old potato bag as a suitcase. He did not mind sleeping in the manger, he even insisted on doing so. I can still hear him :"Hay is as fine for me as it was for "little Jesus". And believe me, he was satisfied, which surprised the kid that I was. He also used to say: " I am going to sleep curled up like a gun percuteur, referring to the crooked shape of it (called dog's ear in French due to some percuteurs looking like a dog's raised ear)....
I understand today why he would curl up as a "dog's ear looking percuteur". I found that out one day as I was trying to buy a kennel for my dog. I was surprised they would sell small kennels for big dogs. The salesman explained it this way: " the smaller the kennel the more the dog can keep himself warm with its own body temperature. No wonder sled dogs in the arctic just dig a hole in the snow and curl up in it till the morning comes.
During my tour of Europe in the 70s we visited a house in Norway, cold country in the winter. We asked the guide: "where is the bedroom?" She opened a closet and there looking like a mere shelf was a tiny bed for two. We were amazed at the ingenuosity of the technique allowing both to save energy and to keep warm in the old Nordic chalets.
When I think about the End of the Year during my childhood, joy and games come to mind, especially on the 31st of December. Our family tradition consisted in visiting grand mother Fernande's family. They lived on the closest farm, on the South hill opposite to ours. A valley where flowed a tiny brook separated the two properties. We communicated by shouting accross the valley. Our voices had to carry for a mile, the wind could make a big positive or negative difference, believe me. But as farmers we were used to shouting in order to communicate from one field to the other all the time. To pay that visit we would all walk under the starry sky, down the hill, through the woods, across the brook, and go up the opposite hill to reach our cousins' house. We would spend the evening: playing cards for the men, playing board games for the ladies and the children. Tales, gossip, lots of laughs, a little drinking, cake, that was it. At midnight sharp we would wish each other a "Happy New Year and Good Health!" Then we would walk back in the dark, leave "Mailhac" and return to "The Plô", our little home.
In this month of February 2010 in Northern American States snow covers our roofs like so many immaculate blanquets. As the sun shines during the day, the snow slowly melts and then freezes again as the wind blows or the night gets colder. That process generates beautiful icicles ornementing our abodes. I posted some wintry pictures reflecting that phenomenon on Face Book. My mother commented: " beautiful but not made out of sugar!" That kind remark took me back in seconds to 1958. The South of France that year was "favored" with an exceptionnally cold winter.So frozen that a daring French fellow skipped the bridge voluntarily and crossed the river Aveyron with his 2 Chevaux Citroen car. We had made cider on the farm that year. I remember the home made bottles of sparking wine bursting like shot guns in the cellar. As for me, being 8 years old I delected myself with apple icicles. The cider had burst from the barrels and frozen along their sides. Free for the picking! Yum.Yum! ( Written on January 18th, 2010 )
SCRUBBING POTS AND PANS
Today, on March 20th, 2010, I entered the church kitchen where they were preparing breakfast for a men's meeting. One of the guys was scrubbing a huge pan where the extra large omelette had cooked. In less than a second my mind flew back to my childhhood. So I started telling my nostalgic story to the scrubber, my way to lighten his task:
"Man, you just plunged me back into my childhood years. On the farm, as a child, we did not have many distractions or candy. But believe me, I would haunt the kitchen when something sweet was cooking and find good stuff there. Scrubbing pots and pans was my delight, it gave me as much pleasure as visiting the only convenient store of the village.Ocasionnally I could afford a "one French cent" carmel. In 1958 the French cent was worth 1/100 of a Franc. I did not scrub with hot soapy water, just a wood or metal spoon would do the trick. My purpose was not to clean but to eat the free savory left overs from a mashed potatoe dish, a chocolate dessert, or some tasty jam stuck at the bottom or on the sides of the dishes. In spite of how "poor" you might happen to be, there are little pleasures to be found. Tell somebody!
Written March 20th, 2010
As I was chatting on the net with my sister today, March 29th, 2010, I shared with her a picture online depicting the huge cross planted in the center of the village where we were born. As soon as she viewed it, she exclaimed "Marie et Joseph ont été décapités", understand Mary and Joseph have been beheaded. She was referring to the two small statues of Mary and Joseph located at the foot of the giant crucifix. I am so glad I took a picture of them in 2007 when I visited. They are intact on my picture. I was a little child when the priest asked the Mayor, my grand-father, permission to add these two small statues by the cross. At the time I wondered why they were so small compared to the crucified. I had heard at home about their coming and was expecting them to be proportionate to the Cross. Now we had the big Jesus and his tiny parents. Today as an adult I felt disappointed again, hearing about the "beheadings". One disappointment leading to another in my thoughts I can still hear an elderly woman, approximately at the same time as the acquisition of the statues crying "les vandales, ils l'ont abattu", understand "vandals they chopped it down!" Mme Vers, former school teacher lived right across the Crucifix and was devastated because the great Elm enthroned for centuries in the middle of the square had been taken down.
OUTINGS TO LARROQUE
We would take outings to Larroque, a little town on the river Vere shadowed by red great cliffs. I loved to watch the trouts meandering slowly through the calm waters or the Vere. Dad took me fishing there a couple Sunday mornings. I really enjoyed those exceptional relaxing moments with him. Unfortunately they stopped as fast as they had come up when I slipped and landed in shallow water. My dad was a little ways from me and happened to be so traumatized fearing I was drowning. So much for fishing with dad.
Hunting for snails though continued. After each major summer rain pour we would ride to Larroque and, early in the morning, turn every rock upside down and check every bush. We would gather hundreds of "escargots de Bourgogne" awakened by the rain and moving around frantically in search of green food. So much fun.
A friend of my Grandfather lived in Larroque. I loved that oil smelling nice Portuguese fellow. He owned a quarry and sold gravel to build roads. He had worked for our community and usually we would become friends with people we happened to work with. I still remember his loud laugh, his beautiful smile, his keen gaze; he fascinated me.
Written April 26th, 2010 (To be continued)
OAK FIRE WOOD PROCESSING
From as early as my sixth year I would help my dad and grandpa through the whole process.
First we would clear the bushes around the trees cutting them with a "mascotte"(a little ax) so we could get close to them to cut them down. Then my role would be to lean against the tree and give it the little push that would allow it to fall in the right direction while my dad would handle the chain saw and cut it as close to the ground as possible. Once the tree was felled, we would cut the branches from the main trunk and pile them up into bundles to sell as fire starters . Any part of the tree that could make a log would then be cut at about 3 foot long and stacked in the forest to dry. At the close of the summer or in the early early fall we would come back with the tractor and the cart,load the logs and bring them through forest roads to the farm. It resulted in humongous long stacks. The last part consisted into splitting the bigger ones and in sawing them all into 1 foot long final short logs. As we chopped them we would throw them onto the truck and usually deliver them early the next morning to our customers. My favorite part was to go along, help unload the logs one by one and toss them through basement windows at the client's. It meant a little rest while travelling and many times a treet from the client in the form of a drink or some desert or candy.
Besides the felling down of the trees which remains kind of the same; fortunatley the loading, carrying is done with modern cranes, safe circular saws, and lifts as these pictures show my brother in law and my sister still handling this business today.