A tree is best measured when it is down.
A few days ago, we planted our neighbor under the sods.
For years I wrote his name as ‘Viergnes’. Meanwhile, after a correction by my neighbor Roland, it had become ‘Vergnes’. Now, according to the thank you card from the family, it appears always to have been ‘Vergne’. Christmas cards after Christmas…
All of a sudden he also turns out to be called ‘Pierre’. For me it was always Monsieur Viergnes, then Monsieur Vergnes or for that matter now Monsieur Vergne. A Christian name does not suit the man.
In his eulogy, the officiating priest stressed again and again that his life had been one of a professional soldier. Ergo: a Monsieur he was to me – and still is. Not that in Algeria and Indo-Chine he shot and killed people. He was a military mechanic – the repairer of tanks, jeeps and perhaps also of shooting gear. Here, in La Roche, he became the bricoleur of bread toasters and lawn mowers.
One day, as a gift I gave him a lawn mower which, because of some defect in my ribs, could not serve me any longer and which was not working properly. The next morning he used the machine already on his own lawn – like new from the store.
The one person he almost killed was his wife, who one night, severely bruised, took refuge with the Mémé and her husband, their neighbors. Except for gruesome music made on his accordion, now and then, in the middle of the night, he started shooting at the neighbors’ chimneys. Whether it was that accordionic cacophony, his attack on the wife or rather the weather cocks he shot, social pressure from the hameau exiled him to a cottage just down below La Roche – along our River Creuse.
Twice in his eulogy the priest stressed how the deceased began to visit his wife’s grave twice daily, after her natural death seventeen years ago, just before my arrival in La Roche. Remorse must have been part of the exercise.
To excuse a lot of what in the eulogy remained unclear, the priest repeated this formula in exactly the same wording twice, with quite some time in between the occasions: ‘Pierre Vergne was a hard man – after all, he was a professional military. Harsh – no, I prefer to use the word strict…
French formalism – everything in this country here seems to be regulated, dotting every single i – the only exception made is when a violation of rules remains unnoticed. Likewise, this Formalism of Death: In la France profonde everyone is buried from the church, whether an atheist or not. Cremation seems to be a mortal sin.
The thank you card after the funeral is of a prepared sentimentalism: Une présence, Une parole, Une fleur, furent des gestes de réconfort lors de décès de Monsieur Pierre Vergne… etc. However, in this respect countries probably do not differ all that much.
Five people have now disappeared from my little hamlet. Four to go.
In the cemetery: Mr. and Mme Besnoit, Lilly’s mother (Mme La Polonaise), Raymonde (Roland’s wife) – and now also Mr. Vergne. All these half-years here in the hameau, sixteen years in a row, he did not live on his property next to me, but out there, on the river – no running water, no electricity. Yet, he remained a ‘neighbor’, part of the hamlet which he ‘inspected’ twice daily, like he visited his wife’s grave – from behind the wheel of an old car, as if we were soldiers in his private army…
At the annual festivals, he appeared donning a sea captain’s cap and a ditto coat. Others, less familiar with the military, said it was his old uniform. He was a clown who never made me laugh – a tad too sad and too much of the military. According to the priest he gave others great fun. It’ll probably be my limited French…
So, four to go – an unfair competition, betting is tricky. After all, the Mémé is a hundred years old; in April we celebrated her centennial. Roland is nearly eighty – although kind of fat, he is still relatively healthy. Lilly is a tight sixty five, still going strong. The race will go between the Mémé and me, with her having the best chance to be allowed disappearing first. My prospects are limited – it will be a tight race.
No coincidence it can be, that the chain saw with which in the late autumn, all those years, I attacked my pear and hazelnut trees, broke down during the Great Prune – on the exact day that I was told of Vergne’s death. Forever gone that saw, for without Vergne its resurrection in La Roche is improbable. I took it to Emmaüs, the flea market for charity. There it will be patched up, the revenue undoubtedly going to something good.
Sierksma, 4-13.10/2015 La Roche