Lessons from Questions

Text read by Mary Peters

Olivier’s conversations with his father.

How does six months away from home for an 8-year-old become a happy memory for his whole life?

The year is 1939. My grandparents living near Paris decide to send my uncle and my father to board with Aunt Marie, my grandfather’s older sister, living in a small village in Aveyron. They wanted to protect their boys from the risks of war, deprivation, and bombardment. Two children, accustomed to the city find themselves on a small farm far from everything. However, my father will keep a memory of his stay that is still very present at 89 years old.

In the middle of dogs, cats, chickens, goats, cows, the two children find the five cousins. In the morning, in galoshes, they go to school. Three kilometres on foot, obviously there is no car. The little ones go first. The oldest will soon follow, them carrying lunch for all.

Back in the evening, very tired, they take part in the life of the farm and have fun together without having any toys. After the evening meal, they go to sleep. The girls in one room and the boys in the other. It was the time when parents, children, uncles, aunts and grandparents lived under one roof. There was no comfort, but there were solidarity and family love. The bonds made during those six months remain forever indelible in my father’s mind.

Today, most of them are gone and the last one often wonders why they are still there when they see the emptiness creating around them. He likes to talk about his past time, and I like to listen to him. It is through these conversations that I can understand what this generation went through and pass on to my children and grandchildren, the knowledge of a certain experience, far removed from the reality of today.

I am not one of those people who say, “it was a good time”. It was a different time with all its sufferings and pleasures. I am lucky to still have him with me, with uncles and aunts of the same age, who tell their versions of their past time, but also that of their parents and grandparents, which brings me back to evoking the family experience from around 1900. It’s a real pleasure.

Here, I am not nostalgic, but I wanted to share with you, my pleasures to listen to these old stories, other than in books.

It is priceless happiness.

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