Ten days ago, our dear friend and neighbor in the countryside, Clemence, passed away. She had endured her illness and its vile treatment with bravery and her well-known effervescence. She was a woman who adored the countryside and her farm, loved working out of doors. Born less than five kilometers from where she married, bore her children, lived all her adult life and died, she was not a simple woman who had longed to escape. She was an intelligent woman who had made a conscious choice to live and work with nature.
Perhaps she inherited her love of the countryside from her mother, who had been a belle and city girl in Strasbourg before the Second World War. When war swept into eastern France with its terrifying, vicious suddenness, thousands ran for the train station. They forced and squeezed themselves onto any train heading south and west. Most had no idea of where they were going or even of where the trains were going; they hoped only for safety.
In that mayhem during the Fall of France in 1940, local governments in the southwest requisitioned every available structure – old barns, abandoned shops, apartments, houses, even shepherds’ shelters – ordered that the owners help to make them inhabitable, and put the refugees in them. Clemence’s mother and aunt ended up in Dordogne.
Her aunt despised the backwardness of the place and returned to Strasbourg as soon as the war was over, but Clemence’s mother wrote a post card to her father saying simply “I’m staying. I like it here.” Appalled, her father came to visit, for he was sure something dire must have taken place for his sophisticated beauty of a daughter to have sent such a missive. He found her joyously planting her potager and accepted that she was happy and had found her dream.
Clemence herself lived on her farm, tended her garden and animals with what must have been the same sort of joy as her mother’s. She reveled in the physicality of the life and the glorious Dordogne air. She was belovèd by many, who showed their loyalty and love by standing in the bitter December rain and cold to say good-bye. Her funeral swamped the small hamlet’s church. Farmers, shopkeepers and friends, people who had, like her, lived in the villages of the area all their lives, formed a crowd on the church steps that fanned out to fill the road up to the Monument aux Morts. Never before – neither for weddings nor funerals -- had we seen such numbers at the church. When her coffin was carried out the door and up the short stretch to the graveyard where her husband’s ancestors had been buried since before the Revolution, the crowd followed quietly in the freezing rain. The coffin was placed in the tomb, and a line formed, so that each mourner could pass and touch it, wishing her safely onto the next journey, before the tomb was sealed.
Clemence’s life was remote from the cities and the mobs but vibrant, intense and perhaps loveliest of all, it was the life she had wanted. We will miss her so, but how many people can claim that they lived the life they wanted, that they fulfilled their dream every single day? We say farewell and brava to a woman who lived a long and full life, and weep for the children – everywhere -- who were denied that.
©2012 Anne Morddel