We lost a friend today.
I remember when we first bought our house here we would fly in then all jet lagged wake up early the next morning. We'd see the smoke rising from the boulangerie chimney and know that all was well. Jacques was making bread. When we moved here permanently Jacques was one of the first to greet us as new neighbors; he and Madame Viguie were the first of the villagers to invite us to their home. (funny how after 6 years she is still Madame & I have no idea of what her Christian name is, but Jacques was always Jacques.) We were invited for "un petit gout" (a little taste). We weren't sure what that might be but found out that it was succession of small dished accompanied by appropriate drink. Jacques was particularly proud of his very own eau de vie. First we had the 'new' stuff, then the very old stuff. Wonderful, but watch out!
Slowly we learned more about Jacques; ex pig farmer, ex truck driver, retired bread maker. And what bread! Real country sourdough with crust that is out of this world. (I say is because after a two year plus apprenticeship with her father his daughter, Monique, took over the business & moved it to Villefranche, Jacques retired. She now has three shops & her father used to go every morning to bring back the bread for the village. What happens now?) He did his military duty in Algeria & didn't like it. In fact he liked right where he was in the village. He was born here & died here; a content soul.
Yet he was well informed about the world, curious and inquisitive. Jacques always had time for a chat & a laugh. He walked by our place several times a week with his dog, Olga. We'd try to chat & the dogs would play. I say try because there was a real language problem what with my pathetic French which he had trouble understanding & my inability to penetrate Jacques' local accent. His native language was Occitan & he started learning French when he was 6 years old & started school. Somehow though we communicated, somehow I came to regard him as a friend. He was always there, he was always positive and one knew you could count on him. I remember a typical Jacques deed; some friends came to visit & were having trouble finding our house so they asked at the boulangerie (a good tip by the way; if you want to find somebody in France just ask there.) Jacques promptly got in their car and brought them to our place. He was that kind of man.
I'll miss him. We all will.
That was obvious at his funeral today. It was a wonderful, dignified and moving occasion.Very fitting.
As is the French custom we all waited outside the church. The coffin arrived with an honor guard of war veterans from nine surrounding communes their flags draped in black, the coffin draped in the French flag. They entered the church followed by the family (Linda & I almost lost it then seeing poor Madame Viguie, her head bowed, grieving in public. She is such a private person. Jacques was her best friend as well as her husband) We then all filed in. The church was full, it was standing room only. The singing was beautiful and local; perhaps not the best choir, but they meant every word. The communion service was very moving. We did lose it when Jacques younger daughter got up to speak: "Papa...." Very very moving. Her last conversation with her father.The coffin and the honor guard left followed by all of us. A simple, heart felt service.
The French do these things so well. I was proud of them, proud of our village, proud to be part of it.