Les Cigalois de St. Hippolyte du Fort - Part 2
Updated: Feb 6
My husband had a significant birthday a few years back (well, ok, more like a decade). I sent out requests for a word of encouragement, a memory, a photo from friends to mark the day. As I received these stories and anecdotes, the importance of people struck me again and again. They are truly one of life's greatest gifts.
We've probably all heard the thought that no one has ever said, "I wish I spent more time at the office," at the end of their lives. If there are regrets, it's regarding family and friends. People are precious, invaluable.
While St. Hippolyte is full of natural beauty and rich in history, people are its greatest treasure. I've lived here for almost 11 years now, and it's a constant delight to walk around our small town and wave greetings, stop to chat, or merely smile and say Bonjour as I pass through.
Unlike in large cities, almost everyone here says Bonjour. It's nice. Although, at some point in the late afternoon, one switches to Bonsoir (good evening). What the rule is for this timing is still a mystery to me. Invariably, if I say Bonjour later in the day, the person responds Bonsoir. So, when I say Bonsoir to the next passerby, why do they say Bonjour? Is it a conspiracy to confuse l'Américaine (the American)? I don't think so, but I just sigh and shake my head. Some things I feel I'll never intuitively know.
A quick glance around town reveals a lot of retraités–retired folks sitting with their friends on the benches under the impressive row of shady plane trees in the town center. When the weather allows, these lovely Cigalois and Cigaloises seem to sit there for hours, watching, talking, or simply being.
We do have families and children, and the crêche (state-provided daycare), lower and upper elementary schools, and junior high bustle with activity during the school year. Normally, that is. Teachers have recently been on strike due to all the restrictions.
One of my favorite Cigalois is our neighbor Jacques. Warm-hearted, out-going, kind, and funny, he sees everyone who passes by. A wave and a few words–or more–I always walk away smiling. In pleasant weather, he sits outside with his wife and their neighbor and any others who pull a chair up (in the street outside their garage!) It always feels like a block party with Jacques.
He's planted roses in the tiniest of dirt patches in the area around his home. With loving care, he tends the plants, as he does people, and they thrive. Beauty abounds. I am grateful.
Out the front door of the Château de Planque, on across the bridge, there used to live another wonderful human being. Jean-Claude first contacted us on Facebook years ago, saying, "you pray at one end of the bridge, and I do the same on the other side." He recently moved, and we miss seeing him and his sweet orange-furred cat.
Speaking of cats–oh la la!–as they say. Many roam free in our little town. All belong to someone, and a few live in the streets. But, we have some caring women who tend to them daily, bringing them food and water. These animals appear well-fed and loved, as they are.
Until a year ago, I was among those who walked with dogs. My little Snicket was appreciated by all: "She's so pretty!" "She's so young!" "What race is she?" My answers were invariably: "Merci!" "Non, she's 14 years old; she just looks and acts young." And, "We don't know what race she is; we got her at the animal shelter." To the last one, I rarely added that she came from Hawaii!
I loved how having a dog opened conversation with other walkers. It still does sometimes; a kind woman recently told me she misses seeing Snicket with me. So sweet!
I've seen other people whose aged dogs suddenly aren't with them. One man who used to have a huge, slow dog seemed so sad, shoulders sagging when he passed by, alone. About a year after his dog left him, he appeared one day with a little, adorable doggie. He was so happy, and it still makes me smile. I'm so glad he has a new friend!
Sometimes, it's the people themselves who are no longer there. For years, I passed by a lovely older man, always wearing a cap, always greeting me: Bonjour! Bonjour! In my mind I called him Monsieur Bonjour Bonjour. I haven't seen him in quite a while now, and I hope he is well, whether here or beyond.
Here is his lovely home last spring (not sure what the teapot is for!)
Across the street from my home, the Château de Planque, is one of the two watermills that formerly belonged to the estate. The water wheel is still in place, and when rains allow, waters flow around and under the mill house. From time to time, the above-mentioned Jacques cleans out the debris and growth from the water basin leading to the wheel. As I said, he's a gem.
Today, the mill houses an older woman on one side and a young family in the other half. When we first arrived, with our whole Youth With A Mission community, the woman was not pleased. Whether it was the singing or the cars or just the general energy flowing from a formerly bedraggled building, she was not a fan. And let us know.
One of our team decided to leave her flowers on her doorstep weekly. When she figured out they came from us, she was angry! When my husband asked her why, she said, "because I don't know who it is, and I can't thank them!" He assured her no thanks was needed and that it was an expression of the love our heavenly Father has for us. We are now friends, and she appears happy to have us around.
Look who I discovered! I went to take a photo and voilà! The nice cat ladies have put blankets for the kitties in the wheel. Off to the right is a little cabin they constructed for them as well. A huge orange cat came out when I stopped to take the photo and then right back in when she saw it was me––without food.
In my recently released book, Though Darkness Descend, many of the characters are straight from history. I had to invent others, all the while praying I might touch on something close to forgotten people and lives well-lived (or not!)
Each of us embodies a story woven from the past, passing through the present, setting the stage for the future. Each individual is incredibly unique. We're given a stretch of time to live life here on earth, spelling out a story in design with whom God made us to be. What a delight to discover each living wonder! And the tale they have to tell!
La vie est belle!