This morning I got an e-mail from Gwenda, our friend in Leran. It was full of news about what was going on in town, who was going home for Christmas, news of the choir, who’s going off to Amsterdam and Australia…….and other news. We’ve been busy working on finding a house, buying a house, selling a house and moving all of our junk, that we’ve not been thinking much about Leran. But Gwenda’s letter brought us up to date.
The letter contained some very sad news as well. I’ll quote Gwenda……“I guess you will have heard that a nice man in Rue de Four has died. Can't remember his name but he lived opposite Alan and Eileen and had a wife who was blind. He used to ride a bike and had an allotment. I hope that this isn't all old news to you.”
We hadn’t heard this news from anyone else and so it was very sad for Nancy and I to learn this old gentleman had died. If you have visited us in Leran, you will no doubt remember this old fellow and know exactly who Gwenda was referring to. Nancy and I called him “the little old man”. He always wore a blue beret, blue French workman’s pants, and generally a short sleeve plaid shirt. I never, ever, saw him without his blue beret and I thought I had all the time in the world to take lots of pictures of him. Sadly, I never took one shot of him even though I wanted to very badly. But I thought it would embarrass him to be the subject of my attention. Yes, stupid, I know. I had introduced myself one day, not long after we bought our house, and asked him his name and he told me. Tragically, before I walked the 100 feet to our house, I had mangled his name in my memory. It was something like ‘Pascal’, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I was so embarrassed to have forgotten it, or mangled it, that I could never work up the courage to ask him again for his name.
He had two garden plots and three or four times a day he would walk by our house on his way to get his bicycle and ride the two or three kilometers out to his plot. He would reappear later in the day with products from his garden piled on his bike. In June the pickings would be slim, but by the end of August he would bring home quite a haul. Leeks, onions, lettuce, turnips and all kinds of garden goodies. We were very envious.
In the evening, he would sit outside their house, in a chair or on the windowsill or curb, often with his wife, and they would get some sunshine and fresh air and chatting with the neighbors. Nancy and I would always “Bonjour” and “Ca va?” as we walked by. I had a few conversations with him, very limited on my part and we generally discussed the weather. I doubt he spoke even a single word of English. I never saw him at the bar, or in Mirepoix, or anywhere else for that matter, except on the Rue du Four and at his garden plot out towards Lac Montbel.
I suspect he lived on a pension and he must have survived on very little. They didn’t have a car and I never saw him riding in one. He must have used the services of the meat, fish and grocery trucks that show up weekly in Leran. The items from his garden were most likely a very important part of his diet. He must have been on the far side of 80 years old, but I thought he would live forever. He was thin as a rail, getting lots of exercise on his ‘velo’, eating food fresh from the earth and he was always seemed happy as a clam (there must be something happier than a clam).
I only saw him once without a big smile on his face, and although I couldn’t follow the French, he was angry at our next door neighbor for the crass language, the noise, or something our neighbor had said. Whatever they were arguing about, I was on his side, because he was always a perfect gentleman.
So, here’s to you Pascal, if that was indeed your name. May you Rest in Peace. You had no way of knowing how much we enjoyed your presence and how much we’ll miss you.