On one especially hot summer day in July 2020, Louis arrived in our lives and his story is pretty special!
Whilst waiting for the purchase of the house to finalise the previous owners gave us the go-ahead to start work on the gardens. The property had laid vacant for around 3 years and nature had reclaimed its territory. The ‘lawns’ were jungles with grasses to your waist and brambles had created fortresses 10 meters deep in places. It had all but been abandoned save for a small path the width of a lawnmower that snaked around the perimeter. Tallgrass in France is asking for trouble of the snake variety too!
A long time ago some serious money had been spent on some beautiful plants and trees which were in danger of extinction from the onslaught of creepers. Some serious hacking was needed so we were grateful to be able to make a head start before we officially got the keys.
Not all sellers are open to this sort of thing and most of the time the Notiares will advise against it so everyone just kept it on the down-low which suited us fine.
Another handy use of our Motorhome when she became our mobile base. All our amenities in one mobile machine meant that we could spend a couple of days at a time working in the garden when the weather allowed. I kid you not, we had to plan our time around which days were cooler! At one point it got to 43 degrees which is not sensible for manual work. I spent one such day weeding a section of the driveway in the shade of the motorhome very appreciative of the rest bit from the sun.
Not long after we had arrived our presence was spotted by the locals! Shortly after Louis arrived.
I don’t have a picture to share here so I will need to paint you a verbal picture.
Knarley hands of a grafter and twinkly eyes of a grandad. More agility than a mountain goat but a slight limp and unsteadiness on foot (the balance between the two remains a struggle he won’t be beaten on). A kind smile and genuine attention is given. Knowledge and experience that only the gift of age can bestow. Happiness to help others. The font of all local information. Everyone knows Louis! A small man in stature but a large man in heart.
The first visit was a little bemusing, trying to explain that we don’t own it yet but we will soon.
I should also say that Louis speaks absolutely no English! (After a few visits we did receive a ‘very good’ with thumbs-up gesture when I feed him custard cream biscuits and baileys coffee).
His reason for stopping seemed to just be to check us out. Make sure that we were not up to no good! We were thrilled to have met a local!
The visits continued twice a week in the warmer months and once a week in winter. We talk about everything from the local births, deaths and marriages to the weather and planting tips for the garden. He even happened to be here during a wood delivery and gave the driver a hard time when he wanted to drop the wood anywhere other than right next to our wood store! He is fascinated with what we are doing here and always wants a tour and an update.
We genuinely look forward to his visits. We get to practice our French and he is incredibly understanding and helpful with the language he uses and the speed he talks. Never hesitating to explain further (talk slower and use simpler words!) when our faces cloud with confusion.
He is a thoroughly nice guy and we are seriously lucky to have a Louis in our lives.
An aspiration for Dan and I when we decided to move to France was to try and assimilate with the French population. Living close to lots of other ex-pats has its perks for sure (being able to speak English to the Gynaecologist is a serious bonus!) but we want to speak French, we want to live ‘French’ and finding Louis is a real blessing for us. Our English world is accessible if we need it but it’s nice to be able to choose – almost like a comfort blanket – security if we need it but trying to live without.
Within a few weeks of meeting Louis, he had taken us under his wing and ensured that we knew about all the social things happening locally. We were so lucky that in August and September the Covid restrictions permitted some gatherings and Louis made sure we were there. On his table no less!
It quickly became apparent that Louis table was the largest at each event and filled mostly with non-French people. Belgians, English and French all introduced by Louis. It’s almost like he made a conscious effort to try and give us our own group and was happily sat in the middle of it with a content smile on his face.
Without Louis, we would have already missed out on so much here. He is a gem!
The reason that I wanted to tell you about our Louis (aside from how ace he is) is that he has an incredible story to tell.
I confess that my knowledge of his story is 2nd hand and I have yet to have the full conversation with him about it but little things he tells me 1st hand ring true and it’s fascinating.
To digress slightly and so to explain my particular fascination – With extra special thanks to my Grandad Lawson. My Mums Dad sadly passed a very long time ago when I was only 18 years old and yet in my relatively short life with his influence, I became fascinated with all things World War 2. He made sure I fully understood what happened and talked openly with me about it. I wanted to learn more and studied history through to A Levels.
Louis was a small child and living in Normandy during the war. After the War, his family moved south to the Lot & Garonne in the 1950s to take over a local farm. There was a shortage of hands to work the land and Normandy had suffered so badly during the liberation it was a path many families took.
As a child, Louis used to cycle his bike from one village to the next to visit his Uncle. A small boy could bend the rules a little more than an adult in Nazi-occupied France. He was oblivious in his childish innocence.
What’s interesting here is that this Uncle he visited was no blood relative. And Louis little bike was not so harmless!
The story goes, Louis father was a member of the French resistance and each day would secrete messages into the handlebars of Louis bike and send him off the see his ‘Uncle’ in the next village.
One day I hope Louis will share his story with me himself but for now, this tale gives me goosebumps and I hope it rings true. I am confident his tale is mirrored throughout France and its rich military history is yet another reason my heart belongs here.
The story ends with a small explanation as to why Louis befriended us (and not the French family that moved in next door a few months before us!). We are English and we speak English – ‘we’ liberated him from the German occupation. ‘We’ set his family free. The more people we met here to more often we hear about Louis love of anyone that’s English (this also applies to Americans and Canadians incidentally). He goes out of his way to help us, to engage us and to share with us.
What a guy!
I am humbled by this one-man welcome wagon and feel exceptionally lucky to call him a friend.