The key to the old orchard

doc 2Madame had left a kettle and tea on a tray with a packet of Madeleine sponges for my 5 am petit dejeuner. Catherine opted for a more leisurely start to the day, so I drove off as quietly as I could, into the dark morning. Another stony grey day in Lisieux. Early risers shone their torches and poked around the stalls. I made the mistake of buying a mirror, which I said I’d collect later, and then lost track of where I’d left it – once day broke things looked quite different! I did eventually locate it, tucked it under my arm, and the various stall holders I’d asked about it said, “Ah, vous voyez, she found it!”

In a corner of one square I came across a collection of notary documents. The feel of thick, dusty paper and leathery parchment, the flourish of penmanship, the notary stamps charting the period from Revolution to Empire, the documenting of sales and payments long, long ago. And a wedding invitation on cream parchment: Mademoiselle de Montesquiou Fezensac was to marry le Comte Jean de Levis Mirepois in Paris on 23rd July 1902. Later I found a large rusty key with a dry leathery label attached – written in ink was “Porte du Verger,” it was the key to the door of an old orchard.

A box of school registers dating from the late 19th century caught my eye. A girl’s primary school, each name beautifully recorded, the rhythm of morning register and afternoon register, the reasons for non-attendance noted in the right hand column. “Garde les vaches” (looking after the cows), “Aide sa mere” (helping her mother), “Mal au pied” (hurt her foot). I wondered about the lives of those young girls – Georgette Goupie, Lucie Courtois, Germaine Marchand, Jeanne Poirier, Alexandrine Girard, Marie Montauban, Celestine Vallee. Seeing a name from 1897, or reading a hand written document, or finding a faded painted shop sign for a Painter & Decorator, helps me to magically slip down into the past to that day, to that life.

Mirrors, blue and white enamel house numbers, pewter dishes, oil paintings, Sarreguemines crockery, bottle carriers, tubs and jugs, chairs, candelabra, wall sconces, books and documents were packed in the van. Cold rain fell steadily. Time to collect Catherine and head back towards Caen and home.

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