Some days are wonderful, filled with fun with friends, days at sea, dolphins... Others start well and end poorly... Others start very poorly and end up quite well... That’s what life is all about, isn’t it?
This story will be long and filled with 'rambling' before getting to the point of mending-my-wall. I do have a very complicated and dysfunctional life... Imagine, not being able to grab a phone and have a calm conversation about an old wall! Because this is all about mending a wall, after all!
My mother and I undoubtedly do not get along. Actually it’s been years since we have stopped communicating. My sister tells me how our mother is doing but she keeps 'mum' (funny word) about me though.
How did that happen? Well, she’s always been a very difficult woman. Very nice to “outsiders” and quite toxic for her children. It is a long and complicated story which I am not sure I want to share.
Let's say that it’s still taking me an awful amount of time with my shrink to get over the fact that one day, while I was more or less dying, more than less by the way, my mother denied me the right to survive or to die peacefully. One phone call and I almost gave up.
I am still alive though because I am tougher than I thought but I no longer communicate with my mother... Huge wall erected there. Period.
Last Thursday I got a frantic phone call from my sister. It was all about my garden in Arfons.
By then our parents had moved down to Saissac after selling my Bonne-Maman’s home.
I was lucky enough to buy the other half of the garden from my great-aunt Aline in order to re-create the garden of old times which Bon-Papa Mathieu had surrounded with a dry stone wall to protect the raspberry and the red currant bushes and the bay-trees from the village cattle. It is older than one whole century. The wall, that is! And it is the only genuine one left in the village, as far as I know.
It’s been fixed over and over... but I have to admit that last year, during my birthday trip, I was shocked when I went to pay a visit to my garden. One part of the wall was sorely crumbling away due to neglect, ever since my mother and I quit communicating.
So last week, my sister called me. She had heard that the neighbour from one side of the wall was threatening to have it pulled down once and for all.
He had gotten in touch with our mother who had agreed with him. This wall had to be pulled down. Too bad for our Bonne-Maman’s fruit bushes which would be destroyed in the process.
Legally, it is a big “no” unless I get certified mail from the man who wants to pull the wall down mainly to enlarge his own garden on the sly. First of all to tell me the wall is crumbling. Then to ask me to fix it, etc. And then I have to agree through certified mail.
Hello, people again!
Who is the rightful owner there? Someone obviously forgot I own the title deeds to the garden even if I let my mother pick my Bonne-Maman’s raspberries and red currant to make jam, summer after summer. Which always seemed a sensible thing to do...
This someone may have decided she had to hurt me again... She knows that we have always cared about the garden and its walls...
She also knows how much I love this garden which is the only roots I’ve left in my village.
Last year, we evaluated the damage but we were dumb enough not to go ahead and try to find a stone mason. Actually we were in a hurry and we were planning on coming back this summer.
So there I am. One call from my sister. A threat on my garden of Eden. What could I do? I could not and would not call my mother because I knew that it would be impossible to have a sensible conversation with her.
Popeye suggested I’d call the “town” clerk in Arfons since I didn’t even know my neighbor’s name... Then I’d get in touch with the man and I’d tell him that I would have the wall fixed as soon as possible, hoping he’d understand he had no other choice left.
It took me a few hours to get all the information I needed to call, mainly because I went through every page making mention of the village... I had not been far from the truth when I wrote about the slow death of my village.
I found a couple of phone numbers and got the list of the town council! Surprise, surprise. I knew 90 per cent of the names, one of them being my brother’s ex-fiancée. Most of them, including the mayor, had grown up with me... Friends I talked about in one of my posts!
I started feeling better.
The town clerk was a very nice young woman. She had the hardest time comprehending I really was from Arfons... until I mentioned that I may have been a very old friend of the mayor. She then asked me to call back next afternoon since “Monsieur le Maire” would be at “la Mairie”.
I was very nervous when it was time to call “Monsieur le Maire”... It had been well over 35 years since we had met. But never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
“Allô? This is Ms Olive calling again.”
“Just a sec. I’ll put you through.”
“Good afternoon, Monsieur le Maire... or may I call you ‘Alain’ for old times sake?”
And there was such a hearty laugh on the other end of the line.
“Kitty!” (Well, yes, dear readers, this was my delicious nickname until I grew up and became Olive Oyl.)
“I knew it had to be you. When my secretary told me that a lady had called about the ‘Jardin de Lespinasse’, I was hoping it’d be you. How are you?”
And we were old friends again as if so many years had not gone by.
We had a long talk about our lives, of course but also about the village and the people there. It really was amazing.
He said that my mother had asked him to tell the neighbor he could run my wall down.
“There is no extra love between the two of you, is there?” I was so grateful he never added: “What a shame.” And then I realized that there had never been this much love nor understanding while I was growing up either. He had a better memory than mine.
We ended up exchanging our mobile phone numbers because - “I do not want you to disappear for another forty years.
Can you come over in September when you get back from Brittany? Let me know when and we’ll throw a big welcome-back-party for you. Promise!”
Wow, wow and wow!
I had called Monsieur le Maire in the throes of a big crisis and when I hang up, I was overjoyed!
I would be going back to “my family” where I knew Popeye would fit perfectly...
Actually Popeye and I, we spent the evening talking about Arfons and what we could do to help the village come alive again.
We were brimming with ideas! Some were really stupid and rather wild. Others can be very interesting. We’ll come up with a plan before the end of September when we’ll go take care of the wall and mingle with my old friends.
You see, when we arrived in Brittany, in the 1980s, lots of villages had reached the stage where they were dying. I am not talking about the sea resorts. I am talking about small rural places not very different from Arfons and most of them without all the plus factors Arfons can offer. All those villages have survived, rather well, I'd say. Bretons did have a lot of resourcefulness.
Forty years ago, Arfons used to be a very touristy spot. All we need is some good ideas and good will too! And there are quite a few young retired people who sound very resourceful over there and who are bent on fighting this slow death I talked about! (Hard to go back to your village some forty years later!)
All this about mending a wall and some very bad mother/daughter relationships.
“Mending Wall” is an allusion to Robert Frost’s poem which I have always loved. “Good fences make good neighbours,” says his neighbour while the poet tries to convince him that they do not need to fix a wall between pine trees and an apple orchard...
“... here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence...
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Well, there are no cows left around my garden but this is my great-grandfather’s wall... Hard choice I know.
*Good Luck, and Good Night*