A tribute to a very special woman

We met our closest neighbours the very day we bought «Les Tertres». They were obviously wonderful people, old enough to be our parents. Little did we know though that this meeting would lead to an extraordinary relationship based on unconditional love and support during the 20 years to come.

Henri was retired. He had spent most of his life travelling all around the world as a chief steward in the merchant navy. Yvonne had stayed at home to raise their four children in a charming cottage that once had been her family farm house.

From time to time when she’d feel too lonely and his ship would spend a few days in a french harbour, she’d go there by train and stay a few days with him.

The ship would leave and she’d come home, waiting for him again. Usually, he’d be sailing for 4 months and then he’d come home and spent 2 months with his family. And then back again...

The children grew up. They got good jobs, then got married and had children. They all lived not very far from their parents’ home. They spent a lot of time with them, children and grand-children.

It did not take very long until we got «adopted» by Henri and Yvonne. Henri had offered to watch over our house in-between school holidays and Yvonne gave us her love and friendship. Well, so did Henri, of course. Those two were so strongly bonded by love that sometimes when I was thinking about them, they reminded me of those budgies called lovebirds.

I grew very emotionally attracted to them because they were so different from our parents. So I spent long hours at their place... Happy times and happy memories.

They were very cheerful. I’d say they had a very sunny disposition, both of them even tho from time to time, life was not this easy for them and their family.

One thing I was not used to either and I found so remarkable... they never gossiped. And when you live in a small village, there is a lot to gossip about. But, no. They always had one good word to say about everybody. Now I’m not implying that they were some sort of dimwits! They were basically very good and very kind people.

Years flew by... We barely noticed they were getting old. And I imagine we did not realize that we were getting close to their age when we first met.

Of course there were times of sickness, times of worries... But we shared those moments. We were very often there and otherwise we’d get on the phone... So we shared and bonded.

I guess it took me a long time to realize that they really were getting old... This summer, they celebrated their 65th anniversary. We wished them many happy returns but we started worrying.

Yvonne hadn’t been feeling too good for quite a long time now. She was very tired most of the time even though she never complained. Despite serious sight troubles for the last few years, she had been very active but those last few months, she really looked and acted exhausted.

She stayed at home a lot. Their children and grand-children came to visit them a lot and she was so happy when her second great-grand-child was born in December. Another little boy whom she saw for the first time at Christmas.

Of course, Yvonne was always asking questions about «our» children, the ones who had been coming to Les Tertres so many times...
Henri loved the fact that Swee'Pea was travelling all over the world... and that he was still willing to call on them everytime he was home.

Swee'Pea would tell Henri about his trips and listen to him while he was telling him about all the places he’d been to.
Swee'Pea would talk about his life and his girlfriends with Yvonne who was very anxious for him to meet the «right one».
They were proud of him the same way they were proud about all their grand-children.
«Do you remember the first time we met Swee'Pea? He was so fair and curly haired and such a sweet little boy.»
And then they’d smile because they liked so much the older version too...

This Christmas was very different from the start. We were appalled at Yvonne’s physical appearance even though we had seen her less than one month before. She had always been a small woman but she had turned diminutive. She was still smiling but her eyes were frighteningly empty. Henri looked worried.

We spent time with them of course, as usual. We’d go home very sad. But we were still thinking that they had miraculously been spared from aging for many years and now age was taking its toll.

We left Brittany on January 10th. She was in the hospital since the 8th to get some tests done, just a check-up. We talked on the phone every night until Wednesday because she had had an endoscopy (which makes it real hard to talk for some time). She was very cheerful. Tired but cheerful. She couldn’t wait to go back home.

On Wednesday night, I called Henri who told me they were thinking about surgery, something wrong with her gall-bladder maybe.

On Thursday night, I couldn’t get in touch with Henri. I woke up in the middle of the night. I knew then that something was very wrong.

So I wasn’t really surprised when on Friday morning, I got a call from one of their friends. Yvonne had passed away very peacefully during the night. Henri and their children were with her till her last breath. Pancreatic cancer, undetected and systemic in a few days.

I felt like an orphan... I called Popeye who was at the airport on his way to Mexico and I had to wait much longer to call Swee'Pea in LA. They had been kind of expecting such an outcome.

On Monday, I went to Brittany just to be with them, one last time. Her youngest daughter paid her a very sweet tribute at the beginning of the burial service.

There were so many people there, so many. Old and young. And it was sunny outside, just the way she would have liked it!

«Yvonne was such a bundle of love...», my friend Bernard told me when we left the churchyard.
He should know, she took great care of him and his sisters when his mother had breast cancer.

I miss her terribly and I know I shall miss her for a long, long time but I’m so grateful that along with Henri, she made me feel so welcome into her life. She gave me so much during those 20 years we’ve loved each other. I learnt so much from her that she will never disappear from my life, ever.

Love endures.

*Good Luck, and Good Night.*


Snowed up in Brittany - Global warming

Brittany is supposedly suffering from a very bad power shortage. Nobody knows whether it’s true or if it’s a way for politicians to open the road to building the nuclear power plants Britons have been fiercely refusing.

One thing is true: we have been going through a very interesting freezing cold period ever since the beginning of the year. And so we’ve been told that there will be power cuts from time to time. Maybe it’s just going to be a scare but you never know.

It is really, really cold. Don’t laugh, my friends from Northern America! And it’s been snowing a lot, yes a lot for this part of Brittany!

When the second phase of our home renovation started, we stored our wood at our friends’ farm. So today, our friends, Bernard and Yvette came over to bring a few logs just in case, just in case.

Since there was nothing else to do, we started reminiscing about past winters. Personnally, I’ve never seen snow last more than two hours here... Probably due to the vicinity of the Gulf Stream... It’s much colder and snowy ten miles from the coast.

Bernard had to go back to 1954 and a couple of years in the 1960s to remember such a snowy beginning of January. Usually Frebruary is the coldest month of the year in this part of Brittany. Coldest yes but without snow most of the time.

Just imagine my surprise, last night, when I heard shutters banging in my den. I went upstairs and opened the window only to be hit by a flurry of snow, driven by a very strong south-east wind!

Snow, I just couldn’t believe it! I was getting excited... There already was at least 1 cm of snow on the ground. Don’t laugh! And the evening was only beginning! But since I’m not used to such a weather, I went to bed thinking it wouldn’t last.

This morning, Byerly got restless quite early. I tried to shush him up. No way. I gave up and opened my eyes. There was this strange white light filtering through the shutters. And I knew. I felt like a kid, opened the windows and shutters and there it was, so glorious!

I never thought Les Tertres would look like this! Like a fairyland!


Byerly spent his time watching outside but no birds.


I looked around for tracks but there were none! Strange when you think that farmers have been hunting wild boars like crazy in the area. Last year, there were boar (and badger) tracks all around the house! But no snow!

Mr. Weatherman has announced heavy snowfalls starting again tonight and lasting until next Wednesday...
I have to leave Les Tertres on Sunday morning to go back to Paris.

There is a time for beauty and a time for travelling. I’m not sure snow fits well with travelling, at least in France!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Manhunt at Les Tertres

Yesterday morning, when I opened my shutters... quite late, several soldiers and gendarmes were pacing up and down the beach.

This is not unusual. The sea has been very rough those last few days. From time to time, freighters at sea loose containers. Some are filled with dangerous products. So the prefect who represents the State in our department sends a few trucks filled with soldiers and gendarmes who are supposed to recover those potentially dangerous whatever.

Sometimes it’s all about drugs...

Ok, our «hatchet man» is a joke. But weird things can happen on the beach below.

In Brittany, there is quite a history of buccaneering, smuggling and wrecking ships. Most of it is history and legend. But smuggling is still going on whether it is about tobacco or drugs.

The beach below our house is very long (about 4 miles from one access to the other one) and very empty from fall to the end of spring. And completely lonely as soon as night falls.

We are not very far from Jersey. So from time to time, launches cross the sea, from Jersey to our beach and drop their bundles of cigarettes or drugs. There are people on the beach, ready to pick them up... Just like in old times, folks, just like in old times...

French Customs are well aware of the problem. It’s fun to watch their launch drop anchor not very far from our house. Impressive, I tell you. Beautiful ship too. Sometimes the launch goes into hiding behind the Verdelet and this is when we know there will be action!

Several times, we’ve witnessed the boarding of the felon ship... The custom officers really go at it, very swiftly. You see, they have to get on board before the smuggled goods are thrown overboard. No smuggled goods aboard, no felony, even when bundles float away! French law!

When they were younger (still children and young teenagers), ‘our’ children used to play a silly outdoors game they called ‘Manhunt’.

They’d play in teams. Yes, they were numerous enough to form teams... It was summer camp at Les Tertres!

They waited until nightfall. As soon as it was very dark, one team would go into hiding which was an easy thing at Les Tertres. The others were the hunters. For safety reasons, we gave them flashlights which they almost never used anyway, except for the hunters. But it made us feel better! Woods and cliffs can pose a hazard.

So one dark night in September, just before school started, there was a «manhunt» we’ll never forget!

We were enjoying a quiet evening while the ‘kids’ were ‘playing’ outside. All lights off except for a few candles. A well-earned rest, I imagine after a day of boating and feeding the cubs. All of sudden, overexcited boys and girls rushed home. (By the way, how long can you call teenagers ‘kids’?)

All together! All at once!

Farewell to our relaxing evening!

They were chattering so much we couldn’t really understand what had happened. Being seasoned parents, we waited until they cooled down.

And then, boy, we were in for quite a shock!

One of them said: «Don’t turn the lights on!»


«Don’t turn the lights on, please!»

And then they managed to tell the story... One team was hiding in a hole down in the cliff, very happy about their hiding-place. Then looking down at the sea (it was low tide), they heard a boat getting near the shore. A launch, they discovered, as soon as it started turning its searchlights on, off and on, as if signalling its arrival to someone!

What goes through the head of teenagers? A launch sends signals. They have flashlights and they signal back of course!

The launch turned its lights off. And suddenly from the beach, strong flashlights were switched on obviously looking for ‘whoever’ used a flashlight up from the cliff.

Lucky us. The kids were not this stupid after all. They turned their flashlights off and got out of the hole at top speed. They met the other teams and run home for ‘safety’ therefore disturbing our well-earned restful evening.
We didn’t turn the lights on and we saw cars on the beach below coming and going away after a while. It was really weird. We called the gendarmes but they answered that ‘teenagers tend to have a vivid imagination’ and ‘there is nothing to fear.’

So we locked the house, sent everybody to bed... and spent almost the entire night wondering about what had been going on down there, on the beach. I no longer was a teenager but I did have a vivid imagination.

The next day, we packed and drove some kids to the station. Then we left by car with the others feeling a little bit depressed because school and work were about to start again!

Several weeks later, I read in ‘Ouest-France’, the Brittany newspaper we were subscribing to, that a gang of smugglers had been arrested after several months of investigation by Customs and the police. The smugglers were from our village and neighboring cities: among them, a few fishermen, doctors (!), druggists (!), teachers (!), etc.

The gang operated from our deserted beach, right below our empty house. Launches would come from Jersey loaded with drugs. People would be waiting for them with cars and take the bundles away. The drugs were sold all over Northern Brittany.

Then one night, the custom officers in charge, helped by policemen, set a trap and got them all: from the gang leaders (two doctors) to the underlings! Including the customers. And the launches.

It was quite a shock in the area! And a very efficiently managed operation, worth telling us that ‘our teenagers had too much of a vivid imagination’.

Why did I tell you this story? Oh yes, because yesterday morning, I saw a few soldiers and gendarmes on the beach below!!!

Funny how my imagination still is lively! I’m feeling like a teenager today!

Happy New Year 2010!

*Good luck, and Good Night*