Tuesday, March 28, 2006

sad day, happy memories...By Thomas

Today is somehow a special day for me. 2 years ago, my grand father died. It happened very suddenly and I never got the chance to tell him goodbye, nor to make him proud (at least it's the way I feel). I don't pretend to know everything about his life, but I remember being a little kid and listening to his stories or to people talking about him. A little part of history, my history died that day, that I will never know about.

Like a lot of French, my family is originally from Spain, Basque country more precisely, and came to France (the French part of the Basque country) around 1910. My grand father was first of second to be born in France, and was raised by his mom and sisters after his father (a contractor) died by being struck by lightning on the bridge he was building in Bayonne. I am not sure what happened next, but as I understood the oldest sister escaped to Scotland with all the family money, leaving the mom with the 3 younger kids, my grand father, 3yo, and his brothers, 5yo, I think and 2yo. They then moved to another city in a different "country" (from Basque country to bearn). My great grand mother not speaking a word of French or the local dialect, I am not sure how things worked out, but it must be why my grand father made a point that his kids would speak French and only French. After that, I don't know what happened, just that he studied at the seminary for awhile, before escaping or something like that and ending up in the army in Algeria. He then was back home, where he met my grand mother, got married and as a honeymoon he had to go fight. WW2 was starting.

This period must have been very traumatic I guess, cause he was talking a lot about it, yet not fully, just giving information bit by bit. I don't really have any clue about what happened during the war itself, as it was rather short and am not sure that he was too happy about it (he always used to call Petain a traitor). The period from 1940 to the liberation is full of info, yet there is no real chronology as there are only specific events there. As the coldest he has ever been was a winter in the Vercors. About how he and a policeman had to stop a Panzer division at the entrance of a tunnel long enough so his friends could evacuate. They just had a mule and a machine gun, and really thought he was going to die that day. How my great grand mother was giving flowers blue-white-red to the German officer passing in front of their house every day. The fact she was Spanish helped her not being in trouble (vous-etes une petite coquine, was saying the officer in a horrible French). Their house was in front of the Kommandantur and they could hear very often at night, people screaming in pain. How one day, this tall blonde and beautiful lady who was walking with her German shepherd was shot by the resistance on the street in front of the house (the car arrived and tactactactactac was the way both my grand parents described it). I also know that when my father was very young (his oldest memory as he says), he got scared while playing in a tree when a Panzer stopped and started turning, I guess as a joke, its turret toward him, and so my grand father decided it was time to move and started building a house in the middle of what was then woods. He also had funny memories, on how his brother once sent a trunk full of guns to Paris by train. But had to pick it back up a few days later as no one picked it up and the trunk just traveled Pau-Paris-Pau, without anyone opening it. The one memory that really cracks me up was how they were passing messages to the Resistance. They were putting the message in a can and asked the kids on the way to school to play soccer with it. Germans at the check-up point usually laughed and even played soccer as well with the kids. The one memory that was coming back a lot though was how once he was waiting to be interrogated at the Gestapo, a German soldier told him: I think you want to run...Now!! Quick quick, escape! I am not sure he ever saw that soldier again but he sure saved his life.

He was also talking about his brothers. But not too much, I just know that one got gassed and one who was in the 2nd DB of Leclerc. When they stormed the German headquarter, took a silver plate with the Nazi eagle and the letters A.H engraved ( I have seen that plate at my grand pa's.) and some red curtains in which my grand mother made pants for all of her kids.

After the war, he opened his garage, built more on his house, and was producing his own veggies and fruit. I remember playing in his garden for hours and hours, or climbing high in trees half naked and screaming like tarzan (yes well I was about 6), eating apples, pears and other fruits from the tree while he was shaking the ladder to scare me. He was a happy man, always joking, passionate with history, but strict on rules and morals. I didn't get to see him for the year before he died and was planning on going to see him the next week. I guess that's why the saying, "ne remets pas a demain ce que tu peux faire le jour meme"....

Not sure why I am talking about this here. I first wanted to talk about him and make parallels with what some French-bashers are saying about France and its people, but anger just went away as soon as I started thinking about him. But anyway, if any french-basher comes to read this post, just know that my 2 middle fingers are waving at you.


At March 29, 2006, Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

History lesson of love and life, good post. Don't let the French bashers get you down, France is a beautiful country!

At March 29, 2006, Blogger Expat Traveler said...

thomas you are funny. But what a great lesson. So interesting, really. I hated listening to stories but now I really like them, especially when I can read them. I guess I didn't learn enough from my grandfather who died when I was either 8 or 9 years old.

At March 29, 2006, Anonymous Doc said...

you keep right on waving those two middle fingers, bud. Mine are waving right along side 'em. Besides, this: http://insanepictures.com/vid.shtml?0010.htm
is what so many of us Americans left behind.

At March 29, 2006, Blogger moe said...

Thanks for the reminder. I should call my Grampa. He was in WWII also. He fought in Italy and France. I am lucky he is still alive to tell me stories.

At March 29, 2006, Blogger wendy said...

That was a lovely nostalgic read...I am fascinated by the war and the stories of it and here near Alsace I often look at the old old people and wonder what tales they could tell. You have more info about your grandad than I have about mine - I know almost nothing about his life and it makes me think I should start talking to my boys about my parents and their lives and pass on some family history.

At March 29, 2006, Blogger Kim/Thomas said...

I always was so bored when my Opa was talking about the war. All the things he told me, are now gone forever, and I didn't memorize them, like Thomas. My Opa lost his leg in the war, he was repairing telephone lines and a mortar hit, I don't even know where he was, what happened or anything.

He died in May of 95', and now those stories, that I would love to hear now, are gone with him.

Thomas was telling me, there are 6 men left, that fought in WW1, then the actual witnesses to the war are gone, we only have history books and paper memories...

How many people are really listening to the old peoples advice, we could learn everything from them, they have the experience, yet do we listen? *sigh*
When Thomas made this post, as I was watching him type it, the first sentence made me tear up. I'm so lucky, he is telling my boy's stories of his grandfather and such.

My mum was telling me stories as she was born into the war in Germany and lived through the bombs falling. My dad, he was in Vietnam twice, but never ever discusses it!

We could have all the answers, as those people made mistakes, and found things that work, and although the wars now are different, we could learn so much, just by listening.
great post my love!

At March 30, 2006, Anonymous Pumpkin said...

Great post and I love the ending! :)

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