Thursday, 12 July 2012

The funeral of Mme Le Roux

This week we attended the funeral of our neighbour for over 20 years Mme Marcelle Le Roux.
Ever since we bought our house in La Railliere, she with her youngest son, Jackie, have lived across the lane. From day one she was always warm, friendly and welcoming. On our every visit to our house she insisted that we went over and had a coffee with her. She and Jackie lived close to the land. They grew most of their fruit and vegetables in their small holding, kept at various time geese and rabbits for the pot, and she insisted on keeping chickens (Jackie used to remark that the eggs they collected must have been the most expensive in France). Jackie used to go hunting and often we would see Madame sitting in the evening sun plucking something or other. She would bottle tomatoes, store apples in trays, crack walnuts to make oil and preserve all other matters of fruit and vegetables for the winter months.

As you would expect she spoke not a word of English but we managed to converse well enough with her at our coffee visits. Our conversations would be about the weather, the family and any local news, beyond that it would be difficult to continue and we would give our thanks and leave. We would always leave with a gift from her of fresh eggs and in the summer she would give us some of her large, often ugly but delicious tomatoes. On one notable visit she gave us first a drink and then a bottle of her Eau de Vie; it actually evaporated on my lips! She was in the kindest sense a simple country woman.

She had in total seven children all of whom are still alive, over twenty grandchildren and countless great grandchildren. There was always family dropping in to see her, and it was clear she was deeply loved by all. She had been widowed before we met her but was the centre of her family’s life.

Being ninety-seven on her death meant that she was born in the middle of the First World War and must have lived through some turbulent times here in Lesigny. We have pictures of the Marie draped in Swastikas and being guarded by German troops, and have found in local books pictures of the bridge across the Creuse after it had been bombed by Allied forces  The village was eventually liberated by a force of the SAS{in the Marie is a plaque of the SAS badge).

Madame Le Roux always told us that she wished we could stay at the house longer, but we explained that we had to work to pay the mortgage. She prophetically told us she would be too old by the time we could stay longer. In recent years her health began to deteriorate, she became diabetic and had to have insulin injections twice daily from the diabetic nurse, who would arrive with a loud vroom when she parked her Porsche outside our house (this would not happen with the NHS). Her balance deteriorated and for the last eighteen months she had to live in a care home, though Jackie said she never complained

We did not know quite what to expect at the funeral, not being French or catholic, we just hoped that we could sneak quietly in at the back and observe. We are aware that different communities have different traditions around funerals. I remember in the 1970’s Liz being dumfounded at the funeral of one of my aunts in South Wales. The service was in the house where after the men went off to the burial whilst the women remained in the house. This has changed now.

Back to the funeral, we arrived at the church to find the mourners outside awaiting the hearse and the family. The coffin and the family entered the church where after we all filed in. We were pleased to see the church almost full. The service was recognisable in parts, but not the hymns. Members of the family read prayers and poems, and we recognised the 23rd Psalm, the Lords Prayer and the bible reading beginning “in my father’s house there are many rooms” etc. We were partly expecting a mass , but we gathered that a memorial mass would be held in a few weeks time.

At the end of the service we were requested, from the back rows forward on either side, to proceed down the centre aisle to where the coffin was positioned. There people sprinkled water on the coffin and placed money in collection boxes at the side of the coffin before walking before the family and out of the church via the side aisle. Outside the church we waited for the coffin and the family to arrive, before the hearse set off slowly to the village cemetery followed by family and friends walking slowly behind. At this stage we thought it best not to follow. We found this part very moving and felt that Madame had received a good and respectful send off.

We are sad that she is no longer our neighbour but glad that we knew her,

1 comment:

  1. A thoughtful obituary to your friend and neighbour.

    My grandad was buried in the 1970's, again in S Wales, and the funeral was exactly how you describe. Whilst the men attended the burial the women organised the tea.