Facing Gascony

Sandra Hawes

© Copyright 2018 by Sandra Hawes

Photo of a field of sunflowers in Gascony.

Our house faced south to rounded hills dotted with farmhouses and an odd assortment of trees.

September ambled in on a wave of heat. The sunflowers were being harvested in the field opposite the house, by our neighbouring farmer. All was quiet except for the drone of the combine harvester which gave us a feeling of security that the summer had produced a good crop, and we were hopeful that later the rains would swell the lakes. The harvester raised clouds of black dust outside the house. We thought it a good time to stay in and decorate.

The sitting room was our first target, a large square room with an inglenook fireplace, low beamed ceiling and tiled floor. The wall paper had to come off, it had become discoloured with a daily miasma of smoke. This 1960’s wall paper not only covered the walls, but also two doors and the gaps between the ceiling beams. It depicted a profusion of large stylised fruit and bottles, orange and yellow, with streaks of gold and brown leaves on a black background. Each strip unaligned.

It became very warm with the doors and windows closed so we began to strip off, me in short shorts and a small cotton top and Rob stripped to his waist.

What’s that dreadful noise chugging up the hill?’ I said. We looked at each other horrified then froze as it heaved itself into our drive and belched out thick smoke, which caused a halo around the contraption. The van contained the French farmer from whom we had bought the house and his wife in her floral frock and yesterday’s pinny supporting heavy bosoms that heaved in synchronization with her breathing. Through the glass of our main door we noticed the exhaust pipe missing and a rope across the back seat holding the doors together. The farmer placed a wooden wedge under the back wheel to stop the van from reversing out of our drive.

What an embarrassing situation,’ we spluttered at each other.

Quick Rob hide the walls, splay out your arms against them.’

Don’t be silly it’s not the walls I’m worried about but our lack of clothing.’

The locals are very shy and we felt we should respect their modesty.

They won’t stay long,’ I said . Rob said he’d conduct the pleasantries outside. I couldn’t face them in my attire, so when Rob went to open the door I hid up the large chimney ledge. But as Rob and the farmer shook hands and said bonjour monsieur in unison, the farmer and his wife stepped inside.

Why can’t I say no to some people ? Why do I put up with their nonsense?

I arrived home one very hot day after showing clients houses in a very large area of Gascony, to be confronted by Tessa and Mark, acquaintances from England. They had been told I was selling houses for a French agent. It was soon obvious they were here to make themselves at home whilst searching for a house to buy. They said they would sleep in the garden in their small tent, but surreptitiously they began to take over my kitchen and the house. Why did I allow her to cook in my kitchen for two weeks? She cut butter in its packet and bread without a board on my antique oak dining table, left suitcases on the same maltreated table and spread her belongings over the living room chairs. I became so incensed I put her possessions into a spare room.

Where are my things?’ she asked when she came in.

In my spare room - tidy.’ I said and she huffed.

She said the tent was too small for her, Mark and their belongings. Hard luck I muttered under my breath.

Stan suggested I show them all wrecks, houses that needed restoring, then they might go away disconcerted.’ he said.

She fell in love with one whose roof had caved in.

Later my boss said ‘that woman was completely impossible, I felt like telling her to go away but didn’t feel so inclined as she is your friend.’

I explained she is no friend of mine only an acquaintance. The troubles continued.

During the second week of Tessa’s stay Stan’s sister and her friend arrived, also our friends Ben and Linda were with us. I don’t think any of them had ever met anyone as crude as Tessa and were insulted by her turgid manner,rude jokes and stupid remarks.

One afternoon as the farmer was harvesting in his field opposite the house Tessa asked Stan if she could swim in our large splash pool, after taking the cover off he turned to find her stark naked, having walked about 50 yards from the house. She climbed the steps and splashed into the pool. The mayor, farmers and the postman all pass, the front of our house is open to the world. The locals are very proper and we feel we should respect their modesty. Stan came into the kitchen too stunned for words.

On the day of signing for her wreck she tried to make conversation with her vendors, simple country folk. She thrust a cassette into the woman’s hands and said in English ‘here take this and learn and by the time I return I want you to speak English to me.’ The vendor turned to me for an interpretation, I just stood there stunned with my mouth wide open.

On her return she decided she would draw the architectural plans to restore her property and took them as is the custom to the mayor of her village.

What are these’ he asked,

Plans to restore my property.’ She said.

Well madam I think you should go away and represent them, I feel you couldn’t even draw a simple plan to build a doll’s house.’

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