This is the story of my life so far: 67 years and counting.
Prequel: A Brief History of my Family in France
Family Life at Home
When we arrived in April 1957 in Saint-Ouen, we were 7 children: Philippe (1947), Bruno (1948), Vincent (1949), Monique (1952), Brigitte (1953), Antoine (1954) and Benoît (1956).
Four more children were born while we were living in Saint-Ouen: Grégoire (1958), Jérôme (1960), Bernard (1962) and finally Nicole (1965).
So, we were between 7 and 11 children in this big house. As Philippe left the house to enter the French Military Academy to become an army officer in September 1966, we were 11 children for only a year.
With this many children, you need to be very organized. Organization was one of the forte of Mary, my mother.
You also need help.
Over the years, we had several women that helped Marie to manage the house, mostly to help with cleaning.
The first one was Marie-Josèphe. She lived in the house with her husband and her little girl. They were staying in a bedroom on the second floor and using another small room as a kitchen, with only a small gas table stove. This small room became my bedroom later. After 3 or 4 years living with us, they had a second child and they left us.
They were replaced by a single mother, Ginette, with her daughter Mireille. My parents were good practicing Catholics, but they were not bigots. Having a single mother to help us with the house what not a problem for them.
Ginette stayed with her daughter Mireille for 5 years.
Marie-Josèphe and her family, and Ginette with Mireille, were the only ones that were living with us.
After Ginette left us, she was replaced by Madame Porte, who was living with her family near by.
At some point, there was less need for a full time help, and after Madame Porte, there were only cleaning ladies that came several hours per week. I remember mostly Madame Alcaraz, who was Portuguese.
It is strange that we were calling Marie-Josèphe and Ginette by their first names, but not all the other helping hands, who were always called Madame.
Today, I called Marie, who lives in Versailles, using Skype. She remembers very much all these ladies. She kept in contact with several of them over the years. She told me that Marie-Josèphe and her husband had died, that Ginette got married and had another child, and that Madame Porte was living in the central part of France.
As we were going to school at 8:30 (or even earlier in high school), we were waken up by our parents around 7:30, have breakfast, and go to school.
We returned home for lunch at noon. Lunch was served in the dining room around 12:15.
It was a small salad (often a mix of endives and beets), some meet and vegetables, and cheese with bread.
School started again at 13:30 and ended at 16:00. We would have some snack (le goûter), do our homework and entertain ourselves, mostly playing in the backyard or reading, as there were no television and no radio in the house. My father had a turntable in the living-room, but he was the only one allowed to use it.
There was no shower in the house, only one bathroom with a bathtub on the first floor. Every day, around 18:00, Marie would send us one by one to take a bath. To save money, we would use the same bath water. The goal was to be the first in the bathtub, so that you would have clean water. To do that, you would check the time and ask discreetly Marie if you could start to take a bath.
From the kitchen on the ground floor, Marie would monitor the baths and call us successively. When one of us would stay too long in the bathtub, should would ask if we were done. The standard response for those that were daydreaming in the bathtub was: "I am almost done, I only have to clean my finger nails" ("presque, j'ai plus que mes ongles). Marie was no fool and she knew exactly what was going on.
After taking a bath, we would wear our pajamas and robes before having dinner.
Diner was served between 19:00 and 19:30.
It was always started with a vegetable soup, then pasta or rice, but no meat, followed by cheese and desert.
Immediately after diner, we were all going into my father Paul's office to do the evening prayer together.
We would all kneel and face a crucifix in the middle of one of Paul's bookcase. Needless to say that reading the titles and the authors of the books was a big distraction.
I remember that one of the book was "Spinoza, Opera". Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch philosopher, and this was a collection of his works. But, for a long time, I was convinced that Spinoza was a musician who has created an opera.
After that, we would go to our respective bedrooms and read a book. Marie would come to give us a goodnight kiss and switch off the light around 21:00.
[Sorry, I have no pictures to display today]
Continue to Part 10
If you like this story, please consider to follow me @vcelier