The Story of My Life so Far - Part 9 - Family Life at HomesteemCreated with Sketch.

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This is the story of my life so far: 67 years and counting.
Prequel: A Brief History of my Family in France



The story starts here
Previous episode: Part 8

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.

Helping Hands

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.

Weekdays

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


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Summary
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8



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@vcelier always an interesting read ..
I could relate on so many things. Though you're born many years ahead of me I experienced so many of what you went through so I could relate..

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.

we had the same set up but I always get home very dirty like a boy cause I would pass by the sea along the way and go to the water and dip till where my neck is on some days we're not in uniform and lunch was quite long back then. We had to walk back home and walk back to school which was just 15 minutes away from home so many of us never got fat hahaha. In our case lunch was always rice + either vegetables or with fish or meat but always vegetables. We never had cheese nor salads.. back then the salad for us were steamed water spinach or sweet potato stalks dipped in vinegar with soy sauce a bit of sugar and salt or pepper or garlic or calamunding and a bit of oil, they call it balsamico later on :)

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.

it was the same with what we had and we would run back home for the snack - which was either rice cake, boiled cassava, sweet potatoes, plaintain bananas or we would go up the mountains and hills with friends to collect whatever fruits were in season that just grows along the paths. I missed those beautiful days having read your story. I used to sit and listen to my favorite uncle papa Isaw when he tells us about what was his childhood and growing up days like back then.. he's your age bracket so ..obviously this is why I often peer to see what you wrote :)

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.

I like this part of the story a lot. We also had no showers back then and till now there are houses that still don't have showers.. they just get creative and use a garden hose or a bucket full of water and a dipper. We didn't share water like you guys did but water is very cheap yet we were allowed to use only one bucket per children(I grew up with my cousins- that's Philippine style parents go to work and live in the city while parent's folks take care of the kids). There was no shower nor baths back then but those were the best days weren't day?

I wonder what you'd feel like if you were the last in the bath .. I think I'd go sneak in for some clean water to rinse myself off but then knowing how expensive everything was out here I think Marie has done a hell of a great job doing that. It's hard to raise several kids. My folks only had 3 very naughty girls yet we had several house helps to do the house chores till my Mom could no longer afford it so tasks were divided among us. I always like your story .. always have some interesting events and way of life back then. It shows that - we really should be thankful for everything we have now.. and be happy with whatever we have..

Keep writing :)

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Thank you for your comments.

It shows that we really should be thankful for everything we have now.. and be happy with whatever we have..

Absolutely!