Saturday, March 28, 2020

France: The village that keeps on giving....

When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have learned one another's stories? If they do not know one another's stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover, they fear one another.      --Wendell Berry

In the little town of Le Tronquay, we are here with the mayor,  Patricia Gady Duquesne. Grandpa Shumway (my father-in-law) has his picture on a banner outside of the church during the first week of June 2020. Blog on French Village Celebrations

There are some places that root into your heart, like a branch that is grafted into an old, sprawling tree. And just like that, you are unexpectedly planted solidly in that ground. You will never be the same again because you went there--laughing and crying in that place. The beauty you breathed in from the land and the people made you see colors you never would have seen before. You have been gifted a story or a sense of place, that roots inside deep within your soul, never leaving. 

Sometimes in these stressful times, I close my eyes for a few moments, remembering what it felt like to belong to a place where despiting my butchering the inhabitants’ language, they love me anyway. 

For me, one of those welcoming places is a little village in Normandy, France with a population of about 786 called Le Tronquay. It is one of the two villages my father-in-law helped to liberate about a month after he landed on D-Day in 1944. Not unlike most of the villages in Normandy, the old villagers of Le Tronquay continues to spin their tale to the younger generation.
Le Tronquay charmingly stays back in time. If you stroll through the petit village, it would require but an hour or two of your time. The churchyard rings its bell on the hour.  Behind the church is a small cemetery—honoring a few of its ancient citizens. There are plaques scattered among the gravestones that recognize the young men from Le Tronquay who died in both the World wars and others even earlier. Like many other French villages, the history of community celebration and suffering runs for centuries. 

A typical French mayor’s building across the street. There are a few community buildings where people gather for meetings and occasional dance. A new addition, a soccer field is almost hidden in the green fields that are mixed with dairy cows. Winding stone walls and hedgerows border the village that used to hide soldiers. 
I have thought a lot about my 22-year-old father-in-law as he entered this little town of Le Tronquay with his men 75 years ago. As he trekked across the fields and around the hedgerows, I am sure he would have never imagined that someday his descendants would roam here too. They would come back, again and again, to hear of the village's heroes, one of them being him. Children would hear stories and sing about what his men did in mid-July, 1944. Little did he know, that in a place not too far off, he would be struck by a land mine, and never see again. Yes, this village has stories that unravel a deep meaning and instil pride within our family for his sacrifices.

I am grateful this little village does not want to forget their history, the stories that made them who they are now. The first week of June in Normandy many villages are like Le Tronquay awaken and celebrate. They remember their fallen heroes--most of who are gone now. The Normandy villages remind me of the importance of remembering together and continuing to tell the story. 

Whenever we get back to being in our communities again after the COVID virus, I think we will have an entirely new outlook on what it means to have connections in a small and larger community. 

At the community dance, with a plethora of French pastries...

Serenading the community with song...

The mayor explaining the art exhibit of Elias, our son with autism. She asked me to bring his pictures to the little village for a show. Little did Grandpa Shumway know that 75 years after he helped to liberate this little village, his descendants would be there--with his grandson with autism having an exhibit. 

Bringing Elias' art to Le Tronquay

Luckily, our daughter, Sarah, could speak with the villagers and translate for us. 

The painting Elias gave to the mayor for her office

Le Traonquay in 2019

Fields and hedgerows could be 75 years ago...

Sarah with the banner of her grandfather

Older members of the village and Mitch in the middle, from Provence, who come to honor the history of this village. 

More shows and gatherings to understand the past during the Liberation anniversary of 1944.

Some of the younger children of the village learning about my father-in-law from my son.

I love the way Patricia, the mayor, gathers the children to explain the history of their village. She ensures that the younger generation in this village know the past.

A meeting the mayor called to help with autism awareness in the town. A young man with autism from the village spoke with us about his experience and his family asked for advice from us. Our collaboration was a springboard to help other families with autism in the area--to meet together and discuss ways to alleviate stress to families. 

A sense of community, knowing your neighbors and having an appreciation of celebrating happily together.

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful is this article! The banner next to your father-in-law's is of my great uncle, Bill Becker, my grandfather's little brother. I've heard about the banner but never had the opportunity to see it. Many, many thanks for sharing such an important story. --Kathleen Becker Blease