Forgotten Love Letter Saved for Posterity

corsica-original-letters

Not the love letter mentioned in the post, but one that was also hidden and found many years later, in Corsica

I couldn’t let today pass without celebrating, but not for the reasons you think. By sheer coincidence I started this blog seven years ago today. Well over 500 posts, thousands of comments and many friendships later, I still find plenty to write about. But as a nod to Valentine’s Day, I have resurrected and updated a post from the archives that is almost seven years old, about a wonderful local discovery.

Sometimes fate works in mysterious ways. In this case, it saved for posterity a precious letter that would otherwise have been consigned to the flames with a heap of junk.

Every summer, the commune of Espinas organises weekly walks around the surrounding countryside. They used to include a visit to the hamlet of Flouquet. Once a thriving farming community, no one lives there all year round now. However, the people who own houses keep the place looking neat and tidy and take a pride in renovating the common parts of the hamlet.

Espinas - Hamlet of Flouquet

The hamlet of Flouquet

The houses are grouped around a green planted with chestnut and walnut trees. The original bread oven has been restored and is lit for the benefit of the walkers. You can see the original wooden paddles on which the bread was put into and removed from the oven. The hamlet’s lavoir, or washing pool, has also been cleared out and restored.

 

One of the inhabitants was brought up in the area. He and his sister were clearing out an attic when a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. When they deciphered it, they realised it was a letter from their grandmother, Palmyre, to their grandfather, written during World War I when he was fighting in the trenches somewhere in northern France.

Palmyre was left with several children and a farm to look after when her husband went off to war, as happened so often then. It must have been so harsh, not only coping with all the work that involved, but also not knowing what was happening to her husband or even, at times, if he was still alive.

But Palmyre was undaunted. She tells her husband what’s happening on the farm, what she has done with particular fields, whose advice she has taken (or not; she was quite proud of that) and how the weather has been. Palmyre wrote the letter in several stages, taking it up again when she found the time.

Showing your emotions in public at that time was rare. We were told that it was also unusual for people to express their emotions in writing, even to spouses or close relatives. But Palmyre says how much she misses her husband, whom she has not seen for nine months: “We were so happy together.”

Flouquet - chemise

Grandfather’s nightshirt?

The fact that Palmyre’s husband hung onto the letter shows how much he valued it. You can imagine him keeping it safe in a pocket book in the trenches, unfolding it countless times and taking comfort from it when the going was hard. Perhaps it transported him back for brief moments from mud-ridden battlefields to the green, rolling pastures of Espinas. Maybe he vowed to himself that he would make it back to her. And he did. He escaped the jaws of death and came home to father another three children.

Little did Palmyre suspect, when she wrote the letter, that a century later it would arouse so much interest. For her, it was a private and intimate document for her husband’s eyes only. It was probably also a safety valve that allowed her to channel her emotions and her loneliness. I wonder what she would have thought had she known that a group of strangers would one day hear her intimate words.

You might also like:

World War I and SW France
French Women and World War I
A French Country Upbringing
French country life a century ago

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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4 Responses to Forgotten Love Letter Saved for Posterity

  1. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1641797.Celestine
    i was going to post this link on your previous post but it seemed apt to put it on here because of the author’s starting point. On last night’s bbc ‘one show’ they featured correspondence between a married couple during the second world war years found by their children after their deaths and published. I did wonder whether it should have been shared but recognise the historical significance. I believe it has been given to the imperial war museum. A guest wondered what today’s communication between lovers would look like, a mass of texts and emojis? Thank you for this post….

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Thank you for the link. I’ll be interested to find out more about the book. There’s a delicate balance to be struck between historical significance and personal privacy. I guess it’s an editor’s job to ensure that. I have often bemoaned the demise of letter writing. My own novel wouldn’t have been written had it been based on present-day SMSs – although I suppose that will be a challenge for novelists of the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Osyth says:

    I recently stumbled on a letter written before my parents were married by my mother to my father. My mother is still alive. I felt so much that I was intruding that I carefully and silently put it back in its place, nudging it gently so it might look undisturbed. History is in these letters and ‘ordinary’ documents but history is to be treated with the utmost care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, one does feel a bit voyeuristic, especially when it comes to one’s own relatives. I felt privileged that the letter was shared with us and it does give us a glimpse into the way people lived, but I couldn’t help wondering what Palmyre would have thought.

      Liked by 1 person

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