The House of Happiness

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There is a beautiful lilac bush just across the road from our house in a large vacant lot followed by meadowland that goes down to the Loire. Our rainwater flows into the vacant lot so Jean Michel keeps the area free of  brambles and nettles. He has also cleared a parking space next to it. The lilac bush is on the left.

The lilac bush from our bedroom window when we get up in the morning

The lilac bush from our bedroom window when we get up in the morning

The weather is lovely and we’re having our tea in the garden, making the most of the spring flowers. Jean Michel suddenly gets up and says, “More people cutting the lilac”. He opens the gate, sees an elderly lady and a young man and says “Hello. I would really appreciate it if you could cut the lilac from the back of the bush and not the front. That way, everyone can appreciate it.”

The lady looks surprised. “Ah”, she says, “but figurez-vous (which means something like believe it or not), the lilac was planted by my father. I used to live in this house”. “Well”, we say, “that’s quite different”. “Won’t you come in”, I add, trying not to seem too excited, “I have lots of questions to ask you”.

Closerie Falaiseau

Closerie Falaiseau in June

The lady is loquacious, to say the least, while her 30-year old son is more reserved. She explains how the garden and the house were divided into two. There was a stone wall separating the garden starting at the drain pipe on the left of the last door on the right and ending where my planters are now. She and her parents and six siblings lived in the left half.

The wall ended on the right of the photo where you can see the two planters

The wall ended on the right of the photo where you can see the two planters

Downstairs, the room corresponding to the archway on the left was a combined living room and kitchen with a bathroom behind and the boys’ bedroom was on the right. I learn, to my disappointment, that the stone sink and bench, which I thought were original features of the house, were added by the people who began restoring the house before our previous owners bought it.

Stone seat and sink that I thought were original!

Stone seat and sink that I thought were original!

Upstairs, where she loved to sit and read, were the other bedrooms. Her father was a bricklayer and had a large vegetable garden in the vacant alotment across the road. She tells us that she had the most wonderful parents imaginable, that the house was always full of people and that at Christmas, they had parties where everyone sang and danced until 6 o’clock in the morning.

“I call it la Maison du bonheur (the house of happiness)”, she says. She now lives in a flat in Blois, overlooking the Loire, “because”, she explains, “I love the Loire almost as much as this house. There used to be a sandy beach on the edge of the river and we used to love going there to play and sunbake.”

The little house that the parents moved into after their children grew up

The little house that the parents moved into after their children grew up

But the children grew up and married and the house was too big for her parents so they moved to the little house next door. Her son explains that his grandparents used to look after him during the day and he went to the school down the road, which is now closed. Now in his early thirties, he confesses that it has always been his dream to buy the house one day.

The school in our street which is now closed

The school in our street which is now closed

Their nostaglia is palpable. The little old lady talks non-stop and is obviously delighted to be able to share her memories with us and not at all interested in seeing the inside of the house which she doesn’t recognise. She is obviously disorientated so we go outside again. In response to something she says, I ask her how old she is. She looks a little surprised and replies 64.

I try not to look as shocked as I feel. I would have said she was 80! I think about it later and I finally come to the conclusion that her nostalgia for the past has prevented her from entering the modern world. She looks the age her mother would have had.

The little old lady in front of the lilac bush

The little old lady in front of the lilac bush

Jean Michel takes his secateurs and cuts her a huge bouquet of lilac from behind the bush this time. She promises to come back again at the end of the year after we’ve moved here for good to show us her old black and white photos of the inside of the house. We promise in the meantime to make the most of our House of Happiness.

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13 Responses to The House of Happiness

  1. Jane's cousins friend says:

    That is such a lovely story, how wonderful to have a home called the House of Happiness.

  2. Susan Walter says:

    What a nice encounter. The old photos will be very interesting.

    I remember being visited by someone who grew up in my house in Australia. She cried when she saw the interior, because although it had my furniture, I hadn’t painted or altered the arrangement of the rooms.

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      I have to confess that when I saw my childhood home after my mother died, it felt very strange because my brother – quite rightly – had refurnished it.

  3. You have a lovely house!

    It’s curious to come back to a place one lived for many years.

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      I agree. I’ve spoken with our previous owners since and apparently the lady goes past every Sunday!

  4. Nice story. Your house looks so nice in spring, with all those flowers around the yard. It look to me you are ready for the permanency …

  5. Femme Francophile says:

    Arch visited his boyhood home in northern NSW last week. He boldly knocked on the door and the family invited him in to look around. He also visited his old school where 2 of the teachers showed him around and were thrilled to hear his stories from yesteryear. He proudly told them he was the first student from the school to go to university. The village of about 250 inhabitants brought back many memories.

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      That’s very interesting. How did he feel when he was inside the house? As I replied to Susan, my brother now lives in my childhood home. After we sold the house Lisa was born in, it was really odd to see different furniture. Somehow, it felt more final.

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