In 1959, my parents bought Le Mont, a small chateau in great need of repair from the Folleville family, who had owned it since the time it was built in the 17th century. We had a common boundary with the Loquets, several fields away, who owned and old fashioned farm, which they ran with their daughter.
When renovating the property, which took several years, my father had the barns nearest to the house knocked down and Monsieur Locquet, as the new farmer neighbor, offered to take the large cider casks. My father asked how much he was offering for them and he replied that he was offering to take them away for free. My father figured we had no need for them and let him haul them away. After a while, M. Locquet informed my father that he had noticed he had a large quantity of apples and requested to have them to make cider. My father said he could, but that they should split the cider. Locquet replied that if he made cider, it would be for himself, and the deal was off. My father took this as an introduction to the Norman way of life.
The Locquet were already old, or seemed old to me from my six years. We bought all kinds of farm produce from them, and we often dropped in, for a bottle of cider or a pot of fresh cream, or just to look at the farmyard animals. My sister Christine and I would cross the fields to their little Normand farmhouse which had no running water, and rooms accessible from individual outside doors. We only ever saw their kitchen, which was the main room of the house, dominated by a large stove that heated the space as well as a pot which always simmered with hot water. Madame Loquet, who limped and complained of rheumatism, would greet us, slip into her wooden clogs and hobble over to the farmyard where we would look at the animals. They raised chickens, guinea fowl, rabbits, goats and of course, cows. I found the cows scary, they always seemed to look at you, and once when I crossed the field alone, they all came towards me at once with determined expressions. I ran in terror until I reached the farm. Madame Locquet laughed away, saying that they probably thought I was bringing them a treat. The goats were the most fun, especially the kid goats, that would jump over you if you crouched down. The chickens were everywhere, white hens followed by a more colourful cock. One day, Madame Loquet pointed to a black and grey cock saying he would go to the pot on Tuesday. It was Friday, and I felt sorry for it, with its aggressive cocky manner, thinking he didnt know what he was in for. There were broods of guinea fowl, mothered by hens, who made a better job at raising them than their guinea hen mothers, the farmer explained. I found it fun to chase the chicks, who ran ahead of me with loud squeaks, until the hen came at me in full force and pecked at my calves. I was stunned, and my nanny Germaine, who was getting a pot of fresh cream, made me feel like a bully, explaining that the mother hen cared as much about her guinea chicks as her own.
A visit to the Locquet was always accompanied by a glass of cider, which they brewed themselves and was quite strong, and I often returned home tipsy.
The Locquet had several sons and a daughter. The sons had left for town, where they made a career. They came to visit on vacations with their children, who were younger than me, and the wives would walk across the fields to the Little House where I played all day to sit and talk with Germaine. They made it clear they would never think of making their lives in the country and praised the wonders of Pont Audemer. The Loquet daughter, the only one left at home was too old to be married, and in 1964, she committed suicide by jumping in the well where her father found her. I had never seen a man cry and the sight of M. Locquet, with his little Hitler mustache, in tears as he related the story to Germaine, while his wife silently wiped her tears with her handkerchief stayed etched in my memory. Normandy had the highest rate of suicide in France; men hung themselves and women jumped in wells. This was attributed to the characteristics of Calvados, said to have a depressive effect.
In the mid 70’s as I spent time in the kitchen gossiping with our Russian, locally married cook Vali, she told me stories about our neighbors the Locquet. She said Madame Locquet was a tyrant, and though she couldn’t move around much due to gout, she managed to keep control of the money, denying M. Locquet any freedom. I had already heard the gossip that she had always been like that, and that she had been quite attractive in her youth with a very fulfilled love life, Madame Bovary style minus the debts and the suicide. Vali told me that Monsieur Locquet’s biggest wish was to own a transistor radio, to listen to his favorite programs while tending his vegetable plot. I had recently bought two ducklings, a spontaneous gesture, a reaction to seeing them being pecked at in their market stall and when she saw me coming home, not really knowing where to put them, she suggested that I give M. Locquet an old radio and ask him to look after them, that he would be so pleased he would forsake eating them.
I showed Vali an old radio I had upstairs, and she suggested I give it to him myself, without Madame Locquet knowing or she would take it from him. I brought him the radio and the ducklings. He was delighted and promised he would look after them with his life. When I came a month later to visit him and the ducklings, with a Madame Locquet who didn’t suspect about the radio, they looked happy enough in their movable cage. A few months later, my mother took a picture of them, dawdling around in his yard. One looked a little like a turkey. Unfortunately the turkey looking one came too close to the edge of the woods and was eaten by a fox.