Our street was narrow, unpaved and fenced in by two large stone walls. This was before the jolies maisons sprang up like mushrooms surrounding us, eating up the vineyards and olive trees. This was before the new families arrived. This was before we had to say good-bye to those who had lived on Rue des Moulins their entire lives and made it a passage that took you back in time.
Since the construction trucks couldn't pass on our narrow street, those stone walls that had been there longer than anyone living in the village, had to come down, bulldozing the stone walls took less than thirty minutes. The tumbling of those walls brought an end to the life that used to trespass on either side.
Often upon a time, I strolled down the unpaved rue with my two children. I encountered the local color of our village every step of the way. How I loved those afternoon walks where it felt like I slipped back in time, seeing the France of my dreams...
"Monsieur Albert!" I waved to our neighbor who in his bleus walking amongside the vines. In his strong Provençal accent he called back to us, "Come see!" There in the vineyard, at the foot of the mountain, he was gathering wild asperges, like he had done every year since he was a child.
Albert's weathered hands offered us some. "Taste them, you can eat them raw, you know." He beamed proudly. We sat amongst the vines in the vineyard eating from his worn old basket lined with a red and white dish towel. Sacha, then a baby, pulled on the vines barely budding, which made Monsieur Albert laugh.
"These asperges are my secret. Nobody knows they are here but me," he glanced around as if to say, "You see I am alone."
"Aren't they delicious?" Mr. Albert winked adding a few more wrinkles to his already aged face.
After our impromptu picnic, we continued on our way where we met Odette who rode a bicyclette. That day a large cardboard box was attached to her bicyclette. As we grew closer we could see the purpose of that box. Odette was collecting twigs. She shyly smiled, "I can never be too early, little by little, I need to collect firewood for the winter. I can only carry so much at a time."
My children scurried about making a game out of collecting a few dry twigs and eventually handed them to her. When her box was full she waved goodbye, we waved back and continued down the Rue des Moulins.
Jean-Louis has had a limp from a childhood illness and hid his left hand in his pocket. Though that never stopped him from collecting fennel in the fields to sell at the local marché.
Jean-Louis beckoned me towards the middle of the field ear marked for construction, "Do you think we should dig up the wild tulips bulbs? The new houses will stand right on top of them." He was right, I hadn't thought about that. I glanced out into the open field, sadly realizing that next year instead of seeing wild red tulips with yellow stripes, I would see paved driveways.
Not very long after, we saw Annie who was tenderly picking sage. After kissing the children 'Bonjour', she said, "Il vaut mieux avoir la sauge dans son jardin, qu'un frère médecin." (It is better to have sage growing in your garden then to have a brother as a doctor.) This is my garden!" As she closed her eyes and spread open her arms. Annie invited us to her home where she prepared fresh sage tea that we ate with dry bread and black olives cured by her from the olives she picked on the famous Rue des Moulins.
Flanking both sides of the river were ancient plantain trees. Crossing the river was always a highlight of our promenade. First we had to find our footing, if too deep, piggyback rides were in order. Next to the river was a laverie, le nettoyage à l'ancienne ~ long ago the community gathered to wash clothes at such a place. Sure enough, there was Marie washing her clothes, scrubbing them on the washboard made of stone.
"Bonjour Madame et les enfants." Marie nervously added, "I know! I know! I'm crazy. But the clothes smell so good afterwards, and at my age I have time. I can do what I want... Non?" Looking at this 85 year-old lady I had to agree, but I doubted I could be on my knees that long.
This daily walk down our street was real, and happened just like I said...but when the walls came down, and the houses sprang up like mushrooms, this way of life was lost under the pavement and new houses.
And now, those who shared France of another generation, who I thankfully knew and enjoyed, have moved on one way or another.
Chelsea and Sacha were five and three years old then. They barely will remember those early days of our life on Rue des Moulins in our small French village. So I am penning them on my blog.