Friday, June 29, 2007

Mr. DuCamp

We had a suicide here, a few years back. Suicides are not that uncommon, this is a town with ordinary depressed, drunk, divorced, cheating, insecure, ill, and poor people, just like any other small town. Not to say that it's only these kinds of problems that makes someone consider, or commit, suicide. I imagine, never having been seriously in any kind of suicidal frame of mind, that whatever it is that triggers or finishes the act is between the person and their maker.

What made this suicide so unusual is in the somewhat spectacular way it was done. Don't get me wrong...any suicide is a big deal, especially to the loved (or unloved) ones left behind. It does seem that suicides tend to go into two separate camps. There are the ones that simply want out, and go about it in a no-nonsense fashion designed to get it over and done with. And then, there are the ones that seem to use the effects of their suicide to further the pain for the ones left behind. A nasty sort of fringe benefit, you might say.

Mr. DuCamp's suicide was most certainly of the second camp. It is still spoken of to this very day. I imagined that he planned it, and its repercussions, down to the last, most intimate detail. It seems such a shame that he didn't stop to think of the innocent people that were bound to be touched by his act, as well. Maybe too, had he thought it out a bit more clearly and with less emotion in the heat of the moment, he would've not done such a thing, saving all of and community alike...such awful memories, such awful wonderings about the pained heart and mind of the hurt individual.

This is a small town, just one up from a village, really. The thing that saves us is the market day, when farmers from all around come with their produce to sell in the town square, right by the fountain with the stone carving of the wild boar who, history has it, it the reason that the town is even here. It seems that hunters were chasing a wounded boar through a marsh, when the boar dropped dead. When the hunters caught up to the animal, they noticed that the boar had salt chrystals on it's whiskers. Back then, salt was one of the only ways to preserve food, making it a very valuable thing, indeed. There have been humans in the area, boiling down the salty marsh water to make rock salt, since the Bronze perhaps the story is more than a legend, perhaps it has a grain of truth to it.

Because of the salt, and the value of it, the town became quite rich. And well known for it's hot saltwater cures, bringing curists from all over Europe to take the waters. Local loththarios made it a custom to meet eligible female curists at the train station and romance them for the duration of their three-week stay, a custom that still holds to this day. Many people stayed on and began to intermarry with the townsfolk. This created a big problem for the Town Fathers, as the revenue from the salt was being diluted. Their money was being menaced! Steps would have to be taken to protect their salt heritage and birthright!

You must understand...the town is in a little, almost hidden, valley, just at the beginnings of the Pyrenees foothills. Centuries had passed without too much interference from outsiders. The salt was their salvation, and the basis of their economy...but it was mostly taken away to be traded. Even the famous 'Bayonne Ham' was, in reality, from the town's salt. Bayonne, half a hundred kilometers away, just happened to be the port that the ham went from on it's journey to the four corners of the earth.

The Town Fathers, seeing this revenue beginning to slip out from under their grasp, made a few resolutions. It was declared that the annual dividing up of the cash...called, I kid you not, 'The Sauce'...would have certain stipulations attatched to it. A beneficiary had to be the issue of a proper marriage, and not be born out of wedlock. Only the firstborn son could inherit salt rights. Only persons born within the actual town could claim salt rights. And so on and so forth.

These resolutions had the effect of not only making the townsfolk even more wary of anything but the merest trade with outsiders, it also made them change their matrimonial habits somewhat. There were at that time, many, many incidences of 'Mariages Blancs'....White Marriages...that is to say marriages that were never intended to be consummated, marriages on paper only, often between partners of incredible age gaps, sometimes the differences being fifty years or more. One can still go into many of the big, older houses in town and marvel at the separate chambers for each marriage partner, with the formal receiving rooms communal, and the living quarters apart. Some even have separate wings for two sets of servants.It seems the townsfolk have followed in the tradition of this 'protectionism' ever since. Outsiders are looked upon with wary eyes, and seldom brought legally into the family folds. Marrying a first cousin is not unheard of. The telephone directory has about thirty family names, an amazing thing, really, for a town of more than five thousand people. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone is related to everyone else.

And, depending on your family name, you might be able to more easily get a good job, a loan, a place in the local political scene...or an invitation to join the volunteer Fire Department. All the firemen have local names, and have grown up here, and their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers have been firemen before them. Mr. DuCamp was a fireman, too. And so was his wife's father. And so was his wife's lover. And so was his wife's lover's father.

So, when Mr. DuCamp decided to commit suicide because his wife was having an affair and was planning on leaving him, he must've thought long and hard about all of this. He did the deed with a locked car, an opened thirteen kilo propane gas bottle, and a match...therefore, you could say that he was serious about things.

But he did it when he was damned sure that his wife's lover would be one of the firemen on call, one of the people responding to the explosion and the fire. As I said, everybody here knows everybody else. And their business. And the car they drive. Can you just imagine the scene at the site, with the entire team of firemen there, including Mr. DuCamp's wife's lover? What would the others have said? "Hey, Marcel...this one's yours!"?

And to top things off, Mr. DuCamp and his family had been living in a house that had been built on his family's farm, right next door to where his mother still lives to this day. One can only imagine the chagrin of this poor woman when she had to not only deal with the suicide of her son, but put up with her former daughter-in-law living in the place with her new lover, as well. The people of the town are very tight with their money, very frugal, and would never spend money to rent another house when there was already one available, you see. So the woman stayed on living next door.

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