Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Green Chair

There is going to come a day when I stop and ask them to move that chair. Every single time I drive up that hill and see that green chair, just sitting there in the garden, I tell myself that. If the kids are with me, I say it out loud. The kids have gotten so that they look for the chair, and will try to be the first to call it out, "One of these days...".

I won't be asking them to move it away very far, just so that it's scooted far enough in order to make sure that I can't see the damn thing as I drive past. I simply don't want to see that intricate, wrought-iron, grass-green spraypainted garden chair there in all of its' splendor.

One of the local gypsy families lives in that house. They used to live in town, parents and 13 kids crammed into a tiny stone house along the narrow, cobbled lanes. A teensy tiny little house with just room enough for a scullery, a fireplace, a toilet and a staircase on the ground floor, one room above that, and an attic room that had somehow taken over the next-door neighbors' part of the space, as well.

I'm not sure that there even was a toilet, as I'd often see the household members going over the small bridge that crosses the stream, and into the public toilet that sits outside the bettingshop café. Surely there was never a bath or a shower, as such things weren't standard accessories until only a very few years ago. Even my own house had no bathing area when I bought it, and the toilet that was in place must've been one of the first of its' kind, according to the plumber that put in a new one, when I had the house 'modernized'.

By the time I moved into the town, most of the kids had grown up and gone off to marry their cousins and breed their own batches of petty thieves, child whores, and village fete rumble-mongerers, and the old man that was the dad was put out each sunny day, to sit, hunched over and drooling, on a hard wooden kitchen chair just outside the door by the single small window that served as illumination for the house.

He'd sit, motionless, for the better part of the day, never moving. As the sun moved across the sky, he'd sit in direct sunshine for a few hours each afternoon, never seemingly bothered by the uncomfortable heat of it. Sometimes he'd mutter, so I knew that he wasn't dead. The house had a never-ending stream of visitors...grown children (none of the kids ever moved further than five kilometers away), grandchildren, cousins, extended family members...but it didn't seem that anybody ever bothered to talk to the old man, maybe because he didn't seem to be able to talk back, I don't know.

The old woman of the house was still going strong, back then, yelling at the grandkids, stirring pots at the old woodstove in the corner, leaving saucers of catfood under the old man's chair for the ragged-looking tomcat that hung around the place. I'd often catch a glimpse of her, sitting at the small table inside, over a coffee with one or another of her daughters. Sometimes I'd see her shuffling off on market day, dressed with her flowery, full apron housedress over her everyday clothes, and walking around, visiting the stalls to find the best bargains on the vegetables and bits of meats for sale so she could bring them back and make the soup that goes with almost every meal in most French households.

She used to nod a polite 'hello' to me as I passed. Everyone else actually says 'bonjour', but with her, it was simply a nod. I usd to think it was because the gypsies thought themselves inferior to the other people living in town, but I later came to realize that it was for quite the opposite reason, and I should be honoured by the salutation. These were town gypsies, not to be confused with the sort that traveled in fancy trailers and were to be found running the rides and cottoncandy sales at every carnival and fair or village fete during the summer.

It wasn't as if they kept apart from each other, these two tribes...they sometimes intermarried and they always stuck up for each other in the bloody fights and feuds that often had their climaxes during the fetes, leaving the streets red-splattered with blood and the locals outraged that such a thing could happen in their villiage and at their harvest celebrations. Generally, it was with the rugbymen that the real big fights ensued, as the smaller spats were almost always because of the women and only involved the men after numerous incidences of catfights and hair-pulling had not solved the problem of who was sleeping with whom.

The town gypsies have been living in real houses for ages. But everyone knows that they are gypsies. They seem to be able to do whatever it is they want, and the residents of the Town Hall seem to be powerless to arrange things otherwise. The local politicians seem to be very wary of these gypsy families, if not downright respectuous. The gypsies have strong family ties, and almost seem to be like bees in a hive...when their queen decides something, it's a done deal, and woe be it to anyone to mess with the collective hive once it's mind is made up.

I'm a stranger here, as well as being foreign, so I have to feel glad that they live and let live, when it come to me. Some of them can be quite likeable in small doses..as long as I remember my place. So, when they knock on my door to ask a service, the first thing to remember is to keep my wits about me. When the old lady knocked and asked if she could have the chair that I'd just recently finished painting and putting out by my multicoloured flowerpots and planters in front of the house, I told her that I was willing to give it to her, but asked her if she didn't mind waiting for a time, as I'd just recently spent some 50 francs on the can of spraypaint for it, and would like to be able to enjoy it for a while, first.

She gave me about a week. The chair was gone one morning during the annual week-long salt festival that the town celebrates, each September. I should've been more clear and explained to her that I meant after the Indian summer had passed and only when winter, and the bringing indoors of pots and plants, had come. I never saw the chair for years, after that, and always wondered just where she'd put it, in that tiny house of hers.

Eventually, one of the daughters of this family bought a house out on the main road to the next town over. The parents were getting on by then, and the old dad was actually being carried out in his chair, into the sunshine, rather than being led out and sat down. I found myself wondering if he didn't sleep in that chair, as well. Soon after the purchase, the family decided to move the elderly parents into their new house. I knew this because I saw the old man sitting in his chair by the side of the house in the sunshine, with the cars and trucks passing by so close that it was a wonder he didn't get run over.

One day, coming back from the next town over, what did I see but my green chair, sitting right out in the back garden of this house. The house is at the bottom of a small hilly plot on a twisty road, so I only got a quick glimpse of the chair. But I knew right away that it was my chair....no other chair in France could be so ornate and so green. No other chair in France would be in the garden of the thieving gypsy family that had been after that chair, either. It was a frustrating moment, and I knew there'd be more frustrating moments in the future, as that road and that sight were the only ways to get to the next town over.

I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to laugh about it. Not that this was an easy thing to learn to do. So, I began to tell myself that one day, I'd stop en route and ask them to kindly move that chair. To just give it a scoot, enough for it to be out of my line of vision, when I drive up that winding hill. I haven't done it, yet. Not that I'm hesitant to do so, mind you...it simply because I'm not sure if they'll be able to understand the irony of it all.

1 comment:

Mokihana said...

Another wonderful story!! I bet you used to get A's in English in school, yeah?