Lucien’s son Luc knew his grandmother only by reputation. And he lost his father, who was nearing 60 years old when Luc was born, when he was only 20. His curiosity, memory, and the vast family archives left him with many memories of his father. The detailed work of transcribing the letters of his grandmother brought him as close to her as anyone could get after death.
Me: You knew your father’s letters well before transcribing those of your grandmother. Did reading Louise’s letters change the impression you’d created of your father?
Luc: Yes, a bit, but not so much. Reading Louise’s letters shed new light on my own life, on the person I am. Through the letters, I discovered where I came from, my filiation, what led me to be who I am. In her personality I found some elements I recognized in my sister, and maybe some in myself, of my vision of life. So, in effect, I understand better my place in my family line because I saw where she came from and the values she inculcated in her son. The way my father lived his life, his vision of life, were the result of all his mother gave him. She had created in him a particular disposition. She was a very strong-minded woman, in part because she was left a widow young and had charge of her young son. She shaped the person he became. Her way of treating Lucien explained much about how my father wanted to raise his own children. As I said above, all this work on the letters has clarified my own path in life.
Me: He never knew any life other than with his mother?
Luc: He did see some other people in the family. I met two members of the family he had known. You have to understand that, on one side, there was Louise and her parents. They were part of a dynasty of horticulturists. On the other side, there was Léon’s family. When Louise writes about Uncle Alphonse, she is referring to an uncle of my father.
In Alphonse’s family, there were two children, a boy named Fernand and a girl named Fernande. Fernand was killed during the war of 1914-1918. Louise writes about his death in her letters. His sister, Fernande, was my father’s goddaughter. She came frequently to Bélus. She had a cousin named Denise who lived in Paris, in a magnificent apartment on the rue des Saint-Pères. I was too young when I met her, only 20 years old and a student in Paris. I often went to Boulogne to see Fernande; that’s where I met Denise. We spent a bit of time together. In her letters, Louise asks him to send a souvenir for Denise. If only I had met her after reading my father’s letters! All those people are on the Durosoir side of the family.
Me: And on his mother’s side?
Luc: Louise was an only child. Her father certainly had some brothers and sisters. Once, I came upon a score that leads me to believe that there were amateur musicians in the family. It had been a family of horticulturists for many generations. Louise writes about that life and those people, talking about their decency, their integrity, with others and among themselves. It was a bit like being part of a dynasty. They married among themselves, but I’m not telling you much that you don’t already know. They were the people who supplied vegetables to the markets in Paris, members of the working bourgeoisie, quite well off financially. But they surely worked very hard.
My father told me once how his great grandfather, that is, the father of Jean-Baptiste Marie, used to water plants. He would pick up watering cans containing 15 liters of water as though they were feathers.
Me: So, Louise married someone outside that dynasty, from the other side of Paris. That was a bit unusual?
Luc: Why or how it is that she married Léon, who lived way on the other side of Paris, I cannot really know. The tradition of the time was for people who had about the same amount of money to marry using a notary as intermediary. I think Louise and Léon met and were married that way, to balance out the fortunes.
Me: Getting back to the letters, talk a bit about Louise and music.
Luc: Jean-Baptiste and his wife, when they wanted to leave the shores of the Marne where they worked, had a house built in Vincennes. When they moved to that home, they bought a piano, an Erard. I have the bill of sale. Louise was very young. She began school in a religious institution, Avenue de Paris, the Institution de Mme Robert. She writes about Mme Robert in her letters, I think she went to her funeral. It was a school for the daughters of the local bourgeoisie. She was a very good student, frequently receiving books as prizes. Those young girls studied music, solfege, piano, etc. She must have been quite talented on the piano.
When her parents died, about 1903, she inherited a fortune, including the house in Vincennes. It was a building with a courtyard and faced two streets. There were businesses on the ground floor and apartments above, a substantial building. She also inherited a house near the Gare de Lyon, in the center of Paris and the property in Boulogne she writes about. She is the one who had the money; Lucien depended on her for income. He did not earn a living giving lessons and concerts. Louise controlled her fortune and he depended on her. But the financial life of a family at that time was subjected to a lot of regulations. Lucien could do nothing without his mother’s signature. But she also needed his signature at time. So, they were bound one to the other. Had he wanted more freedom, she could have cut off his income. I do not believe she would ever have done that.
She gives him a lot of advice on matters of hygiene, vaccinations, etc. That was all quite modern. She must have kept up to date on the recommendations of the day.
I knew all that but only vaguely until I read her letters closely.
I asked Luc about the revolver Louise sent him; I was surprised not to have seen it or heard anything about it. The picture on the website tells a captivating story. The revolver returned from the war intact. During the Nazi occupation, the French were forbidden to have firearms in the house. This became all the more critical when the Germans installed the infirmary on the second floor of Lucien’s house. Where to hide the revolver? Lucien’s wife first put it behind the oven. Perfect place for somethings maybe but not for the revolver. The grip was made of Bakelite, which melted with the heat of the oven. So they buried what was left in the garden, but it was not well protected against the damp. The result is the rusty skeleton in the picture.