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Au Revoir, Monsieur Robert

September 2nd, 2020 · No Comments · France

The bells. The bells tell the tale.

When the church bells toll for 10 or 20 minutes … it means someone in our little French village has departed this mortal coil.

A funeral service is about to begin, and in this case it was for someone we knew. At least a little.

We knew him as Monsieur Robert, but his full name was Robert Arnaud.

He was a kindly gent with a twinkle in his eye and a firm handshake. He often sat near the gate of his yard, which was next to the road leading to towns east and south of us.

Before his mobility waned, last year, Monsieur Robert tended to take his ancient dog on walks over the same stretch of asphalt; man and dog seemed to move at the same careful pace.

Monsieur Robert seemed to know most everyone in town, and if he met up with people on the road he typically would strike up a conversation. Even with me.

More than once I said, in French, “Bonjour, monsieur Robert! … I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French,” but it didn’t seem to bother him much.

When Leah was along they had longer conversations. He was interested in where we came from and how we got to our French town.

He did not always remember that he had asked certain questions before, and he tended not to recognize me if I was not wearing my floppy hat.

He found it amusing that I measured my walks along that same road by touching trees at each end. He often mentioned it to others. He seemed to suggest I was a bit of an eccentric.

To him, I was notable for tapping trees, my floppy bush hat and my marching up and down a section of the D124 road.

After the dog walk, he headed back toward town, sometimes passing his gate to push on, via his chair with wheels, and check out on who was going into the local mini-mart. More greetings. More laughter, more non-threatening banter.

He apparently spent more time on the road since the death of his wife, Therese, in 2014, at age 83, leaving him to live alone.

He once began weeping when he told Leah he was “so lonely”. Well, we did what we could to help with that.

When we returned to town, earlier this year, from two months in California, we noticed that we had not seen Monsieur Robert. We asked after him and were told he had been taken to an assisted living facility in a nearby town.

Late last week, we got news he had died, at the age of 93. We thought he was younger.

If it sometimes seems as if we have more than our share of funerals, we also could note that people in our town often seem to live to a great age — into their 90s or beyond. One local woman lived to be 105.

Monsieur Robert was well-known in the town, after spending most of a century in it, and a significant number of people who also have spent much of their lives in the town turned up for his funeral.

He left a gap in the community.

In testimonials in a local newspaper, one man noted how much he enjoyed bicycling when he and Monsieur Robert were members of a nearby cycling club. A woman said she “always liked to talk to him.”

Another wrote: “I hope he has found his wife, of whom he spoke with such love.”


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