Woman of character

I became a regular visitor in her old farmhouse in whose yard and garden goose and gander, ducks and drakes, hens and cocks ran around freely, of an amazing fertility, there seemed to be chicks of all kinds most of the time, and all the corresponding dirt, of course, which Mr Bernard didn’t bother to wipe off his shoes when he entered the kitchen, just too much of it and Mme El altogether sympathetic, she never was a champion of hygiene. The goose was found dead one day and the gander took to the ducks wherefore he, too, had to die, his weight being just too much for the poor things. In the course of time we had three ducks deliciously roasted with plenty of olives when our children came visiting and many a bowl of home-made soup out of this kitchen, for she liked to
spoil her people and she sent presents from the farm to my parents when we went to see them: ‘saucisson, pâté’, eggs, wine and Pyrenean honey.
In the first year or two of our acquaintance there was also a sow, ‘Linotte’, who, without any formality, used to be taken to a friend’s boar once a year to ensure continuation of a proven line. We were lucky to see her last litter, ten pink, clean little things with their curly tails, whose number mysteriously diminished at times… until they could be taken away from that mother. Two were then kept in a separate pen for the needs of Mme El’s family, the rest were sold. Eventually the mother of several generations of ham and pâté producers was herself put to the knife and that was the end of the story.
Mme El was brought up by her grandmother who also chose her husband for her, a successful choice. While the adults spoke the Langue d’Oc between themselves, they spoke French only to Mme El, Oc being forbidden at school and because they were unaware that children easily cope with two languages. Nevertheless, Mme El did learn the Langue d’Oc , which links her to her past, to her youth, to her family and at times spontaneously peppers her French with it. 
Together with her father and grandfather she ran the farm ‘working like a man’, she says, moving hundred-weights if necessary. Work on the farm started in earnest for her at fourteen, although she could have left school earlier, having done the ‘certificat d’études’ already at twelve. Her personal preference would have been to continue studying, she tells me wistfully, and judging by her ability to read and write even in advanced years she would have made a success of it,
but there was no money and all hands were needed on the farm. She did have the satisfaction, later, of her son making it into the ‘professorat’, the teaching profession, she and her husband having accepted to tighten their belts during his time at university.
On leaving school Mme El was immediately put in charge of the kitchen, her grandmother preparing the vegetables and she doing the cooking. For meat they had their own pigs and fowl, while any unwanted cows were sold to the butcher and not heard of again. Her father brought horse meat from town at times, a meat they much appreciated. After a few years her husband came to join them, and their son, Gerrer, was born two years later, in the room where she and her father had been born, a difficult birth, so that they decided ‘never again’.
At fifteen, Gerrer planted a rose-bush against the wall outside the kitchen, which is now a mature tree covering the wall with pink flowers when the time comes.