Work on the land

Pressed by me, Mme El, who frequently professes laziness of body and mind, tried to protest against close questioning, but then dived into the depths of her memory, revealing further details about her occupations as a ‘paysanne’, a country-woman on her farm, her activities in field and garden. Helping her husband, she calls it : driving one of their tractors, some ploughing, loading the trailer with fodder like hay, lucerne, wheat or barley straw, unloading this at home, in bales or loose, lifting it into the loft above the stable! the weight of it! One’s arms! The trusty old ladder
made by her carpenter brother-in-law, still existing and in good condition, she told me to try it, and its maker gone a long time ago, neatly piling it up for maximum storage.
All the work in the stable, the milking done by the men, but the rest of it, the cleaning up, certainly she helped with that, heavy wheelbarrow-loads of stuff, but then she was young and full of energy, on the short side and solid like her father, both feet firmly on the ground. Then there was the fowl: chickens, ducks and geese freely roaming all over the farm-yard – the dirt everywhere! Hopeless to try and keep the kitchen-floor clean, who would change their shoes every time before entering the house??? – And offspring of all ages in all corners, I marvelled at such a fertility which came to an end when more ‘civilized’ conditions were put in place. In the meantime, not to forget pigs and hunting dogs who needed feeding, Mme El’s job.

In the garden they grew cabbages for the daily soup, but not cauliflower, she explained, because they all come up simultaneously and who wants to eat that all the time?! she preferred to buy one when she felt like it. There were also leeks which grew to a good size, but not carrots, too difficult, they just wouldn’t come. I told her that they won’t come for us, either, nor for the neighbour across the road who keeps on trying and for once had an excellent result last year, a one-off, he reckons, a bachelor of our age recently with a lady-friend. Tomatoes grew well and ‘aubergines’ and ‘courgettes’, but she never made ratatouille like her daughter-in-law Léonine, she kept the vegetables separate: tomatoes as a salad, if they weren’t converted into ‘sauce tomate’ for the winter, ‘aubergines’ sliced and fried, ‘courgettes’ she doesn’t remember how. The salad she liked with onion and olives, like Léonine and unlike the men. They grew their own potatoes, needless to say. The garden, I hear, was mainly her husband’s domain, but she kept it tidy and was dismayed to see it untidy when their strength began to fail them.
‘And all this, a thing of the past!’ she concluded, waving her hands, powerless. ‘Es atal’, it is like that. And that was that.