the french village store

by Sharon Santoni

French villages have a reputation for hanging on to memories, but  who would have thought that what a  young girl did to a young boy one hundred years ago would still be affecting the popularity of a village shop! … maybe I should explain.

In a village near here that I shall not name, there was for a while  a very good little shop.  It was created on the premises of the former village general store.   The place was sparkling clean, impeccably well run, impressively well stocked and surprisingly well priced ….. it also added to the value of each and every home in the village  which, should it be put up for sale, was now able to boast the proximity of a reliable store.

The owners made a huge effort to sell local produce: apples from the orchard on the hill, bread from the bakers across the river and eggs from the two farmers in the village (that way nobody was jealous!).  But despite their best efforts a significant part of the local population simply refused to shop there and after four years of generous perseverance it was finally shut down.

I was puzzled by this, but until I sat down with our elderly neighbour whose memory stretches back further than most,  I could never have guessed the reason.

In the early 1900’s a young boy fell in love with a pretty young girl.   The boy Gaston, belonged to  the ‘biggest’ family in the village, his father was also the mayor of the village, and happy to put his official power to personal use when it suited him.    The young girl, Lili came from a more modest background, her father made a small living from selling goods in the village shop.

Normally such an ill-balanced match would never have been contemplated, but she had such lovely eyes and beautiful hair that for once finances were forgotten as the families optimistically dreamed of the handsome heirs that such a couple must surely produce.    Although there was no official engagement, plans were made; a small house in the village potentially earmarked for their future family life and secretly, embroidery was even started on the precious dowry sheets .

That winter a travelling circus turned up for a couple of days.  A big white tent was erected on the village square and for two evenings in a row the public could take their places on hard wooden seats to admire dog tricks; ‘wild’ horses; red-nosed clowns and handsome acrobats.   When the village awoke on the third day the circus had gone, moving on quietly to a new venue.

It wasn’t until the end of the day that the news spread around the village:  Lili had disappeared!

It seems that young pretty Lili had dreamt of more than life with the mayor’s son and had instead fallen for the dark eyes and curly hair of the circus acrobat.   While the rest of the village was fast asleep, she had crept out of her house with a few belongings in a basket, and – quite literally – run away with the circus!

The mayor was livid, to believe that a poor young girl would choose a penniless acrobat over his fine son was simply unacceptable.   Everyone in the village heard him, raging at the ‘disrespect’ and shameful behaviour of the young hussy, (who only the day before was a ‘blue-eyed’ angel).  He stormed to Lili’s home and got himself into a fistfight with her papa.    Lili’s father obviously doted on his daughter, resented the arrogant mayor and was quietly rather proud of her for choosing love over money.

There was nothing to be done.  Lili was eventually tracked down but refused to return home, and shortly left the region entirely as the circus continued its travels.

Young Gaston quite quickly recovered from his disappointment, and took a fancy to a far more eligible young girl called Antoinette.  But the Mayor could not forget the insult, and from that day on it was understood that anyone who wanted to work with him or for  him, would never, but never put a foot inside the village store.

Faced with such opposition the store soon closed its doors …. those same doors that re-opened eighty years later in a brighter cleaner and more modern version.  “So what is the problem?”     I hear you ask ….. “new store, new start, no reason why it shouldn’t work!”.

Well yes, but there is just one hitch, or maybe I should say two …. have you guessed? ….. the store was re-opened by Lili’s great nephew and the town hall is now governed by the son of Gaston’s niece !

What can I say?   Old habits die hard!

all pictures thanks to Google images


Nib's End February 26, 2014 - 5:31 pm

What a great premise for an engaging turn-of-the-century french novel. Someone out there should write it.

Sharon Santoni February 26, 2014 - 9:41 pm

Would have to be someone with more talent than me though! 🙂


vicki archer February 26, 2014 - 5:37 pm

Only in France… 🙂
Such a delightful story, Sharon… xv

Sharon Santoni February 26, 2014 - 9:44 pm

it is so french isn’t it Vicki, I bet there are those of stories waiting to be told in your part of France too


david terry February 27, 2014 - 9:04 am

Oh, no, Vicki (although I wish you were right)…….not “only in France”.

My family’s lived in (and I was born and raised in) the same small region for about two hundred years…….that area where far, upper East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and West Virginia (which didn’t secede from Virginia-proper until the Civil War, which ravaged the ENTIRE, mountainous region) collide and more-or-less meld. Suffice it to say that, for better or worse, the inhabitants of the three supposedly separate states don’t behave or operate as though there were state lines, and they certainly don’t have much to do with their respective state governments (all of which are situated far-away, inthe middle of each state). In short?… do you spell “i-n-s-u-l-a-r” & “p-a-r-o-c-h-i-a-l”?

And, oh yes…….feuds, fights, and chronic resentments go on for GENERATIONS. Just google (really…do it; you’ll be appalled) “Hatfield and McCoy feud” to get a taste of the social dynamic.

In France, they at least don’t keep shooting and killing each other over a relatively minor dispute that occurred 100 years previously.

Call me a hillbilly, I supppose, but I grew up with this stuff…..

this might be the appropriate time for me to mention that I was raised in a small town which bears the distinction of being the only town in the world (at least insofar as anyone knows) which, during the 1920’s, held a public hanging of an elephant, smack-dab in the middle of the town square. The elephant, which was travelling with some skin&bones circus, had become irritated with some pesky little girl, and consequently smashed her flat in front of her parents. My forbearers (the mayor among them) had a CRANE shipped up from Knoxville (100 miles South) by rail and cleverly used that to hang the errant elephant.

there are pictures of this on the internet, I gather (presumably, you would have to google “hanging elephant johnson city tennessee”. About every two or so years, somebody writes or asks me “:Wait….isn’t this your home-town? Good God……what horrible people!….”

In any case, France isn’t the only place where folks know how to hold onto grudges the way a pitbull will chomp into and hang-onto someone’s ankle.

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry

Karena February 26, 2014 - 6:16 pm

Fascinating Sharon…if only people could let go of the past!
The Arts by Karena

Sharon Santoni February 26, 2014 - 9:44 pm

but then I wouldn’t have had a story to tell Karena!


Emm February 26, 2014 - 6:18 pm

Pardon my unladylike guffaws — and I thought New Englanders held grudges!

What a marvelous story, and I love the pictures you’ve used. Did they ever hear from Lili again, in her new life?

Sharon Santoni February 26, 2014 - 9:45 pm

When the lady told me this story, she had never heard any more about Lili. All this happened a long time ago, and I think people lost track of each other more easily than now


Lynne February 26, 2014 - 7:51 pm

What a wonderful story! And as usual, Sharon, so beautifully written. You truly bring to life through your words and photos the heart and soul of these charming villages. More please!!!!!

Sharon Santoni February 26, 2014 - 9:46 pm

Thank you Lynne, I shall try to find some more for you


Sue Fogarty February 26, 2014 - 7:57 pm

Sharon, absolutely delightful. I am sure you have a book inside you!

Sharon Santoni February 26, 2014 - 9:46 pm

You are very kind Sue, but I am not sure at all!!


Sarah Malone February 26, 2014 - 9:06 pm

enjoyed the story Sharon 🙂 Hope you are well.

Pam February 26, 2014 - 9:36 pm

Hi Sharon!!!!

This story reminds me of a book by Victoria Holt called, “The Silk Vendetta .” It takes place right on the border of France and Italy. How I love to reread that book because it describes these two regions and it happens when carriages and horses were used.

Somethings never change I guess!!! LOL

Thank you for this story and if I could, I would buy that picture or post card that is the first picture to today’s post. I would display it in what I call, ‘My French Quarter.” Not New Orleans area, but, Paris and France!!!

Enjoy the rest of the week!!!


david terry February 27, 2014 - 9:12 am

Dear Pam,

I just read your comment “It takes place right on the border of France and Italy….”. As usual, I considered how it’s inevitably these border-regions (such as my own home-region) that retain such a propensity for violently-prolonged resentments/feuds.

Of course, these are inevitably artificially-drawn borders and distinctions….usually imposed on the locals by some distant government (or, in most cases, several governments). Think: “Balkans”, “Northern Ireland”, “Kashmir”, etcetera.

It’s all more than a bit dismaying if you take time to consider the matter.

—-david terry

Colleen Taylor February 26, 2014 - 9:37 pm

I love happy endings & I do love this story Sharon!
Once upon a time ago, I ran away & joined the circus too! Truth be told, after 31 years of marriage, my ex-husband took up with a hussy so I ran away from home & the circus I mentioned was actually the crazy world of being single. That was pretty much the circus & the zoo put together! There is much more of a story to some day be told. X

Madonna/aka/Ms. Lemon February 26, 2014 - 10:31 pm

My Dad used to tell me stories like this. I know people do hold grudges and they can last for years. Wonderful photos Sharon.

Pamela February 26, 2014 - 10:56 pm

Interesting story and very revealing. Shows the dark side and residual backwardness of French village life and character. Can also imagine similar things happening in southern Italy/Sicily. The role of “honour”, pride and revenge, especially when the person who feels shamed or insulted has power and isn’t afraid to use it as part of his/her revenge plan. So sad that something that happened so long ago (which wasn’t after all a crime) could still have a negative impact on life today. Maintaining rage and holding grudges is so destructive to everyone, including the holder. Cheers, Pamela

Mariecapucine February 26, 2014 - 11:03 pm

Your story is a fable would have been able to resume our great fabulist Jean de La Fontaine in the time of King Louis XIV. . .
Philosophical end puts things back where they were, a curly loop may or may not be!
Your idea delights friendly canvas and Internet and thank you very much for the photographs and displays thereto!

Karen Sternberg February 26, 2014 - 11:20 pm

A fabulous story. Your future grandchildren are very, very lucky. Perhaps the story really is true………

Sue M. February 27, 2014 - 2:20 am

A delightful story and the vintage postcards set the scene. 🙂

denise@magnoliaveranda February 27, 2014 - 5:51 am

Love the vintage postcards.

caroline February 27, 2014 - 11:51 am

Oh that story is worth of a film script! It has hints of Jean de Florette et Manon de Source about it! Fabulous !

Nancy February 27, 2014 - 5:14 pm

I love the story!
Thank you telling it…and it is funny how even eighty years later, resentment continues…
It would make a sweet movie…..

Peggy Braswell February 27, 2014 - 5:32 pm

I hung on your every word + wonderful story + you should write a book.

Normandy Then and Now February 27, 2014 - 8:07 pm

A charming story, thank you!
We are just updating our traveller tips for visitors to Normandy, do you have anything to add Sharon?
Your biggest admirers, Normandy Then and now

Janice @ Curtains In My Tree February 27, 2014 - 10:46 pm

What a story
Sad but True as they say

Karen (Back Road Journal) March 3, 2014 - 12:13 am

Family grudges seem to live way beyond their years…it is a shame. A very interesting story.

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