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