a chance encounter at a country brocante fair

by Sharon Santoni

I have been buying at local brocante fairs for years.  Early morning starts, rummaging through a mix of antiques often in a field, unexpected finds.  My idea of fun!  But sometimes I get a little more than I bargained for …. this is the tale of my encounter with a most unusual lady, a few years ago.

Old angler equipment with fishing flies and rods

First of all I met the gentleman at a country brocante fair, he was selling hand made fishing flies.  Works of beauty, exquisite knots of thread and feather and beads, designed to lure and to deceive.  But it wasn’t the boxes of flies, or the old fishing tackle that drew me in, it was the piece of antique fabric thrown across a trestle table and used to create his stall.  A length of pale grey ticking, a most unusual colour, beautiful.

This was a few years back, at a time when antique ticking was very sought after, and I so wanted that fabric.  My eyes swept along the table, piled high with dozens of boxes, and also crockery and glass ware, the sort of strange mix you only see at these country brocante fairs.
He came up to me, wanting to know what had caught my eye.  ” Bonjour mademoiselle”.   I smiled.  We chatted about fly fishing, about his dying craft, about how cold it was for selling outdoors, about his items for sale until finally I broke it to him: “Actually, it’s your old piece of fabric I’d like to buy”.  A raised eyebrow, discreet cough, shrug of Gallic shoulders and a quick pursing of moustached lips as he tried to put a price to the unexpected trophy.
He bought himself some time:  “I have to ask ma femme”, and wandered a few steps away, talking into his mobile phone.  He came back looking concerned.  “I’m so sorry…., but my wife doesn’t really want to sell that …. it’s very useful to her…. she has more at home … they aren’t in very good condition ….  come back this evening when I pack up …. or you could call … here’s my telephone number … then that’s settled, we’ll see you tomorrow….”  !!
I left the fair pleased with a few other purchases, but in a total muddle about the fabric.  Did they want to sell at all?    The next day I called the number and spoke to the the rather intimidating lady.  She was quite reserved, and she asked me a few very searching questions, but finally agreed we should meet.   She gave me her address and that afternoon I jumped in the car and headed off across the valley.
As I drove to their small village, I had no idea whether the trip would be worthwhile.  She had insisted on the phone that she didn’t want to sell, but at the same time, for a non-seller, she gave me a load of appetite- whetting information

I finally found their pretty house, thatched, in the middle of nowhere with a happy dog in the small unkempt but flower filled garden.  A lady came out to greet me.  Beautiful.   Walking tall, her elegance strangely out of place in such a modest setting.

She must have been about 75 years old.  Smooth pale skin, well cut grey hair and clear blue eyes that looked right through me.
The piece of grey ticking I had seen at the fair was draped over a garden chair – even better than I had remembered it –  on the table was another piece of red and beige striped ticking, my heart missed a beat.
When you handle old textiles as much as I do, you can recognise a special find just by it’s fold.  Linen falls in a soft, supple, heavy manner, like no other fabric.  Pure linen ticking is very unusual today, it hasn’t been made since the late 1800’s.
But we weren’t going to talk about the ticking straight away.  First there were questions.  She wanted to test my credentials:  did I know anything about fabrics?  did I know how to care for old textiles?  how did I iron my sheets (I kid you not!) ? where was I from?  “Ah England …. (she broke into perfect English)… I used to have some very good friends in Kent” she said.
Once the  ten minute interrogation was over I was finally allowed to touch the ticking. “So, as I told you, I can’t possibly sell these, they are so useful to me, and they are part of my past life, before I came here ….( her arm lifted and swept around to show the little house and garden)  and they aren’t even in good condition any more,  look …”  She showed me the tiny holes at one end of the grey ticking and several tears in the other piece.

Yet, despite, all her words about wanting to keep them, I was sure she wanted to sell.  For the first time she let me talk:  I smiled,  “Your fabrics are stunning, I have quite a collection at home, but I haven’t often seen any this beautiful”

She looked me in the eye and named her price.  I agreed without hesitation and she suggested I step inside to see ‘the rest’.

The tiny house was more than cramped.  It looked as if the contents of a large château had been fitted into a garden shed.    “Excusez-moi” she fussed, I know I have kept too much, but when I had to leave my last home for unfortunate reasons, I couldn’t leave it all behind.

And then it really started.  From cupboards and from behind doors came a steady flow of monogrammed  porcelain, of crystal, of fine linen and shining silver.   In between each new box that was opened she told me more about her family, her former splendour and her misfortune.

I didn’t take any photos while I was there and I can’t tell you everything she shared with me; that would be disrespectful to the confidence she showed me.  But I can say that I was fortunate to meet this woman.  She grew up in the lap of luxury, she married well, she was widowed, and through a tragic turn of events she lost everything.

 Today she has created a new life with a charming gentleman who makes fishing flies.  They live simply but they are happy, and she still insists on only using linen bedsheets and silver cutlery.  Now and again she meets someone like myself, and takes pleasure in getting out the treasures she has kept, in remembering easier times, and a quality and handwork that has nearly disappeared for ever.

And the ticking?” I hear you say.  Well yes, I did come away with both pieces of ticking and also with a couple of paintings she didn’t have the space for.  I was thrilled to bits with my afternoon and with the treasure.  I hope you have liked hearing about it all.


Dorene April 3, 2019 - 4:36 pm

I love this story so much! Where I live in the USA, it is much more difficult for me to find things that make my heart stop, but when I do it is great fun. And, like you, the people and stories are as fascinating to me to as the things. Thank you for sharing this charming story!

Dorene of Essex Cottage

Ceew April 3, 2019 - 4:39 pm

Wonderful wonderful story. I can almost see the whole of it, in my minds eye.

Susan April 3, 2019 - 5:04 pm

Beautiful story. You could write a novel based on this experience!

Penny at Enjoying The Simple Things April 3, 2019 - 5:14 pm

I loved this story!

Karen April 3, 2019 - 5:15 pm

Oh, the ticking is just yummy. What a delightful story!

Terri April 3, 2019 - 5:20 pm

Oh my goodness!!! How awesome for you and for this precious lady……………………………..

Victoria Castura Boylan April 3, 2019 - 5:22 pm

Oh Sharon, what a lovely and heart rending encounter. She must be quite the lady. I know how much you love antique linens. And these are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Christine Dickinson April 3, 2019 - 5:22 pm

I loved the story,thank you for sharing!I also love the monogrammed dishes in the photo.Those are my initials!!!I think I feel like you did when you saw the pieces of fabric for the first time!Are the dishes for sale?LOL!

Mary Katherine April 3, 2019 - 5:30 pm

What a wonderful story! More like this, please?!?

Cathy Garrett April 3, 2019 - 5:33 pm

This is a wonderful story made my day. I loved hearing about it and thank you for sharing. I love linens also and that is my weakness. The painting sound lovely. The house looks so charming like out of a story book.

Debbie April 3, 2019 - 5:43 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. The serendipity of meeting her husband and then her is one of life’s joys! How did you use the linen? Many blessings and thanks for your very entertaining blog.

Dee Poquette April 3, 2019 - 5:46 pm

Such a wonderful read. I found myself getting excited for you. As we say in the States, “what a score!” Thanks for sharing.
Dee Poquette

Donna Lampen-Smith April 3, 2019 - 5:51 pm

Wow! They are beautiful. Will you post the paintings?

Mimi Brooks April 3, 2019 - 5:53 pm

i’m weepy. seriously weepy. love this story…

Fiona April 3, 2019 - 5:57 pm

Love the greenery growing out of the roof! So utterly charming.
As another who obsessively buys old fabrics in France I completely understand your drive to acquire these pieces.
Lovely story, thanks for sharing.

Joan April 3, 2019 - 9:28 pm

Oh my, what a perfectly lovely story. You met a strong, elegant and resilient woman who found love again. So sweet.

Taste of France April 3, 2019 - 5:58 pm

This is a great story and so typical of brocantes! What is on display is just the beginning. I have had the most delightful encounters with people I’ve met buying things on leboncoin–stories about the recently deceased grandmother whose stuff it was, or the ups and downs of past lives, the excitement about new moves.

franki April 3, 2019 - 6:00 pm

Brought tears…of both kinds…franki

Susan April 3, 2019 - 6:04 pm

What a lovely story and what a remarkable woman. Thank you for sharing.

GL Gardner April 3, 2019 - 6:04 pm

What a wonderful experience. I don’t find treasures here in the US like I do abroad. And the stories that go with them make each find that much more special. Many times people are not just selling things, but memories with the items they offer. Its important to take the time to listen and help them to say goodby, to part with an item.
I’m curious….how do you care for old linen? I purchased an old French tapestry which is now rolled up, wrapped and under my bed! I need to find someone to restore and prepare it for hanging so I can enjoy it. Do you know how to hang an old tapestry?
Enjoyed your post.

Kathy April 3, 2019 - 6:08 pm

What a lovely experience!

Adele Scheidt April 3, 2019 - 6:11 pm

What an enchanting visit!

Laurie April 3, 2019 - 6:19 pm

What I enjoy the most about your story is her resilience and the strength it must have taken for her to have created a new and happy life.

Elaine Craig April 3, 2019 - 6:28 pm

I loved this story. I am drawn to old linens as well. I live in a Tudor home and have some greenery growing in a gutter on the roof. I am torn between having it removed and yet enjoying the “shabby” look. Thanks for sharing this story with your readers. I can live in Europe vicariously through your words. Elaine

Lucy April 3, 2019 - 6:30 pm

This story is so touching, it made me tears-eyed! Please let us know what you did with the fabric and if you ever saw her again.

Marta Shamblin April 3, 2019 - 6:38 pm

What a lovely encounter . . . and one I hope you were able to continue with a new friendship. The darling couple, the finds, and the stories behind them are true blessings.

Racha Nadim April 3, 2019 - 6:39 pm

Beautiful story and such a serendipitous encounter Your description and writing are so alive and it transport your readers to where the story takes place! Simply lovely.

Pam April 3, 2019 - 6:42 pm

Beautiful linen and the china looks awesome!!! Their home looks like a painting. The sellers story sounds so interesting and also says that life has no grantees, to love your loved ones.

Alicia Alvez de los santos April 4, 2019 - 2:31 am

Oh my God!! ! I love your story. What fantastic travel to the house and find this trasure !!

Linda Murphey April 3, 2019 - 6:48 pm

Love your stories and adventures. I have lived in Paris and England many years ago. I have the same Spode China in a different pattern, but the handles are so typical Spode. We downsized two years ago and I now use my china from England and my crystal from Venice everyday for the sheer joy of having it. Keep the adventures coming.

JeanFB April 3, 2019 - 6:48 pm

What a beautiful story. I can just make out the weave of the ticking on my computer screen, and it looks exquisite! What an amazing experience it must have been to meet such a lovely couple and hear their story.

Ida Duplechin April 3, 2019 - 6:48 pm

I know this lady’s story so well. I have managed to maintain some items that I treasure. The last hurricane/flood/looters truly left me in such a state of emotional sadness. I have now accepted it as another loss & take joy in my items that had been in storage. It’s a challenge to begin again & I am doing it. Dear Sharon, I truly am pleased this is the story you shared today as I’m in the middle of the renovation of this particular house. I invested in a trip to Paris to clear my head/heal my heart/refill my soul before I began this project. I plan to reward myself with another trip to France, if you can recommend a pleasant spa/vacation experience. Thank you. Ida

Eileen April 3, 2019 - 7:01 pm

You not only received fabric treasures but a wonderful treasure, the story and history of her. What a gift you were given that day and thank you for sharing it.

Lynn April 3, 2019 - 7:07 pm

Loved the story, the cottage, the fabric and the lady, but most of all, I was impressed by your patience in waiting to even touch the fabric. You are a kind and thoughtful LADY!

Janette April 3, 2019 - 7:21 pm

The poetry of your story plays out this chance encounter in an enchanting and personal picture of the day. How lucky for you both to find each other. Treasures are not surrendered for any amount of money unless the one receiving is trusted to love the piece or pieces in the same manner. A perfect day and perfect memory. Thank you.

Alice Genzlinger April 3, 2019 - 7:31 pm

I love this. I live in the western part of USA but am southern with a Southern sense of entertaining and decoration my home. I do not like the roughness of the building an interiors here. There are a few auntion houses that sell the departeds goods and the younger set today do not treasure antiques. Am I ever thrilled because it’s been my good fortune to find a few treasures I would never been able to afford if they were being sold in a shop. Hand made hinges on a beautiful hand carved game table, four hand carved chairs . The detail is unbelievable. And many treasures That my daughter has asked for. Yeah!

Daria Dunivan April 3, 2019 - 7:38 pm

What a beautiful experience for you And how wonderful for her to share her life story showing you her past and her life now. She must be very proud n to share with someone who would appreciate her life and treasures. What a beautiful day for you, one you will not forget.

Mary Toner April 3, 2019 - 7:41 pm

Sharon, What a lovely story. I applaud you for not betraying this lady’s confidence. I can picture your whole encounter from when you first met her husband. I somehow think you may still be friends, even if just in your heart.


noreen April 3, 2019 - 7:54 pm

thank you Sharon for sharing this dear sweet story. I imagine she was reluctant to sell the old bits of fabric as she held on to happier times and special memories associated with it. Glad you managed to buy some of her special items.

Mary April 3, 2019 - 8:03 pm

This is like a dream! What a wonderful story – how very blessed you were to have gained her confidence and get to experience all her beautiful things as well as her story!

Betsy Adams April 3, 2019 - 8:04 pm

I love this. I’m sure your visit and appreciation of her lovely things meant as much to her as to you. I don’t believe in coincidences. This was meant to be. Enjoy your treasures. Betsy

tracy brown April 3, 2019 - 8:07 pm

The stories are as good as the acquisitions, aren’t they? When my granddaughters notice and ask about my treasures I love to have a story to share. It makes them all the more special. Oh, the people we meet…puts a smile on my face.

Our French Lifestyle April 3, 2019 - 9:29 pm

What a fabulous story. I honestly find half the pleasure of brocantes is chatting to the vendors, there is always much to learn and so many wonderful stories, some of which I am sure are greatly enhanced but still it is all part of the fun of a local brocante. Can’t wait for the real season to begin again this month here.

Liz April 3, 2019 - 9:29 pm

Heart warming tale! I can’t wait to hear of your future lunches together.

sharon April 3, 2019 - 9:44 pm

Sharon, such a special encounter! the richness of her life shared with you as much a treasure discovered as the fabric..

Beth April 3, 2019 - 9:45 pm

Your nonfiction is as enjoyable as your fiction. Thank you.

Margo April 3, 2019 - 9:55 pm

What a lovely story for an afternoon. I’ve always loved fabric as well as dishes. Plenty of eye candy in this post! What pleases me is to see the number of blogs that are kept up by young women of today who share our appreciation of not only these things but the experience as well.

Natalia Radula April 3, 2019 - 10:07 pm

Dear Sharon,this story is beyond delightful!
Expertly written,it totally captures our imaginations while at the same time putting a fine(and happy ending!) to satisfy our courisities.
Such an intriguing lady,so many beautiful objects!
Thank you!

Susan April 3, 2019 - 10:25 pm

How special that the lady shared a part of her life from times past with you! I can just imagine the two of you chatting over her treasures.

Jeannine April 3, 2019 - 10:44 pm

Thank you for sharing this story. What a wonderful lady who has made the best of what life has thrown at her. A lesson to us all to follow these chance encounters and opportunities.

Deborah April 3, 2019 - 11:02 pm

Such a lovely story but most of all the charming cottage that looks like it came from a storybook! Kudos to you for having the persistence and perseverance to obtain fabric that you love so much! What a treasure! Isn’t it quite amazing the individuals that cross our paths. What a enchanting experience! Would have loved to have been there!

Robbie April 3, 2019 - 11:03 pm

Sharon I will be in France with my daughter next week (from Australia). She wants to visit the Eiffel Tower and ohhhh, I just want to visit brocante markets and purchase linen and silver! so very very excited!

Heather McPherson April 3, 2019 - 11:28 pm

How delightful, I felt as though I was there with you. You have a beautiful way with words. Thank you for sharing your lovely story God bless you Sharon.

Laurie April 3, 2019 - 11:31 pm

I love the simple serendipity of life. What a wonderful meeting.

Sue Malizia April 3, 2019 - 11:48 pm

What a great story…bet you had a smile all the way home thinking about your encounter and how you came about obtaining them. =)

Brigitte April 4, 2019 - 12:05 am

Beautiful story.

Sandra April 4, 2019 - 12:38 am

What a great read for us and wonderful event for u , I found my self there and could see the colors and inmajin the great finds and wonderful conversation , truly a special time and day , thank you for sharing and I look forward to the next wonderful day of yours

Helen April 4, 2019 - 12:41 am

I, too, was enthralled by this beautiful, serendipitous story and would love you to share more Sharon.
Un grand merci a vous.

ellen April 4, 2019 - 2:05 am

Beautiful. A true testament to the fact that when you just enjoy the journey, marvelous things unfold. Thanks for sharing!

Kathryn Gauci April 4, 2019 - 2:09 am

A great story. Heartwarming and sad at the same time. She sounds a wonderful woman.

Julie April 4, 2019 - 2:42 am

Thank you, Sharon for sharing this beautiful story. I know it makes the fabrics even more beautiful to have met this lady and learn about her life.


Mary Ellen Eckels April 4, 2019 - 2:46 am

Oh what a wonderful story! I always think knowing the story behind a lovely item makes it so much more valuable to me. The people, the places – it has already had a life before it came to me. I treasure that. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tale – and I so respect your maintaining the privacy and confidence shown you. Brava.

June April 4, 2019 - 4:49 am

So wonderful when you can engage with people who have a similar love and heart. I’m sure she was so happy to part with her treasures to someone like you.

Lorrie April 4, 2019 - 5:20 am

Merci pour partager cette histoire mystérieuse et charmante. C’est comme un conte de fées!

Dee April 4, 2019 - 10:29 am

Thanks Sharon for sharing a very beautiful story. I live far away in Western Australia but I can dream.
Thanks so much x

Leslie Lord April 4, 2019 - 5:37 pm

What a delightful encounter! She sounds like a wonderful woman with a difficult past who has made the most of her circumstances. The history of your linens must make them even more precious.
Thank you for sharing this with us.

Deb April 5, 2019 - 1:42 am

I thoroughly enjoyed ( and related) to your story! French ticking can make me lose any sensibility I have — I love it so much. And there is nothing more thrilling than the hunt for Brocante, and finding that perfect treasure!!

Sherry April 5, 2019 - 2:41 am

What an adventure you had! And that house with the thatched roof is just so quaint and beautiful. I’m sorry your new friend had a misfortune, but it seems she’s definitely a resilient woman who has made the best of it. I know you will treasure your finds and always remember that lovely lady and that story every time you look at them.

Kay April 5, 2019 - 7:32 am

What a treasure Sharon. Both the fabrics and the lady. A fascinating, and enriching experience you had.

Joanne Day April 7, 2019 - 2:46 am

What a charming encounter and poignant story.
A friend of mine often quotes, ‘she who dies with the most fabric wins!’

Maywyn April 7, 2019 - 6:47 pm

The fabric in the photos is as charming as your story.

Julie April 8, 2019 - 6:39 pm

Oh, what a wonderful story! Two ladies with a love of all things beautiful met and passed cherished items and memories from one home to the next – my soul was in need of such a soothing balm today. Thank you, dear Sharon for sharing this with us!

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Deidra April 17, 2019 - 10:50 pm

So enjoyed this story and felt the emotion you must have felt as she shared the love of beautiful things and her past life. Her life now seems charming and lovely.

Denial Smith April 27, 2019 - 3:55 pm

Nice post!

shashi June 25, 2019 - 3:26 pm

I really appreciate the blog and I wish you do write more blogs. such a awesome blog. thanks for sharing with us.


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