Bonne anniversaire, Maurice!
The purpose of this post is to wish a happy ninety-sixth year of life to the wonderful doyen of our village on the occasion of his 95th birthday.
Our oldest citizen is thankfully in good health and good spirits. His cheerful, gentle smile brightens everyone’s day whenever they see him, as he makes the rounds of the village shopping for bread and groceries, always ready with a kind word, often with a mischievous quip and a twinkle in his eye.
A few years ago, he kindly took the time to share with me some reminiscences of his long life. Apart from time spent in Paris in his youth for professional training as a coiffeur, and a few months in the South of France at the time of the invasion of France in 1940, Maurice Goyard has been right here in Essoyes, living through good times and bad, personal and collective, wartime and peace.
Here are a few excerpts from my interview with him, in June, 2011.
JH: Where and when were you born, Maurice?
MG: I was born in Essoyes May 27, 1920. I am now the oldest citizen in the village. I was born in a house that has since been torn down. The house was close to the first bend in the road that comes down from the church. There, from where you can see the hotel Canotiers.
JH: So, not in a hospital…
MG: No, at the time women gave birth in the home. Even my wife gave birth to our two daughters at home. The doctor came to the house, there wasn’t much in the way of maternity hospitals then.
JH: And your daughters were born when?
MG The first one, the one who was killed in a car accident in 1965, she was born in 1945. She was killed in a car accident the 29 of July, 1965.
JH: That’s so sad. And the other?
MG: The other one was born in 1947. She’s a grandmother now. She lives in Chatillon. I go there most Sundays.
JH: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
MG: No, I was the only child. You’re a little bit spoiled when you’re the only child. When there are two, it’s the second one that is spoiled.
JH: What was your childhood like?
MG: Oh, life is a lot easier now, isn’t it?
JH: Is it? How so?
MG: We only had meat on Sundays, we only had oranges at Christmas, two or three oranges in our Christmas sabot. That’s all. We only ate fruits at harvest time. We didn’t buy fruits back then, when I was a child.
JH: So what did you eat?
MG: We ate what we could grow in the garden: potatoes, all the vegetables we could grow…we lived on what we could do ourselves. When I was a boy, we only bought meat, and we only ate meat on Sundays. Everyone had chickens, we gathered eggs, and almost everyone had poultry. It was a different life from now.
JH: Was it better?
MG: Oh, it’s surely better now, but we were used to that life. Now the young ones, at 18 they have a car. I had my first bicycle when I got my certificate d’etude, at the age of 12. That’s at the end of primary school. And for a gift, most of the students would get a bicycle after they got their certificate d’etude.
JH: Did you continue your studies after that?
MG: For two years. Then I went to Paris to do my apprenticeship as a coiffeur.
JH: Really? At the age of 14? And where did you stay in Paris?
MG: I stayed with friends of my parents. They had a son who was about my age. And his father was a policeman in Paris. They boarded me for two years.
JH: And then you were a coiffeur?
MG: Yes, then I came back to Essoyes and I began to work. My father was a coiffeur for men, so I started a salon for women. The business did very well. I had an employee, and I had clients from Troyes, Bar-sur-Seine…a big clientele.
JH: Yes, they came from a long way…
MG: Yes, I had a very big clientele. It’s true that my work went well. Then every year I did a stage in Paris.
JH: To learn new things?
MG: Yes, to learn new techniques in the métier, to learn about new products we could use. Then I got married during the war, in 1943. I was 23 years old.
JH: And how did you meet your wife?
MG: My wife worked in the post office in Essoyes. She was from Loches [the next village over]. I didn’t have to go far to find her! Then she quit her job at the post office and I taught her the métier. I taught her coiffeur.
JH: So you worked together then. Was that good?
MG: Yes, then I also had three other employees. One for me and two for women. My wife did professional training also. But I taught her the ABCs of the métier….Look, I’m so happy, I found these photos of my mother, very young. And my father too. Look how pretty she is! My father, he fought in the war of 14-18, and then he died relatively young. My mother lived to 94. But my father, only 67 years, because his lungs were injured during the war. The German army used a gas that destroys your lungs, and it wasn’t reparable. My father was gassed twice, and his lungs were affected. That gave him a lot of complications. He died, not really because of that, but that contributed to his death.
JH: Can you tell me about the war of 1939-45?
MG: Yes, in Mussy there was a resistance unit. I was involved in it, but I wasn’t in the forest, I stayed in my home. The plan was to join the American troops to liberate Troyes. But unfortunately the maquis was denounced, and they were attacked by the Germans before the liberation. When they attacked I hid, because I knew if I didn’t I would be automatically shot. Then when the Germans went away again, I came back, and we joined the Americans troops, to liberate Troyes.
JH: You were there at the liberation?
JH: That must have been so joyful!
MG: Yes, there were about 10 of us from Essoyes…
JH: And what was that like?
MG: Oh, when we saw the Americans arrive, everyone was so happy..,They gave out chocolates, candy, oranges, all the things we hadn’t had. It was wonderful. Wonderful!.
JH: I’ve gone to the little museum in Mussy. It’s impressive. 1100 resistants in the forest. What did you do when the Germans came?
MG: When they came to attack the maquis, they came very early in the morning, about 5:00 in the morning. My wife and I had rented a little house near the bookstore, where there’s a painting salon now. At 5:00 in the morning I heard trucks, and a lot of noise, coming from the direction of Vendeuvre. And I said, “Oh no, what’s going on?” We looked out the window, and it was the Germans. I said, “Oh no, they’re going to attack the maquis.” So I went, first to my parents’ house, then I went and got several of my friends. We snuck out of town and got to Loches, and then we went to a farm near Landreville. And then from there we went to Fontette. I think there were six of us in all. One of them had a child, he was worried about his girlfriend and their baby. We told him, “Don’t go back, they’ll shoot you.” But then, when we weren’t looking, he started back toward the village with his friend. When I realized they were gone, I jumped on my bike, and went looking for them. But what did I see? These two young guys, all full of bullets. These two friends who just wanted to go back to the village to look after the girl and the baby. So the rest of us waited in Fontette for a week, we waited to be sure there Germans would be gone before we went back. It was no laughing matter…
JH: No. No.
MG: It’s a good thing the Americans came. We were really under the boot of the Nazis.
JH: What was it like when the Germans first came? At the beginning of the war?
MG: Well, I got out of here. I had a car, well, I had a client who had a car. Her husband was mobilized and she didn’t know how to drive, so she said, “If you want to drive…” We went to the south of France and stayed there for 6-7 months, until the line of demarcation was made, then things calmed down a bit. So then we came back to Essoyes. Everything had been pillaged, by the Germans and others too. There’s a prison in Clairvaux, and all the prisoners escaped. So in my bed I found a prisoner’s striped shirt. And the house had been pillaged.
JH: Did almost everyone do the same thing? Go somewhere else?
MG: Those who could, but there were a lot who couldn’t. My parents stayed in the village. But they didn’t have any problems. If one didn’t try to resist…the Germans, they were “relatively correct.” Except what they called the “shock troops,” the SS…The regular army, they were like everyone else. But the SS, the so-called ”elite troops”…they were really bad.
JH: And so, when the liberation came, there was such joy…
MG: At the liberation, yes…
JH: And what was it like when the Americans came?
MG: Oh, people welcomed them!
JH: I think there’s a celebration every year in Troyes, isn’t there?
MG: Yes, maybe in Troyes but also every year in Grancey, where the maquis were…
JH: And after the war?
MG: Afterward, life returned to something like normal, we still had ration tickets to buy food, but gradually things got back to normal. Because the Germans had taken everything, potatoes, anything we had, they took and sent to Germany. In the country we were able to manage, in the city it was harder. My parents were okay, with the butcher they had a pig. But one risked being sent to prison for that, it was the black market… Oh it was no fun, no fun at all, for about 4-5 years…
JH: To return to the subject of school. What did you study?
MG: I went until I had the certificate d’etude. We learned quite a bit in school. We studied algebra. But not languages, that was in secondary school. I wasn’t so good at academics, I just wanted to be a coiffeur.
JH: And school was from 9:00 to noon, then two hours for lunch, then four more hours of school? And what did you do then, after school?
MG: We played “au bi,” silly games…soccer…
JH: “au bi”…What is that?
MG: It’s a triangle, a big thing that you have to get as close to as you can, kind of like playing boules now. These games have disappeared…
JH: It’s kinda sad, right?
MG: Yes, because now the kids, they get in fights. At three years old they have a bicycle, 16-17 they have a car. But life changes, right?
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She writes about France for Bonjour Paris, France Revisited, and on this blog. She teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” in Paris each summer for Queens College, CUNY, classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. , and “Writing from the Heart” workshop/retreats in Essoyes.