A Scent of Lavender: Part 1
By: Myfanwe Resident
Posted in: Story
A spoken tale as I do not yet know how to read or write and for this I beg your indulgence.
I was born a poor French girl to a poor family of farm workers. My Papa is a fine man, a gentle man, a wise man who knows much about life, its wonders and its sufferings. He has worked hard all his life and has earned the respect and gratitude of those both above him in station and below. He is a fair man, an honest man and has kept his family fed and warm and safe. And he is forever in love with my mama.
My Mother is a person everyone looks to for guidance and strength. A woman of strong faith and moral character she has born her husband two fine sons and a daughter (the youngest of the three) whom they named Margarete after Margaret of Anjou who became Queen of England. I do not yet know if it was a jest on their part to name me so, or a challenge for me to live up to her example. Time has yet to determine which it was, but I am trying my best.
I do not recall much of my early life save the fact that we, as a family, worked the Lavender fields of Provence North of Marseilles. My Father and brothers tended the fields for a wealthy, but kindly, land owner who grew vast acres of Lavender for the perfume trade. My Mother kept our small house in order and grew vegetables and herbs that she used in cooking and would sometimes to sell some of the herbs for a copper or two.
At seven years of age I was given my first job. To carry baskets of Lavender flowers from the fields to the cleaning house atop a hill that overlooked the farm. For this I received one copper per week. But what I remember most was standing atop that hill and looking down on the amazing violet blanket that covered the land as far as the eye could see. Lavender below, blue sky above…my eyes still burn with that sight. It was a happy time and in the evenings after a days work we would sit with neighbors and sing songs or tell stories and share a meal. At night I would sleep in the loft while my brothers slept outdoors or in a nearby barn in the winter.
As I grew I was given more responsibilities… I would help my mother with the small garden and with some of the cooking….but three days a week I would go with my Papa and brothers to tend the rows of Lavender. Here my Father taught me all about how to care for the plants from seed to mature plants. How to properly harvest them so as not to damage the root plant. How to protect them from the chill nights of winter and how to prepare the soil for planting new plants. I learned every step of the process from seeds to harvest. And I was happy.
When I was fifteen years of age the owner, who was a kind man as I mentioned before, offered to send my eldest brother to school so he could learn more of the business. The owner had no son’s and had taken a liking to my brother who was more than grateful for the opportunity. I, in turn, being a girl, my father saw no reason for the need for me to learn to read and write as my life would be relegated to either work or family or both. So, as my older brother went off to school, I went off to the fields. And life continued much as before… until.
This past winter a number of severe storms swept down from Northern Europe bringing with them such weather as has never been seen so far South. Strong winds, heavy cold rain that was mixed with ice but worse were the cold, cold nights. Perhaps everything might have been alright if only one of these storms passed through, but almost nine of them marched through Provence like an invading army and left in their wake … destruction.
The fields of violet and green became a battle field of dark mud. The flowers, stripped from the plants by the wind and ice lay strewn across the land. Broken plants lay flat against the earth like subjects bowing to the King of Storms. Devastation and heartbreak. Try as we might there was little to be done to save what was left. It was not long after that the owner, a kindly man as I mentioned before, sent word that the he would be forced to release from service all of the workers; for he had lost everything.
What were we to do? We had no savings nor relatives to which we could turn for aid. For several weeks we prayed for assistance and our prayers were answered … partly at least. My father had been one of the owners most loyal workers and, because my brother had become a trusted friend and protege of the owner, he was able to secure employment at another Lavender farm twenty kilometers’ to the East. But, it was a smaller farm and had only enough work for my Papa and Mama. My other brother decided to go South to Marseilles to join the Navy, which causes us a some distress, but he was insistent
I was now eighteen years of age and old enough now to be on my own. Unmarred I was free to find my own way in the world. For some days we spoke of these things and said our tearful goodbyes with promises to reunite again in the future for we were a close family, but life had handed us a challenge and we must face that challenge and survive. My Papa gave me twenty copper pieces and my Mama packed a travel sac with food. The owner had received word of a newly formed farming community some distance to the West and suggested I head there to seek employment.
With a heavy heart I set off, keeping to the main roads for fear of Highwaymen and other nefarious persons who might accost me. I walked during the daylight hours avoiding any strangers I came across although there were few. At night I would sleep a short distance off the road, sometimes in a small barn or under the protective branches of a fir tree. I ate what food I had being careful to limit myself so as to make it last longer for I did not know how long it would take me to reach my destination. I bathed in streams and sometimes picked fruit from a wayward fruit tree, but always I did not trespass or steal for both were a sin and a violation of trust.
I walked for many days, always keeping West until the land changed and the road narrowed where it passed through forested lands. More and more buildings appeared along with walls marking the edge of vast estates. I marveled at such sights for I had never seen such wealth. Once, several nobles road past on magnificent horses. So finely dressed where they that I thought perhaps my eyes deceived me. My Mama and Papa had always taught us to respect those of a higher station and my Mama had taught me a proper curtsy which she made me practice over and over until I no longer fell down from the attempt. This I did as they passed and, glancing up, I saw the gentleman tip his hat to me, but the Lady glared at me as if I were some ugly thing that had been tossed in their path. Still I held my curtsy and my eyes lowered until they were well passed.
I do not claim to know the minds of some for I understand that manners do not always flow in a downward direction, but I accept such dictates of society and hope, one day, I may be in a better position from which to change a thing or two, but that is yet to be seen. Still, as I continued on my way, my heart and my spirits were lifted for, surely among such wealth there must be employment.
I had abandoned my leather shoes for they had worn completely out from the many days of walking and now I walked barefoot along the narrow roads which always lead me West towards the Sea.
End Part 1
Thank you for sharing the story of your early years with us, Margarete. I look forward to hearing much more of your life & travels.