Wednesday, 6 April 2011

What you leave behind

Families are funny things. We all think we know everything there is to know about each other, but we don't, we almost know each other too well, so we don't spend time asking questions, being curious about one another (or is it just me?!). My grandpere Roger died suddenly last week, and while I helped to sort out the funeral, I found out the most incredible story that really demonstrated that he was who I knew him to be - a clever, talented, commited, honorable, hard working and determined, but very modest, man. The thing was he never mentioned it to me once. It's such a great story I think it is worth sharing...
One evening in the early 50s, while enjoying some good Bordeaux red wine, four men and Pere Matt (the priest) hatched a plan. One of these men was my great grandfather Raoul (Roger's father in law), who was by all accounts quite a character. Their plan wasn't a small one, their neighbourhood was growing fast, so the priest felt they should build a church to replace the wooden hut, in the middle of a field, that he had been using. So, they asked an architect to draw up some very ambitious plans.
This was their original plan

Work started in 1953. Every weekend the men of the community, rich and poor, Christian and non-Christian, would gather together to work on site. I have a feeling this became a bit of a hobby for them, like men who do up bikes or cars nowadays, just their project was slightly bigger! Pere Matt, it seems, was a little crafty and would start Mass at 7am every Sunday. Once that was finished everyone would start work! Obviously, wives were expected to serve lunch and entertain the children while the men worked, which didn't make the project very popular with them...

Pere Matt getting stuck in
The foundations were started with gusto. This wasn't especially expensive, so the builder volunteers  provided their own money for this.

Everyone got digging
The sense of community began to grow and there are lots of photographs of 'pauses' with the ever present wine bottles...
My grandfather is fourth on the left, glass in hand.
They began to fill the trenches with cement:
My great grandfather Raoul is on the right and a Monsieur Francisco is helping him. Look at their wooden clogs!
In November, 1953 they finished the foundations and ran out of funds, but that didn't stop them...
My grandfather Roger standing in the trench.

They had to come up with some money making schemes to fund the rest of the project. Pere Matt organised community fairs which included racing cars and a race track for the little boys, meals, one year there was a firework display. But the volunteers soon realised that they needed to do more, so they put on shows in local parishes. Here's a leaflet:
None of this was enough, their plans were too big. First they took the tall steeple out of their plans, and then they thought bigger... They decided to run a lottery, and the grand prize would be a house. Yes, you did read that right, a house. The volunteers started building it, and tickets were sold far and wide for miles around Bordeaux.
One of the lottery tickets
Looking at the pictures it seems to have taken a little while. They were worked through the winter in -12 centigrade

Wine is a well known source of warmth! My great grandfather Raoul is in the centre.

And continued on into the summer too, judging from how my grandfather Roger (left) and my great grandfather Raoul (right) were dressed here:

As time went on, the community realised they needed to sell far more tickets, so somehow (don't ask me how!), they got hold of a car, a 4CV Renault, and offered it as a prize for the person who sold the most tickets.

 Monsieur Ossières, a Talence grocer, seller of the most tickets in front of his prize.
A soldier won the house. Although, he did cause a scandal throughout the neighbourhood by not inviting any of the volunteers, who had built the house, in for a drink or 'un coup'. Let's just say that, 50 years on, people still mention it!

The soldier who won the house is in the centre, Raoul is on the left and Pere Matt is on the right. The house behind them is the prize house.

Now the community were able to use the money to get back to building the church:

Finally, the frame was finished. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to stand up there!

 In 1957 it snowed in Bordeaux.

By 1959, the Chapelle de la Sainte Famille was finished. The story of the church and the names of all the people, who had helped build the church over the previous 6 years, were written down and placed in a corner stone:

My great grandfather Raoul with the list of volunteers.

The corner stone.

The community commissioned the windows from regional artists. Because the church was so modern in style, they decided to have them made in a new material - perspex. It was finished.

And my great grandfather made everyone involved in the building of the church a wrought iron cross:

Pere Matt died in a car accident in 1984, and most of the people involved have gone now too. As I sat in the church last week looking up at the perspex stained glass windows, at my grandfather's funeral, I admired what those men had done 50 years before, marvelled at their spirit and their tenacity, and realised that although he too had gone, my grandfather had not only had a huge influence on his family, but also on the community he lived in.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing story. So sorry to hear about your Grandfather x x