The fate of these three Var grandmothers

Three new portraits of women from Provence. "There are only two of them in this photo from the October 1960 issue of Le Méridional, but I'm going to tell you about three ladies of Provence from bygone days.

They didn't shine in any field if not in my childish eyes, at least for two of them because there's one I never knew, my paternal grandmother, the poor thing died very young in 1934; alas I have no photo of her." 

Heading for the Var with Claude Boyer.

My paternal grandmother was Ernestine Chauvier, born in Le Luc in 1901, daughter of Louis de Roquebrune sur Argens and Marie Leidet from Draguignan.

An employee at the Fréjus slaughterhouse, she spent too many days wading in icy water to catch what was then known as "fluxion de poitrine", an illness that took her away on a cold January day. She was barely 33 and left two orphans, my uncle Henri and my father Raymond.

Mr Fleming's penicillin could have been a great help, but alas, in the early 30s it was still in its infancy.

Ten years or so passed, and one day in 1941 my grandfather Stanislas remarried the woman who was to become my dearest grandmother, Valentine Fouques, with white hair in the photo.

Although her first name is Angèle, she has always been known to us as "Granny Valentine", due to the whim of the chatelaine with whom she was placed when she came of age and left the nuns' home. Madame didn't like Angèle and decided that it would be Valentine, and that's stuck with her.

She didn't have any children of her own, but for my sister, my brother and me, she was the best of grandmothers. Generous, caring, a granny like we'd wish on any child in the world, giving her sons-in-law and then their children the love she didn't receive during a childhood that Victor Hugo wouldn't have disowned.

Her father was from Fox-Amphoux, her mother from Cotignac, but it was in Puget sur Argens that she was born in 1912. It was at the age of five that she lost her father Philomain, who died in 1917, his lungs ravaged from breathing a yellowish cloud that had covered the trench he was in up in northern France.

Anna Martin, his mother, had not recovered from the loss of her husband and soon joined him, leaving little Valentine an orphan. She was not released until she came of age, with only a trousseau embroidered with her initials.

She had a wartime godmother in Violette Bouyer-Karr, granddaughter of St Raphaël-based novelist Alphonse Karr.

My other granny in the photo is Granny Renée, my mother's mother, who was born in 1908 in Gonfaron, although my mother's birthplace was in Toulon.

Mémé Renée was, in the terminology of the time, a "natural daughter", a condition she suffered from all her life. She always refused to talk about this father, who must have been well-to-do, because although he didn't recognize her paternity, he certainly hadn't abandoned her, as she was always dressed in beautiful clothes and, for those times, was spoiled with toys that her mother certainly couldn't have afforded on a carpenter's wage.

To my great dismay, I never found out who this great-grandfather was, and my family tree is now one branch shorter.

Mémé Valentine left us in 1992 and Mémé Renée in 2003.

Claude Boyer

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