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Letter 4: Lucette, The Best Nanny Ever

December 16, 2010

Do you remember the five annual postcards that I talked about in my first post? Well, Lucette usually gets two of those. That’s how important she is to me. And I know it looks like I’m cheating a bit by sending postcards instead of letters but this one’s special: Lucette LOVES to receive postcards from everywhere in the world, as long as they don’t show water (she has a problem with her left ear, she ears a sound similar to the one when you put a seashell to your ear and it’s worse when she sees running water).

Another thing is that I put my postcards in envelopes, so it’s more private and I can write things that are usually reserved to letters.

And guess what? December 15 was Lucette’s 76 birthday! What a coincidence. Perfect timing for a little thank-you postcard. Yes I actually said “thank you for all the things that you’ve done for us, you have a big place in my life and I like it”, which are words I usually avoid with formidable ease. So that’s a big step forward in me letting her know that she means a lot for our family.

Of course we have other ways of showing that, like bringing her bread every two days, going to her house and play scrabble (and okay, indulge in indecent tea-time snacks), inviting her every Wednesday to eat with us… My brother, father, and I spent a whole day cutting her firewood this fall, which confirmed I was not naturally gifted in any way in this area, I would have made a terrible, terrible lumberjack.

Anyways, who’s Lucette? Our former nanny. When I was growing up my mother was still working and Lucette was our neighbor who happenned to do this as a job. At first she didn’t really like the idea of letting me under the surveillance of an ageing woman with inch-thick glasses, but Lucette was the only nanny around anyways.

And what a great nanny she was! She loved the kids she had and none of us have actually stopped to consider her as our nanny. We all still send her postcards whenever we’re out of town (or in town if we live abroad), and we usually end up a couple of times a year having a nice and warm supper around her table. It’s nice to see people you grew up with and know what they become, and for me the way I most often keep updated on their lives is at Lucette’s. My sister, my brother, and I have all met our respective childhood best-friends at Lucette’s, and it’s cool to see she still has pictures of us in her wall.

There’s one thing though that strikes me when I hear her talk about the past. It’s the fact that she didn’t grow up in middle-age France but her childhood was actually closer to that time than to ours. She worked a lot to help her parents, had to walk three miles through several feet of snow to get to school… that she had to leave when she was 16 (which left her many many many regrets), lived through the restriction system of World War Two, and thus suffered from lack of food and wood.

Now that’s an important point. She was living in the middle of a forest (really, I’ll show you a picture sometime), yet none of the woods belonged to her parents and they had nothing to warm up the non-insulated house in the winter (which back then were much tougher than today). Hence the afternoon my father and brother spend every year to make sure she doesn’t run out of wood in the winter (she could actually last a winter-and-a-half with the stock she has!).

Lucette also likes “old stuff” as she says, and she’s a living memory of the way people lived 50 or 70 years ago. She will tell you the names and uses of all the tools she stocks in her grange, she’ll show you ancient photographs and official papers that could be found in local history books, and she never runs out of stories to tell, from the time when a homeless guy stole a chicken to when I was crying on top of the kitchen table after my mom left the house and before she arrived (unlike now, I handled solitude very badly).

So what are the lessons from Lucette?
Well, the first one is that we’re often complaining about the present without looking at what the past was like. An economic crisis? Rising depression rates? Well, back then there was no economy for people like Lucette and the word antidepressant hadn’t been invented.

The biggest lesson of course is that going to school is a PRIVILEGE. Most of us live in public education systems where we have the opportunity to study a whole array of topics and grow intellectually. Getting an education is a right, access to information is virtually unlimited. I know Lucette would have loved to study math and take drawing classes, but she couldn’t, because back then high-school was for an elite. So doing homework is not always an attractive task but it gives you an opportunity to do what you want later in life (of course there are lots of parameters to take into account but you see what I mean).

And finally the third lesson could be put this way: “As you give, so shall you receive”. Lucette’s genuine attachment to the people she used to work for and her selfless help in many occasions means that she now has a strong community helping her everyday and that there’s always someone who stops by Lucette’s house just to say hello.


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