Sunday, January 31, 2010


Why this Blog - The Long Umbilical Cord

“You have the longest uncut umbilical cord in history.’’ So I was told. The remark stung. My absorption in my mother did become more intense after the death of my husband Allen in December of 1986. I sought solace in thoughts of my mother. I had always been more involved in my mother’s stories. Maybe it was because I was the youngest of four. By the time my siblings had left home my mother had more time for me and I was an eager audience. I remember being very attached to my mother as a young child, clinging, shy, hiding behind the skirts of a lively, vivacious, intelligent, beautiful woman. I was not beautiful but I never resented my mother’s beauty. Rebecca Goethe’s story, her growing up as a ward of France, the romance of an American soldier and his French peasant maiden were the stuff of folklore and it was my link to a far away country and romance. I idealized and surely romanticized the tales my mother told. After many years the sting of the remark no longer bites. Rather, the long umbilical cord nourishes and sustains the richness of the connection and has served me well and motivates me to extend the cord to the future with the richness of my mother’s life and her stories.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Le Bon Pain

Le Bon Pain/ The Good Bread
Our French Heritage

Bread Making

Bread Making

It is very early in the morning. Our house is small, one large room and one bedroom so that from my curtained bed I wake hearing my mother walking about, preparing to make bread. I get up quickly. I never miss bread-baking day though I have seen it many times.

The dough, which has been worked for two nights previously, is placed in a large oak box of shiny wood outside, floury inside and only used for bread making and to store flour between times. It is called la huche and most peasant homes have one. Standing in front of the huche Maman works the heavy dough. It makes a big plop as it falls back. Enough must be baked for four weeks. It is heavy work and, though mother is dressed lightly, she is very hot.

At last the dough is ready and I sprinkle flour inside the baskets. Large pieces of dough are put in each one, enough to make twelve pound loaves. Before I cover them up I make the sign of the cross on each one with a large knife.

While they are rising, the big oven is lighted. It is so large that my brother and I often hide in it when we play hide and seek. In the dim light, we all look strange as we put fagots of wood in that big red and black mouth. My brother has put some black ashes on his face and holding his fork, he says he is a demon and will put me in the oven. I scream and mama makes him stop. After burning seven bundles of wood, the right temperature is reached, the ashes are cleaned and some red coals are left on the sides. Then comes the exciting moment when the large loaf must be put in accurately and fast for the position of the loaves cannot be changed. The dough is put on a large wooden shovel with a long handle which I hold steady on the back of a chair.

Since she needs both of her hands, my mother holds the large butcher knife in her mouth and quickly she takes it and puts a cross on the spreading dough. This is done for the four large loaves. In addition there is a small loaf made in the shape of a crown. This is called the crown of the poor because it is often sent to a poor neighbor. The hot coal is put around the bread and the oven door is closed. This all done, our tired mother drinks a glass of wine.

In about two hours the bread is baked. If the weather is good it is put out to cool on the stones of the courtyard. I keep watch lest the chickens pick at it. Once I forgot to watch and the pig stole a loaf. When it is cool the bread is put in a large basket, each loaf standing on its side and hung from the ceiling with the ham, and a string of onions and garlic and baskets of prunes. It is very good when fresh but the crust becomes very hard at the end of three or four weeks and we are impatient for the next baking day.

Translation: Lucy DeVries Duffy

Editing and Copyright: Lucy DeVries Duffy, June 30, 2009, Brewster, MA 02631, USA


Making French Bread

Rebecca’s Legacy

Mme. Soupet made bread in round loaves. My mother taught me to make baguettes. Many of Rebecca’s heirs make bread from her recipe replicating the fragrance and delicious taste of their grandmère’s bread baking savored in their youth.

French Bread Recipe

Lucy De Vries Duffy from her French mom, Rébecca Goethe DeVries (1902-1981)

For 4 baguettes ( I double it for 8 loaves)

You need: baguette pans, a large bowl, a sprayer, a dough scraper is useful, a large slotted spoon


King Arthur Flour (not sure how much I use)

1 package dry yeast (I usually use quick acting but you can use the regular kind, just takes longer to rise.)

2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ginger

3 cups water

corn meal

sesame seeds

(Sometimes I add some wheat germ if I want to make it more nutritious.)

Rinse large bowl with hot water to warm bowl.

Measure 3 cups tepid water ( It should feel, on the inside of your wrist, warm as a baby’s bath water.)

Add 1 package dry yeast

1 Tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ginger

Gradually add enough flour to make a thick soupy mixture.

Beat with a large slotted spoon with violent methods until good and bubbly.

Continue adding flour, very gradually until you have a doughy ball.

Put out on to floured surface, cover with the bowl and let rest for 5 minutes. Not sure why but mom told me to.

Knead dough with a light touch until smooth as a baby’s bottom and until it springs back when you poke it with your finger. Add flour as needed if it gets sticky but cautiously so that your dough does not get too dry.

Flour bowl lightly. I do not wash it. Use the same bowl in which you have mixed the dough.

Put kneaded dough back in bowl. Cover with saran wrap or a dry cleaner bag.

Let rise until about doubled. I put it on my stove top under the light, free from drafts.

(You can do up to this point and let rise in refrigerator over night and bake the next morning if you are pressed for time.)

While dough is rising, prepare baguette pans:

Oil pans. I use Pan or a vegetable oil.

Sprinkle with corn meal

When dough has risen about double, turn out onto floured surface.

Divide dough into 4 portions. Punch down each portion to remove air bubbles.

Flatten one portion at a time into a rectangle. Fold top edge down one third of the way, then bottom third up. Pinch edges together and roll into shape of baguette, not as long as pans, allowing room to expand in baguette pan.

Put formed dough into baguette pans. I bless the bread in the tradition of my mother and from her foster mother, making three diagonal slits in each baguette as I say the blessing. My mother remembers her mother making round loaves, making a cross in each loaf as she blessed it and always making one loaf for a needy family in her village.

Spray generously with cold water.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds. If you like anise try that on one loaf. Mom sometimes did this for Easter.

Let rise for 1/2 to 1 hour until about doubled, but not too big.

Preheat 0ven to 350 degrees.

Spray bread again, spray oven and put in risen loaves.

After 20 minutes spray bread in oven generously.

Continue baking about 20-30 minutes more until bread looks golden brown and crust feels hard when you touch it.

Cool on racks. Yummy hot out of the oven with butter. It makes your house smell really good.

What you don’t eat right away, freeze as soon as it is cool wrapped tightly in aluminum foil.

When ready to eat bread, put directly from freezer into hot (400 degree) oven for 15-20 minutes until you can squeeze it.

Le Lavoir, The Washing Place, Moiry (Nièvre) France, more images

More Images of Le Lavoir, The Washing Place, Moiry, Nièvre, France

The lavoir no long exists in Moiry. When I visited Moiry with my parents in the 60's it was there. It was not so picturesque then with a tin roof and ads pasted on the walls. One or two women still used it then. Lavoirs are now protected as historic places. One exists in St Parize le Châtel, the commune of which Moiry is a part. I love to run the 3 km from Moiry to St Parize to refresh my face in the water of the lavoir.

The Lavoir in Moiry in 1918

The caption on the back of this photo as written by Rebecca Goethe DeVries:

Le Lavoir, Moiry, Nièvre, France. The young girl looking on is myself Rebecca Goethe. The man with the wooden shoes near the house is my father, Jean Baptiste Soupet. This was taken about 1918.

After WWI this photo sent into the American Legion Magazine by William Felton who had been a Sergeant in the American Expeditionary Forces at Base Hospital 48 located in Mars Sur Allier in central France towards the end of World War I. After the war Mr. Felton was doing research on Base Hospital 48 for a history. My mother, Rebecca Goethe DeVries, then married to her American love and living in the U.S., saw the photo in the American Legion Magazine and began a long correspondence with Bill Felton. They never met.

After my mother’s death I corresponded with Mr. Felton. He sent me old photographs of Moiry and the U.S. Hospital Camp and copies of “The Martian,’’ a newspaper published at Base Hospital 48. Mr. Felton identified the soldiers in the photo as Dick Ridel on the left and Frank Moran on the right. The young girl looking on with her hands on her hips is my mother, Rebecca Goethe. The man with the wooden shoes near the house is her foster father, Jean-Batiste Soupet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Le Lavoir, The Washing Place, Moiry (Nièvre) France

Le Lavoir, The Washing Place, (Nièvre) France
Rebecca Goethe DeVries

The Washing Place is the noisiest place in the village. It is called “Le Lavoir’’. There the women go, not to wash their clothes, but to rinse them. The soaping and rubbing is done in a large cauldron at home. No one would have enough water to do the rinsing. It is also a great social place for gossip. There, reputations are made or destroyed. The talk is loud and sometimes rough.  When I was playing nearby, often my mother ordered me to go and look at the ducks and geese on the pond. Once something very funny happened.

           Madame Barbier, coming to do her rinsing, found her place occupied by a young woman of the village. In each place at the lavoir one kneels while rinsing and beating the clothes with a paddle. Mme. Barbier asked the young women politely to give her her place. The young woman refused saying, “You can have it when I get through.’’ Mme Barbier was a well-respected, middle aged woman and also known for her explosive temper. She again asked for her place. Yvette refused. The women all watched. Then Mme Barbier, with a quick gesture, took Yvette by the wrist and plunged her up and down in the soapy water. Now, when Yvette meets Mme Barbier, she bows to her very politely.
Translation and Copyright: Lucy DeVries Duffy, April 13, 2004, Brewster. MA 02631

M. Besançon

M. Besançon

Rebecca Goethe DeVries

I present to you M. Besançon. Even after all these years I see him very clearly. He is Basque, of dark complexion. He is not big but rather round with bushy hair, bushy eyebrows and a very black beard. This beard, cut to a point, is a barometer of his good or his bad humor. When he is angry this beard rises up and he makes me think of the devil. He wears always, even when it is hot, a pillbox hat of black velvet called a calotte which he throws to express his anger and his indignation when we are his anes (donkeys). And we are often.

He has from thirty to forty students from five to thirteen years old. He also starts the fire and keeps the school clean. To help him in this work, he chooses several students. To teach the letters to the little ones, he receives the help of monitors. It is a great honor to be chosen and since I was eleven years old I have had this honor. I think that it is marvelous to be in front of a group of young children to open to them the door of reading.

We have beautiful charts, well illustrated, and with my stick I point to the syllables and the children repeat after me, “Ba, Be, Bi, Bo, Bu, etc. ‘‘ For most of us, M. Besançon and the primary school will be all that we receive as instruction. Some will go further, but almost all of the peasant boys and girls will be apprenticed or in service in the surrounding farms. For the boys, after the military service, will come marriage and work, and, voilà, that will be their life, a good life after all.

M. Besançon knows well what our life will be. He wishes, while we are under his tutelage, to give us all that he can so that we understand what has value, what will help us to choose the good way. He uses all his eloquence and if that does not suffice, he does not hesitate to hit us with a long flexible stick which he carries always under his right arm. He has us read in a group and individually. “Expression! Expression!’’ he tells us. “What is this braying?’’ Enraged with our stupidity, he throws on the ground his calotte.

However, if we show the least desire to learn, he takes much trouble to help us. He loans us books, with the order not to dirty them. He encourages us to continue to study even when we must leave school. He conducts for those who desire it school in the evening. But that which M. Besançon wants especially to instill in us is character, thought and pride in ourselves, pride in being French, even more than that, pride in belonging to the world.

In our public school, naturally we do not receive religious instruction but every morning, before beginning the lessons, he gives us a lecture on “la morale.’’ We learn by heart passages from choice parts of many writers. He speaks to us of the philosophers, of the liberators of the spirit. I hear his sonorous voice penetrating our souls as he quotes, “L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature mais c’est un roseau pensant. Man is only a reed, the weakest of all nature, but he is a thinking reed. Nature can kill him, but he knows that which kills him. He is then superior to nature.’’ “ You see,’’ he tells us, “that means that no one can enslave you. No one can force you to think as they do. You can read, you can think, thus you are free.’’ He speaks to us of those who have worked and suffered for freedom, by their arms or by their pens.

Following the lecture about “la morale’’, we, the little peasants of Moiry, we sit up a little straighter. We are as big as thought. He presents to us the thoughts of Pascal, of Descartes, the liberal protestations of Voltaire and Rousseau. I cannot say that I remember M. Besançon with affection. I was too afraid of him for that, but he gave me something precious, good for all my life.

Translation and copyright: Lucy DeVries Duffy, June 17, 2009, Brewster, MA, 02631, USA

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rebecca's class in Moiry

This is a picture of my mother's class in Moiry taken when she was eleven years old. She is the girl at the right in the white dress. Her beloved and feared teacher, M. Besançon, is next to her.

Life in Moiry, France in World War One

This blog is a collection of stories of life in a small French village called Moiry in the early part of the 20th century. It is also an account of the history of the Americans who came to this village during "La Grande Guerre", the First World War, as told by my mother who grew up there and married an American soldier.

I have many stories and photos of those days which I will be sharing. I hope you enjoy them.