Friday, February 19, 2010

The Invasion

Le Moulin-The Windmill-Rebecca's Secret Place

The Invasion-1917 
At first there were rumors without end.  The war was going badly in 1917.  With anguish, tales were told, perhaps exaggerated, of the atrocities, of the pillaging, of the debacle.  Some refugees in a group, miserable, had passed by the village of Moiry, near St. Parize le Châtel in central France.  A Belgian family, the Verstraetes, had established themselves at a café at the corner of the route to Mars-sur-Allier.  They were liked.  They stayed until the end of the war.
July 25, 1917, a fresh July morning, a time of year Rebecca loved so well, the vast field bright with coquelicots, poppies, the field behind her house where she pastured her cows along with her friend François.  The fields were still wet with the morning rain as she took her cows out to graze.  She clapped her hands to scare the poisonous vipers as she scoured the swollen earth for the delicious snails for Maman to prepare for a treat. 
The old Moulin beckoned her, her secret place, for dreaming and for writing, poetry, and essays.  She loved to write.  She hoped the cows would care for themselves munching the good clover or maybe François, her adoring friend would cover for her while she dreamed from her perch in the top of the moulin.
Rebecca climbed the slippery spiraling mossy stairs of the dark abandoned wingless moulin and emerged into the bright room at the top with her window to her realm.  From here she could survey her vast realm, this peasant maiden, a child of the state, in her queendom.  The vast plain was rich with the wheat soon to be harvested, the golden wheat with the ruby jewels of poppies interspersed.  Rebecca could see her cows and François and her small red tiled roof home and Mama Soupet, her foster mother, rinsing her clothes in the village lavoir, the washing place.
And in amazement she could see five soldiers in uniform setting up a tent in the middle of the field, in the middle of her realm. 
Down the twisty slippery stone steps from the top of the moulin, Rebecca raced to gather her cows, bringing them home to the stable.  Never having seen the American uniform, she raced to the lavoir, the washing place, terrified.
“Maman, Maman, It is over.  The Germans are here.’’
Kneeling in a small box, a wooden paddle in her hands to beat the clothes M. Soupet’s looked up from her scrubbing.   “What Rebecca, you imbecile, I have work to do.  Don’t you see that these are soldiers, Americans, come to save us?’’
War or not the cows must eat.  Her mother accompanying  her, they took the cows back to the field.  
The soldiers, some engineers, tried to explain their project. They laughed at her fear and gave Rébecca and François big pieces of chocolate.  And the soldiers, knowing also that the cows had to eat, put their tent on the far side of the field.
Still, Rebecca’s realm had forever changed.
Following this initial contact, the presence of the Americans became very familiar. They measured their houses.  They surveyed the village.  Not understanding, the villagers of Moiry found them strange and a bit arrogant.  They walked in their streets as if they were the proprietors.  The plans for the hospital completed, the village of Moiry was invaded, mostly by the workers from Madrid and Barcelona. 
Edited and Copyright: Lucy DeVries Duffy, July 5, 2009, Brewster, MA, 02631, USA

An American Soldier, M. and Mme Soupet, Rebecca's Foster Parents and Rebecca, 1918
From Rebecca's photo album, photographer unknown

American Hospital at Mars-sur-Allier
Postcard Collection of Lucy DeVries Duffy
Chateau D'Eau, Water Tower Built for the American Mars-sur-Allier Hospital by the American Army Corps of Engineers.  It was never used. Photo by Lucy DeVries Duffy

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