Twenty years have passed. Here I am again in the cool of the old stone house of Joseph, half-hidden behind the sun-shy blue hydrangeas. In a tiny hamlet shown on no map. As though no French government had ever been here and discovered these people who have lived here for a thousand and a half years.
Here on the floorboards in the corner stands the huge, carved Breton sideboard with the grandfather clock inside. It is the family heirloom, passed down at least eight generations, every second of that time measured by its purposeful tick. It goes back long before Joseph's birth by the fireplace, his mother's bed on the earthen floor, the cows in the next room. In the 1920s, folk still lived with their beasts.
In the centre of the mantelpiece stands the statue of the Virgin, as in every true Breton home. In the corner hangs what I can only call an icon of the Virgin, relating how her image was miraculously found not far from here in the good Breton earth by a good Breton peasant, four hundred years ago.
Joseph was born here eighty years ago. During the dark days of the Nazi occupation, in 1943, when he was nineteen, his parents died. He was left to look after his little orphaned brother, aged two, helped by his cousins, Victor and Victorine. Many of those born in 1919, 1920, 1921 were called thus. After the Victory, for which so much honest Breton blood had been shed.
As his little brother grew up, Joseph carved him the little wooden clogs that he needed to walk the five miles to school every day. Joseph ploughed his few acres of land all his life. Milk came from the neighbour's farm across the way. Pork and ham came from the smallholder with his pigs in the next hamlet. Bread came from the oven by the side of Joseph's cottage. Water from his well. Cider from his apple-orchard, 800 bottles in a good year, most of which he gave away to friends and neighbours. Everything else, fruit and vegetables, came from his garden.
Joseph never married. No woman wanted to marry a poor man who already had a child, his own brother.
What did Joseph think of modern life? Rolling the letter r, in his thick gallo patois, he used to say:
'The earth will take its revenge for the poison they are now putting into the earth and the air and the sea and the wells will dry up'. His relatives remark that this year for the first time in living memory his well had dried up.
Joseph died today.
A voice of truth is stilled. Another star sets in the West.
Orthodox Brittany: Christ is Risen!