This is not the adventuresome great-grandfather of whom I have written before. This man, Armand, was the owner of a shoe factory of some sort. He had a hundred workers using “rafia” to make shoes. This is hard for me to understand. Perhaps they were espadrilles. Perhaps it was something other than what we now call raffia — I know that it was imported from Africa, so it may have been a different fiber. So often a lack of knowledge of local history makes it difficult to understand exactly what an individual was doing.
At the time that this man was born in France, another ancestor of mine was making shoes in Quebec. They had no idea that they would have descendants in common, let alone in the United States.
I love this picture, though. I think that in it, my great-grandfather looks like a young Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s famous fictional detective. My sons think that Poirot, like TV detective Adrian Monk, had obssessive-compulsive disorder, but if so, he did not suffer from it. He gloried in it.
Poirot disliked knitting. “A woman did not look her best knitting,” he thought in The Labors of Hercules.”The absorption, the glassy eyes, the restless fingers!” The clicking of the needles irritated him, and he particularly disliked the use of variegated yarn. I cannot at the moment put my hand on the book in which his dislike of variegated yarn is expressed (I think it might be The Third Girl, but I have mislaid that book; it was not one of her best), but it seems to me that he said it had “no order, no method,” this being one of his most common complaints. I do not think that this is what I have against variegated yarn (since Sighkey asked), but it could be. I have admitted before that order vs. disorder is one of the inescapable themes of my life. In church on Sunday we sang “Take from our souls the strain and stress and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace,” and I think it is often true that order allows us peace and a lack of stress. Poirot took the whole thing too far, though.
Armand lost his hearing in the first world war. His shoe factory closed down in 1955, when he was 76 years old. A cousin suggests that it was not profitable enough for the next generation to continue. There had been a dozen such businesses in the town of Pau before the war, and afterward only two or three remained. Again, greater knowledge of local history would probably make the individual history clearer.
I often thought of that when I was at the museum. A letter from an individual would say something like “We got the toms in” or refer to picking strawberries for a hat, and I would think that the descendants of those people, living perhaps in a city in some distant state, would have no clue to the meaning of those sentences. I have a 19th century letter from Ohio whose writer refers to “working on the bank” and I have no notion what he might have been doing. Perhaps someday I will find out.