Friday, 8 November 2019

Returning to a Childhood Home


Gary, Gabrielle, Sally and Fran at l'Esperance.
Gary Hoover, Gabrielle Hoover, Sally Weinbach and Fran Hoover at the Hotel de l'Esperance 2019. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Some months ago I was contacted by Sally, an American who was planning to come to France in October to visit her childhood haunts. Her father had been in the US military, based at the huge American facility at Déol, on the outskirts of Chateauroux. The family, Harry and Elizabeth the parents, and their five children Diane, Sally, Gary, Dawn and Les, lived in France between 1952 and 1956. Because of the shortage of accommodation at the time American families were often lodged a considerable distance from the base.

Walking down the road to the mill. Mme Fauvet lived in this building, and Sally and her siblings once caught some burglars coming out of the ground floor windows.
The Hoover family visiting the Moulin de Humeau. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Sally wanted help identifying the chateau she had lived in. She knew it was just outside Preuilly sur Claise but couldn't remember its name and couldn't find it on any maps or satellite images. A major clue was that she remembered it had a mill house and a swimming pool, something that would not have been at all common in the 50s in the Touraine, even at a chateau.

Gary and Sally get their first glimpse of where they used to live.
The Hoover family visiting the Moulin de Humeau. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

I sent messages to anyone I thought might be able to help. As the replies came back it was clear we all agreed on two possible locations: the chateau de Ris, which is actually just outside Bossay sur Claise; and the Moulin de Humeau, between Preuilly and Chaumussay (not a chateau, but quite a grand complex of buildings).  Humeau looked like the best contender, and satellite photos show it certainly has a swimming pool now, but it seemed clearly more modern than we needed. But we had some discussions about whether it was really Preuilly sur Claise. Maybe Preuilly sur Cher or Preuilly le Ville should be looked at too.

As more information came from Sally we really started to get somewhere. She knew the owner of the property at the time was a Madame 'Fuvay', and she lived there with her mother, her daughter and son-in-law, whose names, Sally recalled, were 'Christian' and 'Bob' 'Shebwasone'.

A Canadian kite hanging on the end of the mill.
A Canadian kite hanging on a French house. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

I knew immediately that the younger couple must be Christiane and 'Bob' Chaboisson. I didn't yet know how they fitted in to the larger Chaboisson clan, but I knew how to find out. I just had to wait until I saw Martin, who is a member of this well known local family.

The apartment at the Moulin de Humeau that Sally's family lived in.
 It has gained dormer windows and a back door since the 1950s.
Apartment at the Moulin de Humeau. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Bruno suggested that Madame 'Fuvay' might have been Madame Fauvet, and he did some digging to find out that the first of the big name domestic pool companies in France was started in 1958. Then Jean told me he was sure that the Moulin de Humeau had a pool in 1952. Yvonne told me she thought that the Chateau de Ris would have had a pool at the time too, but I was dubious about it being the American's home because I think it was owned by Hispano-Suiza as a village des vacances for employees at the time.

Sally's little sister and brother fishing in the swimming pool at Humeau in the 1950s.
Dawn and Les Hoover fishing in the swimming pool at the Moulin de Humeau in the 1950s. Indre et Loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Sally Weinbach.

Gérard told me that the Fauvet family had owned the mill at Humeau. It was looking more and more likely as the place we were seeking.

Finally I ran into Martin, at the municipal swimming pool. As I suspected he is closely related to 'Bob', who was his uncle ie Bob was his father's brother. Bob's real name was Albert, but he worked for NATO and all the Americans called him Bob (his family called him Bébert). When de Gaulle left NATO and chucked the Americans out of France, Bob moved to Luxembourg in order to stay in his job. Martin also told me the name of the current owner of the Moulin de Humeau and suggested we get in touch. My friend Yvonne, whose husband had also worked for NATO, and who was taking a lively interest in all of this subsequently gave me the phone number of the owner.

The water wheel on the end of the old flour mill at Humeau.
Water wheel, Moulin de Humeau. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

And Martin gave me some background on the Fauvets.  Monsieur Fauvet died very suddenly and unexpectedly. At the time, a freight car intended for him was at Preuilly station, and Martin's grandmother was subsequently asked to pay for this shipment.

The impression I got from several people who recalled him was that he was a big wheeler dealer with a champagne lifestyle -- apartment in Paris, the property at Humeau and another one somewhere else. Always luxury and high living. I guess the luxury lifestyle explains why there was a swimming pool there at such an early date.

The Moulin de Humeau.
Moulin de Humeau. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

By the time Sally and her family knew Madame Fauvet she was a widow. Sally says "She had our family over for meals quite often and usually we did not go beyond the large country kitchen, however once in a while she would let us see the formal dining room and the parlor where there were beautiful and countless antiques to look at. She also rented a couple of rooms upstairs to a young couple with a toddler, also American. This and rent from my family may have been her income."

Gabrielle, Gary, Simon, Sally and Fran walking towards the bridge at Humeau.
The Hoover family at Humeau. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Then I ran into my friend Jean and his wife Ninon in the street. Ninon's parents had been the teachers at the school in Chaumussay and she and Christiane had been in the same class. They reminded me that there were three Chaboisson brothers -- Albert/Bob, Paul (who was the charcutière in Preuilly), and Jacques (the veterinary). Paul's widow is the only one of this generation still living. Jean reckoned the pool was installed some time in the 1940s. Ninon told me that Monsieur Fauvet had been a manufacturer of glass preserving jars. The Fauvet family came down to Chaumussay to live during the War, as refugees from Paris. Initially they lived in a grand house on the other side of the river, then at Humeau, which they bought in 1947.

Gary, Jean, Sally and Ninon outside Jean and Ninon's house.
Gary Hoover, Jean Pelle, Sally Weinbach and Ninon Pelle. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Sally's family lived at Humeau for about a year. Her little brother Les had his first haircut at the barber's in Preuilly. The older children would walk or cycle in to town for the cinema. But Preuilly is a long way from Chateauroux and their parents were always trying to move closer. At one point Sally's father fell asleep at the wheel of his car and had an accident coming home from work. After living in the former home of the doctor in Saint Hilaire en Lignière accommodation was finally built at the base and they moved into an apartment there. Sally has photographs of  Madame Fauvet, Bob and Christiane visiting them on the base, with everyone sitting around the table playing cards.

Mme Fauvet, Christiane Fauvet Chaboisson, Bob Chaboisson and Elizabeth Hoover (Sally's Mom) sitting around the table in the apartment on the base at Chateauroux in the 1950s.
Mme Fauvet, Christiane Fauvet Chaboisson, Albert 'Bob' Chaboisson and Elizabeth Hoover on the American armed forces base at Deols in the 1950s. Indre, France.
Photo courtesy of Sally Weinbach.

Finally, after weeks of correspondence, and some lovely meetings with local people who were young in the 50s, or had connections to the American armed forces, the day arrived and we met Sally, her brother Gary, his wife Fran and their daughter Gabrielle at the Hôtel de l'Esperance in Preuilly for a coffee and croissants. After walking around Preuilly they treated us to lunch at the Relais de la Mothe in Yzeures sur Creuse. Then it was time for the big event! -- visiting the Moulin de Humeau.

Sally and her niece Gabrielle.
Sally Weinbach and her niece Gabrielle Hoover. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Gabrielle, who speaks French, had phoned the owner to ask his permission for the family to have a look around. He was most gracious and told her to just turn up whenever. He would not be there as he was in Canada, where his son lives, but he would let the American friend who was staying at Humeau know that people would be visiting. Gabrielle also lives in Canada, as it happens, and to everyone's astonishment, in the same city as Humeau's owner! What are the chances!!

Sally and Gary were visibly moved by the experience of looking around Humeau. They remembered everything so clearly and the visit was obviously important to both of them. Sally shed a few tears and Gabrielle confided that she had never seen her father so happy.

The famous swimming pool, as it is today.
Private swimming pool. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

To round off the day we went over to Jean and Ninon's place for a chat. They were their usual wonderful friendly and hospitable selves and told lots of great stories about life in Chaumussay in the 1940s and 50s. Ninon talked about the tremendous social divide between the wealthy Parisian Fauvets and all the ordinary people of Chaumussay; Jean related the scandal he caused by wearing fashionable brief swimming trunks to go swimming in the river one day. 

This is the laundry copper in which Sally's Mom did the family's washing.
Old laundry copper. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

It was lovely to be able to help them achieve their dream and for it to have turned out so positively. Sally found us because of the blog. It's not the first time someone has done so, and it is always an absolute delight to meet people that have an intriguing connection to Preuilly. I know all my friends loved helping to solve the mystery of where the family lived, and passing on their memories. I would like to particularly thank Martin, Jean and Ninon, Yvonne and Gérard for the information they provided and the interest they took. Also of course, JLC, the owner of the Moulin de Humeau and his friend in residence Mrs Fry. 

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4 comments:

  1. What a wonderful read!
    And well done on the detective work....
    Not what you know, but who you know!

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    1. It was fun and the Hoovers were such nice people.

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  2. Very impressive detective work. I can imagine what a thrill it was for the family to revisit places they'd loved in their childhood that they probably thought they'd never see again. Well done, all of you.

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    Replies
    1. It was a really nice thing to be involved in and a privilege to be able to help them.

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