Be inspired by the people you love
Topi was the name of my grandfather, it came out of a game he was playing with our eldest cousin, Louis. When I saw his picture on the bookshelf the other day, I remembered everything I loved about him. I felt immensely sad when he passed away in October 2009 and I couldn’t hold my tears when I went to his grave last summer on my way back from holidays, also because there is something poetic about the cemetery that is only surrounded by vineyards with a small road leading to it.
They were so many things to love about him.
He was sharing some of the most epic stories about his time during the second world war: How he left home when he was 17 years old (Notably because his mother didn’t care about him and this absence of love pushed him away… When she grew old, he did take good care of her though…) and clandestinely found his way to North Africa in order to enroll in the army, how he escaped from prison twice, when people thought he had died in the destruction of his tank while he was just taking a piss outside and had managed to escape when hearing the German patrol coming his way, or when he participated in Operation Dragoon, the landing operation of the Allied invasion of Provence on the 15th of August 1944. He never mentioned the loss of his comrades and the killings, he had a bunch of impressive scars, notably one from a piece of shrapnel that had badly injured his leg. At the time he was in Bordeaux and they were about to cut his leg. He left the hospital and managed his way up to Paris for his leg to be saved.
One story that really stayed with me was how he lost the Castle of Roquetaillade over a draw against his brother. They were five kids: two brothers, and three sisters. He was the eldest. He was unfortunately isolated from his family and probably his absence from home during the war accentuated the gap. He was about to inherit the castle. The sisters asked for a draw between the two brothers. He agreed and while he had won the draw, the sisters testified the other brother did... He didn’t share much about what he felt about what was a new humiliation for him. But a few years after, he found a small paradise in that region he loved so much, Lot-et-Garonne. Le Bourdieu was an old farm with only a few walls and a barn. It had an amazing view over a vast forest and you could sometimes see the Pyrenees. We loved it there. We built tree houses, went fishing, and biked a lot. It’s where I smoked my first cigarette, a Gitane with no filter… I felt so stoned hahaha! There was a big swimming pool and we loved swimming and diving there. Sometimes out of control during storms, my cousin Henri and I were jumping in and out of the pool foolishly… I keep incredible memories from that place, but more importantly, I remember that it was Topi’s place, he had earned it with all his hard work and goodwill, with a total absence of resentment whatsoever, he was just happy over there and was cherishing every single moment.
Topi had a long career at Philips after the war. He had a large office desk in the living room, from where he was handling his affairs and also playing backgammon with his three sons-in-law. The traditional Sunday lunch was when he was telling his stories but also making jokes and spoonerisms like “Three cheers for our queer old dean !" for “Three cheers for our dear old Queen !”. Even though we come from a very traditional family with a bunch of rules and traditions, he was very curious and open-minded about everything and he really inspired me in that regard.
When I wrote the post last week about Kindness, it was because I had seen his picture and remembered what his father was always saying: be even nicer with the people who are rude, first because it will serve you well, and second because they hate it to feel they have no grip on you.
Topi was quite a character with a temper and a heavy smoker for a long time. But I only remember him for his presence, his hard work, his courage, his consistency, his tolerance, and his kindness.
Be inspired by people you love and admire :)
And fuck… Can you imagine the maintenance of such a castle, quite a burden to carry haha ;)