In the summer of 1989, we had just got off a race boat we’d been working on for almost a year. A 53-foot sloop, based in the Caribbean in the winter and the Mediterranean in the summer. We had been chartering and racing for months and needed a break. When you work as yacht crew, you cannot really take a vacation so you quit, travel, and then look for another job. During our “hiatus”, we decided to visit my husband’s parents on the Isle of Wight in the south of England. We had some cash and were looking to buy a house.
England proved to be too dreary, too expensive and maybe just too close to the in-laws for my liking. We decided to look for a place in France instead. We got the name of a realtor in France who worked with an agency we knew in England and headed for the cross-channel ferry.
When we arrived at the agency in France, they were closed, so we headed into the village to have something to eat at the cafe. We sat down and upon seeing the menu was in English, decided to go look for a property somewhere else. Now there is nothing wrong with the English, I married one, but we came to France to be with the French, eat, drink and speak French and we could not envisage ourselves doing so with so many English neighbors.
We drove about 60 miles and stopped in the town of Fougeres. Fougeres boast the biggest château in all of France and is quite impressive. We located a real estate agency and walked in off the street. Monsieur Blanche was happy to take us to see several properties and after viewing about 20, we bought the first place we saw.
A good size granite farmhouse with a slate roof and 1/4 of a hectare, we thought we could do something with the place. The property also had a stable and a large hangar/ garage. The house was just 10 kilometers from Fougeres. It was located in a small hamlet called La Boyere, just outside of the small village of St. Sauveur des Landes. The villasge consisted of a boulangerie, a bar, a post office and of course a church. It was perfect, close to “town” but in the country. There were other homes in the same hamlet, three or four inhabited by families that had been there for generations. Our closest neighbor’s home was actually attached by one wall to ours. At one time, it was all one house, but 200 years ago, times were tough and they had to sell part of the house off to make end meet.
Our neighbor Joseph lived there with his mother, a widow whose husband died when Joseph was 8. Joseph had to quit school and help run the farm with his two older sisters. The French custom is for the youngest child to care for the parents when they are elderly so that being the case, Joseph never got married. He has lived at La Boyere his entire life except for a short stint in the French military, which was mandatory at the time. Upon meeting Joseph, his first question to us, in French of course, was if we were going to chop down the pear tree, which was on the border of our two properties. He had heard of all the English coming and buying up French farmhouses, renovating them and building fences. We assured him that our intention was to live with the French, not just in France, there would be no fences, and the pear tree would stay.
We continued our conversation with the owner, Monsieur Lode, who was eighty years old and he explained that his mother, who was 98, had been living there the past few years on her own. His children were not interested in the property and it was for sale. We made a deal, shook hands and opened a bottle of white wine that he found in the cupboard to toast the occasion.
We exchanged contracts over the next few months by fax as we were then employed elsewhere on another boat in another country, and by January, we became the owners of our first home. It was some time before we could return to start the renovations. We landed a job on a 52-foot yacht that was going from Florida, south to Panama, through the canal and back up to the west coast. We left Brittany with plans for a new roof, the addition of hot water of course a toilet when we returned.