We drive through a lot of tiny towns here in France and as we pass some of these old houses, we slow the car down, take a hard look and peer into the open doors or the barns in the back or maybe the windows that aren't shuttered all the way.
What are we looking for?
The goods. The good stuff. The old stuff. The stuff that others may call junk. The stuff that others might not dig through. It's the old factories, or the old farms, or the old seamstress studios that are no longer in business but never cleared out their stock. We're looking for these places because we know they exist. And if we could just get inside, if we could just speak a few words of our broken french, just enough to explain that we really, really like the old stuff. We want the old stuff. We would pay for the old stuff. Well, then, things like this would happen more often:
Old, but not abandoned, Guy Coustilleres closed his father's hat factory nine years ago. It's as if one day, in the middle of the work week, he walked in the 2-story, many roomed factory and said 'd'accord! its time to go'. I imagine the ladies standing up from their specialized sewing machines, stubbing out their smokes, brushing off their laps, dropping their scissors in the basket beside them and walking out.
It seems they didn't look back.
Of course, I have no idea what actually happened on closing day. Or why they actually closed. But the whole place is fit for a story, and this seemed as good as any.
There's dust on everything. There's water damage and probably rat pee and poison pellets in the bottom of those boxes we searched. I was going through some drawers of old record books and letters and receipts when I came across a perfectly mummified mouse, curled into a little circle. No hair, just the skeleton, right down to the long tail. It was amazing and obviously, he never knew what hit him lo those many years ago when the drawer came closing behind him. I brought him out to show to Guy, who just laughed and handed it to his grandson, who followed us around this distant factory wondering what the hell we were all so excited about.
And we were excited!
Room upon room, nooks and crannies, abounding with ribbon and hat labels and numbered cards, tiny stamps with each hat name imprinted on it, drawers and boxes filled with materials we'd never seen before!
Now, some think things like this are depressing or sad, but the fact is, Guy is in wonderful spirits. He's thrilled (and probably a little amazed) with the response 15 women have when they enter this old, dank building. It's not the sound of 'ewwwwwww' that's ringing out the windows, it's a definite 'ohhhhhhhhhhhh!' with a squeal like you've just found an old friend. There's not enough French or English spoken for any of us to really know what's being said, but with hand gestures and a number of juicy things being taken out of our filled-to-the-top boxes (those stamps, for example!) and handed to the teenage grandson for safe-keeping, I know Guy still has a sense of pride about his old family factory. No matter that many of the windows are broken out of the building or that the ceiling leaks. People will still come to own a piece of the Coustilleres' history.