“Were you on the bottom?”

October 29th, 2012

“Were you on the bottom?” General Yeager asked an elderly French woman.

We were in Southern France visiting places where Gen Yeager had been shot down during World War II and worked with the Maquis.

We had found out an elderly couple had been having a tryst in the barn and saw Chuck Yeager’s plane as it crashed.

March the 5th, 1944; General Yeager had flown on a mission to Bordeaux to take out some of the warships in the harbor there.

He was pretty stoked. The day before he had shot down his first enemy aircraft, a German Me 109.

The weather was “stinkin’” so they turned East for some targets of opportunity.  Just as they turned, General Yeager who was flying tail end Charlie called Break. The Germans were behind them. He did a head on pass with three German aircraft. It was too much. They shot up his airplane, and a bit of shrapnel hit him as well.

He and his airplane parted company as it fell apart in pieces around him. (Remember that was his answer when I said This is so hard to get in and out of, how did you get out when it was shot up? He didn’t – it fell apart in pieces around him).

As Chuck Yeager fell towards the ground, waiting until the last minute to open his shoot; his flight leader shot down the German who had shot him down – that German was aiming for Gen Yeager in his free fall.

And Yeager’s plane, what was left of it, screamed towards the ground, flying pilotless and creating a smokin’ hole next to where the elderly couple, then a very young couple, were…well….trysting.

Monsieur was avoiding being conscripted by the Germans so he had to be very careful bicycling around the countryside.

I asked Madame about the tryst and if she would discuss it on camera. She was reluctant because in 1944, one just didn’t have sex before marriage. During the war though, one never knew if one would survive.

I tried to convince her it was okay today – there would be no stigma. In fact, au contraire, it was a wonderful love story as they got married just 3 months later and were still happily married today 66 years later.

To convince her, I called in the “cavalry”. Or in this case, the fighter pilot.

I translated Madame’s story into English for General Yeager – that she and her husband had seen the plane coming right at them, they felt, and crash quite close and that they had been in the barn having a tryst.

General Yeager listened to this, and without skipping a beat, said: Now did you have the best view? Were you on the bottom?

I tried to refrain from laughing so I could translate.

Madame burst into giggles, tickled that he would tease her like that, waving a finger at him in mock remonstration.

The cavalry had succeeded. She’d tell the story on camera.

Monsieur and Madame were two peas in a pod. Both were little, about the same height, maybe four feet, incredibly agile and alert.

I would ask questions from behind the camera. I wondered if my French was understandable – but I had spent time in the south. Southern France has a different accent and some vocabulary is different.

Monsieur would respond: What?

Darn, speaking French is like a human thesaurus, looking for other words to say the same thing.

By the time I had reformulated the French, Madame was repeating the question…..verbatim.

And he understood.

Like so many couples who have lived together for some period of time, one is able to understand only thru the voice of their loved one.

I was thrilled! I had gotten it right.

Monsieur would then answer.  Or Madame would if I specifically directed a question to her.

They were/are delightful.

When we were finished filming, we had sandwiches for lunch. It had started to rain outside so we stayed put to ride it out.

The couple offered us coffee and water. A sign of real hospitality. Very kind. They were not rich, but they had provided for their family and survived.

The rain abated, the stories slowed, the gear packed up, the coffee drunk, and after bidding farewell, we left the young, elderly couple – just imagining them when they were lovers before a lifetime together as married partners.


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