What was daily life like in our village in the mid- nineteen- twenties ?
In 1981 , Irma Julia- Sabaté ( 1919- 1992) wrote her childhood memories in a modest textbook. At that time, Adrienne Cazeilles had just published « when we had so many roots », an emblematic work about her family land in the Aspres. In Joch as well as elsewhere, handing over the memory of a forever gone ancestral way of life seemed urgent.
Here are a few excerpts of Irma’s memories going back between 1925 and 1930.
(…) « There were three cafés and two groceries. One of the groceries sold meat ( lamb and mutton from its own flocks). On special occasions, specially on Saint Martin’s day, the village feast day , there was beef !
There was a mill grinding wheat everyday, a sawmill employing several workers, then there was an oil mill below the village and a paper mill which stopped being operated in 1922 or 1923. I only remember the rags that had been left unused, and that my friends and I would use to make clothes for our dolls made of « catzots » ( what is left of a corncob once shelled)
In Joch there was also an old weaver, his name was Marsal. I remember seeing him operating his machines when I was a young girl. Old Marsal would weave linen to make sheets, tea towels, as well as beautiful blue or red damask blankets. Flax was grown in Joch. Its filter tanks were located next to the ravine, at the corner of Raymond Bruell’s field .
Wheat and bread
Every week, Michel Isern, the miller, and his brother Joseph would harness their big white horse, with small bells around its neck ringing joyously. They would go to the neighbouring villages , Finestret, Espira, Estoher, Vinça, Vallestavia and Valmanya, to bring the flour sacks and the bran to the owners who had given them their wheat to grind the week before . Glorianes’s inhabitants would act in a different way : they would come to Joch carrying their wheat, spend the day in the village, and when their wheat had been ground they would load their donkey again before going back to Glorianes. A day was reserved for them every week. They were the last regular customers of the mill.
A baker made his round three times a week. He sold big loaves weighing two or even four kilos, which were better value for large families. Each loaf was weighed and a piece of bread or flat bread was put in to make up the weight. Yet, I still remember the taste of our homemade black bread. Even after my mother had stopped kneading, her neighbours would kindly bring her an « oferta », which was a small round bread. Marie Maler lived in the house next to the café (which was run by Marie’s parents, Delphine and Guiche Sabaté, and was located 27 Carrer Major). She used to knead her own bread because she had a very large family and little money ; it was from her own wheat, grown in the family field.
The wheat needed to be washed before being ground. This was done in the Castell or at the « aire d’en Poueill » ( Poueill’s threshing floor) on sunny days. Once washed, the wheat was spread to dry on sacks displayed on the ground . We, children, were on a mission : chasing away all the hens which were loose in the village streets! There were hens in every household, so, obviously, if we children hadn’t been on the watch…not much would have been left of the wheat…
There were several ovens in the village ; the last ones which worked on a regular basis were the oven in the mill and the oven located opposite the public washhouse in the old Català house ( Francis Català’s native house). Many people would work together to knead their bread as early in the morning as possible because all the loaves had to rise at the same time. Once the oven had preheated, 3,4 or 5 loaves were baked for each family, depending on how large they were. So we had fresh bread every week.
People went to the « Fou » or to the « Cortal nou » to collect the firewood that was needed to heat the oven. I remember meeting the women and men coming back to the village carrying their heavy bundles of firewood on their backs while I was on my way to school. Many people walked along the mountain paths , so they were all well kept as were the under woods, thanks to the numerous flocks which grazed there.
The plain and the farming
The plain didn’t look at all like today ( in 1981). At that time the main crops were : potatoes ( in some farms the harvest lasted for two weeks) ; alfalfa and oat to feed the family horse all year long ; wheat to bake bread.
The harvest took place in June, on Saint John’s day. Scythes were used. Several families often worked together : The men reaped, the women made the « lligueres » ( the ties) to bind the wheat into sheaves ; you had to have the knack of doing it ! I managed to make « lligueres » myself ! There were two ways to proceed : either you twisted a handful of stems, or you crossed the stems towards the ears. Then those ties were displayed on the ground, an armful of ears was put on top of them, and the sheaves were bound by pressing hard with a wooden peg. After that the sheaves were heaped up at the edge of the field before threshing.
Shelling wheat or oat
In the nineteen- twenties, a flail ( « manilla » in catalan ) , was used to do it . I can’t remember seeing this, but I remember shelling with a roller.
First the threshing floor had to be prepared. It was always at the same place, near Saint Martin’ s bridge. The ground was well watered and packed down with a roller until it became as smooth and hard as cement. A hole was left in the middle, where a sort of wooden box was put. It was used to hold a stake ; a rope was linked to the halter of the horse and was wound up and unwound around it.
After cutting the ties ( « lligueres ») binding the sheaves together, the villagers spread the sheaves around the stake. Attached to the stake, the horse started to go round and round, encouraged by its master, and sometimes too by the cracking of his whip… The rope wound little by little and gradually, the roller made smaller and smaller circles. Finally, you only needed to turn the stake upside down, so the horse kept going round and round until it was back to its starting point.
This was done over and over again, until the only thing to do was to remove the straw, as the grain and its husk were left on the ground. Then it was stacked until being sifted ( through the « moli de venta ») every evening so as to store the grain indoors.
People had their meals on the threshing floor, breakfast at 8 in the morning (solar time), lunch at noon and dinner there too, because they worked with the daylight. Everybody in the village, people from the same family, neighbours, friends, used the same threshing floor . They agreed on the date and they helped one another. It was hard work , the weather was usually very hot, but everyone was always good- humoured.
After the harvest
As soon as the harvest was completed, there was no time to lose, because corn or beans had to be sown on the same plots of land before July 14th. After that date, crops were not guaranteed, because corn and beans wouldn’t have time to ripe.
Around August 15th the beans were already grown and the land was worked with spades. « Farratge » (fodder), that is to say lupin and vetch were sown in the corn fields .In winter, the mountain flocks would go down to the plain and graze that « farratge ».
The grape harvest
After August 15th, it was possible to put the spades and the ploughs away and wait for the grape harvesting season to come.
There was an atmosphere of festivity during the grape harvest , people worked very hard but joyfully ! Songs and laughters arose from the vineyards, and groups of pickers (« colles » in catalan) called out to one another.
The grape harvesting season would start towards September 20th. There were vineyards on the slopes of the mountain, (at Motzanes, at La Garrigue). Every wine grower had his cellar and made his own wine, mainly for his personal drinking . If there was enough left, it was sold. People also worked together in October in two teams taking two wine presses around the village for pressing. From morning till night the clicking of the wine press could be heard and the scent of new wine smelt ».
(Translated into English by Thèrèse TRABIS-GURRERA)