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Condo News Online Special Features Page

SPECIAL   F E A T U R E S

On this page: 

• 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, Fla.

~ A Moment in Time by Bernard Weixelbaum, reprinted from Condo News March 14, 2001

• Profile: Meet Lynelle Chauncey Zelnar -- founder of Forgotten Soldiers Outreach

• Condo Art Corner

• Reflections of Mother

Parts 1 & 2

a series by Betty Thomas, Condo News Publisher

• Condo Pet of the Week

• Meet Francoise Guillemain d'Echon "Francie"

by Bernard Weixelbaum

Last updated 03/11/2014

150th Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, Fla, Feb. 20, 2014

By Betty Thomas

Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, the bloodiest battle of the War Between the States (commonly known as the Civil War) in Florida. The following article was written by former Condo News columnist, Bernard Weixelbaum and published in the Condo News on March 14, 2001.

The annual reenactment of that battle took place in Olustee, Florida, this past weekend. Condo News representative, Jimmy Shirley, and I participated in the reenactment (Jimmy and I are long-time reenactors).

A story by Palm Beach Post reporter, Eliot Kleinberg, relating the link that Mr. Weixelbaum and I have through our ancestors, and the connection that we had through the Condo News, appeared in the Post on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 on page one of the Local section He and his photographer, Thomas Cordy, covered the reenactment. Another story about the reenactment itself is forthcoming in the Post.

Bernard is now living in New York state with his wife Dickie near their son Elia Weixelbaum. Bernard and I are forever linked through our ancestors’ DNA that fell on that battle field 150 years ago, and through our association in the Condo News. 

Read on ...

A Moment in Time

By Bernard Weixelbaum, 

reprinted from Condo News, March 14, 2001

Betty 

Thomas

Bernard 

Weixelbaum

Bernhard 

Weichselbaum

James Monroe "Bud" Davis

February 20, 2001, was the 137th anniversary of the battle of Olustee, Florida. The year, of course, was 1864. The battle of Olustee, or Ocean Pond as it is also referred to, was a pivotal battle in the Civil War, resulting from an attempt by the Union Army to cut Florida off from the rest of the Confederacy. There were 1861 casualties among the Union soldiers, while the Confederates counted 946. Every year since 1976 there is a commemoration of the battle on the actual battlefield. Thousands of Civil War buffs and descendants of the original protagonists reenact the details of the battle in authentic dress, bearing true replicas of the weaponry.

Back there on that cold February day in 1864, there were 2 men in particular, on opposing sides, of whom I relate. One was a young Jewish immigrant who was born on May 3,1841 in Bavaria, Germany, and had enlisted in New York on July 20, 1862 for a 3 year stint. He trained with Company G, Independents Battalion, Light Infantry, N. Y. Volunteers, an outfit known as "Enfans Perdus" and comprised primarily of men of the same ethnicity. On January 30,1864, upon completion of his training, he joined the 47th Regiment, NY Volunteers, Infantry. He never rose above the rank of private. His opponent was born in Georgia on May 19,1841. On June 26,1861, he enlisted and was mustered into the 19th Georgia Regiment, Co. E, Colquitt’s Brigade. In the course of his military career, he was captured at Fredericksburg, Va. on December 13,1862, but, in what was presumably a prisoner exchange, was released on the following day. Although he had encountered so much action, he, too, remained a private throughout his military career.

On that fateful day of February 20, 1864, Private James Monroe Davis (that was his name), found himself in Olustee, Fl. as part of Co. E, 19th Regiment, fighting a fierce and determined army of blue clad soldiers. Almost directly opposite his position was Co. A of the Union’s 47th Regiment. Of course, this is purely conjecture and highly unlikely and improbable but certainly possible. What if, in the heat of this bloody confrontation, these two men faced each other on the field, simultaneously firing their weapons at each other. Yes, it is entirely possible because, strangely enough, both men were wounded in this battle, each man suffering a thigh wound.

Of course, you can see there are so many other parallels to this history; both men are only 16 days apart in age; both men suffered the same type of wound and both men were taken prisoner though not at the same time. Our young immigrant was captured in this very battle at Olustee and confined in the infamous Andersonville Prison.

You may have wondered why I have singled out these two soldiers. Perhaps you have already guessed that the young German immigrant was my grandfather, Bernhard Weichselbaum, but did you also surmise that James Monroe Davis was the great-great grandfather of the Condo News publisher, Betty Thomas, who has rightfully retained the same justifiable pride in her heritage as I have in mine? One other interesting sidelight, James Monroe Davis died on March 1, 1923, just 3 days before the birth of Jerry Heacock, the former publisher of the Condo News and, consequently, former employer of Betty Thomas.


Meet Lynelle Chauncey Zelnar

Founder of Forgotten Soldiers Outreach

A profile by Betty Thomas

David, Lynelle and Marcia Chauncey

 

Photo by Jimmy Shirley

(November 27, 2013)

Lynelle Chauncey Zelnar was born in Chicago, Ill., of David and Marcia Chauncey, formerly of Brookline, MA. During our visit with Lynelle and her parents at Lynelle’s home in Lake Worth, Marcia described Lynelle as "the type of child you could have over and over." "She always had a big heart, always giving, always wanting to help others," added David. Her mother described her as having a "social worker’s mentality."

That formula was played out as Lynelle grew from childhood to womanhood, as evidenced by the milestones of her life’s path.

Marcia and David Chauncey with Lynelle, age 3. Photo was taken when David graduated from law school. Mr. Chauncey practiced business and banking law in Chicago and in Florida. He retired in 1999. Mrs. Chauncey was an Elementary school teacher and retired from the Florida system in 1999. She taught from 1959-1999 at University of Chicago Laboratory School and Palm Springs Elementary in Florida up to the time she retired.

During the Vietnam War, when Lynelle was in 3rd grade, she wrote a letter to President Nixon petitioning him to bring our troops home. She recalls that she and her friends would cry upon hearing that someone’s father had been killed.

Lynelle, age 8

In 5th grade, POW bracelets became popular and, Lynelle says, that planted a seed.

When Lynelle was 11 years old, the Chaunceys moved to Palm Beach National in Lake Worth where Lynelle grew up with her younger sisters Heather and Andrea.

L-r: Andrea, David, Lynelle, Heather

and Marcia Chauncey in 1985.

At age 11, in 1975, Lynelle’s sister’s friend came down with cancer. Lynelle organized a "carnival" to raise funds to help with her treatment.

Lynelle continued on her path and pursued a degree in Sociology and worked with delinquent children. She interned at a prison in North Florida and then worked with a short term offender program called Alexander Creek Stop Camp.

Back in Palm Beach County, Lynelle had intended to become a private investigator, but instead became a community association manager.

On August 11, 2001, Lynelle married Bill Baggett, Jr., son of the director of Royal Palm Memorial Gardens, Bill Baggett, Sr. and his wife Bea, who hosted the largest Memorial Day Service and Wreath Presentation ceremony in the state of Florida for many years. Exactly one month after their marriage, 9/11 happened. Then on Oct. 7, 2001, the U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and then the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. A friend’s son was killed in Iraq and it hit Lynelle hard. It became the catalyst that brought Lynelle to form Forgotten Soldiers Outreach in Oct. 2003. FSO was officially designated a 501c(3) on January 12, 2004.

Good Morning America featured FSO on their show in March 2004, then the media took off with national news, e-mails, phone calls.

At the R.P. Memorial Day ceremony in May 2004, Lynelle and Bill announced the formation of FSO. Lynelle had just learned that she was pregnant. Son Bryson was born Dec. 3, 2004.

Still working for the property management company, a co-worker’s son, Kristopher Knight of Lake Worth, with the 173rd Airborne, was among the first deployment of troops to Iraq. Knight was calling home extremely depressed with what he was seeing, and experiencing, especially when many of his brothers in arms were not receiving much support from home. That was Lynelle’s inspiration to send care packages to Knight and his two buddies. She worked out of the property management offices, after hours with the permission of the owners. Then other friends came to help, then teachers came on board providing letters written by children in their classes. Then, with the deployment of the local National Guard 124th Bravo to Iraq, more names and donations started coming in. They needed more space.

All the necessary legal and accounting services were provided pro bono by an attorney and C.P.A.. Then space was donated in Boynton Beach for collection and packing. FSO began to grow in leaps and bounds. The Veterans Administration came down from Washington, DC, and made a video to be distributed to high schools and VA hospitals throughout the country.

The building they were in went into foreclosure. An anonymous angel came forward with a donated space in Lake Worth.

Another event brought the war in Iraq even closer to home when Luke Shirley, son of Condo News representative /photographer, Jimmy Shirley was wounded by an I.E.D explosion. He lost his right arm and right leg. Luke and his brother Joshua, also deployed in the same area, had been recipients of FSO packages. This renewed FSO’s motivation even through hard financial times.

Lynelle’s marriage to Bill ended in September 2005. In September 2007, she married Mike Zelnar, a retired Air Force Veteran. Zelnar achieved the rank of S/Sgt. and served from October 1981 to January 1992, at Eglin AFB in Florida, Turkey, Germany and Kansas respectively. Mike has worked with Lynelle helping her with FSO as well as his regular work.

Bryson has been attending the Annual Memorial Day Ceremonies hosted by Palm Beach Memorial Park in Lantana, since he was a baby. Since he was 4 years old, Bryson has been leading the 500+ attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 2010 Lynelle’s nephew, Spc Michael Stansbery, Jr., was killed in Iraq. A recent photo at Arlington Cemetery showed Prince Harry of England, standing next to Stansbery’s grave marker.

This year marks FSO’s 11th Holiday Packing event. "What we’re doing overseas is still vital," said Lynelle. "This October we are hurting more than ever. There are no grants and we rely only on donations," she added.

Zelnar Family, from left to right Lynelle, Mike, Zach, Levi, David & Bryson (in front) Note: Lynelle has 3 step sons, ages, 18, 21 & 25. Son Bryson celebrated his 9th birthday on December 3, 2013.

This year on July 12th, Forgotten Soldiers Outreach opened a new Thrift Store at 3032 Jog Road in Buttonwood Plaza, Greenacres. They had outgrown their former one in the same shopping center. And now, they are running out of room again. They are looking for another angel who can provide a store front with 5,000-6,000 sq. ft.

Their Thrift Store brings FSO full circle by helping vets on the home front. They are still sending packages to all world theaters: Kosovo, Korea, Africa, Somalia, Japan as well as Iraq and Afghanistan ... wherever we have troops deployed. FSO has aligned with FAITH*HOPE*LOVE /Stand Down House, VA HUD-VASH Program and other organizations in assisting veterans and homeless vets through the Thrift Store as they transition back to life here at home with vouchers for furniture and other items. All veterans, old and young, receive 50% OFF every day at the FSO Thrift Store.

They are open 6 days a week, Monday through Saturday from 10AM to 7PM. They feature furniture, household decor, vintage items, clothing, books, knickknacks and more. They offer free pickup of your donated items, also accepting whole estates.

For more information, please call them at (561) 969-2222.

 

More about Thrift Store opening: Condo News Online - Veterans News

 

Condo Art Corner

Condo News is introducing a new feature for readers’ participation 

... Condo Art Corner. 

We invite you to submit a photo of art that you have created -- 

painting, sculpture, drawing, artistic photo, carving, etc. 

Please submit your item as a .jpg with 300ppi resolution 

by email to: info@condonewsonline.com.

In the subject line please type "Art Corner." 

Include a title for your item and the medium you used.

Submissions will appear first in our print paper 

and then on our website. 

Amateur artists only, please.

 

"Ye Old Junkman"

(Above) Oil on canvas by Eva Kaitz, of Village Green II Condominium in Lake Worth (circa 1980), which she copied from the original photo that she took of the real life junkman (right) while in Portugal in 1974.

" Chichester, N.Y. Country Road"

Oil on Canvas

By Flo Epstein

c. 1980

Photo by Jimmy Shirley

"The Grieving Woman"

Sculpture in alabaster

by Flo Epstein, 1996

Flo lives in Buttonwood East

 

Photo by Jimmy Shirley

"5 O'clock Tea"

Oil on canvas board

By Bernard Weixelbaum, 1965

Mr Weixelbaum lives in Cresthaven Fernley IV

 

Photo by Jimmy Shirley

"The New Hampshire House"

Photo by Jimmy Shirley

John Becker rendered this painting of his former New Hampshire home on his Murry Hills kitchen wall between the counter and cabinets using ordinary interior house paint.

See another of John's paintings below "Meet John Becker..."

"Fairy Ring Mushroom Gills"

Photo by Jimmy Shirley

Condo News

"These mushrooms can grow very large. This one measured 10½ in. diameter.

"Macaw"

Medium: Colored pencil drawing

by Tommy Watts

(son of Condo News office manger

Barbara Langley)

 

Covered Bridge

by Bernard Weixelbaum

Medium: Oil and spatula

To kick off this new feature, here is a drawing in pencil by Condo News publisher Betty Thomas. The drawing, "Prey for the Falcon"  was done in 1981. 


REFLECTIONS OF MOTHER

A series by Betty Thomas, Condo News Publisher

Mary Virginia Patterson Bell Scott

2/17/1918 - 5/16/2013

Mother's Memorial Wreath displayed at a memorial service conducted by the Order of Confederate Rose members Becki Powell and Kathy Clark with prayers led by Charlie Dennis, in the church at the Yesteryear Village on Sunday, May 26, 2013. The photo was taken at the Yesteryear Village in "better days". Mother was a member of OCR. The wreath was made by Becki Powell.

September 4, 2013

Part 2 in a series

Photos above were taken for an article in the local newspaper in Galveston, Texas, where my mother grew up. The photo on the right was run with the article. Mother's years in Galveston (from infancy to her 20s) were spent behind a piano keyboard (she became a concert pianist) until a hand injury necessitated a hiatus from music. Her favorite pass time was spent on Galveston beach astride General Jack, the horse only she could ride. Below is another picture run with the article showing folks riding horses along the beach. See the story below which appeared in the newspaper in 1936 ... 

(Photos above  were colorized by Jimmy Shirley)

Circa 1936

Horseback Riding Popular Diversion on Galveston Beaches

"For years horseback riding on east and west beaches has been a favorite diversion of Galvestonians, and visitors here who are fond of horses have been quick to follow the sport.

"On almost any clear day bathers may see groups of riders, often as many as a dozen, either exploring the sand dunes back from the beach or cantering along the edge of the water. Many Galvestonians ride daily as their means of recreation. Others are less regular but none the less enthusiastic.

"Some of them own their horses and keep them stabled on the beach. Others rent the animals from the stables, and one may be sure that the mounts soon become known by their dispositions. Men and older boys naturally prefer horses with spirit and fast-gaited, but most women and younger boys and girls, of course, choose animals of a more docile nature.

"The horses themselves often learn their riders, so regular are some of them about riding. Most Galvestonians who ride equip themselves with the proper clothes and boots, and favorite times for riding are early morning, late afternoon, Sunday, and especially cool days during the week.

"The gulf breeze and smooth white beach make riding only an added pleasure to being near the sea. Many prefer riding back from the water. Others prefer to walk their animals near the water.

"In the picture at right, Miss Virginia Patterson, astride General Jack, is putting her mount through his tricks. Almost every day, clad in a bathing suit and riding bareback, she takes him into the surf, which he enjoys as much as she does.

"For stimulating relaxation, physicians say nothing is so healthful as horseback riding. Many Galvestonians ride awhile and then cool off after their exercise by taking a dip in the surf. They recommend this to anyone in need of a tonic for indolence."

Interestingly, back in Oct. 2011, I saw an article in the Post with a photo similar to the one at the beginning of this article of horseback riders on Hutchinson Island with Beach Tours. The caption read "...horseback riding is good therapy for anyone who loves the romance and beauty of a horse." I guess what was good once is still good. 

 

May 29, 2013

PART 1 in a series

It’s new — it’s raw — and it takes my mind on an excursion into the life of the woman who was my mother ... "my beautiful mommy" ... as I called her when I was a toddler, and back into my life as her daughter, her only child.

Mother passed away two weeks ago. Even though she was 95 years old and severely affected by several strokes, it’s a loss that leaves such a void. There is sadness that she is gone and relief that her long suffering is finally over and she is in a better place. I have been reflecting on my life with mother from my childhood to the present and on her life as well from her childhood. I miss the closeness we had, the places we would go together. I remember calling her from Maryland after she moved to Florida (Ft. Lauderdale) just to ask her help with one of her recipes or how to put a new tape in her IBM Selectric typewriter (she worked in our family business in Maryland). It wasn’t too long before I, too, came to Florida -- and to the Condo News. Then, after her husband died, mother came to Palm Beach County (Greenacres) and we could "buddy up" again.

We would take trips to visit her grandsons (my children) in Virginia and Pennsylvania when each of her great grandchildren were born. She loved to decorate her condo and go to Tuesday Morning and Big Lots. How excited she was when Carpet Mills Direct tiled the floors in the condo. We went to movies together (we roared with laughter all through "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" -- my ex husband is Greek) and she came with me to the Yesteryear Village during the South Florida Fair and to the dinners twice a year that the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge held. When she moved into her condo at La Pinata, I suggested she take her camera when she went to the clubhouse and take pictures at the parties. She did and found that she quickly made friends. I loved putting pictures that my mother took in the Condo News with "photo by Nikki Scott." She enjoyed her condo and friends for just 6 years. Then it happened.

Mother came to live with me in November 2006 after suffering a stroke. She could use a walker but her balance was very bad. She could not take a step or stand without holding onto something. She spent a month in rehab before coming to my home for good and leaving her "nest" behind. Fortunately, I can work from home, so there was no problem, and I could be there for her.

Over the next 6½ years, a series of strokes gradually caused more and more weakness, "transfers" became increasingly difficult until the last one in November 2012 left her unable to raise herself up even from the lift chair. The man in my life, Jimmy, stepped up to assist in getting her from one place to the other (bed to wheel chair, to lift chair, etc.) She became unable to feed herself and her vision seemed to decline more rapidly.

Then in March, her swallowing became more difficult and finally near the end of April, she could only get a few spoonfuls of soft food down and, again, I had her admitted to the hospital (JFK) on a Friday. By Thursday, I had her transferred to Hospice of Palm Beach County there in the hospital. It was determined over the weekend that she was stabilized and was sent home under Hospice Home Care. But, she passed away 2½ days later on May 16 — seemly, she’d had enough.

While in Hospice, on Mother’s Day, the priest came to her room and gave her the Last Rites, also known as the Sacrament for the Healing of the Sick. Mother was aware of what was going on. She answered each prayer the priest said over her with a sweet, "Thank you."

Mother’s strokes were caused by Atrial Fibrillation. She apparently had had several "mini strokes" before the one 6½ years ago. She had what is called vascular dementia which worsened, along with all her other symptoms, with each stroke. Incontinence was the third symptom.

It’s called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. The ventricles in her brain filled up with too much fluid putting pressure on the brain. She was too old to put in a shunt which might have relieved her symptoms. NPH causes a triad of symptoms: a widened gate and a sense that the feet are glued to the floor, dementia and incontinence. She always had the sense that she was falling backwards.

The void is there, and my reflections of her constant. I will share some of them with our dear readers in coming issues.

 


Condo Pet of the Week

Photos by Jimmy Shirley unless otherwise stated

(4-17-13)

 

Leo is a bearded collie who lives with Ellen Slater, his owner, at the Residences in Palm Beach. He is 8 years old and runs on the beach two times a day. The Slaters and Leo are snowbirds from Boston. They have been spending winters here for 6 years.

 

Chloe, a mini-poodle, is 8½ years old. Her owner is Dottie Gilligan, a widow, from Califan, NJ. Dottie has lived at the Ambassadore Hotel/Condominium at 2738 S. Ocean Blvd., in Palm Beach, since 2008. She has been coming here for 19 years.

Charly Girl, a 4½ year old Shitzu lives with Phyllis Horowitz. 

Phyllis is a year-rounder and has lived at Beach Point Condominium for 30 years. Charly is the 

Beach Point Mascot.

(5-18-11)

Gigi, 12, and Trish Spaulding have lived in Springdale Homes for 5½ years. They are from Kentucky.

(5-4-11)

Tashi, a Shitzu, and Marcia Merkin live at the Dorchester (N) Condominium on S. Ocean Blvd., in Palm Beach. Marcia has lived there for 16 years. She has had Tashi for 11 years.

(1-12-11)

Golden Boy, a Shihtzu, lives with his best friend Leonard Jacobs at the Ambassadore Hotel on S. Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach. Golden Boy turned 14 years old on Dec. 28. He won the Worth Ave. Dog Show last year. Golden Boy is a married pooch -- to a French poodle in Boca Raton. He was also Bar Mitzvahed last year at the Chesterfield Hotel in Palm Beach. Leonard and Golden Boy are snowbirds, spending 6 months here and 6 months in the Catskills.

(1-12-11)

Lexi, a mixed lab, is pictured with her best friend, David Shapiro, at their condo at Palmsea in S. Palm Beach. Lexi and David often take advantage of the dog walk on A1A.

(12-15-10)

(L-R) Louie, a Yorkie, and 

Madison, a Pardi-Poodle 

live with their owners 

Betty Reisenfeld and 

Allan Leavitt at the 

Dorchester condominium 

in Palm Beach. 


Meet Francoise Guillemain d'Echon ... through the eyes of Bernard Weixelbaum 

 

FRANCIE

 At the risk of sounding like a page out of a Reader’s Digest magazine, I am going to attempt putting into words my 60+ year span of recollections, memories, mind pictures – with a regrettable 40 year hiatus - of the most unforgettable individual I have ever known.   You might classify it as a romance or perhaps even go further and call it a love story, although it’s not, that is, not in the familiar use of the phrase.  But I do love her, as does my wife, Dickie, although she never even actually met her.  This is as I remember it, though time might have blurred some of the memories, like a snapshot slightly out of focus.  

It was August, 1944 when I landed in France, arriving in Paris just a few days after the city had been liberated.  We had to wear helmets in the street as there were still snipers doing target practice.  I was a lowly Technician Fifth Grade, the equivalent of a Corporal, and part of the 583rd Quartermaster Sales Division.  We were a body of soldiers who had been trained to set up and operate P.X.s and Sales Stores; a Sales Store was a clothing store for officers and traveling USO personnel who had to purchase their own uniforms.  In effect, this was to be a scaled down department store.  Our location just happened to be Paris and our company’s particular assignment was to set up a sales store there.  It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.   We never asked for it, but, oddly enough, nobody ever complained.  

What was to be our future store was located in the very heart of Paris near the Champs-Elysees, just a few blocks from and within sight of that imposing memorial to a previous war, the Arch of Triumph and the tomb of France’s Unknown Soldier.  Our store-to-be was a large sprawling one floor affair, smaller than a Wal-Mart, more the size of a small, compact supermarket.   It had been used as a book depository by the Germans, and we had to empty it of all the many lovely art books that were stored there as well as thousands of copies of Mein Kampf, of which the poor quality of the paper on which they were printed ruled out the more practical and obvious use these pages should have been put to.   

It was obvious from the start that we would need more than just our group of G.I.s to run and operate our pseudo ‘Lord & Taylor’.  Fortunately, there was a large pool of English speaking French civilians available.  Every one of them had to be thoroughly investigated and found to be innocent of having collaborated with the enemy before working for the army.   Before long we had a large augmented sales force of civilian men and women, one of which I recall, was an ex-patriate American Jewish gentleman named Markowitz who remained in Paris after World War I and raised a family.  Remarkably enough, he survived World War II with presumably a minimum of trouble.  

In time, our store opened its doors with little fanfare or attention given by the French.  I headed the department selling the jacket portion of the officers’ uniform known in army nomenclature as the blouse.  Though I had never had any garment industry experience, I became rather adept at fitting my customers – may I say, clientele?  - with almost a semblance of expertise.  There was a shoe department as well as other sections devoted to different parts of clothing, even lingerie items for nurses and WACS so no officer need go naked into war - and more importantly, had some place to pin bars or stars.  And somewhere in the center of all this activity, we had a cashier to handle the money for most of the departments.  There may have been more than one, but only one that I remember.  She was one of the French civilians, pretty, maintaining that attractive – je ne sais quoi, I don’t know what it was -quality and style that somehow all the young French mademoiselles managed to have fed and nurtured through the years of occupation and deprivation.  Her name was Francoise Guillemain d’Echon.  I can’t recall now at what point it occurred to me that it was an odd sort of name, certainly by American standards.  However, after all these years, there are bound to be memory lapses in re-creating this narrative so you must forgive me.  We called her Francie.  She spoke English well, charmingly, in fact, with an accent that was like music to our unaccustomed American ears.  As she handled the cash in my department, I naturally had frequent occasions to speak to her.  And when business was slack – and as you know, there has always been a slack season in the garment industry – no pretense was required.  We had long chats, and I learned she was married to a young, French officer who, co-incidentally was also named Bernard.  She pronounced it – and again, the musical accent – Bare-nard, with a kind of a trill in the first ‘r’.  I learned at a much later time her loving pet name for him was Bunny.  I was never Barenard, and certainly not Bunny; I was Bernie.  They had an infant son, Jean Pierre, affectionately called Jeep, who was being cared for by her mother while she and Bernard lived in an apartment which belonged to her uncle not far from our store.   

Bernard was free again to openly wear a French uniform.  However, during the occupation and at the time he and Francie first met, he was serving in the underground.  Frequently his undercover activities caused unaccountable absences in his social life for extended periods of time; then he would return without explanation.  Francie never required one.  She never asked questions.  The idea never occurred to her.  Sheltered and protected all her early life (under circumstances I only learned about years later), she wore her shyness like a second skin.  As Bernard’s feelings deepened, he wanted to keep the details of his underground activities from her.   He was fearful that such knowledge might somehow put her in jeopardy.  For Bernard and his comrades spent long, dark nights in open fields where the moon was as much an enemy as the Germans.  His mission was to find and save the American fliers who had been unlucky enough to crash or be forced to parachute down, and through some apparent rescue network, enable them to escape to Spain.  But in time, as these two friends became closer and ultimately wed, this dark, secret side of Bernard was gradually made known to Francie.  And contrary to America ’s present fear of identity theft, Bernard maintained four identities, one of which, in time, was in the name of a brother of Francie’s.  To further the deception, she carried papers bearing her maiden name.  

Our conversations in the store were frequent and we became good friends.  Francie invited me for dinner and to meet Bernard some evening.   Food was a difficult commodity to come by for the French, so I had mixed emotions about imposing on the generosity of these good people.  However, my curiosity and my eagerness to further my acquaintance with them, overcame any doubts.  It was a comfortable, relaxed evening and we were three good friends by the time it was over.  There was a piano as I recall; I don’t remember who played, certainly not me.  But I do remember Francie introduced me to a popular French song of the day, “Ah, le petit vin blanc” (Ah, the little white wine), but refused to translate it because she said it made her blush.  I lost track of time and had to put on speed for bed check.  Bernard insisted on accompanying me back to my quarters, jogging all the way by my side, as it was too late for available public transportation.  Funny, but in a recent letter from Francie, she too recalled that mini-marathon of so long ago.  Anyway, I made it back in time.  

Postcard showing Echon Estate

The name Guillemain d’Echon literally meant (the family named) Guillemain of (or belonging to the estate named) Echon.  I’m positive there are other examples, but for some odd reason, the only person that comes to mind bearing some form of location attached to his name is the French artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – and he has a whole city, not just an estate. The name, Guillemain d’Echon, goes back to the 16th Century, sometime between the years, 1500 - 1515.  It was a title of nobility and bestowed by nobility which allowed the recipient to add his estate name to the family name; no family may arbitrarily do this on its own. It was awarded to this family consisting of moderately well-off land owners as a reward for some long forgotten service and came complete with a coat of arms.   Originally, in some long past regime, they would have also been entitled to wear a signet ring.  The estate, Echon, and the manor house and other buildings that were part of it, is located in a small town in central France called Anthien.  In those days of 1944-45, it had endured and was still in the family for some 5 centuries, as was a smaller house (though not nearly as old) on the Riviera near the Mediterranean city of Nice.  It was to this house by the sea that Francie and Jean Pierre moved after she gave notice at the store.  Bernard was no longer confined to his small covert battleground but instead, with new vistas open to him, went on to serve his country with great distinction.  After the war, he was decorated and awarded, among other medals, the French Legion of Honor.  Francie of course had my address in Paris and before long, we had established our chain of correspondence. When Nice was made available for furloughs, I was first to apply.  Three of my buddies and I visited her there on one of the days, and I still cherish the snapshot taken of me holding Jean Pierre in my arms.  But that day in 1945 is the last day I ever set eyes on Francoise Guillemain d’Echon.  

Bernard Weixelbaum (center) holding Jean Pierre, Francie (far right). To Bernard's left is Jim Callaghan; just left of Francie is Justin Hppenjans; and standing behind Bernard Weixelbaum is Jim Mulvey. Girl between Jean Pierre and Justin Hppenjans is not named.

There was so much I was yet to learn about Francie back then in those brief days of discovery and adventure.  Francie’s life was full of surprises.  Her story was like a beautiful rose.  To peel and discard each petal one by one would reveal another, even more delicate and beautiful, beneath it.   When I first knew her, I thought her to be the typical French mademoiselle, born and schooled in Paris.  It was only many years later that I discovered the first time she had ever even stepped on French soil was in 1937, only 7 years before I got there myself.  She was actually born in Tienstin, North China on December 3, 1919.  Her father, Jean Pierre Ferrer, a French citizen of Spanish descent served in the military in China while in his 20s.  After his service, he settled in China and married a French citizen like himself.  He became a merchant – perhaps an entrepreneur might be more fitting, for Francie speaks of a number of businesses he created.  Among these were a bank, three stores carrying French and European imported goods, and last, though certainly not least, a three storied restaurant called ‘Eden’. The businesses prospered and the family became wealthy. 

Francie was the 12th child born from a total of 14, although only 10 lived.  They were part of a rather large community of European families.  She was educated in China, and her second language was Chinese, possibly even her first in early, formative years.  She regrets that she has forgotten most of it now, unlike her English.  Our frequent correspondence provides ample opportunity to test her linguistic prowess.  She also tries to converse in English to her children and grand-children as frequently as possible.  In addition, she confesses to resorting to the use of a large French-English dictionary when, literally, words fail her.  As a child, she had an Amah, a Chinese nurse, with feet kept tightly bound, she recalls, according to a cruel and crippling old Chinese custom.   All European and wealthy Chinese children had his or her own Amah, and Francie, of course, was no exception.   Her father must have been an extraordinarily good person.  She sent me a translation of part of a memoir about him that she is writing for her children and their children.  She began it at a point in 1930 when she was 10 years old.  It was the day she first met Maria.  Maria was a young 15 year old Chinese girl who Francie never even knew existed up to that day.  What they had in common was they both shared the same named father – Jean Pierre Ferrer.  Before she explained any more, and with an unerring flair for the dramatic, she digressed here and went on to expand on some of the history concerning her father.  She went back to the period which first brought Jean Pierre Ferrer to China, around 1895-1900, when the Emperor of China attempted to throw out of the country all the European families who had been living there for years.  Troops were sent by the French, English, Germans, Italians and Russians.  

Included in the French contingent was this young, not yet dry-behind-the-ears, 20 year old soldier.  The Europeans’ victory coincided with the completion of Jean Pierre’s enlistment, and he remained in China while the rest of the troops returned home; however, a pact had been established between China and the 8 involved European nations guaranteeing certain concessions including peace, civil rights and free trade rights to the victors.   Jean Pierre became a business man of some stature.  One day, years later, over the period of time it took him to gain 1 wife and 5 children, curiosity, or perhaps fate, prompted him to walk through a Chinese street market followed by one of his servants.  He observed a Chinese man carrying a pole with a basket at either end balanced over his shoulder.  Each basket contained a small child, one being a 2 year old girl and the other also a girl, 1 year old.  His servant explained that the man was trying to sell the children.  Useless, unwanted girls, was the inference.  Jean Pierre asked, “And if he can’t sell them?” to which he was told the man would probably feed them to his pigs; her ‘dearest daddy’ was horrified, and impulsively said he’d buy them – and, on the spot, did.  It’s one thing to bring a stranger home unexpectedly for dinner, but how do you explain to a wife, the bringing home of two babies, not far past infancy, who are obviously expected to stay for many meals beyond dinner?  Especially to a wife who herself is expecting her 6th child within a week or two.  After much compromise, it was agreed that the girls be put into the care of a congregation of nuns.  There, in time, one died of tuberculosis while the other, Maria, thrived.  I find no evidence in Francie’s letters that her father ever officially adopted the girl as a foster daughter, but she does say that on that day in 1930, when she came to the house, it was for a discussion concerning her dowry.  Maria’s story was a saga in itself.  I only print this much of it to illustrate the humanity of this man.

In 1937, Japan declared war on China.  Francie, now approaching 18, as well as her three younger siblings, were taken by their mother to live in France for the first time, before the situation in China became too dangerous for the European colony.  Her father stayed in China and died there two years after they had left.

My war was over. I sailed home and was discharged in March, 1946.  Then the letters began, though at that point, the words only flowed from our pens, not yet from our hearts.  There was no inkling of how dear and important they would become.  New addresses were exchanged; new births noted – only by her at first, of course; mine came later.  And when my first was born in 1951, she had already given birth to a total of 4, one of whom had died at a very early age.   

"Bunny" and Francie with 10 month old Marie in Nice in 1948.

Bernard had always been interested in Aviation since he was a child of 5 or 6.  He continued his education in that field after the war, helped by his parents while they continued living in Nice for up to 5 years.  His reputation in Aviation was spreading, and one day he received a letter offering him the opportunity to run an airport in Casablanca, Morocco.  It was just the kind of invitation that appealed to their love of travel and adventure.  Bernard went on ahead and Francie followed at a later time with three small children in hand, evidently indoctrinated with old-time pioneer spirit and courage.  

Francie and Children in Morocco

So, once again, I received another letter bearing a mega-mile change of address. Our letters continued only sporadically after that, and though the births of three more children of hers occurred over the years, as well as one more of mine, I don’t recall if that information was exchanged at the time.  But I do recall that there were occasional letters and pictures until one day, I sat back and realized the letters had stopped altogether.  I haven’t the haziest notion of who was the last to write or the first to allow a letter to go unanswered.  

Francie and Bernard 

after his retirement 

around 1984

Many years went by, a lifetime by some standards, during which I gave many a nostalgic thought, tinged with regret and remorse, to my dear French friend.  My wife and I retired, moved to Florida, became grandparents, lived re-adjusted lives, and through it all the nostalgia grew, overwhelmingly so.  A glimmer of an idea began taking shape.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend a vacation in Paris, follow old, once familiar paths, to find the location of the store where I had first met Francie, and even more wonderful, to perhaps find Francie herself.  We made tentative plans in, I believe, 1990, but there was some unrest in Paris and a delicatessen in the Jewish Quarter had been bombed, so at the last minute, we cancelled.  

However, the following year, we made plans again, and on November 5th, 1991, we took off for Orly Airport in Paris.  The smattering of High School French that I recalled augmented by the cabby’s smidgen of English got us safely to our hotel.  We registered, but before we even got to our room, I found a phone booth with a directory.  I surmised that even if I didn’t find Francoise or Bernard listed, any Guillemain d’Echon was likely to be a relation.  And so it was.  I spoke to one of her daughters-in-law who fortunately spoke English and told me Francie and Bernard didn’t live in Paris.  She was cautious enough not to tell me their phone number; however, she would call her immediately and give her mine.  

We weren’t in our room more than 15 minutes when the phone rang and suddenly it was yesteryear.  I think I cried.  We exchanged addresses.  I don’t recall what else we spoke about; it doesn’t matter for when we arrived home, I found a most welcome, newsy letter waiting for me.  She bridged the gap of those 40 lost years.  They had gone to Casablanca in December, 1950.  She wrote of the 3 children who had been born there as well as the one she lost during that period.  There had been trouble in the country and they were living in an isolated area some 30 kilometers from Casablanca near Bernard’s airport, both factors which made her disenchanted with Morocco and uneasy for the safety of her family.  

Bernard asked for a re-assignment and was made chief of a department at Orly Airport, the same airport we had just flown in to, and was Paris’ only airport at that time in 1958.  Over the years, Bernard was re-assigned to other locations, but always stayed with his first love – aviation.  She helped nurse him back to health when he suffered a breakdown.  He returned to work and ultimately retired at the age of 60.  The children traveled all the peaks and valleys one generally encounters on life’s journey – a montage of weddings, babies, career choices, even divorce and separation.  One son, Raymond, even developed Hodgkin’s disease, but happily has been in remission to this day.

Her final words of this letter written in November, 1991, concerned Bernard’s then present health.  She wrote that two years prior, in 1989, he had fallen ill with a serious blood condition which presumably resembled leukemia although it was not.  Subsequent letters described her years of journeying with him to other, colder climates, more conducive to treating his condition.  Finally, one day in December, 1995, I received a telephone call from her advising me that her beloved ‘Bunny’, her mate of 51 years, Bernard Guillemain d’Echon, had died at age 75.

The letters continued, each one eagerly anticipated, gratefully welcomed, written in her now familiar flowing script and, more recently, written somewhat larger in deference to my vision problems.  They gradually increased in both frequency and content.  She referred to us as her American brother and sister.  She was both knowledgeable and opinionated about world politics and events.  In one letter, she criticized our president and then agonized over possibly offending me. A few years back, she moved into a two bedroom apartment in Barberaz, France which she shares with her son, Raymond, now separated from his wife.  It appears to be a good arrangement; each of them seems to fulfill a spiritual need in the other.  She endured serious hip and back surgery some years ago which required an extended period of immobilization; she came through nobly.  There was a recent period when she thought she might have to sell Echon.  It needs a good deal of expensive repair, but the family has gotten together to undertake whatever is necessary.

It is a veritable dynasty that grew from this couple out of their deep love for each other.  From a total of 6 living children, there are 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.  Of course, time marches on.

As I wrote earlier, I never saw her again, but a few years back, my daughter, Jody made a journey to Poland and other eastern European countries with the Zamir Chorale which was the subject of a PBS documentary.  She stayed on at the tour’s completion and contacted Francie who was, at that time, staying at Echon.  She was invited to spend a few days there, lovingly welcomed by as much of the family who was there at the time.  I like to feel she was there as my proxy.  

Bernard Weixelbaum's daughter Jody 

and Francie at Echon in 1999.

Francie in Paris 

in 2001.

 

I know I can never do her justice in describing all the parts that make up Francie, the profundity of her thoughts, the humor, the depth, the affection.  I’m surely not that talented a writer, but I hope you agree   this tale might be considered a romance – of sorts.  I recall a movie of that period during the war time ‘40s – I’m sure you all do – “Casablanca” – in the finale of which our hero, Rick, sends his dearest love, Ilse, off with her husband to save the world, with these words, “Remember, we’ll always have Paris”!

Bernard Weixelbaum is a resident of Cresthaven Fernley IV in West Palm Beach, FL. He is a member and former Adjutant of the Jewish War Veterans Post 520 in West Palm Beach. He has written for the Condo News, first for Fernley IV Condominiums and subsequently for the JWV Post 520 of which he is still a member. We thank him for this beautiful article and for sharing his long-time, long-distance friendship with Francie.  Contact him through info@condonewsonline.com

 


 

 

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