paul poster


I have fond memories of my childhood. At school in Aleu village, we were 40 pupils. We would walk there in our wooden clogs carrying our wooden satchels. As for the evening get-togethers, these were wonderful! We would learn all about the past and hear stories about events that really happened and which would make us scared. It was also the place to get advice if there were any problems …..

We lived off what my builder father earned. My mother grew wheat, corn, potatoes, and raised some chickens and a pig. There was no spare cash. Every evening after school, up to the age of 12, I would help my mother. Then in 1936 I left to become a boarder until I was 16 and learned to be a carpenter. Before the school year began, there were 20 of us to take in the harvest. It was like being on holiday.

In the village, the doors of all the houses were open. There was a blacksmith, a mid-wife, 4 cafés and a restaurant. Everybody worked in the fields or did business making and selling wet-stones. People left at Easter and returned on the 14th July. In every house, a pig would get killed.

In 1939, the area became a “free zone” under German control. I had a job in the town of Boussens at the time but the Germans ordered me back home, so I returned to work on the family farm. Later I was mobilised to work in the area of the Landes, but I bunked off to avoid being sent to Germany. After hiding in the woods I returned to Aleu where I made charcoal. When the Americans landed, we were ordered to Toulouse where we were sent to an American military camp in Germany. The day I was demobilised, I didn’t have a penny! A friend from Aulus who was leaving for the United States suggested I join him out there once he had got himself settled. He would vouch for me in case anything happened.

It was in 1951 that I left for New York. You could earn ten times more there than you could in France ($1 = 150 Francs). 48th, 49th and 51st Avenues was where the Ariege dialect was spoken. You weren’t in a foreign country there. I lived in New York for 20 years working as a butcher for the big restaurants like the Hilton chain of hotels. Sure you worked hard. We even worked weekends, but that’s what we were there for. There were no evening get-togethers but we would all meet up in the bar. I have good memories of that time. But I was missed back home on the family farm, especially because my father was wounded in the war. I returned twice in 20 years but I would see my brother from time to time since he worked as a pilot.

In 1970 I returned to look after my mother, father and aunt. I could have gone back because I had US residency, but I would have had to go through all those medicals again and start all that paperwork from scratch. Why go through all that? I had a house here. I took the farm over from my father to get my rights as a French citizen and to have health insurance, plus I also worked renovating barns and houses. I had the good luck of having my years working abroad counted in my retirement over here. I have 2 French retirement plans (one as a farmer, the other as a builder), and 2 American ones (a private plan and the one from my employer).

When I came back, Aleu was pretty much the same. Nothing had changed very much. The young had all left and a few houses had been done up. When you retire in the United States, you slowly die because there is nothing to do. Here, on the other hand, there is family, you restore houses and what you do benefits the family. You know how to work the land. The newcomers don’t know about these things. I just let them do things their way.