BREWSTER, Mass. — Saint-Parize-le-Chatel, a French village of around 1,300 people approximately 160 miles south of Paris, is perhaps the last place anyone would expect to find a connection to Cape Cod.
But the picturesque hamlet, known for its 12th century church, Eglise Saint-Patrice, and several chateaus, is where the parents of Brewster resident Lucy Duffy, 84, met during World War I and began a love story that is now known and honored in the village.
“They appreciate their past and the connection with America,” said Duffy on why the story resonates in Saint-Parize-le-Chatel. “The love story is something good that came out of a terrible war.”
Duffy’s parents, Charles and Rebecca DeVries, met in March 1919 when Charles, a U.S. Army soldier stationed at a hospital in central France, traveled to Saint-Parize-le-Chatel after the war ended, hoping to learn French. The area had connections to the United States through a complex known as the American Hospital Camp, which opened in 1918.
In the nearby village of Moiry, located in the Saint-Parize-le-Chatel commune, Charles met Rebecca, a foster child born in Russia of Jewish origins, Duffy said. Rebecca began teaching him French. Within a few weeks, they fell in love and Charles proposed.
Charles left for the United States in April of that year, and they exchanged trans-Atlantic letters for nearly three years until he returned to France in October 1921 to marry Rebecca.
“I have all these letters,” said Duffy, who is leaving Monday to travel to Saint-Parize-le-Chatel, which she considers her second home. “They tell a story of two very articulate, intelligent people exploring their relationship and their love.”
Charles and Rebecca then moved to the United States, eventually settling in Brewster where he became a Unitarian minister. Rebecca died in 1981, and Charles died in 1984.
Duffy says France never left her mother, and she passed her love for the country onto her children.
“She told me stories all the time,” said Duffy. “It was difficult for her never being able to go back to see her parents.”
Rebecca first returned to France in 1938 as a translator for the U.S. military, she said.
The story has made a lasting impact on Saint-Parize-le-Chatel. The village first discovered Rebecca and Charles’ story when, in 2000, Colette Mayot, president of the Hereditary Genealogy Organization, came across files at the village library containing Rebecca’s writings, which Duffy had left in the town after a previous trip, according to Saint-Parize-le-Chatel mayoral aide Lisiane Delbet.
This began a correspondence between Duffy and the village. Duffy went on to publish her mother’s work in 2011 as “Vignettes of Moiry”; a French version followed in 2012.
“The Vignettes of Moiry and Lucy’s parents’ love story are now part of Saint-Parize-le-Chatel’s folklore. Through the eyes of Rebecca, the reader revisits the scenes of life in a village imprinted with primordial lessons that a troubled period like World War I gave to each,” Delbet wrote in an email to The Times.
Rebecca translated the stories into English herself, and Duffy edited the book.
School children in Saint-Parize-le-Chatel now study “Vignettes of Moiry” as part of their history curriculum, according to Delbet and La Gazette, the village’s newsletter. There are two English-language copies of the book at the Brewster Ladies’ Library as well.
“Vignettes of Moiry” describes in vivid detail Rebecca’s life both before the war and in wartime France. In the chapter titled “The Mother,” Rebecca describes awaiting the arrival of soldiers to the American camp with Madame Mandet, whose son died in the war.
“Then I notice with horror that between two French soldiers is a German prisoner, and I want very much to attract her (Mandet’s) attention to someone else. I fear that to see this enemy, who perhaps killed her son, will upset her,” she wrote. “But Madame Mandet pushes me aside gently. With infinite tenderness, she feeds the German soldier, supporting him gently as though he were her own son.”
Rebecca read this particular story at the First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist in the 1950s.
Their story has been covered in regional media as well. On April 11, Le Journal Du Centre wrote an article on Charles and Rebecca’s relationship, describing it as a “French-American love story.”
Only one structure remains from the American camp in Saint-Parize-le-Chatel. Its plaque reads, “To the Americans who died for France, rights, and liberty.” The site has been declared a historical monument, according to Delbet.
In recognition of the centennial of the United States entering World War I and American soldiers coming to Saint-Parize-le-Chatel, the village is holding “Weekend Americain” events from June 23 to 25 to commemorate the arrival of the soldiers.
One of the presentations will be a play based on “Vignettes of Moiry,” performed by local schoolchildren.
“It is just precious,” Duffy said of the script. “I’m supposed to make a speech in French at the end of the play, but I’ll probably just cry.”
Three of Duffy’s grandchildren will perform in the play. Her granddaughter Lilla Duffy will portray her great-grandmother in the wedding scene, wearing the same wedding dress Rebecca did when she married Charles in Saint-Parize-le-Chatel nearly 100 years ago.
This will be Duffy’s eighth visit to the village, and the connection she has maintained with Delbet and other residents is one of many ways Rebecca’s spirit has never left Saint-Parize-le-Chatel.
“I believe she’d be so delighted she had an effect on the village and the children,” said Duffy. “In a sense, she’s returned to the village.”
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com