29 September 2020

Those shipping crates

It's a funny coincidence that I took the photos of the storage crates in this post exactly 10 years ago today (Sept. 29, 2010) and posted them on September 30, 2010. Our attic conversion was completed by then. The question of the old shipping crates we've been using as bedside tables came up in comments yesterday (thanks, BettyAnn). Here's their history.

Yesterday [in 2010] I finally got my "new" furniture finished. The two pieces are shipping crates that were in our attic when we moved into this house in 2003. They were full of old papers — mostly French tax forms and form letters left here by the woman who owned the house previously. She was retired from the French tax administration.

The papers had no value. We'll burn them in the wood stove this winter. But when we cleaned up last spring, in anticipation of the [2010] attic conversion, I thought the crates were things I wanted to save. There are three of them. The man who had this house built [in the 1960s] was employed by the French aeronautics and space agency. He spent a few years on assignment in Kourou, French Guyana, where French satellites are launched. That's in South America.

You can see the new hinges on the side of the crate.

When [Jean] Kientzy moved back to France, he and his wife apparently packed up some of their belongings and had them shipped back to Mareuil-sur-Cher, a village adjacent to Saint-Aignan, along the banks of the Cher River. Jean Kientzy's first wife was a native of Mareuil, and they had had this house built here.

This all happened in the 1970s, I believe. You can see the addresses on the lid of one of the crates. Les Bagneux is a hamlet in Mareuil.

Here's the door open so you can see inside. I plan to put in a shelf later.

I took two of the crates outdoors and scrubbed them with soap and a stiff brush. That was when the weather was hot, and I let the wooden crates dry in the hot sun. Then I varnished them, inside and out, applying several coats. I decided to use them as little tables, or plant stands, and to store things in them. I put feet on the bottom (the side, actually), and I put hinges on the lids to make them into doors. I attached one of those little magnet clips to each box to hold the doors shut.
This is the second crate. The third one isn't done yet [in 2010].

And now I've finished that part of the job and I'm using the two crates in the loft, as you can see in the pictures here. For the moment, I have put printer paper in one, and in the other I'm storing a ton of CDs and DVDs that are in binders in plastic sleeves. Those items are heavy and give the boxes some heft and stability. They are ballast, I guess.

I've become handy and resourceful in my old age. Well, I've always been resourceful, I think, on some level. When I worked in Paris, people — employers, colleagues — told me I was très débrouillard. La débrouillardise is resourcefulness. It means the ability to make things happen, to figure out creative solutions to everyday problems.

Back to 2020: Here's some of the backstory about the shipping crates. Jean Kientzy was a native of the Vosges area in Alsace-Lorraine. He was born in 1914. I'm not sure where or when he met his wife, who was from Mareuil in the Saint-Aignan area. They had a house built in Mareuil in the late 1960s and spent summers here until he retired. I think they came to live here year-round in the mid-'70s, when he would have been in his 60s. I'm not sure when he was on assignment to Kourou, but it must have been in the 1960s or early '70s. He and his wife had some of their things shipping back to France in these wooden crates. Then the crates were stored for decades in the attic space that we had converted into living space in 2010.

In the late '70s, Jean K. and his wife went on a long driving trip in North Africa (Morocco and Algeria). Somewhere along the way, they were involved in a terrible car accident. Mme Kientzy was killed, and Jean was seriously injured. He came back to live here in the house we've lived in for the past 17 years. He recovered from his injuries. Sometime in the early 1980s he got involved in a book club that had weekly or monthly meetings. At one of the meetings, he met a divorced woman named Josette who was originally from the big town of Châteauroux, 45 minutes south of Saint-Aignan. Jean and Josette ended up getting married in about 1985.

Josette in her Saint-Aignan apartment in 2003, when she was 76 years old

When Jean and Josette were married, Jean told his new spouse that he didn't want to live in his retirement house any more. He said the winters were too damp and gray here, Josette (who sold us the house) told me when we got to know her between 2003 and 2005. Jean wanted to live in town, so he bought an apartment in Saint-Aignan and they lived there. They kept the house, and they would come and spend a couple of months here in the summer to take advantage of the good weather. Jean had a dog, and he would come out here (the house is just 2 miles from the apartment they lived in), park his car in the driveway, and go for long walks with the dog in the vineyard.

Jean fell ill sometime in the 1990s. He would have been about 80 years old. He had to be hospitalized in Tours at some point, and Josette rented an apartment there (35 miles from Saint-Aignan) so she could help take care of him. He passed away in 2000, I believe. Josette inherited his Mareuil house (Jean had no children) and soon put it on the market. She found a buyer, but the buyer couldn't get the mortgage he needed to seal the deal. So Josette (who is now 93 years old) put the house back on the market in 2001 or 2002 and listed it with a real estate agent over in Montrichard. That agent showed the house to Walt and me in late 2002, even though it didn't match our description of the kind of house we were looking for. He said he thought we'd like the location, l'environnement. We did, and we were able to buy it when we sold our house in San Francisco.

Josette, Walt, and I having lunch in a sidewalk café in Romorantin in 2003

What I think is that Josette felt no particular attachment to this house. It wasn't hers, but belonged to Jean and his first wife. Besides, Josette was alone again, and she had a daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter who wanted her to come live in Tours, in the neighborhood where they lived. Josette ended up moving to Tours in 2004 or 2005. We helped her move by packing up our car and driving over there. We once invited Josette and her family over for a Sunday dinner so that they could see what we had done with the place. The granddaughter had good childhood memories of summer vacations she spent here. We enjoyed having them over, and we tried to stay in touch, but as the years went by we eventually drifted apart. Here's a post I wrote about Josette's 80th birthday party in 2007.


  1. Yesterday, I read the original 10-year old post, and I see you have added more information. Great post. Recently, I've been reading some of your older posts with great pleasure. It felt like new posts.

    Once again, I'll sound like a broken record, but I still think there should be a way to put all the post together as a book! They are so interesting, whatever the subject matter, and they don't age at all.

    1. I appreciate your kind comments, CHM, but trying to build a book using blog posts would require years of work and a staff of editors and assistants. It's just not feasible. I too think "there should be a way to put all the posts together as a book" but wishing won't make it so. It would take longer than I think I will be on this planet to get it done. We have a friend who, a decade ago, worked for a company in San Francisco that was trying to develop a software application that would convert a blog into a format that could be printed or published as a book. That company went broke and ceased operations a long time ago. Our friend who worked there now lives in Berlin (the one in Germany, not in the U.S.).

  2. I'm so glad I commented on your bedside tables! Thanks for this very interesting historical post.

  3. This was all so very interesting. You certainly are resourceful! And I loved reading about your neighbor's birthday party.

  4. Loved every bit of this post! I'm almost Josette's then age, now. The older I get the more amazed I feel about how fast time flies!

  5. We/you need to discover someone with expertise in IT who is as debrouillard as you in other matters to look into gathering all your posts into a book. These are just priceless apercus from an American living in France with decades of experience and a keen eye for cultural similarities and differences. I am in awe of what you and Walt have done over the past years. Let's hope he or she is out there and able to find a way to make this happen.

    1. Thanks Bob, you are too kind. Do you know how many posts there are on this blog? I just checked — 5,237. That probably means there are 15 or 20 thousand photos. That represents fifteen years of blogging. It would take a good editor years to sort through it all and decide what to keep and what to do away with. And given my franglais, it would require a bilingual editor...

      Hope you, Norma, and all your family members are doing well in these strange times.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?