I met the most unusual and fascinating person today. Her name was Denise she was cutting up pieces of bread for people to graze on as they moved through the local Costco store. She was a demonstrator, of food that is.
I’m not sure why, I must’ve asked a question, because she started to tell me a bit about her life’s history. I had detected a European accent on this frail small woman and thought that it perhaps was of German origin. When I asked if she was born in Germany she corrected me instantly and said “No, I was born in Belgium, and my sister and I lived through World War II.” She went on to tell me that when she was 13 years old her family fled from Belgium to France just ahead of the Nazis invasion of Belgium. She went on to say that no sooner had the arrived in France than they were once again faced with a Nazi invasion. Her family attempted to flee to England, however, they were never able to leave France. She said that her father had taken her and her sister into the country and hidden them on small French farms since the Germans were taking young girls to work in the munitions factories. She also told me about how she became involved with the underground in France when she was 14 years old. She and her sister along with her family hid in the basement of a building that had been bombed many times. Her father had shored the first floor in such a way to prevented a cave-in into the basement which was their living quarters. They lived right across the street from a large building the Nazis had commandeered as a POW holding facility. She and her sister would watch for the Nazi guard patrol and when it was safe they would run across the street to this prison facility and tie sandwiches on to strings that the prisoners had let down to the ground. Once the sandwiches were tied to the strings the prisoners would pull the sandwiches back up by the strings thus surviving on the good food the underground gave them.
I listened to this 88-year-old lady reminisce about her childhood and surviving the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. She told me that many nights they would sleep in the gutters of the bombed out streets for fear of having buildings collapse on them. She said that more than the hunger they felt and the wish for good food, they wanted to be able to sleep through the night without hearing the bombing gunfire and ricocheted bullets. I told her that that must’ve been extremely frightening especially for a 15-year-old girl in a foreign country in the middle of a war. She simply shrugged her shoulders and said that she enjoyed helping people and that’s the way life was.
I suggested that she write down her memories or at least tape-record them because once she was gone that history would go with her. She said many people had told her that she should write down her life experiences but she just didn’t know how. I suggested that she get a tape recorder and sit down with her sister and they record their experiences which were much more personal, real, and true to life than the history that you read about in high school history books.
About that time another customer came up and sampled a piece of toast that she had buttered I told him she had a fascinating story to tell about how she and her sister fought the Nazi invasion of France in the French underground as teenage girls. He suggested to her that she go to a Holocaust survivors meeting held each month in Tucson Arizona. She told him she was not Jewish and did not think that she should. He assured her she would be and encouraged her to go.
This fascinating yet unobtrusive woman works two days a week as a food demonstrator for Costco Warehouse. Hardly a person would take notice of her. I believe she is one of the many untapped resources of living human history that simply falls by the wayside and is ignored by the writers of “book history.” Denise works at Costco on Fridays and Saturdays she sells bread, she sells a lot of bread, and is happy to help people in need. To my way of thinking she is one of the highlights of traveling throughout the United States, seeing National Parks, local museums, and fascinating people.
If your travels include Tucson Arizona stop in at the Costco Warehouse on Tucson Marketplace Boulevard on a Friday or Saturday and spend the time to find Denise and listen to her story.