GYone’s Susie Campanella went to meet 103-year-old Renaut de Garis, a resident of Chateau des Tielles in Torteval. We hope you’ll love reading about him as much as Susie did chatting with him
THE hand of history reaches back a long way, but it’s not every day you come face to face with somebody who remembers life in Guernsey more than a century ago. Yes, you read that right – more than a century.
It was my immense privilege to visit Chateau des Tielles, a homely and welcoming nursing and residential home in Torteval, where one of their residents was waiting to spend a morning with me.
Introducing Renaut de Garis, a spritely 103 years young.
He’s famous at the home among staff and fellow residents for his love of life, youthful outlook and lifetime of wisdom, which spans so many events and changes in island life.
Rather smartly, Renaut features in some of the social media coverage of Guernsey ahead of the release of the film The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. Though he admitted to me he’s not exactly a whiz kid when it comes to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook: ‘I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about and I wasn’t bothered until someone explained more about it to me. This means I am helping to promote Guernsey worldwide and that feels good.’
Just as it feels good to me to be able to learn from Renaut. That sparkle and glint in his eyes hasn’t dulled as the years have come and gone and the picture of a cheeky child and teenager he paints for me rings true. Especially some of his escapades during the darkness of the Occupation.
‘It wasn’t the best times in Guernsey when the Germans occupied us, not good at all. One minute you had a family and a home and then they just came right in and kicked you out of it because they wanted to use it.
‘Aged 19, my father gave me my own vinery so I was a grower by trade. We lived comfortably and I managed to even build my own house. The Germans kicked us out of it and smashed it up and I had to rebuild it again, which I did.
‘Families were separated and it was gloomy, but we handled it by being positive and sticking together as an island. We played some good tricks on the Germans, too.’
It’s at this point Renaut really finds his stride, laughing as he recalls quite a story.
‘The Germans used to booby-trap things so you couldn’t get into places, with wires and explosives on them. One day, me and my mates went at night with some heavy cord. We put weights on the cord and threw it over the wires the Germans had laid. There was an almighty bang from the explosives and we ran like the clappers. It was lucky we all pulled back our cord in time or we would have been caught.’
They say that with age comes wisdom, which means Renaut must have gathered a lot over the years. And while he remembers a childhood and early adulthood few of us can even begin to imagine, his advice to the young people of today is stuff we could all learn from.
‘It’s the simple things in life, nothing else. I have learned it is about love and family and friends – the things you can’t replace. So I have learned simply to appreciate the simple things and also to have a good sense of humour. Laughter is a great medicine.’
And laughter is what rings out through the lounge and down the corridors at Chateau des Tielles. You can see how Renaut’s personality and outlook has rubbed off on others. A truly joyful atmosphere. A place where a laugh is never far away.
‘It’s all about having a laugh and being kind,’ Renaut confides. ‘For those who find it hard, stay positive and try not to worry too much. Worrying doesn’t help.’
Banishing that worry has served him well. But I was hoping for even more of an insight into Renaut’s secret to longevity. I really want some of that elixir of youth. So here comes the secret…
‘I really haven’t done anything amazing. We lived on fresh produce, we had pigs and potatoes and fresh veg and I still always eat well. I enjoyed swimming with my wife for many years. My last swim was aged 90 at Richmond, when I felt the cold a bit too much so decided it was time to stop taking a dip.
‘All my life I’ve stayed active and young and I still live life to the full. I was a douzenier for over 30 years, a church warden for six years and a mason for over 70 years. In fact I still am. I certainly don’t feel my age, but I can tell I am getting older as I need my bed more than I used to. I still wish I could go and plant some tomatoes, but I don’t think I can.’
And though Renaut tells me he misses his independence, he knows he can’t live in his own house any more as his ‘old legs can’t take it’, as he puts it. But he’s found the next best thing, a home where he’s got a new family around him.
‘I am lucky to have been taken in here at Chateau des Tielles, where they make me feel like I’m still at home in a way – and the food is great.’
As my time with Renaut comes to a close (for now, as I intend to pop by again soon), I ask him about the highlights of his long and active life. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the first words out of his mouth came without a moment’s hesitation.
‘Liberation Day. Oh yes, Liberation Day. But also travelling, I’ve toured America, New Zealand, Europe and England. I visited many places with my late wife. Other highlights, of course, include the birth of my two sons, Victor and Ivor, and I’ll always cherish and remember the day I married my wife in 1939.’
A life well-lived, a lifetime of experience, and for me a morning of sheer pleasure, getting to meet a true Guern who loves his home and loves his island.
You may not be surfing the net, seeing videos of yourself talking about Guernsey, but trust me, all who see, hear or read about you will have even more reason to love this beautiful island.
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