Yeyette Lebatard’s House

Henriette Lebatard, known to all as Yeyette. Henriette The Bastard, as translated into English, was her real name and what a name to live with!

In the winter, she used to pour calvados (strong apple liquor from Normandy) in the milk bottles of her babies, thinking it would keep them warm!
When it became public knowledge, her children were taken away from her.

They were making their own calvados illegally. The villages knew about it, and I was told she had a few ways to buy their silence! Yeyette never seemed to be sober.
One of her legs was considerably shorter than the other one; she had a severely unbalanced walk, like a wounded animal.
Always she was seen picking up small pieces of wood on the road, to make fire presumably, as she had no electricity, no heating, and no running water.
They survived with hardly anything, relying on left-over meals placed by the villagers on their doorstep.
Nobody wanted to knock at her door. She was never educated and conversation was laborious.
This woman was avoided by the villagers, yet accepted by them.
When I met her she only had a few teeth left, two, maybe three, and it was impossible to know what she was looking at when she was talking to us, my brothers and me.
For the child I was then, I could say she was scary.

She was not only a famous character in the village, but also in my home, as my grandfather represented her many times in his paintings.
Despite the chaos that surrounded her life, I still feel intrigued by her determination to survive.

Today, the house is empty, nobody lives there anymore, but the memories remain. The fact that the house still stands amongst silent surroundings and tranquil scenery seems to me symbolic of her ability to transcend the disarray in her life, and that's enough to have inspired me.

I feel close to the village, close to the memories that came with it, and somehow close to her... and the difficult name Yeyette had to live with.

Lélia Pissarro, October 2004