In Brive, the incredible destiny of Jeanne, who has just celebrated her 103rd birthday

In Brive, the incredible destiny of Jeanne, who has just celebrated her 103rd birthday
In Brive, the incredible destiny of Jeanne, who has just celebrated her 103rd birthday

Born on June 26, 1921, Jeanne Caumel Vergoz has just celebrated her 103rd birthday. With a certain talent for storytelling, the centenarian recounts her life: a century of adventures, from Madagascar to Chile, to Brive (Corrèze).

She is 103 years old, but looks 20 years younger. “I have always looked younger than my age. I am well preserved… a beautiful tin can!” jokes the centenarian, who has lost neither her sense of humor nor her independence: she lives alone in a charming apartment in Brive (Corrèze).

To help her, Marie-Lisianne, in charge of meals, and Maria, her housekeeper, who has been at her service for 20 years: “I love her, we get along very well.” Same enthusiasm for Anaïs, a nurse. “She gives me affection,” confides Jeanne while Anaïs is full of praise for her patient: “She is the oldest and, unlike the others, she is getting better and better.” Iron health! However, her life was not a long, quiet river. Because this elegant lady has lived on three continents, often uprooted, always courageous.

An African childhood

Jeanne Caumel Vergoz was born in Paris in 1921 into a family that had made a career “in the colonies”. Shortly after her birth, her parents, who had met in Reunion Island, left the Paris region for Madagascar. Thirty days of crossing, then years as joyful as they were adventurous on the African island. But at the age of 4, the couple had to return to France and the family settled in Versailles. “I became a real Versaillaise”, she says with stars in her eyes when she recalls her youth there, with her adored brothers. Brothers she had to take care of, to help her mother who worked, her father having run away.Summers are spent at her grandparents’ property in Oise. There, she meets Edmond, a young boy from a family of Chilean refugees, hosted by her grandparents in exchange for looking after the house. Edmond confides in her that he wants to become a priest. He becomes the playmate she sees every summer. One day, the young man comes to see her in Versailles. “In fact, he didn’t want to be a priest.” This is how their story begins:

“I only thought about him, you know, when you’re 17…”

Jeanne Caumel Vergoz (empty)

It’s true love. But it’s also war. The one in 1939. Hardly had the engagement been pronounced than Edmond fled to Chile. Jeanne clings to her distant love. She learns Spanish and refuses other suitors. “When I think back, I asked for news through the Red Cross, I was worried while he was peaceful in Chile. He didn’t even try to find out how I was, while we were at war!”

The great crossing

After the war, Jeanne left to join her beloved. In her twenties, she boarded a ship from Le Havre, heading for Buenos Aires, Argentina, via Panama. “Very interesting, you’ll see, the ship!” Jeanne tells her life story like episodes in a TV series. “It took courage to make this crossing alone. Especially since boys were chasing me. I barricaded myself in the cabin, I can still see the door,” says the centenarian.

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In Buenos Aires, Edmond is waiting for her. Between the modern metropolis and the train to Santiago de Chile taken by indigenous populations, nothing resembles what she knows. Difficult years follow in the Chilean capital. Her two sons are born quickly, but Jeanne feels stuck between a fickle husband and a mother-in-law worthy of the stepmothers of fairy tales. Eighty years later, her anger for this woman is intact. “He was a camel and I was the rag-on-the-ground,” she says with a play on words.

In 1952, she finally returned to France with her sons under her arm. But two years later, Edmond came to get her. Patricia, their daughter, was born in 1957. With the help of the embassy, ​​Jeanne divorced and found a job as a university teacher. “I loved giving lessons, I was successful.” But Patricia’s health was fragile so Jeanne ended up returning to France. It was 1965 and the new franc was in force. “People took advantage of it to fool me. I found myself poor and lost in my country.”

New life

Driven by her courage, Jeanne resumed her studies to obtain a degree in Spanish and work as a teacher, her passion. She met Jean, her second husband, and at the age of 50, obtained her driving license. “I used to go to Paris by car alone, I had nerve!” Jean died a few years later. Now retired, Jeanne left Versailles for Chambéry, where Patricia had settled. A young senior, she enjoyed the good life and made many friends. But her daughter left to live in the Lot, where her son also lived. To be closer to them, Jeanne moved. Again. One last uprooting, at the age of 85, for Brive. “I was retired longer than I was working. I’m not interesting for the pension fund!” she laughs.

She has started writing her memoirs, but does not take stock of her life. “It was what I had to live,” she believes philosophically. As for preferring one era over another: “I don’t compare, I adapt. That’s what my life has been, adapting.”

“I don’t compare, I adapt. That’s been my life, adapting.”

Jeanne Caumel Vergoz (empty)

She uses a tablet and smartphone. Practical for keeping in touch with her eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Emmanuelle Mayer



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