by Robert L. Hall
There are few books that have profoundly affected me the way Stepping Over the Enemy, by Flore Dupuis Konold, did when I read it. It is only a little book, one hundred and fifty-eight pages. It isn’t a fancy book, with cream-colored pages and bound in a black-coated spiral wire. In fact, it looks more like a cookbook than a work of history.
There is a simple
hand-drawn outline of France on the cover and two dots on the map. One is
where Paris is located. The other is the small town of Santes - a village really - on
the northernmost border of France and Belgium.
Santes is where the author, Mrs. Konold was born and lived until about the age of eighteen. She wrote this little book for a keepsake for her family so that they would know who their grandmother was and some of the family’s history.
What began as a series of letters developed into this little tale of a girl, raised in a small country setting in France, and whose parents died tragically the same day, just a short time before the invasion of France by Germany at the dawning of World War II.
She takes the reader
through a series of sketches: first, a trip through her idyllic childhood.
Her father, a game warden for a privileged landowner and her
mother, an intelligent woman, provided for the Dupuis family well.
They lived close to the land, raising animals to eat and sell, and
living from the bounty that their garden produced.
Alma, her mother Henri, Flore's father
So, why do I introduce a look about
France to our southern readers?
lived happily ever after to this day.”
as she was called then, married an American soldier after the war, on May
27, 1946 and has lived in Arkansas, USA for over 35 years.
She is truly a southern author.
The book tells us where she got her amazing strength to go on to
live a wonderful and fulfilling life.
danger, one scene stands out especially.
It is when a German sergeant is discussing shooting her as a spy,
as his Lieutenant refuses (all heard and understood by the little French
girl they had captured who, unbeknownst to them, had worked in Germany and
understood the whole conversation but said nothing). One gets the point of
the book quite clearly!
So tender a
childhood, so poignant her loss, so dangerous her escape!
I asked Mrs. Konold to join me in discussing some of the points of
the book. Here is what she
had to say:
So many sad things happened to you, particularly
during the course of the
believe the prewar years were the happiest years
of my life. I was very fortunate to
have good parents and a large family always available to interact with. I
have fond memories of coming home from school and having hot chocolate and
fresh French bread served to us. I loved nature; I had to walk home three
miles from school, and it gave me time to observe birds and growing
things. I also remember blackberry picking and walking through the woods.
When the hunting season
came it was very exciting, since the reserve was rented to five
industrialists who would come in beautiful cars and fine clothes. Two
rooms in our house were reserved for the hunters and their guests. They
would bring delicious foods and wine, which we would serve, for their noon
meal. We also set our best china and glassware for them. I loved it when
Grandmother Adele came. She was
Pre-war France appears to have been a country with many class distinctions. You tell of a woman - a commoner - who married a wealthy landowner and who had stones thrown at her by the women of the village. Also, your own mother was very well brought up and not happily accepted by her husband's family because they felt she stole a provider from their own family. Is this correct?
Flore, at 15 with her
close to the earth, your farm animals and pets, the
garden keeping; how did your
early years in the country prepare you for
was glad to see that you did not idealize the people in your book.
Strangers or family, they are the same as us today, separated only by time
and distance. I think in particular of your sister-in-law who drowned your
pet dog because she didn't want to feed it. Comments?
My sister-in-law has
died so I can say the time with her was the worst period of my life. I
still have a hard time feeling forgiveness of her.
death of both your parents and the invasion by German within days split up
your small family. As a young girl, what did you think of to keep yourself
going during this terrible time?
I really don't know how
I survived that time; I almost didn't, but for a lick of love from my
small Follette (her pet dog).
The Germans were capable of good or evil during
the war. You showed that. You
worked for the Miller family in Germany, who were good to you, yet were
captured by suspicious soldiers who thought you a spy. What was your
general impression of them during the war?
I wish your book
was required reading for high school students who think they have it rough
because they don't have the latest CD or the most expensive running shoes
or clothing. What do you think they could learn from your journal?
I have four children and have taken them back home, each separately at age 11, to spend a summer with my family. They all have slept in the house I was born in, as my brother, Henri, stayed there until his death and his son still lives there. I am always welcome with my other brothers and their families. I sponsored my sister, her husband and her four children immigrating to Jonesboro in 1959. It is nice to have immediate family nearby. All my French relatives have a good education, as French education is free as far as students have the ability to go. Their standard of living is comparable to mine, and the younger ones are technologically way ahead of me--with computers, etc.
Stepping Over the Enemy, Flore Dupuis Konold, 2000.
Contact Flore Dupuis Konold at: email@example.com
© 2001 Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved