To return to childhood when you have passed the age of 70, why not? The four Beaumont brothers did it. Life having made them take different routes, they chose the paths of Compostela to meet and restore their complicity of yesteryear. A 700-kilometer walk in France and Spain. A trip deep inside of themselves. Together.
Ankle boots and backpack, 75-year-old Louis-Marie, Gilles, 74, and their two little brothers of 72 and 70, Lucien and Claude, flew to France last June. Just arrived on the Old Continent, they began to walk not with their feet or their heads, but with their hearts. This is what we do when we are pilgrims.
Two weeks after the return to reality, they met with their relatives at Gilles in Saint-Gédéon on the shores of Lake Saint-Jean. That's where we met them. The house is alive with life. Teasing and laughter burst from all sides in the living room while Louis-Marie scrolls the clichés taken in Europe.
The four brothers put on the t-shirt they had made specially for their trip. A photo of them taken 16 years ago is printed there. A simple image where we see them stand by the shoulders looking at the lens. Their hair is a little paler today, but their smile is intact.
They call themselves "old fellows". They look more like kids proud of having made a bad move when they joke while waving. We feel that the bond that unites them is strong, stronger than ever after what they have just experienced.
A trip out of time
They began their journey with confidence, without apprehension, just happy to be able, at their age, to add such a challenge to their roadmap.
The fact of embarking for 40 days, positioning oneself in the obligation to mix with each other at all times allows to open more the conscience and to note all the marvelous which is present behind the facade of each one. What a beautiful personal challenge, what a beautiful fraternal challenge!
Their goal was to travel 350 kilometers in France, from Puy-en-Velay to Cahors, then take the train to León, Spain, and finish their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In total, this is a journey of about 700 kilometers, made at a rate of twenty terminals each day for a little over a month.
On the other hand, they think they have done a little more by taking the wrong path on the second day. A fortuitous encounter, as there are many on the roads to Compostela, fortunately allowed them to take the right direction and get where they wanted to go.
As we had lost sight for a while, it allows us to review the characters, see how our brothers think, see how they are open. I was pleasantly surprised at what happened, says Claude.
The four brothers quickly established a daily routine, getting up in the wee hours to leave the inn as the sun began to dawn on the horizon. Dawn on the way is an almost magical moment. Calm. Quiet. Propitious to reflection. The walkers, still sore from the day before, get back on the road while the darkness gives way to colors. The echo of walking sticks and steps in the gravel makes communion with the song of birds. People are still whispering as if to avoid breaking the moment.
They walked about two hours in this quietude before taking a break for breakfast. But no question of stopping too long. The summer season has been scorching in Europe. The mercury sometimes reached 40 degrees Celsius and the pilgrims did not escape.
The good news is that the path is filled with surprises, beautiful encounters and discoveries. What to forget the scorching heat.
The brothers walked relentlessly, attentive to the discomforts of both to escape the wounds. They also miraculously avoided blisters on the feet, just to have "the eyes", as said Lucien. They had a few aches, especially the first week, but nothing more. They are in shape, the "old fellows".
Lucien and Claude quickly established themselves as new parental figures. They made sure that the elders in the family did not forget anything on the road and made sure they were fine throughout the day.
On the way, Louis Marie was more likely to be back, Gilles, more likely to be ahead. We organized ourselves to be with one or the otherLucien explains.
With the miles, they sometimes questioned themselves and they mostly shared their thoughts and ideas. Childhood memories, involving their now deceased parents and their two sisters, have also resurfaced. The brethren have thought things raw sometimes, but have always done so gently.
There may be times when we had the taste to be elsewhere. There may be times when we would have wanted the day to finish faster, but there was no sadness. We took things as they were.
They have always walked together, sometimes leaving a few hundred meters between them to get lost in their thoughts or to chat with other pilgrims. Friendships are easily woven along the way. All you need is a buen camino to start a conversation. Discovering the other is nowhere so easy.
There was only one day when the brothers made "road apart". Gilles was less happy than normal and needed solitude after being misunderstood by others the day before. He left very early, without them, to walk alone. Luckily, the bars are as numerous as the churches when you go to Compostela. The siblings met in the evening around a beer and all the bridges were restored.
It was also in the evening, when they donned their identical vest after their well-deserved shower, that the Beaumont were the most noticed. They do not count the testimonies they received from pilgrims who would have liked to live the same with their brothers or sisters, but who did not get on well enough with them to do so. Some of them sometimes shed tears so much they were touched by the story of the four brothers, who know they are very lucky.
I think we changed the path. This is not the path that has changed us.
They enjoyed each evening to laugh, it goes without saying, but also to discuss what they had experienced during the day.
"That was nourishing. What we had marveled at was shared, and if there were things that had been difficult, it was shared too. It helped us to walk together, "says Louis-Marie.
When they were young, the four brothers shared the same room. Easy to imagine them playing tricks, sharing secrets and confidences or telling stories.
On the roads to Compostela, they had no choice but to rediscover this proximity. In hostels, one sleeps in dormitories or small rooms, often on bunk beds. The difference between before and now is simply the loudness of the snoring, but no matter how much noise, when you walk a good part of the day, sleep snaps very quickly from us and at 8:30 pm, all world sleeps.
Growing up … over 70 years
Gilles, Louis-Marie, Lucien and Claude return perfectly in peace from this 40-day adventure in Europe. They are fulfilled, proud of what they have accomplished and closer than ever. They even exchange text messages every morning since their return.
Together, on the shores of Lake Saint-Jean, they still surf on the "Compostelle effect" and pass on their contagious good mood to anyone around them. The laughing eye and the easy mockery, they do not take themselves seriously. They just seem to appreciate each second as if it were the last one, in phase with each other.
We went far. At this age, we can only feed on that. Our lives are made. Retirement is acquired. We do not have to look at each other. For me, it's really a beautiful family memory. We are proud of that!
The four brothers look to the future and laugh while imagining themselves traveling the roads of Compostela again in a few years.
I thought we would do Compostela again, but I would push Louis-Marie in the wheelchair and Gilles, we'll organize something electric for him to be able to followClaude shoots, causing an explosion of laughter at his three brothers.