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A Garden Piece for the Archives, With Eulogy This Time!

  • Subject: [cg] A Garden Piece for the Archives, With Eulogy This Time!
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Sat, 26 Jun 2004 20:35:04 EDT


The droll side effect of eulogizing my late wife publicly is that I'm getting requests to "say a few words," for inconveniently passed friends, friends of friends, acquaintences and even a woman who,  while acknowledging me as a  comrade in a common struggle, didn't like me very much.

The following piece d' occasion was delivered to a group of baby boomer lefty community garden activists on the lower east side, last night.  The eulogized, a Francoise Cachelin, a longtime community gardener and activist, died in October at the age of 85.

A petite, and elegant French woman, she had to have been no taller than 4' 10" as a young woman, osteoporosis scoliousis had shrunk her in height to no more than 4 feet tall when most of us knew her in the late 20th century community gardening movement.

Sweet with babies, who immediately stopped crying in her arms, Francoise was amazingly fierce with everyone else. Francoise was " Marianne", storming the barricades in that marvelous picture of David's, and a royal pain-in-the ass to almost everyone who knew her or was not on the same page with her, all the time - and difficult with those who worked hard to be on that page. . 

Francoise was a homesteader, a person who first squatted and then got the right to homestead and renovate the lower east side building, 537 E 6th St., during the wild-west days of the seventies and early 80s, when NYC would try anything to stabilize the Lower East Side, including community gardens and homesteading.

Francoise lived there since the early 1980's after completing the renovation of the building with her fellow homesteaders.

Francoise was a regular presence at garden meetings and a core member of Creative Little Garden (on E. 6th Street between Avenues A and B) which she was instrumental in organizing. Francoise was a fervent supporter and participant in the successful movement to save many other community gardens as well.

As Leslie Kauffman, a LES community gardener, wrote, "Petite, with her gray hair tied back in a proper bun, Francoise loved to confound people's expectations. I'll never forget the time she did jail support for me and two other garden activists after we did a lockdown
action in a top bureaucrat's office. Mistaking her for a harmless little old lady, the police let her come freely in and out of the police station, visiting us in our cell, bringing us food, and the like. Each time she came in, she would wave sweetly to the police and then whisper to me, in her thick French accent, "They are so stupid -- they don't know I hate all cops, I
think they are vermin and should be exterminated."

This same lady organized the remove sequins and slogans originally pasted and sewn on hundreds of gas masks, planned to be used for an anti-cop demonstration, to be used at ground zero by recovery workers, many of them her " vermin cops," when they ran short during the early days after 9/11.

And Francoise oranized the second community garden memorial, after the Clinton Community Garden's fundraiser in September 2001, to honor local firemen in her garden.

To be honest, Francoise didn't like me, who she called, "that fat bourgeois gardener....the police informer, Judas!" and gave me and others trying to write garden legislation, and hammer out a garden agreement with the city a real hard time. I would rush to garden demonstrations during my lunch hour, or before or after work in a my work clothes - and she would berate me for being overdressed, but then tell me, "Say you are the lawyer, find out what the cops want to do."  And in lieu of a legal aid atty, I'd find out what those who wanted to get arrested had to do, and where those who had to go back to work, like me, needed to go in order not be arrested.

But Francoise gave us an absolute postion to start from,  while negotiating with  the city: "Do you want that strange old French lady in the middle of traffic, with 10,000 of  her crazies in flower suits blocking traffic? All of them ready to get arrested - for the right to clean up and maintain this city's abandoned lots?  Do you want to look that bad on TV, taking granny off to jail in handcuffs, because she wants to grow flowers?"

Francoise showed no mercy - and I never shared the stories I had of her with her. But as I told them last night, sitting in front of her roses, where her ashes had been scattered in the fall, I knew she finally heard them

Francoise Cachelin was a regular piece of work - and is irreplaceable.

Adam Honigman

Attachment: Memories of Marie Francoise Charlotte Papini.doc
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