In Vichy France, 19 young men in a French Basque village slipped over the border into Spain to avoid conscription by the Germans. One of them, Louis Erreguible, ended up as a tank driver in Free French tank forces in North Africa and Europe. Three years after the war ended, on Oct. 28, 1948, he left France for Reno. Last week, he marked that 60th anniversary. Louis (now patriarch of Louis’ Basque Corner) still has a thick French accent and his wife and partner, Lorraine (seen with him in photo) supplemented the conversation to clarify Louis’ story.
How old were you when you left France?
Why did you leave France?
I had a chance to come to the United States. A sister of my father and her husband, they used to run [a sheep camp], and they wanted me to come to be [a sheepherder].
Did you come right to Reno?
Exactly, right to Reno. [Lorraine:] They got into the old Reno airport, and in those days they used to have a limousine that would take them to the Mapes Hotel. So they deposit him at the Mapes Hotel, and he looks up and he sees all these lights. “Oh, my God—they must be having a fiesta here.” In his hometown there were two lights, one the mayor’s and one at the police station.
So did you work as a sheepherder?
No, I didn’t work as a sheepherder. I jumped the contract. … I found out I didn’t have to go to the sheep camp because I already had a green card.
Did that cause problems with your family?
They didn’t like me [laughs], but that made no difference to me. They told me, “We’re going to give you two weeks. If you don’t find a job, we send you back.” They didn’t have the right to do that, because I got a green card. … I looked for a job from Valley Road all the way to Eugene’s. [Lorraine:] His uncle reamed him up and down. … And he told him, “Two weeks, you find a job, or I send you back.” Next morning, Louis got dressed, and he started through town. No English, of course. This place, that place, this place. Well, five miles later down at Eugene’s Restaurant [Eugene’s was an elite French restaurant at South Virginia and Airport Road, now Gentry], there were a couple of French Basques working there. … So he went in, and of course, they spoke French. So he talks to Eugene, and Gene asks what he can do, and of course, Louis has quite a background because not only in his own family, but when he apprenticed in Bordeaux, he lived with his aunt who was a wonderful chef. … And he says, “Well, good, I’ll put you to work.” So at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, he put him to work, and he worked until 2 o’clock in the morning. Then he walked all the way back home and [his uncle] said, “Where have you been, we’ve been worried.” “I been working.” “Working? Where?” “Eugene’s.” “Eugene’s?” … So, anyway, that was the beginning of his restaurant association in Reno.
Anything else you want to say?
The United States was very good to me.