Archive for January, 2010

Dangling shoes

From the bedroom window I can see the lighthouse, but also a tree with a pair of shoes dangling on their strings on one of the branches. They have been there for years now. In summer, they are a bit out of vision, but when all the leaves have fallen, they appear again.

If I look outside, thinking about nothing much but sentences to write, questions arise. How long can a pair of shoes hang on a treebranche? Without rotting? And the shoestrings, how long can they survive all sorts of weather before they land on someones head? Why do they hang there anyway? Who did it?

I think perhaps it happened after the local marathon here, that for a reason I don’t quite grasp, always takes place in November, when the weather is worst. Was someone happy he made it? Or were those shoes part of the container full of  sportingshoes made in Asia that stranded here some years ago and someone just had too many of them, combing the beach? The beach was full of shoes then. It was on national tv for days.  Even now you can find them on sale here and there on the island.

During the autumn holidays, from my bedroomwindow I overheard a man, a pensioner with not much to do I suppose, and two German tourists, a man and a woman with a small rucksack. They looked as if the had the intention  to go and walk quite a bit.

The stopped under the tree.

“Look now!” the woman said surprised. They stared above them with a sort of eagerness only tourists have. They were willing to take in everything on their walk, not just the fresh air, but all of the environment. Even a pair of unimportant shoes.

“We do that with old shoes, it is for good luck,” the pensioner said in his best German, trying to make them believe it was a sort of local tradtion.

They did not believe him I think.  After all, shoes dangling on tree branches, that is not so unique, you can see that everywhere in the world I suppose.

They smiled politely, or scared because he, coming out of the blue, started to talk to them just like that, and walked away rapidly. The couple also got into an ugly and loud argument later on in the street. I could not overhear what is was about, although my window was open by then. But it was bad!

I closed the window and started thinking. Perhaps the pensioner was right somehow. Perhaps someone had really thrown these shoes in the tree for good luck.  People do the funniest things that way. Perhaps it had helped, even.

A day later I saw the tourists again, they were strolling in one of our 2 streets with shops, walking hand in hand. The argument was over, I suppose. And the man had purchased a pair of obvious “Beach shoes” somewhere, that was dangling on his rucksack.

Now had he thrown some old ones in a tree for good luck? I wondered.

He looked quite happy. And so did his female companion. Did one thing have to do with the other?

Those shoes will keep dangling for who knows how long. I am used to them. They are a part of the tree. As if they have always been there. For good luck.

I wrote this posting last year. This winter, one of the shoes fell down. So now the other is hanging there, all alone…

How my mother changed world history – without knowing it!

Terschelling, Netherlands, June 1964

She was skipping the rope that, on the other end, was tight up on the stoop bench, while she stood across the street and my friend was jumping. She had been jumping for such a long time, she started to pant. That’s the thing I remember best about that sunny day. That, and the heat.

Mama was a pretty good ’skipper’, you could rely on her rhythm and esteem, and as long as she didn’t sing any ancient old skipping songs, she was the best. Every now and then the skipping was interrupted to let a bicycle pass by, but that didn’t matter.

I was sitting and watching and then that, obviously German, tourist came strolling along, a slender man of about forty, with his daughter who was about my age I suppose, about six. They stood by and watched the skipping for a while. Now my mother didn’t like Germans, but she loved kids, and so, with a friendly arm gesture that wouldn’t take “No” for an answer, she invited the chubby girl to do some skipping with her. The kid could do with the exercise, I suppose.

While the girl jumped clumsily, the man sat down beside me on the sun warmed bricks of the street and stared at my mother. He asked if I spoke German and didn’t wait for an answer. He asked why I didn’t skip. “Ankle,” I explained, in Dutch, but he understood anyway.

“Is that your mother?” he asked. I nodded. She was.

“I know her,” he said, to my surprise. “I am sure of it. I was in love with her, many years ago.”

I thought I had misunderstood him, but he had really said it. In love. Okay, he was reasonably handsome, but I already had a father, somewhere at sea, and so I decided not to encourage him, in any way. So I said nothing.

“She probably doesn’t remember me,” he went on, “but in the summer of 1939 I met her in Hamburg. I was on my way to Berlin to kill Hitler. Do you know who that was?”


“Because of her, I never went to Berlin. I forgot my mission, so to speak. But I don’t think she ever noticed me.” And that was it. His daughter had enough of skipping and collected her father with an almost jealous glance at me.

He rose and walked away, without as much as a ‘goodbye’. It was now my friends turn to skip the rope and my mother jumped up and down like a girl, although she was already forty.

I tried to imagine how that man would have shut Hitler, from a cheering crowd perhaps, blood everywhere, sirens. And because of my mother, he had not.

Later that day, as we were still outside because it was too hot in the house to sleep, I told my mother about the German. She didn’t believe me. And our neighbours who were sitting across the street didn’t either.

“If it is true and he said that, then he is a nut,” my old neighbour said, spitting some stuff from his lungs on the street. “A German nut!” We all laughed, someone turned on the transistor radio and we never thought about it again.
And we also never saw the German and his daughter again.

A year ago I went through my mother’s stuff and I found some photo’s, picturing her as a young girl, and the ship she and her family lived on. They had many friends, I suppose, because there were several pictures with my mother in the middle of a happy young crowd.

And then I saw this young man, a boy still, standing somewhere in the back, handsome, slender. It was him, the German!

I flipped the photo over. On the back was written: Hamburg, Summer 1939.

This story is all true, except for the part of what was said by the German tourist. That part is fiction 🙂 But the picture is in my house somewhere, waiting to be scanned and put up here with the story.

The letter (fiction)

New York, October 31, 2008

Dear Anna

It is time. I want to tell you about the past.

Eighteen I was then. I had just nicely finished grammar school, with all good marks. Therefore my mother has thought of a reward: she and I were to spend a while on board of the vessel my father worked on, so I would get to know him a bit, because otherwise that would never happen, she said. My elder brothers were already in the Indies by then. It would be a cosy trip, the three of us in the captains quarters.

After an Atlantic summerstorm, that had wrecked the screw propeller of the “Pooldam”, we ended up on Rathlin Innes. Only thanks to my fathers seamanship, may his soul rest in peace, it is that we didn’t drown then, but entered the puny port in the bay of Rathlin Innes, a dot on the map, and according to the tekst there, an uninhabitet island, well that discription was close. My father was extremely worried. As in the meanwhile WWII had broken out, he couldn’t get spare parts for the screw, since they had to be shipped from Germany and well, that was kind of difficult then. You understand, dear?

After a while I got bored, but it wasn’t all that bad to be trapped on the island. It was an oasis of peace in the turmoil called 1939. Here, feeding seaguls, I had time to think about my life and what I wanted to do. I had just finished my first relationship with a four eyed Amsterdam boy called Bob, who later joined the Resistance. Well, actually he broke up with me because of Lies, a peroxide blonde skeleton he happened to marry as well later on, I think. Not that it matters. Not anymore

Meanwhile, it had been over a month that we were trapped on this godforsaken island, that was part of Ireland, but just as far away from Scotland. Sean was a Scotsman. He was staying here with his aunt, so he had told me, together with the moth-eaten toothless sheep and weather- beaten toothless fishermen, because he refused to fight for the English against the Germans. Sometimes I believed him, sometimes I didn’t.

That day I had been waiting for Sean for an hour or so. As I looked outside through the halfround window of the little church, I could see our ship down in the bay. The “Pooldam” was a rusty Dutch freighter, waiting for better times. We were bound for Le Havre in France actually, but the “Pooldam” would never get there. Her carcass is now rusting away on a shipyard in New Jersey I suppose. Yes, honey, your aunt had quite an adventurous life when she was your age.

I lit a cigarette. A praying woman glanced at me in a disturbed way. I blew some smoke towards her miserable candles, and for a moment the strings of fumes seemed to take on for a sort of dance together. Or a fight. She said something in that local tongue I couldn’t make head or tail from, something horrible I think, but I laughed at her in a rather cheeky way and stayed right were I was. Afterall, this was óur spot. Seans and mine. We saw each other here more or less on a daily basis, to share some secret kisses. Sean and me were the only persons under the age of thirty on the island. We always had a great time together during those secret encounters in the church or at the gravelled beach. He would tell me about Glasgow, no paradise either if I had to believe him. He wanted to go to America one day, later, when he wasn’t wanted for desertation anymore.

Sometimes we would row a bit from the shore, in his sloop, but only if my parents would sleep in late. He has taught me how to fish, and I know the names of six different sorts of Scottish fish by heart. I was his Bonnie lassie or something stupid like that, in any case our love was meant for eternity and I always stole his cigarettes. I loved him. He me. It was as simple as that.

My father was not to know of our romance, because fathers those days were different than nowadays. I mean, I really would not have tried to live with a man unmarried and all, like you and Luke are doing now. Even dates were not done. Everything had to be done secretively, and that church on top of the cliff, where hardly anyone ever came, was ideal for our purpous. But that day our luck was against us. So when Sean took a brake from lovemaking to go to his aunt’s house and arrange some whiskey, somebody entered the church. A woman with a headcloth and matches at the ready. That devoted woman kept staring in those candleflames, I became a bit queasy watching it. What kind of visions was she having? Why didn’t she just go, so Sean could re-enter and we could go on having fun. Perhaps he really had some whiskey!

Finally the catholic woman was finished. The candles she blew out, and she left. Her footsteps in the gravel faded. I waited and pushed my hair up, the curls were already losing it again. Sean still didn’t show up. I decided to see were he was.
It started to rain, like it almost did every day and it didn’t bother me, even if it was the end of my hairstyle. The path going down was slippery, terribly slippery and I had to hold on to the rocky protuberances not to fall down. Yes, dear, so that was when I saw Sean. He was leaning against a rock. Handsome, tall black hair. Very different from the islanders, who were all ginger and ugly as hell. My heart was beating like crazy when I saw him, you know.

He was not alone. He had his arm around a woman, and he was kissing her. A woman not that young anymore. My mother.
Now your grandmother might have been good looking, but surely she was almost forty two at the time and she had already had four children. And it showed, I can safely say I looked better than she did. So what was Sean doing with his lips on hers? Could it really be he felt something for her?

Disgusted I turned around to throw up. When I looked again, they were still standing close together. I heard him laugh. She was laughing as well. They didn’t see me, as they were so busy. I will skip what happened next. Afterall it is about your grandmother I am writing you, Anna Maria Scholtens-De Vries, born in Amsterdam, Februari second 1898. Yes, you were named after her. Not my idea by the way, but no one ever asked me.

In the end she walked away shaking her hips toward the slippery stairs that led to the harbour, about a hundred and fifty yards down. He watched her till she had disappeared behind a moss covered rock. As soon as she was out of sight, he lit a cigarette. Obvioulsy he had forgotten all about me, in the church, my hair curled and my lips red with my last lipstick.
I could chose, run after my mother and push her down the stairs, or get even with Sean.
Okay, darling, it was Sean I picked. Well otherwise, you wouldn’t have been born either, right? As she was pregnant at that moment, carrying my little sister. Anyway, your mother was born almost nine months later.

I rushed towards him and gave hin a very hard push. Before he knew what hit him, he lost his balance on the edge of the cliff. I pushed again. He screamed, I do well remember. A very horrible scream. I am glad I didn’t see his eyes.
When I came down fifteen minutes later, some crewmembers were on the quay. Extremely happy. The First engineer had managed it, the screw was fixed. Everyone had to get on board, the ship was to leave the very night. Destination New York. Well, that was the plan, my father said. My mother nodded. It would be an adventurous and dangerous trip and so on. I took a good look at my mother, but she looked as dull as ever. Perhaps a bit more pale.

“I want to see Sean one more time!” I shouted. “I haven’t had a chance to say goodbye to him at all!” I did it to spite her, of course.
“Dear, that Sean will forget about you in a second,” my mother said. I didn’t get to leave ship anymore. Less than an hour later the ship was in full sea.
Well the rest you know. We arrived in America safely, we became citizens. Your mother, my little sister, was born in New York. The most beautiful black hair she got.

Why have I written all this and sent to you? You tell me. You are the psychology student.

Just the other day I accidently read an article about the Enigma, that code machine the Nazi’s had. One of those complecated technical stories, well not really interesting to you. But Seans name was mentioned. Sean Wayne MacGuiness. Not a name you see every day, so it caught my attention.

Apparently my Sean had been one of the people who found out the code of the very first Enigma. This when he was working as a spy in Germany! However, he never got the chance to pass it on to the Allieds. He mysteriously disappeared in the beginning of the war on the island of Rathlin Innes, where he was spying on German submarines, waiting for an opportunity to send his code safely.
He never got around doing that. No, of course not.
They found his body after the war, in a cave to where he must have been drifting.

He lied to me. I do hate it when people do that.

It is bleak now. I lit a candle, I do that at times these days. I try to see what that woman on Rathlin Innes was seeing in the church. I can’t always do that. Sometimes I only see flames. But once in a while…
Is it okay for me to spend my last living days with you? You are my favorite niece. You do know that, don’t you dear?

Best wishes,
your loving Aunt Catherine

Just my luck!

Yesterday morning, I had to wait on the telephone for someone. I was reconnected, waited again,  “Please, just one moment!” and I started to draw a bit, on a piece of paper.  I drew nothing important, just some lines, some curves, some penises…

OK, I admit, I drew pics of naked men.  And women! They were not all that bad, really, nicely proportioned and so, and I got quite into it, when a stern voice said:  “Yes?”

I quite forgot what I wanted to say, and while I was refreshing my memory, my husband stepped in the kitchen and got his administration stuff from the table, he had a meeting.

“I will be home in about an hour or two,”  he said whispering, leaving me to it. I remembered what I wanted to say to the impatient guy on the other end.

“There is something wrong with our telephone bill.”

“I can’t help you. You will have to call on Mondaymorning,”  he said and hung up.

I sighed.  Oh well.

I wanted to take a look at my drawings. The piece of paper was gone. I realized my husband had taken it with him.

He came home, not 2, but 4 hours later and he didn’t say anything at first.

“How was your meeting?” I asked as I quickly made coffee.

“Oh, I did real well,”  he said, loosening his tie. His only tie. He smiled.  “Everyone was there. All the political big shots. The press. And I made a great speech. I had my speech written on one page, you know, and I held it before my face as I read. And they were all ears. You could hear a needle fall. It was my moment of glory.”

I already headed for the door.

“And while I was reading, everyone  on the first, second and third row could see the three copulating men and two women on the back of my speech!”

“It was art!” I said defensively and started to run.

Monday I will call the telephone company again.  Without a pen in my hand.

This was the first posting on my earlier inaweblog here.

The Christmas card (true story)

Last Christmas would be the first without my mother.  We did the tree, the candles, and I bought some Christmas cards at the local photographers shop, with pictures of the island in snow. I got four of each, a total of about twenty-four I think, or twenty-eight. I was not very inspired this year,  and hardly looked at the pictures of the lighthouse, the panoramic view from the dunes, and a scene in the street with the lighthouse in the background.  All in snow. Somehow the spirit was not really there.

Things got worse when one aunt got a stroke just before Christmas day, aunt Esther broke her wrist and one son never made it home for Christmas because of weather conditions. (He is here now though. )

Christmas day my husband, me and the youngest son went to my eldest  son, who lives 6 km away, and whom I had sent a card as well.

“When did you make that picture?” he asked while we were enjoying a drink.

“ I didn’t.  The photographer did. I bought the cards from him.”

I had sent him one of the street view, like my cousin in Belgium.  She had asked about a house in the picture.  Something had been altered and she noticed.  I realized the pic must have been more than twenty years old.

My son  then wanted to know:  “How come I never saw this picture of my grandmother before?”

“What?”  I took a good look at the card. There were only two people on the pic.

“The woman with the sledge!”  he said. “It is Oma!”

I watched.  The woman was seen on the back.  But I knew the sledge,  a typical Terschellinger design.  As this sledge was very small, the handle had been made higher.  I remember my father doing that. He never bothered to paint it green like the rest of the sledge.

“There is only one sledge like that and I have it here.  And besides,  I know that coat,” my son said.  “It is grandmother alright, going to do her shopping!”

I recognized the yellow boots. The trousers she hated to wear, but that particular year it was so cold…

“O my god! It really is her!“ I exclaimed. We were astonished.  There she was,  three months exactly after her burial,  on this Christmas card I had sent to some people who had  loved her.  This way she was with us after all…

Of course it was a big coincidence I picked this card this Christmas. But a very nice one!

This was the first posting on Inaweblogisback, I wrote this Jan. 1 2010 The cards are still for sale! 🙂

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