Posts tagged ‘WWII’

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?”

“Yes.”

“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

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