Monday, July 20, 2009
I'm not sure what order these photographs were taken in. I would like to think that the one that appears first here, is actually the last one, but I'm afraid it probably wasn't.
It looks like my brother was happily playing with my beaten up baby carraige, until a battle for possession ensued, which I seem to have won.
Robert was born in 1953, and although I was not quite 3 when he arrived, I remember it clearly.
Oma had arrived from Holland with a suitcase full of tiny baby clothes. How happy Mum must have been to have her beloved mother there in Romsley.
I didn't see Robert immediately because I had the measles. Everyone else was busy in another part of the house with this new little being who was now part of our family. I had intense feelings about this and they weren't very loving.
All too soon, Oma had to go home to Holland and Mum fell into a deep post partum depression. She didn't know what was happening, but her beautiful, thick, dark hair began to fall out and she was deeply unhappy. One day she went into the village chemist shop and burst into tears. The pharmacist not only listened, which simple kindness she never forgot, but he gave her a special shampoo for her hair, and a tonic. He also told her that she would feel better eventually, which gave her hope, the most important tonic of all.
My English grandmother, Lucy, one day came to visit and took me away with her to Hagley. She said that Mum was too protective and that I needed to be less dependant on her. When Mum realized what had happened, she was hysterical with panic. She got on her bicycle and set off after us, but her wheel hit a hole in the road and she flew off the bike. She landed on her head, cutting it open and was taken to hospital.
When Lucy came back from Hagley, it was without me, but she told Mum that I would be fine--I was with Dad's stepfather Peter (a man who was feared and far from stable.) I did come home safely, but I can't begin to imagine the helplessness and utter fear and distress this caused Mum, whose nerves were in a fragile state and who had a fierce instinct to keep us safe.
Mum sang Dutch nursery rhymes to us and the sounds of the language became familiar to us. The next year, just after Robert turned one, we crossed the North Sea to Holland for a holiday. It was April and I was almost 4. We stayed with Oma and her family in her flat on the Schiedamseweg.
In contrast to the lonely cottage in Romsley, we were surrounded in Holland with family. Oma's flat was a gathering place for our many aunts and uncles. Anyone was welcome at her table and she managed to always produce a delicious meal. That memory is deeply imprinted in my mind. I am sure it is the reason that I love our table to be full of people eating a meal that I have prepared.
At the end of April we watched the Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) celebrations in the street below. There was a parade, special treats, and children danced around a street organ playing traditional Dutch folk songs. Everywhere there were orange streamers and some of the girls wore orange bows tied in their hair (the House of Orange is the Dutch royal house.) I had never seen anything like it. It was such a joyful time.
But we couldn't stay. Our life was in England, and after tearful goodbyes, we made the journey back by boat and train, to Romsley. Mum cried on the journey home, even though she tried to be brave. Although she loved Dad, there were some big differences in their views on marriage and family life.
She had first crossed the North Sea in 1947 with a sense of adventure and hope for the future. But now it seemed that her heart would always be torn in two directions.