Monday, July 27, 2009
This is Oma; Mum's mother, Kaatje. I took this photo of her on the "balcon" of her flat on Saftlevenstraat, in the centre of Rotterdam, in August of 1966, when I was 16 and she was 70. The street was built in the 19th century but sadly, since then, the old houses have been torn down and replaced by modern buildings.
The photo evokes so many memories. In flower boxes on the white painted balcony she had potted red geraniums. Each day she nipped off the dead flowers and showed me how to do it. I loved the pungent scent of geranium leaves that clung to my fingers.
On her feet are the "pantoufles" that she always wore inside. She shuffled along in them, with a soft flip flop sound.
The small balcony was off her living room, which had tall windows, with stained glass panes at the top. Attached to the outside of the window was a mirror, which was angled so that callers could be seen when the doorbell rang.The morning sun shone through the stained glass window panes, and lay in fingers of green, gold and blue on the already colourful oriental rug that covered the ornately carved wooden dining table. Four dining chairs, with sea green brocade cushions, surrounded the table and there were two matching arm chairs in the same material, with carved wooden arm rests. In one alcove was an antique china cabinet with carved wooden owls on twin spires. In it were Oma's china cups and silver tea spoons.
The mantle clock with Westminster chimes sounded the quarter hours inside and from outside there would have been the distant rumble of traffic and the occasional blast from the funnel of a ship in the nearby harbour.
Oma was rarely at rest, except when she had a "dutje," (a light nap.) She was usually busy preparing meals, making tea or coffee, or cleaning. At leisure she might be knitting socks, or, when we were small, making clothes for our dolls or teddy bears from scraps of material; or crocheting or knitting them small garments. She loved dolls as an adult, perhaps she didn't have any in her childhood. She had a collection which she dressed with hand sewn replicas of the national costume worn in her home province of Zeeland.
I never saw her reading anything but the "courant," (newspaper) or the Margriet magazine, but she was always ready for a rousing game of "Mens Erger je Niet" (Ludo). I don't think she had any idea of being merciful to us. She would throw the dice and count out loud in Dutch, "Een, twee, drie, veer, vijf, zes," and laugh gleefully as she knocked our "men" off the board. She played with as much excitement as we did.
Although we lived across the sea in England, she was always a presence in our lives. She was in Romsley for Robert's birth, and then the following year, when I was 4, we visited Holland as a family. The years that I was 8 and 9, Mum, Robert and I spent a total of 7 happy months in Holland and summers in later years too. In between our visits she crossed the sea and visited us whenever she could.
Her life had been far from easy, and by the time I was born, she was a widow, and would have been on a limited income, but we would never have known of any limits, for she was cheerful, industrious and full of laughter.
She had always wanted to take sewing lessons and in her later years, she did. Afterwards she added making her own clothes to her list of talents.
I have some of her knitting needles and some of her china cups and saucers, but I hope that I have some of "her," in the fibre of who I am, too.