This is the way my grandparents used to spend their summer holidays: renting a cabin (a little house called ‘GONIE’) for a week, on the beach of one of the islands on the northern coast of the Netherlands: Ameland. This time in 1936, August 10th till the 17th. My grandfather compiled a small photo album, containing some snapshots and miniature post cards, all glued in. He did the layout of the pages, drew some straight and diagonal vermicelli lines in black and white across a page. For decoration he cut of all 4 corners of the post cards. Even the brown carton album itself is hand made and has rounded corners.
They had two children, in some of the photographs is my father, Willy, who was then 4, and his sister, Annie, who was almost 8, then. My grandmother still has some hair, which she lost after giving birth to both of her children. That’s why she has a cotton hat on her head in most of the pictures. She already was wearing custom-made shoes on her rheumatic feet.
My grandfather is looking suave, smokes small cigars and pipe, and was then still able to walk. He was employed at the Dutch Railways. I only know him sitting in a wheel chair at home, with Multiple Scleroses (MS).
In many of the photographs my old-aunt Reina appears. She was the older sister of my grandmother. She smokes Stuyvesant cigarettes and sits wide-legged, like a man. She had a low voice, was a schoolteacher and rode a motorbike. I remember once, she shaved herself in the early morning at my grand mother’s house with a Philips electric shaver for men.
My grand parents lived in Arnhem. On my father’s 8th birthday (May 10, 1940) the Germans invaded the Netherlands: “The Moffen were in the back yard”, he would later say. My father lifted up his father to put him in his wheel chair, and transport the family and their belongings in a chariot. During the war they were evacuated to other family members in Laag Soeren. Their house was confiscated by the German military.
Later in life my aunt worked as a pharmacy technician in Arnhem. She was always wearing white gloves and braces around her thumbs, because of excema. She never married, but took care of both disabled parents until they died.
My father married a young orphan, living just down the street: my mother. She was then called Marga and a bride of 19 years old on September 10, 1958. My father studied at the University of Wageningen, with a major in Tropical Forestry and later worked at the national forest services (Staatsbosbeheer) and the company Grontmij. He shared the environmental concerns of the then popular global think tank the Club of Rome. In 1970 he started his own business as a landscape architect: a “workplace for environmental construction”. His commissioners were located ‘below the rivers’ in the provinces Brabant and Limburg. My mother started the art academy in Den Bosch when we were teenagers.
My parents needed always to disagree on something….
Every month or so, on a Sunday, we would drive up to Arnhem, to visit my grandmother, all dressed-up, touring the empty Dutch highways in one of my father’s various cars – sometimes a Citroen DS, a Saab 96 or Peugeot 404 – and I would stare out at the world through the car window frame. On arrival we had coffee with apple pie, a warm lunch and afterwards a drink, at times a glass of punch. My grandmother nibbled on a tiny glass of eggnog with a tiny spoon. We loved her homemade apple pie, wet and salty, and her meatball soup. Through a porthole between the kitchen and the living room I delighted in putting the warm plates onto the table. I liked to go down into the cellar and smell the fragrancies of jams and canned food.
My grandmother wore a wig most of her life, sometimes just a bandana, and lived in a confined space, hardly able to move because of the rheumatoid arthritis in her knees and feet. She took one Aspirin a night. I can see her still waving goodbye to us with her swollen and clamped right hand. She used eggshells and coffee grounds to fertilize her small garden. Every now and then she offered us (my borther, sister and me) a small plastic bag with pennies, that she had saved for her grand children.