Looking through photos gives many clues

Looking through photos generates discussion

Looking through photos with Bea on the second evening after the meeting at Alida’s grave with the retired nurse, Sophie’s aunt said, ‘Institutions that I visited as a social worker nearly always had a split church like this one where Alida was. Most people were always sitting doing nothing which I thought was awful. But these pictures are terrible.’

‘Yes, it’s the part of life in those places that they would not have let the social worker see.’

‘Absolutely not.’ Bea shook her head vigorously.

‘Well, it seems that Jan and other volunteers are working hard to convince the powers that be, and the insurance companies which fund the Catholic-church-run organisations that quick and nasty drug treatments don’t make people better; they only make them worse.’

‘Yes, that’s for sure.’ Bea nodded, ‘You only have to look at your family history.’

‘It’s amazing how things happen.’ Sophie sipped her tea. ‘I missed the train, so had twenty minutes to type as much of the conversation that I could remember. I continued on the twenty-five-minute train ride, and again while waiting a similar time for the bus, and then for another twenty-five minutes while I was on the bus!’ She laughed, ‘I was so absorbed that I didn’t ring the bus stop bell in time, and then it didn’t work! It was quite a walk back to Anna’s place.’

‘It’s so interesting how you were without your sister and Anna when you finally found Alida’s grave.’ Bea mused.

‘Yes, I thought about that a lot, especially as I walked slowly out of the cemetery park still quite emotional.’

‘You needed to be alone.’

Sophie nodded. ‘Yes, we could never have had such an in-depth conversation if there had been more people. He might not have decided to come and join me.’

‘So he really had an agenda, and wanted to meet you. Not leave you to find it yourself.’ Bea’s quizzical smile made Sophie think how strange it was that he brought all the photos with him on their first meeting.

“‘Everything happens for a reason,” is something I keep hearing myself say a lot these days. Look, here is the email he sent me the following day with the photos that he took of me, but I was too busy to reply to him until today while you had your Nana-nap.’ Sophie clicked onto her emails and turned the tablet to face her aunt. ‘He wrote, “It was a special evening, yesterday,” and how right he was.’

Looking through photos
Ancient Willow at Alida’s Cemetery Entrance & Sophie’s backpack on shopping trolley

Bea reached for a pile of envelopes on her carpet-covered coffee table. ‘Perhaps he thought you might know things about Alida and her family so he could learn more about how she ended up in the institution – for forty-eight years.’

Well he did. It was a pity he couldn’t use what he wanted to. He didn’t say why – just that he wasn’t allowed to.’

‘It would all depend on what he was trying to say. He might have contacted other family members who preferred to keep what had been found out private.’

Sophie nodded. ‘I did ask that he should email me whatever he wrote, so I could translate it and see if it was okay to publish. Perhaps he thought it would be easier to work with families who were more enthusiastic about sharing their experience to help improve the lives of people like Alida.’

‘The only way to find out is to ask him.’

‘Maybe if I could meet him on my holiday next year, and perhaps join the tour he mentioned.’ Sophie felt apprehensive.

Bea opened her top envelope. ‘Here’s a very long letter from Tante Angelique about what was going on before she was married. Opa was already married at the time. It took me all day to read that letter.’ She put the letter aside and picked up one with an Australian postmark.

Looking through photos activates memories

Sophie peeked at the address on the back of the envelope. ‘That one’s quite late in Opa’s life. I can see that from the address on the envelope. He was living there when my parents sold our small farm to downsize into their new house which they built in the township for their retirement.

‘Yes, it’s dated 1988.’

Sophie glanced at the video camera before adding, ‘He was about ninety-years-old by then.’

‘I have to read that first.’ Bea folded the letter she’d been looking at quickly, put it aside, and picked up another.

Sophie recognised the handwriting ‘Oh, that’s from Mum. And lots of photos.’

‘You must have the photos, as I am still trying to reduce my possessions to fit comfortably in this little apartment. You’ve seen all those boxes in your room?’ Bea’s face became taught.

‘That’s Mum and Dad’s third grandchild because look, here is little number one and two children.’

Bea placed all the photos she had on the tablecloth, ‘More, and more – here, you have them.’

‘Oh, my goodness, this is my second sister’s wedding. Mmm… history repeated itself there, didn’t it?’

‘Yes, it’s strange, isn’t it? She did the same thing as your mum’s sister. Here you are… and here…’

Sophie arranged the photos in chronological order. ‘So that was 1992, and the third grandchild was born soon after in 1993. Ironically, I took most of these photos, and was always buying extra copies to give to all the family. So now I’ll have print copies to give to nieces and nephews, or even grandnieces or nephews.’

‘Who wrote the letter?’

Sophie glanced across Bea’s hand. ‘Mum, because Dad didn’t write letters. And it’s written in Dutch, which he maintained that he could never understand.’

‘It’s okay for you to read them.’ Bea said, then began thinking aloud in Dutch, wondering where she might have put the other letters, as she walked toward the spare room filled with boxes, where she’d made up a bed on the floor for Sophie to sleep. ‘Is it all right if I go into your room to search for the letter that wanted to give you?’

‘Of course, it’s your house!’ Sophie laughed. As twenty minutes went by, she worked on her tablet, writing notes about the new turns in her search for more information about her grandmother, Alida. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that Bea would have letters from her opa’s sister.

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