Name often needs explanation
Name for the book! Sophie wrote down a phrase which popped into her mind, then joined Bea at the dining table for lunch where they compared the results of their morning activities.
Sophie noticed Bea looked tired and tentatively inquired, ‘Do you feel like continuing the story of Alida after lunch?’
‘Yes indeed. It is quite a project that you are undertaking. I often wonder what makes people want to write books.’ Bea gazed at her flower garden which extended to the cliff edge.
‘It’s a bit like you creating beautiful sculptures,’ began Sophie. ‘Once you start working on it, the creation takes on a life of its own. An intuitive writer discovers what the characters have to say. It’s not really work; more like an obsession. When you start, you can’t stop.’
‘When you explain it like that, it makes sense.’
‘So how did you come to meet Alida?’
‘Nico had no contact with her when I met him. In fact, he didn’t even know where she was. It was just Emmanuelle with her kids who went to visit Alida. But after quite a time, when we were married, Emmanuelle started to talk with him to say he had to go too.’ Bea leaned forward. ‘And without telling me anything one day he went to visit her.’
‘Oh wow!’ Sophie leaned forward, rubbing her upper arms. ‘Goose bumps.’
‘But it was quite some time after we were married when I first met Alida. She would already have been in her fifties.’ Bea raised her index finger and continued. ‘In fact, Nico told me that Opa had always told Nico that he couldn’t go to see her; that people in the institution were sick, dangerous and wouldn’t recognise anybody, and things like that.’ Bea’s face drooped, eyes duller than normal. ‘So after hearing all this throughout his teenage years until he was aged 30, Nico believed it, and was too scared to go.’
Bea waved her hands, dismissing Opa’s opinions. ‘He said Opa was always saying things like that to the children.’
‘Mmm,’ Sophie empathised. ‘And he would’ve told Mum the same thing, because she said something similar when I tried to talk with her about her mother on my return to Australia in 1986.’
Bea nodded vigorously. ‘But Emmanuelle never agreed with her father. She didn’t believe him, and she was not afraid.’ Bea sat back looking at the continuing light rain.
‘That raises another question I noted down overnight.’ Sophie paused. ‘How old was Emmanuelle when she found her mother?’
‘I suppose she was married already.’ Bea rubbed her chin, frowning.
‘Yeah, but when she was only 16 years old, she left home with her man, who had lived there with his parents when they rented an upstairs part of that old castle where Emmanuelle and her siblings worked like slaves for Opa.’
‘Yes, and she and her man lived in the town hall in the village.’ Bea gestured downwards with her hand. ‘Down in the cellar where it was damp.’ She spat out the words.
Sophie’s eyebrows shot up, eyes wide open. ‘Did they have permission?’
Bea nodded vigorously. ‘Permission of the town municipality,’ she nodded slowly. ‘But then it was too wet in the cellar when she had her first baby. The doctors told them they had to move because it wasn’t healthy. That’s when the government put them in that tiny townhouse where all four children were raised.’
‘How did Emmanuelle find her mother?’
Bea frowned, ‘I suppose she looked it up. As you know, she was extremely angry with her father for banishing her mother from her life.’
‘Yes, we spoke about how hard it would have been for Emmanuelle at the vulnerable age of eight, when she needed her mum but also knew how to smell a rat.’
Bea concluded, ‘So when she left home, she went to the government where they have all the information.’
‘But you have to have the birth name?’
Bea shrugged. ‘That she already knew.’
‘How would Emmanuelle find that out when her father went to such efforts to scare the other children from visiting their mother, because they all had her married name when they were born?’
‘Because she had it already.’ Bea’s eyes searched Sophie’s.
‘Why would Opa have agreed to give it to Emmanuelle when they fought so badly?’ Sophie asked.
Name on Legal Documentation variations
Bea drummed the table with her fingers, concluding with an open-handed thump, ‘Ah! Maybe you don’t know that in Holland you have to give the name of both your dad and your mum on official documents. For instance, when I sign Dutch documents, I sign with both my surnames, but in Belgium it’s different.’
Sophie’s face relaxed, ‘Oh, I see. The Dutch are way ahead in making it easy to trace your mother’s family name. In Australia, only a few couples have both surnames on legal documents.’
‘Yes, so Emmanuelle was only 16 years old, when she had to sign government documents to live in the town hall cellar, she had to use the surnames of both her parents.’ Bea then explained how every document she had to sign she would first check which country it came from, so as to sign it with either one or both surnames.
‘Wow! Emmanuelle was really lucky that the Dutch system made it so easy to find her mother’s family name. Clearly her siblings had the same opportunity to find Alida as she had, but half of then never did – given that they’d been successfully brainwashed by Opa.’
‘Yes, but Opa may have had to tell Emmanuelle regardless when she married, even though he didn’t agree with that either.’
‘I remember you telling me similar facts about Alida in previous years. Emmanuelle also told me similar bits.’ Sophie began rubbing her chin, ‘Emmanuelle was, of course, much more emotional about her relationship with her mother. There were more tears than discussion of my questions.’
‘Emmanuelle really loved her mother. Alida was her only family member left in Holland, other than her brother, my husband. But he was quiet and not very close to Emmanuelle. Without her sisters, who Opa took to Australia, she really needed her mother, who she lost when she was eight years old.’ Bea sat back and folded her arms. ‘She was old enough to have become really attached, and too young to be able to cope emotionally without her mother.’
Sophie nodded vigorously. ‘Absolutely! Clearly she was the one who was the most upset about the situation and not being able to take her mother out must have been heart-breaking.’ Sophie’s voice rose to a crescendo. ‘To hear her own mother decline invitations to move out based on fearing how she would cope, seemed to frustrate her immensely.’
‘Yes, because your aunt Emmanuelle was a very determined, forthright woman herself.’ Bea nodded, with her eyes seeming to sink deep into her sockets. ‘Emanuelle could never forgive her father for removing Alida from the family and hiding her in that institution.’
‘Huh,’ Sophie snorted, scowling. ‘I don’t know if I will ever forgive Opa after witnessing all my mother’s pain, and now dementia has destroyed Mum’s strength of mind to cope. She suppressed the abandonment she suffered all her life and it is now expressed with the endless repetition of “nobody cares about me”.’
Bea leaned on the table with folded arms, ‘I doubt I would ever forgive him, after needing to support my husband through his dark depression, and his sister Emmanuelle also often cried with me.’ Bea leaned back, and folded her arms again, jaw tight. ‘As for not being able to improve Alida’s life, other than visit her as often as I could, well it took a special kind of strength to appear normal and come to some acceptance within myself.’
The women reflected in silence about how hard it was to forgive in such a difficult situation.
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