Photos of family tell a story

Photos show family patterns

Photos of Bea’s family adorning the walls of her bedroom absorbed Sophie’s attention as Bea looked in her wardrobe for a warm coat. ‘This is something I think suits you.’ Bea handed Sophie an emerald-coloured three-quarter length wool coat.

‘That’s lovely, harteliijk bedankt Tante Bea.’

‘My pleasure.’ Bea patted Sophie’s head as they descended the narrow wooden staircase. ‘There’s nothing worse than being cold sitting inside, and it costs too much to put the heating on when it is supposed to be summer.’

‘No need when you have plenty of winter clothes. Thank goodness I have the project of writing Alida’s life story, to keep me occupied inside.’ Sophie quipped as they resumed their places at the dining table where they briefly watched grey mist blanket the garden, meadow and canal below.

Bea leaned back, massaging her forehead and cheeks, then cupped her jaw in her hand. ‘I think somewhere I still have some photos of Alida. But where?’

‘Emmanuelle’s husband gave me copies of a number of photos of Alida, which I have somewhere in my mountains of photo albums,‘  Sophie added.

‘That’s the problem. I too have mountains of photo albums,’ Bea groaned, pulling a long face.

‘I love the one of Alida sitting at a desk with a book, but when I took an electronic photo of it and enlarged it on the computer screen, I saw that it was about men’s sport.’ Sophie frowned,

Bea exclaimed, ‘I can’t imagine your Oma being interested in a book about sport!’

Sophie’s face lit up, ‘You know it’s good to hear how your thoughts confirm mine. Immediately I recoiled when I read what was written on the front of the book. It was clear that the photo was a pose for a professional photographer, although I discarded the idea that it was his book, because I could see that the photo must have been taken in her own home. I recognise the photo of Opa’s father on the wall behind her.’

Photo of Alida with book about men’s sport

‘Your Opa loved to collect books,‘  Bea began.

Yes, he and my mum were real bookworms,’ Sophie chimed in. ‘But I was really disappointed to see that the book didn’t seem to depict what I imagine were her true interests. Men’s sports magazines have not been of interest to any of her family who I have met so far. We are all quite anti sport, with many of us being artistic.’

Outside the geese screeched. Sophie gave up searching through documents on her tablet as they continued to muse about their overwhelming photo mountains. Bea broke the silence, ‘What I do remember, is that Alida knew what to say and ask with regard to the present time but could not deal with questions about how the family lived or how my children were doing at school. It makes sense, because she’d known nothing of life outside the institution for over twenty years, and as time went on twenty years became forty-eight years in institutional life.’

‘It was absolutely criminal. In fact, no criminals serve that long in prison in our justice systems, even when sentenced for life.’ Sophie’s fists clenched as she leaned her elbows on the table. ‘It’s almost too incredible to believe, except that you, Emmanuelle and her husband have all talked about it.’

Bea continued, ‘Once I came by myself, and Alida said “The man came.” She was quite upset by his visit, not angry, just upset, looking around anxiously and occasionally sobbing – which I never usually saw her do.’ Bea folded her arms, her jaw taut. ‘I wasn’t sure who she meant, so I asked the staff, and they told me that it was your Opa and his second wife. They had visited on one of their trips from Australia.’

Sophie gasped. ‘So Opa took his second wife to see her? No wonder Alida was upset!’ Sophie’s voice rose to a full crescendo, knuckles whitened as she added, ‘Yes, I remember they went on a few trips back to Holland by boat, but they never talked about who they visited. When I asked, I was told that it wasn’t my business and not to ask questions.’ Her face had turned crimson.

Bea scowled. ‘They even came to see where we lived in Maastricht. I wasn’t thinking about them, but I happened to see a taxi stop just outside about a week before I had that visit with Alida.’ She mimicked people peering out of the taxi windows, which looked something like an emu peeking around trees as she continued, ‘I could see their faces. They just looked for a while, and then left.’

Sophie’s eyebrows disappeared into her fringe, ‘Wow, so you knew it was them, even though you had no idea they were in the country?’

Photos left out make a statement

Bea scoffed, ‘Well, it’s not normal for people to sit outside the window just looking. It was obvious that they were checking where and how we lived.’ Her face was dark. ‘I will never forget what they looked like, even though you see I have no photos of them in my home.’

‘Maybe they couldn’t agree whether or not to ask to see inside the house?’ Sophie suggested.

‘Well that was usually how they were with me: indecisive; changing their minds as to whether or not they would come to the wedding.’ There was absolutely no hesitancy in Bea’s recall of their relationship with her in the early 1950s over sixty years earlier. Then she asked her niece, ‘I suppose they didn’t visit the priest in Canada, even though he was her brother?’

‘Oooh! I am always surprised when you mention that she had a family.’ Sophie exclaimed. ‘No, we never heard anything about him, so recently I started to wonder if Opa made a habit of, in his view, “rescuing” lonely girls.’

‘Well, I can tell you that she had another brother in Holland, Oom Pete, who came to my mother’s home to check out my family, just before I married Alida’s oldest child.’ Bea leaned back hugging her arms around her. ‘It caused a great upset to my family, and for a while I was not the most popular member with anybody.’

‘Oh dear!’ Sophie empathised. ‘It would have been better for Opa and his second wife to have made acquaintance with your family themselves.’

‘But we know very well how strange they were, and the terrible games they played.’ Bea’s face darkened again.

‘Absolutely, and we are not going to give them any more attention than they have already taken up in our lives.’ Sophie’s jaw tightened. ‘So, I know the second wife was Dutch. As a child, growing up with them living on our farm, I often wondered if she was Jewish, because she had brown eyes, curly hair and an olive complexion.’

‘I assure you she was not Jewish.’ Bea was adamant. ‘It is more likely that she was of Spanish origin or something like that from the south. There are many Spaniards in our community.’

‘Perhaps that was the attraction for Opa.’ Sophie muttered, ‘The Spanish are a very passionate people.’ She sighed heavily. ‘Well at least that question, which was too delicate to ask her, has at last been sorted out in my mind.’

Bea frowned, ‘Alida did talk about how Opa wanted to go to Canada, but she said that she hated the idea because she knew not a word of English. Alida never called him by name, just: “The man”.’ She leaned back and folded her arms.

Sophie’s face looked quizzical as Bea continued, ‘When I went to see her, Alida never spoke badly of Opa, she simply told her story of life before she was put in the institution. That she had to work hard for money to feed and care for the children and pay the house rent. She never complained. She was always very nice.’

‘That sounds a lot like my mum with regard to her father and his demands.’ Sophie muttered.

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