Uncanny coincidences make family history exploration fascinating
Uncanny that Flavia has lived in the group home for deaf people for the few years since I’ve been putting together the pieces of Alida’s life, Sophie thought, as she cycled back to Anna’s place loaded up with fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and dried fruit from the farmers’ markets. She wanted to stock up to leave the next day totally dedicated to visiting the place where she hoped to find Alida’s grave.
She wondered if she would find Alida’s headstone from the pencil-sketched map, and how it would feel to see the grave of her real grandmother, who she had never met. It occurred to her that the only grave of a loved one that she had visited was her dad’s – although that was just a mound of dirt with a little brown cross. The worst part of that visit had been her apprehension about coping in a dignified way and holding her emotions together, given that both her sisters, family friends and some other family members would also be there. One of her sisters had organised the occasion for the day of their dad’s birthday, the first after he’d died, which had been nearly a year previous.
Sophie consoled herself that she’d handled it positively, but doubts flooded her mind. There were other family dramas which had created strong emotions in her at the time, and the opportunity to confide in family friends had been a great comfort. Until then, she’d had to carry the ‘secret’ on her own, not having been allowed to discuss it with even her middle sister. It was a secret which Sophie had found most difficult to carry alone, possibly because it concerned those who were her closest relatives, and the hurt inflicted on the next generation was significant – but she had been powerless to do anything.
After her mother had arrived with one of her sisters, Sophie had kept herself busy helping to push their mother’s wheelchair over the loose gravel and large oval-shaped gumtree nuts. The unfamiliar situation made their mother restless and the agitation caused by her dementia kept them all busy trying to help her focus on the lovely warm sunny day and seeing her favourite friends and family.
Sophie refocused on her imminent solo visit to Alida’s graveyard, and loneliness seemed to clang more loudly. She switched her attention to the peaceful surroundings of the park near her cousin’s house, and on her return home, kept busy all afternoon, with clothes washed and hung, and dinner prepared by the time Anna returned.
After the dinner dishes were washed, Sophie joined Anna in the living room. ‘It was strange how the fact of Flavia’s home being in Alida’s last home village hadn’t really made an impact on me when Tante Bea and I had discussed it last year. I guess I’d never really focused on where Flavia lived until you invited us to accompany you to drive her home this year.’
Anna nodded. ‘While my mother lived far away, and you stayed there all of the time, there really wasn’t any opportunity to take you anywhere.’ While turning on her computer, she told Sophie that Flavia, the first great grandchild in Holland was born on the same day that Alida was buried.
Sophie’s jaw dropped. ‘This is getting very uncanny.’
‘It’s a coincidence, and probably why I don’t remember much about Oma’s death, or the funeral.’ Anna researched the place of the grave, then found a genogram site.
‘Look! there’s Opa’s name on the second listing.’ Sophie bounced in her chair with excitement. They’d given up searching for Alida as there were many women with the same name. It took some time before Anna realised that her own father’s names were the same as Opa’s. She clicked on it, and a list of earlier generations appeared above Alida’s name.
‘Oh my goodness, Anna! Look! Alida has so many siblings.’ Sophie pointed to the list of brothers and sisters.
Anna counted, ‘Three brothers first, followed by six sisters.’
Sophie shook her head slowly, ‘And none of them came to rescue their little sister. Unbelievable!’ She took another drink of wine.
‘But look, there are two girls with the name Alida…’
‘And two with Bertha! What’s going on here?’
Anna looked at the year of birth, ‘These two brothers are born in the same year?’
‘Maybe one at the beginning of the year, and another at the end; or perhaps they’re twins.’
Anna checked the other birthdates and found all the others were well spaced. ‘Actually, there are twenty-six years difference between Alida and her eldest brother. He could be her father.’ Both women looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
‘No. Please no more scandal,’ Sophie pleaded.
‘How can a family have two pairs of children with the same name?’ Anna drummed her fingers, then clicked on the death dates. ‘Maybe one died early or was stillborn?’
‘Bertha number one died in 1959.’ Sophie looked at her printed copy with birth dates, ‘Mmm… but number two was born in 1888, so that hypothesis goes out of the window.’
They checked the dates for the two named Alida. Again, they found that nobody died early.
‘Maybe some were adopted, which would explain why they have the same surname.’ Sophie suggested.
Anna clicked on all kinds of places on the website, but they were none the wiser after the search.
‘Well, it’s late,’ Anna sighed. ‘But so interesting.’
Sophie checked her emails on her phone. ‘Oh, wow! A reply from Jan that he will meet me at the cemetery at 1900! I have a date!’
Both women burst into gales of laughter. ‘A date in the cemetery!’ Sophie paused, ‘I wonder what makes him decide to come to work after dinner?’
‘Well, you are all the way from Australia, and have shown them that you are quite serious,’ Anna assured her.
‘Yes, and the other contacts mentioned that they tried to find families for the unnamed graves. Perhaps he is curious to know why it’s taken this long for somebody to come forward.’
‘Like so much of the saga, it’s all a mystery,’ Anna smiled with another yawn. ‘Okay, time to walk the dog before bed.’ When she returned, she asked Sophie, ‘So what are your plans for tomorrow until your evening meeting with the staff member?’
‘I’ll reverse my original plan. I’ll go to Maastricht for the day, then travel up to the village where Alida’s grave is. Would you like to come with me, or are you still working?’
Anna nodded, ‘Yes, I’m doing a night shift for my colleague. I’ll just be awake when you get home, so I’ll hear about it all then.’
‘It’s uncanny that I end up going alone, but that a staff member from the home will help me… what if…? Oh! That would be too much.’
Anna stared at Sophie, ‘What are you on about? Are you having a premonition?’
‘What if he cared for our Oma?’ Sophie shuddered.
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