Sparrow Girl – Tonnie’s Yellow Dress

When we moved to our second apartment in Hoogvliet at Klaasjezevensterstraat (translated little claude’s sever star street, I kid you not) I left behind my dearest friend Robbie Ringeling (honest I am not making this stuff up). There were no other friends. I had not started kindergarten yet, my bizarre extended family never encouraged cousins playing together, we were only allowed to sit neatly on hard chairs until adults deemed it time to go home. Dry Calvinist types my aunts and uncles. Most of the time it was my dog and my parents, I seem to have lacked the imagination for invisible friends. When mum had to go off singing and I very inconveniently got sniffles or flu it was our downstairs neighbour Mrs. Ringeling who watched me. She had a son Robbie the same age I was.

When Mrs. Ringeling watched me during the day she’d sometimes take me to the bunny club. In the parkette beside the dark masonry apartment buildings was a very upbeat communal garden/parkette where Mr. Ringeling as a labour of love had built a series of rabbit hutches and the bunnies were for all the kids of Bahrain Street to enjoy, in case they had no pets of their own. Very little in life is as calming as petting a contented bunny. Robbie’s mum also make bread with jam, not the health food jam my mom had at home but the very red, very sugary kind I was not supposed to have, yummy. I loved those afternoons.

Life was going to change. No more bunny club, Robbie, and out black and white cat Piereke had just fallen of the balcony and this time it killed the cat. Changes, lots of them. As an incentive to really liking the move I was asked to choose the colour of linoleum I wanted on the gloor in my room. Such marvelous colours, not the brown and beige of the other apartment. Purple, it had to be purple. I got it too, this was not just a bait piece, no, I was actually getting a purple floor, It was a considerable move up from the concrete floor with seagrass mats. We were also going to have music piped in, classical music all day long.

A piano was being moved in. Just to get out of the way I settled on a quiet corner on the large balcony. I could see the sea, ships crossing the North see sparked on the horizon. From out previous balcony all one could see were the across the street’s neighbours and I knew it was rude to look at other people in their homes. for me looking out was an entirely new experience. This was a new polder, We now lived in the polder’s newest building there was n other building that we could see looking in this direction. Everything was very new, the balcony sheet metal was still covered in primer.

The man with the linoleum arrived a burly man with hairy arms and he was sweating a lot. He was a bit scary and he was working with a very scary knife. So when my mother beckoned me to come with her I happily did so, My mother took me downstairs and knocked on the door of the apartment directly under us, A very thin, grim faced woman answered the door. She had a wonderful smile which I’d not seen coming it was really very surprising. It was all very jovial and I could only assume that this was a friend to my mother. In the living room was an older man I assumed was the husband. I remember thinking that everyone was wearing an awful lot of brown.

“Tonni”, the woman yelled the name. My goodness that woman as thin as her could have so very much voice was utterly beyond belief. I’m quite sure I must have looked very shocked. I did hope someone would come soon because I really did not want her to yell again.

There was a rapid klip klop sound down the hallway. I found myself marvelling at the near mirror shine on the pale blue linoleum floor, I stepped closer and there was a little girl exactly the same size as I, in little pretty white shoes and a pretty dress with red flowers. She had wavy blond hair with barrettes in. I thought she was very pretty. I found myself a bit out of place in my blue knee pants with striped shirt,and those ugly orthopaedic shoes.

Apparently the arrangement was that while my parents finished with the movers and the linoleum man I should stay down here with he van der Linden’s and play with Tonni. A fine arrangement. I just hoped she could like me even though I did not have a pretty dress like that. I had very much wanted one of those frilly flouncy dresses. My mother was opposed to them. Vulgar was what she said, they ere vulgar, for the lower classes Mother was adamant about it.

After getting to know Tonni we got on very well, which worked out well for mother since she did need someone to mind me whenever I would be sick and she had a concert to sing, Mrs, van der Linden was so very nice when I was sick, she’d bring me sugar-water with crumbled aspiring, she would hug Tonni and me while telling bedtime stories, I was also allowed to wear one of Tonni’s frilly dresses while I was there,

One afternoon Mrs. van der Linden had suggested I take home the yellow frilly dress I liked so much. Tony didn’t like the yellow so much so it was alright with her, I showed it to mum when I got upstairs and in the door. “That awful thing”, my mother scowled. “It’s a rag, it’s trashy, you can’t wear that”. and then the coup de grace. “Take it back.” I think I must have been so tearful that Mrs. van der Linden decided not to ask why, She just hugged me and said I could still wear it while visiting, She was a wonderful mom. I used to pretend to myself while staying there whenever mom had concerts, that she was my real mother

My mother must have noticed how fond I was of the family, she took every chance to point out just how vulgar and lower class they were. I knew it was a mean thing to say, but very unclear of it’s meaning. I stayed in touch with Tonni until she died at age 19, she was engaged at the time, and killed when she waved at her boyfriend and did not see the truck. She died instantly. I was told that it was probably best, she would otherwise have died from a brain tumour, which gratefully she knew nothing of at the time.

I visited the family once after that. They were terribly sad even years later. Tonni had been their only child, her mother was nearly fifty when she had her. All I could think to do was tell them just how very much they had all meant to me growing up.

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