My father, the devout pacifist that he was, nevertheless had his duty as a Dutch citizen to spend at minimum a year in the service of his country. Mostly Dutch conscripts served within the country, disaster relief, that sort of thing. Because my father had a family and a job to support that family. Secretly my father had hoped to be sent away to Indonesia. Pirating ancestry had given him the wandering gene I suppose. To him the world outside Europe was one great Tarzan movie. He drew fantastic comic books of adventures through jungles meeting exotic tribes-women. I wasn’t supposed to leaf through them, but they were just so marvellous and I was very careful.
Maybe he had thought they’d toss him out for being a pacifist. The very beginning he had already been thrown in detention for refusing to carry a loaded weapon. My father had an uncanny way of making everyone he met bending over backwards to make him happy. It was really quite beyond belief what he could get away with. Obstinately he refused again and again until finally it was negotiated that he carry an unloaded weapon and go from regular army to medic. this was particularly laughable since my father fainted at the sight of even a little blood. In battle I could only imagine him utterly useless passed out somewhere, swooning on waking to find his bloodied comrades.
My father was however unaffected by notions of inadequacy. Instead he threw himself into all facets of being an army medic. And my life as a four-year old became infinitely more interesting. Every weekend when he was allowed to come I would wait on the balcony for his slim, fatigue clad body to come from the bus stop, pulling along an over-sized duffer-bag and in his arms a generous bouquet of bright red tulips. I jumped up and down until he saw me, then ran down the stairs to meet him. I knew I was not allowed to cross the street, but I had the routine fully times just so. With magic only fathers have he would scoop me up, keeping stride and not dropping a single bloom.
The first hour I had to keep my mouth shut. That was understood. Daddy would hug mommy and I would drag his duffer-bag to their bedroom. As tempted as I was I did not open it. I did not have a clear notion of just exactly what soldiers did. soldiers wore uniforms, itchy woollen uniforms. They carried guns, and they were apt to get injured. That’s why my daddy had a duffer-bag with lots of different bandages.
After mommy and daddy had finished their hugging and chatting I would implore him to show me the bandages. Now it was my time. Mam would obligingly stay in the living room and happily play the piano or sing, and we would sit on the floor and play with the contents of his duffer-bag.
No one in the world could bandage body parts faster and better than my dad. He would practice on me and then I’d get to practice on him. He was massively entertaining, he would limp, and collapse and I got to fix it all up. In between he would tell one of his delightfully silly jokes:
“Aletta, how does a cow catch a bunny rabbit”, this was my favourite…
“The cow sits behind a blade of grass and makes the sound of a red cabbage”
and he would leap out and grab me over his shoulder.
“Do you know why a red cabbage and not a green one?”
“Green cabbages”, and here is where he would shake with laughter and he had to be prodded to finish the sentence “don’t make sounds, you silly girl”.
In silliness he would bandage my feet together and have me hobble around being just as silly as he. Quite the feat really, I was always painfully self-conscious, that was my natural state, only with him could I be so silly. My Mam was completely devoid of silliness. Neither of us was comfortable being silly when she was in the same room, a strange sobering effect. Mam walked in and a quiet matter of fact mood suddenly predominated. Neither of my parents was very physically demonstrative with their affections. Affection in our house was mostly verbal. I was told they loved me, I did not lack compliments, there was lots of attention, easy as I was really an only child for seven years of my life.
The times he was on call to go to Indonesia he took weapons home as well. A machine gun and a sidearm. This is when I learned all about keeping guns clean and oiled. In time he came to like his guns, but not to use against people, just inanimate targets. I don’t think my dad had it in him to shoot another human being to save himself, but easily would have to save others.
Some weekends army buddies would gather for coffee just before they all took a train back to base. Huge bonus for me, most did not have children, I reasoned that is why brought me chocolate. If they had their own children I would not have got all that much. Mam would collect up the chocolate so I could have a piece each day that week. diving in and finishing the lot was not an option. The whole lot of them would clown around as they left. They disappeared in the shimmer of the sunset, laughing loudly, and our evening at home would be terribly silent and sullen. Every night I would think of dad as I bandaged my dolly Maggie as dad had taught me. One day I could be a medic, after all I had the bandaging down to an art.