Sparrow Girl – There are No Small Floods

There are No Small Floods

Most morning I would awake to the sound of the pylon drivers at the end of our street. Those were familiar sounds the kind you can easily sleep through. This particular morning was devoid of the usual loud banging which would start at 7 am. I heard voices in the apartment and not my parents voices either. This was highly unusual, people never came calling before 11 am, and those occasions were very few indeed.

There was something very strange about the voices. I tried very hard to listen to what was being said but I could not make it out. I was very unsure that I should come out of my room. Why were there people in my apartment? Why had the pylon drivers not started their banging, and — this was important — why had my mother not come to wake me with my morning kiss and take me to have breakfast?

I tried pulling myself up to the window frame in my room, but it was too high up and I kept falling down. It looked like another rainy day. Between tries at listening through the door and pulling myself up to the window I crawled back into bed, my feet got very cold very fast. I would risk mother getting angry if I cam out before she came to get me, those were the rules. So I waited a little longer, until I could not longer stand it.

There were even more voices once the door was opened, exited voices, new voices. Those were people I did not know. was becoming a little more frightened now. I shuffled my way to the living room. I noticed the coat rack was completely full and there were shoes parked by the apartment’s outer door, shoes that did not belong to either me or my parents. I hesitated to come around the corner, but I did.

There were a lot of people in my apartment, looking out of the large picture window in the living room. There were many teacups on the table. I had not idea we even had that many tea cups. My mom was not in the living room. If there was tea, maybe she was in the kitchen. I was torn, do I look out the window and find what everyone was so terribly interested in or do I go to find mom? Just then I heard her laugh in the kitchen. so she was there, and she was fine. I could assume then, that these people were permitted entry. that left me free to go to the window.

Whatever it was so absorbed everyone that no -one took any notice of me being the. It was gloomy, barely any daylight, the endless horizon streaked across the back of the landscape, dreary, grey. So what was the excitement? I drew nearer the window, we were on the third floor, single family dwelling, just completed a little while ago were across the street and behind them, nothing, just polder, field, some sheep, and cows. When I got to the window I suddenly found the reason for this early morning gathering. This must actually have been going on for a while as I slept. The whole of the polder was flooded our building was all that stuck out above the water line. Dead bloated cows were floating quietly back and forth on the water.

These people were from below. We were fortunate to live above the flood line. Nothing of ours was caught under water. My bed was dry and warm and safe. some of these kids now drinking milky tea in my living room were not at all so fortunate. This is why they were here. I spent most of the rest of the day helping out as much as a four year old can, with bringing tea, toast and cookies to those who had no place to go but the homes of neighbours above the flood line. There was no telephone, we did not have one, and most probably the lines that other neighbours had were not working. so there was exited shouting back and forth down the gallery lane. Strangers flitted in and out all day with snippets of what was going on. Terribly exciting. It took the scary bits out of the day, the scary bits that were floating bloated and dead on the water. By supper time the water had started to recede. The Dutch are very good at dealing with floods on polders. A very industrious few days followed, the cleaning up.

I don’t remember much about the cleanup, after all it was not our apartment getting flooded, that goodness. The occasional neighbour would still drop in, exhausted and telling my mother how it was for them, working their way through soaked belongings. Eventually the pylon drivers started up again first thing in the morning. I still live in apartments, never at ground level, and always on top of a hill. There is nothing so secure living below sea level, even with scuba gear under the bed. Being Dutch there is tremendous respect for the sea, it represents the force of nature which challenges man or drives them off. I can swim, and row a boat, and I am smart enough to live well away from it’s reach.

Sparrow Girl – Meeting Death

meetibgdeath
People die. People we know and love eventually leave our lives forever. As a child my naivete was often abruptly brought to an end and death was no exception. Old people were going to die, life came to an end in the aquarium, then my cat died, but people, well that was much harder to accept.

The first death of a person in my life came when I was near four years of age. Maya was a beautiful woman, tall, elegant with long black hair and exotic green eyes. She was my mother’s friend. Once before I was born my mother had been a nanny to her young sons. The youngest son, Robert was about six when I was three and whenever Maya came to visit she would bring Robert. He would politely play with me, because that is what his mother expected of him, but he did it with great sweetness and I adored him.

Maya was in my young eyes the ideal of what I one day hoped to be. She sat on those occasions, perfectly dressed in the latest of haute couture suits, silk stockings and Italian pumps. To watch her cross her legs, sit back and tilt her head to one side while her clack hair cascaded over the edge of the chair was an all out performance, you could hear the music that should accompany such a perfectly choreographed movement. No surprise, Maya was after all, a very well known and highly paid fashion model. She would come to visit after the shows and Paris and Milan on her way back to her flat in London. Her sons attended school in England where their pianist father lived. She was not married. I am not sure why my mother impressed that detail on me when I was so young, I don’t think it had anything to do with the morality. It had more to do with a level of envy my mother felt, I think my mother would have been happier had she been single, but she lacked inner strength to say no to my father’s proposal.

A letter with a black rim came to the door by courier, and my mother without opening the letter sunk to the floor in our vestibule. I sat by her, feeling oh so terribly clumsy, not knowing if I should hug her. All I could do was sit, when mams was upset hugging could be exactly the wrong thing to do. I’d been shoved away a few times and barked at. I loved my mother as we all do, so I sat by her gingerly, just barely touching her dress, her dark blue dress. She bit her lower lip and cradled her face with her free hand, her short curled hair stuck to the tears rolling down her face.

We sat for some time on the floor. Mams became quiet the moment suspended until the tearing open of the envelope. She hesitated to pull out the card. Mams had lost so many people in her life, more of her friends and family had died during the last year of the war and still more afterward to disease neglected medically during wartime. In my brief lifetime I had lost no-one I knew. Until now.

She moaned it and screamed it, sobbed it, gasped it. Mams is dead, over and over. Later mams took me and had tea with a neighbour, and there I heard the story of Mams, her brief twenty eight year old life. The eldest son was fathered by a pianist in England, the other son the product of an anonymous affair, with a shady character according to mams. She was a fashion model from the age of eighteen and lived a glamorous lifestyle afforded her by being one of the most desirable ramp models for various haute couture houses. She lived hard, loved many times and was heartbroken every time a relationship ended. I remembered the many crying times during her visits to our house.

The mams I’d known was glamorous and kind, loved her children and was very generous with considered gifts on important occasions. She was a good and supportive friend to my mother and helped her set her singing career on course. Often they were like schoolgirls all gossip and trying on each other’s clothes. I think I felt superior to all that nonsense and was slightly embarrassed by it as was her Robert. She hugged me when she came and left. I could not imagine her never again dropping by.

This same woman at twenty eight lacked the support in her life to deal with a profession that was less than accepting of advancing age. She’d already had cosmetic procedures and worked very hard at maintaining the perfect figure. She’d had dangerous silicone injections. She’d become depressed when she felt she was losing her status in the fashion community. she needed the income to raise her sons and could not transition to another profession, all she knew and all that mattered was modelling and being the most desirable armpiece receiving the most extravagant gifts from the most wealthy men in Europe. It was ending and she had no idea how to deal with it. Maya had tried to land a position and a chance at a new life in Australia, but when it fell apart for reasons I don’t know she “stuck her head in the oven” as my mother put it.

Sticking your head in the oven was not something I could picture or understand. For one thing we never had an oven, and I’d no idea what that would look like. We had a wood burning stove in our apartment, it had one spot to put a pot on, but no oven. I knew bakers had ovens.

I did not understand how an over would kill you or why you’d put your head in there. Surely that would hurt, it would burn. Clearly this was not accidental, something had been very wrong here.

Suicide was not understandable to me. What I could understand is that Mams was depressed and desperate with too many responsibilities and not one person willing to help her with the boys and a new career. I did know even at that age, the very importance of people in your life who love you unconditionally. I was so incredibly sad that no-one, not the father of her children, not her employers, and for that matter not my mother, could keep her from being so sad that she died.

It affected my mother. Mams became more focused on her marriage and home and perhaps a little negligent of her singing career. I think she was scared that if she lost my father, she too would end up with her head in the oven. What also happened was that my mother felt, as Maya must have, trapped in her own life, unable to decide on the basis of what she wanted and thus settling for the safest choices. Maya’s death was one of the pivotal experiences in my mother’s life and she kept it all inside. Sadly, rather than recognising that Maya’s not calling out for help led to her death more than anything, my mother often in great psychic pain shut others out and herself in. These were beautiful and talented women, delightful company and I cannot think that no-one would have stepped in to help, and oh, how different life could have been.

So at age four I had learned you could die, young and beautiful, loved by her children and friends of misery. The oven was not important, that no-one helped when she needed it was important. My mother being sadder than before mattered. The death of a person affect everyone profoundly. It matters that they die, also how they die, how young, how much promise. All lost. All gone. Life even when it seemed to be most perfect, was not. How horrifying that no one could just sense what was going on, because she did have friends and she was loved, and she left a sea of tears behind. I doubt she knew just how much I admired her and wanted to be like her, her independent spirit, her talents. she was not just a runway model, she was a mother, an accomplished pianist in her own right. It is beyond belief that no one noticed the pain she was in.

Sparrow Girl – Needles and Chocolate Animals

needlesandchocolate
I was sick a lot when I was little. Having pneumonia was an annual event. Probably not helped by living down wind from the oil refinery. Growing up the refinery was an endless amusement, walking by and seeing the flames lapping up into the air. the enormous storage drums and the great whooshing sounds emanating from the heart of it. I also knew that somewhere in the middle my daddy worked. He worked in a two storey building doing research. More things you could do with petrochemicals. He came up with cold cracking techniques, and atomic absorption spectrograph unit and the Vapona no-pest strip.

I so rarely smelled clean air that I was unaware of just how unpleasant and no doubt unhealthy it really was. I was in awe of all the stuff, the endless metal catacombs running throughout, the catwalks, cranes. I could sit for hours just watching oil tankers in port waiting to load with fresh crude. I was also well aware that the company, Shell Oil, was good to my daddy and good to us. We were given all the coal we needed for our stove, all the potatoes we could eat, all for free. My special school was paid for, the learning disability specialist was part and parcel of the company’s security for their employees. My ballet classes were covered, we had health care beyond what the average Dutch family had. My father could go to university at their expense. By the time I was four he had gone from bottle washer to research team leader.

The entire town was built by the company for it’s employees. There were Shell company picnics and Christmas parties. I was very aware of the importance of the company in our lives. That we were probably in harms way never occurred to my parents, and even if they did, in life concessions sometimes have to be made. Just as mom hadn’t the awareness that chain smoking might not be healthy for herself or her babies, sucking in filthy refinery air wasn’t something anyone was too terribly concerned with.

I’d had my first bout of pneumonia right after I was born, in January. mams blames the nurse for leaving the window open and me in nothing more than a diaper. Six months later, pneumonia again. This time it was in August, right before my first time in kindergarten. I had been going to special classes to help with my dexterity and dyslexia, I was taught how to be right-handed, and left handed, but to favour right handedness. The idea was to get me up to speed on looking normal before starting kindergarten. I didn’t have much contact with other children beyond Robbie Ringeling and Toni from downstairs, and I was really looking forward to it.

About a month after having the tonsils removed I developed pneumonia, and it would not go away. There were light therapy session, heat lamps, tanning lamps. I was seen by a naturopaths and big Flemish women (relatives apparently) bound me up in layers of mustard soaked sheeting and the Vaporub was steaming into the air day and night. Vaporub makes me gag, I hate the stuff. A day later the same big breasted Flemish women would unwind me from the mustard sheeting, and slap massage me silly. I was bathed and steamed. At last all the usual therapies were abandoned and a real doctor ordered a series of penicillin shots.

Each day an enormous angry looking nurse would come to our house. she would look me over and then bend me over, and I was given a painful stab in the but. I was told as she did this that if I did not cry I would get a chocolate animal, and if I could smile and say thank you to the nurse I could have two. I love those chocolate animals. There were elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, monkeys, zebras and wildebeest. I was a great fan of the hippo and the elephant, those were in dark chocolate. I liked the monkeys least.

Chocolate was a rare treat outside of the chocolate sprinkles on my buttered bread in the morning. So I was the big girl and I did not flinch even though it hurt most cruelly. I would straighten myself up. Smile at the nurse shook her hand and said that you. After she left mams would give me my chocolate animals. It seemed like a month but most probably it was no more than ten days. The needly was huge and the penicillin looked like cream, it was a very big needle, large gauge.

The nurse was not so sympathetic looking. She probably ate her own young. Her greying hair was curled so tightly it pulled he eyebrows (which were drawn on with a black pencil) very high on her forehead. Her neck had skin waddle which flushed red as she talked excitedly about the “anti-social” families she was forced to work with. She apparently hated everyone, except my mother and father because they were artists, and she liked artists. I think that was lucky for me.

The last day ha finally arrived, my last shot, I would never have to see her miserable beady eyed face again, or hear her cackle on and on about the lower classes. She took out the glass bottle of penicillin, snapped in the needle, she inserted the needle into the rubber cap and filled it generously. she tapped the needle and let a little run out the tip. I assumed the position. My jaw tensed, my little fingers blanched as they gripped the table. It seemed to take forever, my cheeks were starting to get a little chilly. She put her cold hand on the middle of my back.

Here it comes, I was fully ready, I would not whimper or cry, I was ready. I could hear the needle hitting the bone and the snap when the needle broke, penicillin was smeared all over my backside. It was my mother who cried out first. “How could you do that”. She was qualified on that point, my mother was a trained nurse. How of course was no longer a question, something had to be done about the broken needle a good portion of which was in my tiny behind, palpable, but not reachable.

Mam carried me to my bedroom and put two chocolate animals in my hand. “but I cried, mam”, I said. Mam told me I was a brave little girl. I was put face down on my bed lightly covered with a sheet. I’m not sure if it came to blows or not but my mother tossed the nurse out of the house, would not let her near me again. She then went downstairs to use the telephone in Toni’s house to call the doctor. After the doctor retrieved the needle mam went out to get more chocolate animals.

I did recover in time to go to school.

Sparrow Girl – Can’t Ether

can't Ether

I was born in mid-winter, and by all accounts an exceptionally cold winter. Most babies in the Netherlands, were and still are born at home. Only pregnancies designated as high risk were birthed in hospital. By virtue (we’ll let my mother debate whether it qualifies as virtuous) of being post mature, and because in that tenth month I had decided to come forth in reverse my mother was given consent to have me at the hospital, Het Wilhelmina Gasthuis in Amsterdam. All efforts to cajole me into a somersault to face round had failed. It was cold, can you blame me wanting to stay inside?

On my own terms, as always, I arrived without the doctor being present. I’ve been thumbing my nose at doctors for as long as I can recall. Must be genetic. Central heating was not something there was lot of back then, and the Netherlands normally has an unvaryingly temperate climate. I developed my first case of pneumonia before leaving the hospital. No doubt terrified my parents. None of my childhood housing had central heating, there were several more bouts of pneumonia and dreadful respiratory infections. In the fifties this had but one outcome, the tonsils and adenoids would have to come out. Happened to almost everyone, a rite of passage usually before the first grade. I was four.

My father had one set notion about doctors, they were all useless charlatans, not to be trusted. His parents were dead in their early fifties and although it most likely had more to do with the lack of medications during the war, he blamed doctors who were impotent to stop his parents dying. My grandmother died of stomach cancer and my grandfather died several months later from Parkinson’s. My father was their youngest of five children, he had never seen his father healthy and his mother around whom his world revolved became ill when he was about eight. My mother had been their private nurse, this must have had something to do with his utter devotion to her, he could forgive her everything.

My parents had a naturopath but after no dietary changes and potions had kept me falling ill again and again a pediatrician was consulted and of course, the predictable outcome. Even at age four I knew something was terribly wrong for my father to be acting that way. He was silent, not funny, his eyes were vacant, my mother just the opposite, she was trying too hard to be entertaining. Parents did not confide much in their children. I was told “it” would hurt only a little, I would go to sleep and on waking would get ice cream. I’d only had ice cream only once before, and I very much like it. Still, it felt wrong, this was much more serious than they were letting on.

It was a very noisy and confusing place. There were very few colours, everything was white or grey or sickly green, save for some red crosses here and there. My father had one of those on his army gear. The hallways were very long, the floors were slippery and nurses were walking by crisp skirts making starched crinkly sounds. The sisters did not have an elegant gait like other women in their street pumps, these sisters walked with angry resoluteness. My father always stumbled when he was stressed, he was bumping into every wall and gurney. My mother finally gave him a task to fetch a snack and he was happy to be able to leave the hospital for the store. Whatever I was there for was taking a very long time and we had to stand in queue to boot.

Our name was called at last and we were ushered into a darker room, people were piled against the walls, children in mother’s arms, stony faced fathers looking as though they’d rather be shot than spend one more moment. Periodically a rather mannish nurse came in and picked from the crowd the next child to come in. I did not like the look of this. The chosen child was draped in a white sheet with nothing on but panties. I dreaded the cold. Each one was taken alone without their mom into? Some children screamed, others cried. My parents told me it would be alright and I should not be afraid, be brave. Yeah, like they were going in!

Eventually that horrid woman took me with her. The operating room was small, dark with one light glaring above a single chair, I was handed to a smaller nurse sitting in that lone chair. The big one picked up a cone shaped thing which was coming towards my face. I was told to take very deep breath. I saw no point arguing, clearly I was outnumbered. There was one psychedelic swirl and that was all.

That was all not just for that moment but for several days. The magic potion was ether and I had been allergic to it. They were unable to do the procedure and I awoke with all parts intact some days later. It took many days to be able to walk again. As devastating as all that was, finding that I had not even been given any ice cream after all that was even worse. When the error was pointed out my very relieved parents forked out the funds to fetch some ice cream right away.

Of course there were no options to the ether unless my parents could afford the high price for a private procedure with a general anesthetic. Trust my dad to find an alternative. One of his school chums had been dabbling in the art of hypnosis, largely as a parlor entertainment. As a favour he’d managed to arrange to hypnotize me at the hospital and without any other medications both tonsils and adenoids were removed without any fuss at all. There was almost no recovery time and my dad’s friend even sprung for celebratory ice creams for all of us afterward.

Sparrow Girl – Saturn

saturnAccording to my mother, my first visit to a museum happened on the very day I was released form hospital a few days after birth. My father triumphantly carried me fro room to room through the Rijksmuseum. Rarely did a week pass by that we were not in one great museum or another. One of the perks to being an Amsterdammer.

My father had inherited the painting gene in his family. He did for a time when I was about three try supporting us on the sales of his paintings. He had also luckily inherited the sales and marketing abilities which had long kept generations from having to pursue “real” jobs. Collecting rent is a long cry from a real job. It must have been a crushing brush with reality, washing bottles and lab equipment at Shell Oil’s laboratories. both my parents had been cheated of a high school education, both were just 17 when WWII ended. Dad took night school and worked to bring himself up to where he could attend University, nothing was handed him. My mother either, she worked as a nanny and private nurse to underwrite her nursing studies.

On this particular day I was the daughter of the Artist. I had no notion, no idea if we were rich or poor. I knew I was loved and cared for. My parents took a great deal of time to point out the wonders and beauty of the world around me. I hung on every word, I was a sponge. I loved everything about my parents’ interests, it was our bond. I shared painting with dad, opera with mother. I studied every stitch my mother performed with her patient and talented hands. I sat excitedly by father as he painted, I can see them still if I close my eyes. It explains, perhaps why my paintings, without any intent, look so much like his work.

The museum, in particular Boyman van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam,was and always will be my favourite place on this earth, my holy place, it is in my heart even when I cannot get there myself. That is where my tiny hand touched the bronze foot of Degas’ ballet dancer. It is where, in my opinion, the most beautiful clocks ever made, tick harmoniously now as in centuries past. These are the survivors, valuable enough that war and fires did not destroy them. Nothing chronicles history as well as paintings do. There for me to see in one room the Armada fights at sea, and in another, Bosch’s Tower of Babel’s staggering detail (the painting is barely a square foot in size) speaks of an artist sparing no amount of his very spirit to put on canvas (actually I believe it is on wood) all of what one moment in time could possibly mean. Within the one story of the painting there are dozens of smaller stories. I’ve spent hours with this painting and still have not fully taken it all in.

Of course little girls cannot keep up with adults, their legs will get tired. This day there were paintings on loan from another gallery — the specifics I do not know, just that it was very special — with a great deal of excitement my parents had gone room to room. When I became tired the first time I was allowed to lie on a bench in the grandfather clock room. My parents could then spend some time in the adjoining room which had remarkable seascapes. My father’s and also my mother’s family had been in the shipbuilding business for centuries, it follows they had some considerable knowledge and interest in the subject. At age four or so the details of one ship versus another are not terribly interesting. It was by far my favourite place in the world to take a nap, watched by the timeless timepieces, hearing them tick tock with a sense of the infinite.

On the second floor in the room with the blue walls I did my best to show how tired I had again become. Why? Because I still did not like mandrills, and in this room there was an intimidatingly large painting of a mandril by Kokoschka. Daddy picked me up, while he admired the Kokoschka I looked out of the window, where below in the courtyard large zaftig bronzes looked pensively at each other. The window was a welcome view, I did not like blue walls, I still don’t. The next room had green walls. Some very nice landscapes.

I lay down on the bench in the green room I imagined myself walking through each of the landscapes. I was very tired, there had been a lot of walking, my shoes pinched. I sat up to look for mom and dad. I was alarmed when I could not find them. Maybe they had gone for another look in the blue room, being how fond they were of those awful mandrills. I turned my little groggy head around. There, directly behind me was the most ghastly nightmarish sight I gasped, gurgled choked by the fear of what faced me. I let out a scream. I think I had everyone’s attention. My dad swept me up, my mother grabbed me. An apparent lapse in parental judgment had put me down for a nap facing away from Goya’s “Saturn Eating One of His Children.”

I loathe that painting, even more than a mandril. How could a father eat his child, or any child. What monsters were there in my world? I held on very tightly to my mommy. That was the very last time that I ever took a nap anywhere at Boyman’s other than the clock room.

Sparrow Girl – Tonnie’s Yellow Dress

tonnie
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.

Sparrow Girl – The Sinking Man

the sinking man

the sinking man

In most children there is a recurring image of the parent, dead, forever gone. Overwhelmingly this seems to be mother who dies horribly leaving the child alone in the world with little or no hope of surviving. We are as children all potential Bambi’s. All through my childhood as early as I can remember there was the nightmare of being chased into a basement by a tiger, to find my dad dead, the wall splattered with bits of him. Little me standing there utterly without the ability to escape, the great cat’s breath steaming the back of my neck. I’d wake up the sheets drenched, clammy, shaking. Those dreams stopped,just after my father died when I was twenty. Dad was more than a parent he was always, without question, an ally in life, the only person in whom I had total trust.

Several times a week my mother and I made the trip into Rotterdam. Mams had her voice lessons and rehearsals. Mams had an incredible mezzo-soprano voice, warm, agile without any affectation. When I was two she had applied for national audition and won a place on scholarship at the conservatory, her private lessons were also on scholarship. since my father was also a student there was a scarcity of monies which necessitated taking me everywhere rather than parking me with a baby sitter. What luck, limitless concerts by the best opera had to offer. Some very impressive divas sung me lullabies, and some of them seemed to be nice people (I said some!)

This particular time it was a very overcast and rainy day. On the way to rehearsal mams took me to the nearby bakery for a fresh buttered bun with brown sugar. It was not good to have me become fussy from hunger part way through rehearsal. It was not difficult to be completely amused during rehearsal, the music was wonderful. Spectacular drams took place between the director, conductor and cast. There was a great deal of huffing and puffing and ruffling of feathers. There were not dull people here, many of them found time to focus on me, I was allowed to browse through purses and many chocolates were employed bribing me to silence during their arias. During lunchtime we would walk to the walking malls where the most beautiful parrots perched, occasionally screeching insults at passers-by. There was a second buttered bun in mama’s purse for having on a bench while watching traffic pass by.

Around three we would pack it all up and rush to the bus-stop. I would take my nap on the way home. It wasn’t worth fighting sleep based on the scenery. Only what seemed like many miles of polder landscape, one long horizon with dirt on the bottom and dark grey sky above. The only wildlife was the occasional gull. I’d seen it all before.

I was half dazed stepping out of the bus. The brick lane atop the dike was glistening with rain. A light fog billowed up from the ground at the bottom of the dike. Not all of this polder was ready to build on yet. The ground could be very unstable, especially after a long rain. We stayed on the roadway, walkway really there were no cars, this was foot and bicycle traffic only. We would take the stairs to the walkway and then walk straight ahead until the buildings of Hoogvliet appeared. The first few buildings were stores, not many, it was all very new here. Most shopping was done at the weekly market or on the other side of Hoogvliet where there were shops who accepted the rationing coupons. To make the walk more enjoyable mams and I would sing and skip.

Suddenly there was a lot of fuss and screaming. Just directly ahead there were people standing just off the road. It took a few hard looks to notice what was up. it is very hard to focus one’s little eyes with raindrops falling in them and mother pulling you along. although I could not see the man clearly, I was instantly convinced it was my father. He was tall, lanky and had a balding head. his coat was long and dark. Of course that description fit most every second man living there. Reason, if I’d been old enough to have reason, would have cast considerable doubt. After all my father did not come home for some time. At age four, most kids are a little fuzzy about where fathers spend those hours. work can simply be defined as something father did when he was not at home.

New polder was quicksand in places. That’s why the buildings here were erected on the most enormous pylons hammered into the soft near liquefied ground by pounding machine you can imagine. Most of my morning started out with these hammering machines pounding pylons at daybreak. Day by day the giant orange and black hammers would move a little further away. All of Amsterdam is built on pylons, one marvels how this was achieved without the use of combustion engines. These were not a little noisy, these were very angry monsters and the earth would lightly shake so we could feel it living on the second floor.

On this day a man had gone off the walkway, trying to cut some time off his daily commute. On this day it did not take a great hammer striking him to get the man started sinking into the ground. I saw him second by second, sinking. An no one could do anything. A few of the bystanders had linked themselves together trying to reach him. It was not possible. Before his outstretched arm could grab theirs the earth had swallowed him up whole. I yelled, I don’t know what I yelled, I just remember yelling and my throat hurt I yelled so loud. My screams were only part of the cacophony emanating from the polder. My mother grabbed me and pulled me away from there as fast she could. Just as the men with stretchers and digging equipment were coming down the walkway. I cried, sobbed. My mother did not make a sound. Five years of living in the middle of an urban war zone had made her very efficient at dealing with moments like these. I can only imagine now how she might have felt. I only remember how silent she was and how quickly we got home.

I was put on my little box by the stove my coat left on until the coals got hot enough. Mams who had still not said anything was already clanging teacups and putting on a kettle. Stressful moments at home always involved some hot sweet beverage. Al I warmed up I heard nothing but the reassuring rush of her skirt brushing back and forth behind me. We sat and had a little sweet tea and a cookie. She kept telling me dad was going to be home for dinner. I doubted her. I’d seen him swallowed up by the ground, with my own eyes. Still I wanted her to prove me wrong. She was making dinner, peeling potatoes. Now I was starting to think maybe she knew better.

I was still sad, if it was not my dad, it was someone’s dad (since it follows all balding men were dads) and children want their daddies. I was warming up, and it was a very good cookie. I watched as each coil of potato peel fell to the floor.

My father had a distinctive walk. I always listened for him, if the dog made his way toward the door it was a very good bet dad was nearby. I could hear his “pet, pet, pet” sound in the stairway, I could hear him brush the soles of his shoes as he always did against the doormat. She did not lie. He was home. I clung to his corduroy pantsed legs and my mother very quickly told him how the man had sunk into the polder and how I had become certain it was him. I don’t know for certain if this was the day the nightmares started, I do know I never took parents for granted. I did not tell them how scared I was and how sad because he was probably someone’s dad. That kind of thing was not encouraged. It was all made out to be not quite so important. In the scheme of things, since they both had grown up in the middle of a war, perhaps it was not devastating anymore for them, and perhaps they could not remember back to a time when death was not part of the daily landscape. I was terrified for a very long time. Certainly I never wandered off the path, I am still very much a between the fences sort of person. That was a very costly shortcut.

Dance Stories – Pain as Dancer’s Path to Enlightenment

10722131_10152727610096067_178908513_oAway from home. A little frightening at 14 but I had an inner drive wanting to dance as much as ordinary mortals want to eat, drink and sleep. I did not want to dance, I had to, and then, in the late 60s, New York City was where a girl, badly wanting to dance would have to try and make it, before you were 16 and far too old to make it.

Arrangements were made, suddenly I had parents in New York, far away from “home”. Two men, who both worked as choreographers and directors, thrust into the role of parents to a 14 year old girl. They shared a very fashionable apartment on the upper west side, and I had my own room. It never occurred to me those days that Ron and Paul were gay. To me they were two men, lifelong bachelors who lived together. Period. They did not flaunt their sexuality, probably because tolerance even in NYC was minimal except within the confines of the theatre.

I was 14 but no one knew by looking. I could have been 20. I was tall, confident and looked like all the other little dancers. NO one questioned whether I was in the country legally or not. Frankly I don’t know if there was proper paperwork. something was worked out between my parents back in Canada and my new foster parents in New York.

Frankly, I think my father was glad for the break of being a parent and my mother had already moved back to Europe for a year r so with my little sister. Apparently the news of her older daughter (that would be me) being raped by he friend (or the vicious lie she considered that to be) required a lengthy vacation abroad. I was blessed with a mechanism to shut it all out and boldly move life forward leaving that wretched baggage behind. Ron had seen me dance, offered me a spot in a touring company he was artistic director for. After a summer doing back to back musicals in a tent theatre he suggested the new arrangements. I think I was his good deed. He will always be my hero.

Though my dream was to be in the ballet, ballet was the long shot and I knew it. There was a lot going against me succeeding. For one I did not have the impressive pedigree of most 14 year old prospective ballerinas. No scholarships at prestigious schools. NO letters of recommendation by teachers whose own careers would make one gasp. Nothing. My background was a series of stops and starts with good but not exceptional schools. The stops and starts had to do with how many times my family moved, and the lack of interest my parents had in me having any kind of career in dance. I was also taller than most girls in ballet and my knees and elbows were overextended. The ballet was populated by short ballerinas and even shorter danseurs.

Still, here I was in NYC, age 14, with a roof over my head, and an offer of a part time job sewing tutus to pay for taking classes, keeping me in pointe shoes and leotards. If I clocked enough hours I could even take a master classes at the Julliard, or at the Gelabert Studio. It didn’t take an awfully long time for my resume to be come respectable enough to take more and more master classes and more and more auditions for apprenticeships.

Living with Ron and Paul was a real education, not just in dance but in career management. Ron explained the rules of life.

Rule 1: You are not a dancer unless you can earn a living wage with it, so you never, ever, ever dance for free, never. Donating your time for a worthy cause is a good thing only if it guarantees a stepping stone to more and better work, and attach a dollar value to the time donated.
Rule 2: As long as your dance skills are equivalent to the pack of lies in your resume, and the pack of lies can’t be easily checked, lie, once you have the credits, drop the lies.
Rule 3: If it helps, change your name. In the midst of Russians taking a whole lot of dance jobs away from American girls and given that I still had a thick Dutch accent I put “sova” at the end of my name. When a few years later it became unpopular to hire Russian dancers (there was a strike at the American Ballet Theatre protesting the hiring of Alexander Godunov and the defection of Baryshnikov when we had perfectly capable Americans like Fernando Bujones). My name changed again and I worked with a coach to get rid of my accent.
Rule 4: I could stay as long as I was working and I had to go home to finish the school year at my high-school in Canada as per arrangement.

There was the predictable, no drinking, no boys and no staying out all night with friends. Little chance of that. I sewed, I danced I did my school work on time. Ron and Paul introduced me. In time they became like proud parents. I( was ever conscious of earning their respect and my keep. I walked their poodles, and their friends poodles. I ran errands. Unlike my real parents they took and interest. Even as inconvenient as coming to watch me dance far away in Pittsburgh, one of them showed up for every opening, hell, even in Baltimore.

There was an audition for a Broadway show requiring tap dancing skills, which I had none. I had seen a couple of Shirley Temple movies and nothing else. My mother thought tap dancing terribly lower class and no daughter of hers would engage in such pedestrian pastimes. I ran home to get my tights and leotards soaking in the sink, change into dance pants and tank top and beg Paul for some of his time to teach me enough tap to pass for knowing what I was doing.

Paul called someone who fixed up some tap shoes in my size I could pick up on the way. Typical of Paul he ordered them in red. He gave me the name of a good tap teacher on the way to the audition, step, shuffle kick, tap, turn, and so on. All put together in time for the cattle call. Paul may not have been thrilled to by a “dad” but he always came through.

Not the ballet, but my first steady paycheck in New York at age 14. Dancing seven shows a week there wasn’t time for a social life, just some hours here and there making more tutus for the New York City Ballet.

So ended the first month of my life as a dancer. It was 1968, my resume was still a pack of lies and I was considering changing my name to something Russian and I had same sex parents, I hadn’t been this happy in years.

Sparrow Girl – The Great Ape

ape

I must have been just shy of four years old.  We lived in a modest apartment, in a very working class neighbourhood. You could tell a Dutch working class neighbourhood because the buildings were devoid of any character.  Built just post war to quickly house the citizenry made homeless by the second world war.  The nation was still poor from putting all collective resources into rebuilding it’s cities and infrastructure.  Wen by then, a decade or so after the war, certain goods were rationed.  I would stand in line with my mother while she haggled with other women exchanging tobacco and sugar for coffee etc.  It was nothing I was an part of.  It was often cold, it rains a lot where I came from.

We lived in a polder.  Disconcertingly below sea level.  Ours was one of the older apartment block, Bahrain Street.  Much of this outlying area of Rotterdam was built in partnership with Shell Oil one of the larger employers.  My father worked for Shell, first as a bottle washer in the labs, and at this time as a lab technician.  He attended classes in Leiden.  My dad was a tall lanky Dutchman. He suffered from baldness.  This was not a natural baldness but one he had as a result of a refinery explosion at Shell.  I did not know that or need to when I was only four.  I thought that all fathers were bald, that how you could tell fathers from other men.

Other than Robbie Ringeling, the little boy who lived downstairs I had no contact with other kids.  I lived my own little life close by the adults, I observed.  I suppose I always felt removed.  My dog was my good close friend.  Cerbie was half chow, half wolf.  He was noble and fiercely loyal.  My father most especially loved animals, he was a farm boy and stayed a farm boy at heart.  After the war he had maintained a volunteer status at the Rotterdam Zoo.  The zoo was bed and needed foster homes for some of their inhabitants as well as the manual labour and fund raising.  Dad occasionally brought one exotic creature or another home and I had almost limitless access to visits (as determined by my parents).  I’d played with animals most kids only read about.  Large tortoises, strange birds, meerkats (love those).

It must have been early spring or late winter.  I was wearing a new pair of mittens.  Red mittens with kittens on them and real bells that made a lovely cling-ting sound as I walked.  My mother had put them on an idiot chord.  She was phenomenal when it came to sewing, her stitches could hold a battleship together.  My mother had handcrafted bras from old clothes at the end of the war, for herself and sold some others for food money.  You have to admire the resourcefulness.  My dad was always in charge of sewing on buttons, something he became very adept at while in the army, he’d done a two year stint as an army medic.

My father had talked excitedly about this zoo trip, the ape exhibit was opening and the zoo now had a resident Mandril.  He had shown me pictures.  I understood that these “apes” were very large and came from the jungle, in Africa.  I was happy to hear that these awfully large fearsome looking beasts were not native to where I lived, otherwise I doubt I’d have been able to sleep, ever again.

It was one of those guided tours, the insider gala to open the exhibit.  It all looked very barren, painted freshly white not at all like a jungle.  It smelled a lot like my grandmother’s chicken coop.  I wondered naively if anyone every cleaned the place.  I buried my face in mother’s coat.

“Kijk Aletta (Look Aletta)”, my father pointed at a very large cage on the right hand side.  I sighed, this meant I had to look, even though I’d rather stay looking at the five or six meerkats playing “now you see me” behind a pane of glass.  I thought I recognize one of them as a house guest we’d had.

It was hideous, I’d no idea why my parents would be so damn thrilled to see this big, albeit colourful beast.  Its nostrils flared, it paced about nervously, knuckle dragging.  Occasionally it would storm towards the cage wall and glare at the VIP crowd.  The crowd was thrilled, nervous laughter, and big pompous men giving explanation.  I was utterly bored.  I hopped at bit foot to foot.  Standing still is very hard on little children.  I could have stood still, if I had meerkats to watch, but I’d as soon not look at the mandrill.  My mind was quite made up that all such animals should stay in Africa and for my side of the bargain I intended never to venture into a jungle.

I’d made no note of the cage next to the mandrill.  Many of the cages were still empty or animals were back in the private rooms at the back where they were fed, out of the public eye.  So it neither came to my notice or anyone else’s.  The large red ape had sidled right up to the cage wall virtually next to the small crowd, still sharply focused on the noisy, larger than life antics of the mandril.  It says something that it did not set off my fear alarm at all.  My face was buried in my mother’s coat, it filtered out the stink, and the mandril could not see me.  My little fingers played with the bells on my mitten, I found the sound soothing, helped tune out the snarling ape.

There was the moment I was safely tucked into the coat, and then the next moment where I found myself righting myself, by myself, in the cage.  The dirty stinking rotten ape had hold of my mitten, and managed with great force to pull me into the cage.  I reached back.  The crowd was gasping and shouting.  My mom had managed to reach my hand, she held onto it firmly.  She was brilliant.  “She likes your mitten”, she told me.  Here you see the value of growing up in the midst of a war.  She knew there was no ignoring this, and it was counter productive to raise my fear above what it already was.

I could see, looking at the great ape’s eyes, that she did, in fact, want the mitten and not me.  Unlike the mandril, this primate had kind eyes, and except for harshly pulling me into the cage with her, she meant no harm. lovely mitten.

“It is my mitten”, the ape tilted it’s head, trying I suppose, to understand.  It stopped for a second.  Then gave the mitten another tug.  My mother was ready, she had my arm up high enough that the mitten could fly straight through, idiot chord and all.  It was a good plan, but I was not having it.  It was my damn mitten and she could not have it.  My mother pleaded with “She wants it for her babies”.  Well, I could see she might have babies, she had breasts alright, so she was a mommy ape.  With all my might I held on to the second mitten, the ape was walking away with the first one.  Finally the chord snapped.  I jumped back to my footing.  I can quite recall exactly how it felt.  My feet firmly planted, my little hands on my hips.  I now yelled “that’s my mitten, I want it back….NOW!”

I think I could have got the beast to comply, I was absolutely certain of it.  I could have, but a zoo keeper cam in and snapped me off my feet and carried me out.  Just one mitten left.  I spent some considerable time in front of the orangutan cage, a safer distance away, both parents trying to make me feel safe.  Actually I was not feeling unsafe at all.  This ape was a sweet animal, a mommy, who wanted something nice.  I’d noticed none of the zoo animals had toys and thought that was sad.  The Orangutan was contentedly taking apart my mitten.

My mom couldn’t find another mitten with bells on it.  Mom also never put idiot chords on my mittens.  I always have bells in my sewing kit.  Every once in a while, some child dear to my heart receives a pair of mittens at Christmas, with little bells securely sewn on.  I love the sound they make.

Sparrow Girl – A Sunday Walk in the Polder

polderSome families spent their Sunday’s going to church, we didn’t, we took a long walk.  If the weather was particularly good we would bicycle. Well, more specifically my parents would bicycle, to some new place to explore at leisure.  This was a particularly bright and sunny day in the middle of summer.  A real scorcher by Dutch standards.  I rode with my father in a child’s bicycle seat, one that would have been met with gasps of disapproval by today’s standards.  It was black metal and red vinyl and collapsed when not in use.  Moms bicycle had a large wicker basket in which the family dog rode.  Not one person we knew well owned a car, there was always those days a very small number of motor vehicles comprised mostly of the cheapest of Citroen’s and Volkswagen bugs.

I could smell that we were coming closer to the sea, it was in the air.  Sea gulls screeching with delights as their extended wings caught every warm air current, endlessly gliding along.  Everything here was either sand coloured or sea green.  Only tall patches of grass broke the very flat landscape, all of it an extended quilt of sandy lifeless polders and squares of grass, just occasionally a patch of houses.  One such patch of houses was Spijkernisse.  There were no new buildings like the ones in Hoogvliet where we lived.  Here the air no longer reeked of the refineries.  The quiet here was quite shocking to the system.  Our normally chatty family was just now silent, we were blending in, at one with the calm.

We came to the very edge of a brand new polder, not a building, a road, or even a blade of grass, nothing.  There was only packed sand dotted by small stones and decaying jellyfish.  Seagulls were diving for any small thing that moved.  As I was being lifted out of my kiddy seat I could see my dog Cerbie running as fast as he could in a straight line, running back after seemingly hitting the “limit” and repeating, over and over.  By the time we started walking away from the bicycles the dog was already panting.

To my little girl mind, this place looked as though it needed Bedouins on camels crossing the sand.  If I squeezed my eyes and imagined I could see them as a mirage at the horizon.   Here and there I found a seashell.  I kept as many of the nice ones as would fit in the pockets of my bright blue knee pants.  Some of these shells would walk away, dad told me to put those back.  Taking them would be like stealing a small animal’s house.  Clearly, that was a bad thing to do.

“Look Cobie” my father beckoned to my mother who was busy throwing a stick for the dog to fetch.  He showed her the small treasure he had found was a perfect bleached bird skull.  Absolutely white and perfect.  I thought it was a little creepy, wondering if that meant people’s bones could be found here as well.  Could we find our way back to the bicycles.  Judging distance as a child does, by how tiring the walk and if familiar objects are still in sight or not, we were certainly very far from where we started.  My father lived for these treasure hunts, a stone, a bone, and old magazine, everything was a great event in his life.  Then as now, I marvel at his capacity for finding great excitement in what others might have found utterly mundane.  It was catching, he could make anyone with us, excited as well.

On the far horizon we could now see the tall grasses marking the polder’s edge.  At one end of the very straight horizon was the dyke at the other in the distance, the small town of Spijkernisse.  It was obvious by how quickly my father started to walk that he had spotted something. “Come”, he smiled from ear to ear, he looked back to where my mother had come to a full stop.  The wind was playing gently with her skirt, her dark red hair glowed in the hot sun.

It was easy to understand looking at her standing there, why my father had abandoned his family to pursue her, marry her, and ultimately have me.  She was beautiful.  She used her very considerable skills as a seamstress to turn the hand-me-downs from more well-heeled friends and relatives into stunning clothes copied painstakingly from the pictures in the latest fashion magazines of the day. He announced back to her “I think there is a German Tank back there!”

I did not know exactly why, but I had clued in for some time that “German” was not a good thing.  Four year old’s have limited concepts of history and the world, but I knew in our house, German was bad, especially for my mother.  The sound of the word would make her blanche, her eyes would become glazed and sad, she would retreat.  I think my father regretted saying just as soon as it came out of his mouth.  His smile faded.  Only the seagulls had something to say.

This was my cue to zone out.  This was adult stuff I wanted no part of.  This was a good time to spin, and spin and keep on spinning.  Everything was a sea green and sand blur.  The soles of my feet were burning inside my jellyfish sandals from rubbing the grains of sand deep into my skin.  I was still turning until I fell back into the sand laughing, giggling, unable to get up.  “Would you like to come and see it?”  My father stretched his long hairy arm out to me.  How could I refuse.  I mean really?  He might feel hurt and rejected, he was so excited, how could I refuse?  My mom looked so alone back there.  I bit my lip, said nothing and raised myself up.  Daddy dusted the sand off me.  I held to his shoulder as he took off each sandal and shook out the grains of sand, he brushed my feet clean.  I had to go, I would be extra nice to mom later.  Even if it was “German” I knew my dad would make sure I was safe.

Mom and the dog worked their way back to the bicycles by the road.  It was a big, ugly broken thing.  It sat angrily staring at us from out of the long grasses.  Most of the remains of the war had been put to scrap, somehow this beast, this great metal dragon, had been missed.  The metal was hot, I could feel it as we came close.  My father explained how it would be like an oven inside the tank.  He was practically jumping up and down with excitement.  I thought it might be just the sort of place you’d find human bones.  “Is anyone in there?” I asked nervously. “No, wanna see?  Before I could answer, or even come up with how I felt about it, dad disappeared in the belly of the metal dragon.  It was half on it’s side, the small trap door to get in faced away from me.  Slowly and with great trepidation I walked around.  My father’s extended arm poked from it.

It had an odd smell inside, a little like the refinery and the damp in the basements of old houses, and old sweaty things in the laundry basket, a little like that.  It was barren except for some metal boxes, and it was these that my father was completely absorbed in.  He held up each of what he found, hammers, wrenches, pliers, all kinds of tools.  “These are wonderful” he exclaimed.  Apparently the “Germans” were nasty buggers, but they made the best tools.  Certainly a boon to dad, on his salary tools were something he could rarely indulge in.  He put them in a satchel.  Before putting me outside the beast, he did give me a fine show and tell about the technical advancements of tank building, and the painstaking attention to making it last, something I could sense from my father was an exceptional trait peculiarly common in all things “German”.

To this day these tools are still in use in our family, I have the hammer and one wrench, my mother pliers.  My mother cherished the small bird skull for years until we moved to Canada, there was a very small limit for what we could take with us.  My father would occasionally note with some regret that he never did go back, there was certain to have been more in the way of tools.  I think he let it go and we never went back because he could not bear to see my mother in pain.