Posts Tagged With: memories

Coming Home

The following are two pieces I wrote quite a few years ago but they fit in with my theme of the last few posts of “memory”.

The first opportunity I had to return to Holland came in 2003. The family had grown up and I had finally accrued enough points to take “Long Service Leave”. Up until this time I had a habit of quitting just short of the qualifying time. That says something about my stickability.

In February of 2003 the Lufthansa 737 banked over Schiphol and glued to the window I saw the flat water-crossed land for the first time in 49 years – and really – the first time in my life. As my nose was glued to the little oval window a wave of amazing emotion travelled through my whole body. I was coming home.

As my wife and I drove through Holland it seemed so familiar. It was a familiarity developed from family and parental stories. Most of this I had never seen and I certainly hadn’t remembered. But I had seen it through my parents’ stories. How real and vivid they were and how real they were now as I saw them.

Holland, more correctly, the Netherlands is like no other place. Not because it is spectacular or grand – it isn’t. Its very ordinariness; its everyday life, towns, cities, factories, offices, schools, homes, parks and gardens in which people live their everyday life is so different from my experience – and I imagine the experience of all people not Dutch.

The orange blinds on multi story housing blocks, the criss-crossing canals and sloots, the bikes, the flatness, the canal crossing the highway, the dijks holding back enormous rivers, while villages nestle in their shadow … and the bikes, the ubiquitous bikes with grannies and grandchildren all making their way resolutely, efficiently and without fuss.

Forty nine years is a long time and an enormous distance. I met members of my own family. We shared names and heritage but our experience of life separated us.

The one thing in which we had been well indoctrinated was not whether we supported Feyenoord or Ajax, but food. Dutch pancakes, appelstroop, speculaas, King Peppermints, Zoute drop, rookworst, stroopwafels, candy and chocolate hagel and …  The tastebuds have a heritage that outlasted time and place.

Christmas 2005

As we drove into a Dutch village late on Christmas Eve in 2005 we heard the church bell ring and we saw people walking from every direction to the church in the centre of town.

Coming in from the wintry weather the church was warm – in welcome and temperature. Even though the Christmas Eve service was traditional there was still a sense of anticipation and excitement. For our whole family the experience was new and different. My cousin Piet who had the Stok musical gene that I missed out on was the music and choir director. That family connection made the experience more personal and little did we know then that was one of the few Christmases Piet had left.

A week earlier the four younger girls had flown in from Australia. For a few days we were involved in a lightning trip around the UK: London, Bath, Coventry, The Lake District, Greta Green, Lords and, of course, the Lego shop in Milton Keynes. Now it was time to visit relatives and see Holland – the place of their father’s and grandparents’ birth.

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Some More Memories of Ocean Grove

Ocean Grove started life as a Methodist holiday resort in the 1880s. When my family arrived in the 1950s remnants of its origins were still clearly visible. Two large guest houses, the Chalet (previously Coffee Palace as one would expect in the temperance climate) and the Cathkin, still stood. There was also the Methodist camp in the centre of town and other camping places such as the camping huts on the corner of Eggleston Street  and Asbury Street. It was a “dry” town. Barwon Heads was the closest place to buy a beer. It was good for one’s health to stay off the Barwon Heads – Ocean Grove road after 6pm when the good husbands of OG returned along the winding road to their loving and patient wives. Six o’clock closing (with its last minute swill) was still law in those days.

 

By the time we arrived it had become a popular beachside resort. Large camping grounds and numerous holiday homes meant the population of Ocean Grove swelled from the hundreds to the many thousands over December and January. As a teenager this phenomenon was the basis for numerous holiday jobs – the bakery, beach cleaning, toilet cleaning, garbage collecting and other character building occupations.

 

Beach Ocean Grove

My mother and I looking out of the window of one of the many houses

For migrants a home was easy to find from February to November as the holidays houses were empty but come December alternatives had to be found. As a consequence we lived in a number of places around the town. If my adding is correct we lived in 7 houses in 15 years. My parents bought the last one in which we lived for half of that time. Many of these houses were cold and draughty fibro structures as they were built for summer – not winter occupation. We were evicted from one because I rolled a tyre down the driveway straight through the fibro back wall of the garage. I wasn’t popular with the owner or my parents.

 

 

My recollections of OG Primary School are mixed. I lacked confidence and as a result was picked on. Nowadays it is called bullying. In those days it was part of growing up. Some teachers were bullies but others fired my imagination. One, Marge Fisher, has a special place in my memories. She was imaginative and inspirational. Mrs. Fisher opened our imaginations through artifacts she would pull out of her ‘dilly bag’, the books she read to us and places in the world she described to us. She was different to the majority of teachers we had and she sowed in me a seed for a future vocation.

 

The classes were large with numbers unimaginable to today’s teachers. There are 43

Pieter001

Ocean Grover Primary School circa 1957

students in the Grade two class photo. Because I had learned English very quickly I often became the class translator when another Dutch kids arrived. I was none too pleased as my aim was to fit in without being noticed. I had observed what happened to one student in my class when he wore lederhosen to school. I didn’t want that ridicule to happen to me.

 

In my teen years I joined the tennis club in the summer and the newly formed football club in the winter. I wasn’t particularly good at sports but it was a great way to be involved in the activities of the town. In the first year of the Ocean Grove U15s my mate Ron and I were the equal top goal scorers. We had amassed two each. That year we didn’t judge our success by wins but by how few goals we lost by.

 

Also around this time I went to dancing lessons at the local hall. I thought this might help in overcoming my social awkwardness and make me less inept at the end of season events that the tennis and football clubs had. Sadly, I don’t think it did.

 

Only a few roads were paved and most were dust tunnels in the hot winds of summer and mud channels when the rains arrived. We had street lights but they were turned off at midnight. The sewerage system hadn’t come to the town. If you were well off you had a septic tank and if not the ‘dunny man’ also known in more polite circles as the ‘night soil carter’ would visit your outhouse on a weekly basis. If family visits to the toilet had been too frequent you had to deal with excess yourself.

 

Beach Ocean Grove 5

The beach looking towards Point Lonsdale from the Lookout

I remember a great sense of freedom. Riding our bikes to Barwon Heads or Point Lonsdale was a regular occurrence. A special terrifying thrill was riding one’s bike across the Barwon Heads bridge as it required skill to avoid the large gaps between the red gum planking that made up the bridge surface. If the front wheel went into the gap and jammed, it made for a fascinating aerial experience. Fossicking in the bush behind Ocean Grove (called ‘Cuthbertsons’ at the time) collecting tadpoles, or catching yabbies, wandering around the beach and the dunes were all activities that raised no parental fears as the population kept an eye on each other kids. My father found out about some of my nefarious activities because his network of parental spies had informed him about my behavior.

 

There was a reasonable collection of shops in The Terrace but supermarkets had not yet made their impression on Australia. Skinner’s general Store catered for most of our needs from groceries to toys and clothes. It was also an era in which a lot of services still came to your door. The butcher, ice man, baker, milkman and fruit and vege man (my dad’s trade) regularly visited the citizens of Ocean Grove. There was even a travelling draper and of course there was the Rawleigh’s man with his suitcase of ‘medicines’ going door to door. Car owner ship was normal but often the husbands used these to go to work in Geelong. The result was that many wives were stuck at home.

To be continued …

 

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Memories

Memories are enigmatic. Fact and memory are not necessarily identical. Are the memories real or constructed? Are they made from genuine moments or reconstructed by photos and family tales? Where, exactly, does the truth sit? Or when it comes to the past is truth only relative anyway?

My earliest memory centres on a wooden leg standing in corner of a darkened bedroom. Only many years later when I asked my mother about it did she tell me that it belonged to a great grandfather and I had seen it when we visited him. I must have been about two and a half at the time and the disembodied leg has been etched in my memory ever since. Other memories from that time include hiding under a desk which had drawers on either side and feeling secure while the adults talked. Taking a lolly from behind the counter at the barber’s is another. A warm recollection involves being held and cuddled by an Aunty and my bare foot exploring her coat pocket as she always had a treat for her one and only nephew. There are vague recollections too of the trip to Australia on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.

On the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

By the time I emigrated to Australia I was three and a half. This life changing event only holds vague and, on the whole, unreliable memories. There was a model of a ship floating in a barrel. My parents couldn’t substantiate that one. There was also an overall sense of sadness. Not, I think, from leaving Holland but rather from the separation on the boat from my parents for long periods of time. I am told that I was sent to a crèche and that I didn’t like being with crying younger children. One clear image is standing on a lower deck and seeing my parents on the deck above – that memory is always associated with a severe heartache.

My memories take on a firmness (whether true or not!) after our arrival in Australia. All the recollections of the Anderson family at “The Hill” in Mepunga West: Ola, Beth, Old Mrs Anderson and the rest of the multi personalitied clan, represent a tangled ball of wool in which times and events are, after 65 years, impossible to disentangle. The overwhelming emotions, however, are one of joy and security. Even if I wasn’t fully aware of having left a family behind I was now truly embraced by a new one. The main characters in this experience have all passed on but they are still solidly secure in my head and heart.

“Helping” with the milking, feeding hay to the herd and taking the full milk cans to the depot near Smith’s Post Office and telephone exchange (a room at the back of another farm house) and the glorious spread of the afternoon tea before the second milking are all memory-videos that I can replay in my mind without hesitation.

After a few months at the Anderson’s we moved to a house in Allansford opposite the Post Office.

The warning my father gave me about not entering the shed was crystal clear. Many years later I found out that there was a water storage under the shed but floor of the shed floor had become rotten over time and one could fall through the floor and drown.

I had two Uncles who had arrived two years earlier and had been welcomed by the Anderson family. One of these, Adrian, built me a cart.

A clear evocation is walking to the depot (a truck-tray height platform where farmers brought their milk cans every morning and evening) and hanging a billy can on one of a series of nails alongside the platform and then picking up a billycan of fresh milk later in the day. The depot was a little way along the highway out of town. I am sure that my mother would have come with me but all I can recall is walking with the billy can along the side of the road.

Christopher Ingles’ parents owned the local general store just a few metres from our house. Fortunately for me they were kindly people who communicated with my parents. I learned an important life lesson in this store which was that you needed to pay for things in a shop. You couldn’t just walk in and get stuff!

I hadn’t started school yet and my mother had visions of me riding a horse to school. Mum got these visions from some of the films the authorities had shown prospective migrants about Australia. The only problem was that the school was 150 metres away – or should I say “yards” as this was predecimal Australia. In any case it didn’t matter as we moved to Ocean Grove before I started school.

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The Sands of Time

The other day my wife and I took our grandson (15 months) for a walk along the beach near the town where I grew up. Now I need to add that my family gets weary of me telling them about all the events that happened to me in or near this town. Then the roads weren’t paved, the street lights went out at midnight and we could leave our doors unlocked etc. However, now I have a new generation to pester!

teddy-and-me

Grandson and Granddad

The beach we walked on was the one I cleaned every summer during my High School years. From 5 am in the morning to 10 am my mate and I wandered along the beach with our buckets collecting the detritus of the previous day. If the wind was right we also found the loose change that had fallen out of pockets. The coins would sit on little mounds as the sand would have been blown from around them over night. On a good day this would increase our income by 10%. Later I got a promotion to toilet cleaner. This meant I had to clean 13 toilet blocks along this stretch of coast line but I got to drive the old Land Rover from block to block!. My final step up was garbage collector. Then I had reached the pinnacle of my career! Today the rubbish tip has become a golf course and I think to myself, I helped build that!

My favourite story from my time working on the foreshore was when I was preparing the tracks along the campsites before the influx of summer holidaymakers by removing excess sand using a tractor with a scoop. Hooning around a corner with the bucket in the air I

telephone-lines

Old fashioned telephone lines- Google images

collected telephone lines snapping quite a few and interrupted a few conversations. My boss was initially livid but later thanked me because he had been asking the PMG (telecom of its day) for years to have the lines placed underground – which happened because of my youthful foolishness.

The road between my town and the next meandered for 3 kilometres through sand dunes and tea tree. Our town having been a Methodist resort was “dry”. No alcohol was sold within its boundaries. The town next door was under no restrictions. So this route was rather popular at the end of the day among certain gents. However the problem was that Victoria had a “6 o’clock” closing law. All hotels had to stop serving alcohol by 6 pm (this was repealed in 1966). So drinkers had to scull (Aussie vernacular for drinking) their beer as quickly as they could. For the drinkers in my town this made the homeward journey rather interesting if not hair raising.

One of our neighbours, we’ll call him Claude, terrified the locals and the streets in our town were very quiet, children pulled inside and dogs tied up, when we  knew he was coming home.

Now I have a grandson it is incumbent upon me to instill his family history at every opportunity.

 

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Memories That Shape

Two days ago I posted a poem my wife wrote about the death of her father 50 years ago when she was only seven. Her two sisters were nine and two years of age.

Last Sunday was the anniversary of her last “Fathers’ Day” with her dad and today is the anniversary of his death.

Hetty's Family048

My wife (right), her sisters and their Papa … and the puss.

Fifty years later the events of this day are still firmly embedded in her mind. The events, the emotions and the memories have remained clear all these years.

Dad’s are such a critical presence in a child’s life. Even an absent dad.

The girls grew up with a mythology of what having a dad would have been like. Our first argument after we were married was about who would take the rubbish bin out. In my wife’s mind this was the job her father would have done for his wife if he had been alive. I lost the argument – and most others since.

In many ways my wife’s memories of seven years are just as powerful as my memories of my father over 44 years. Her memories of family walks, dad coming home after work, meal times, stories and the like are etched so clearly and deeply – reinforced by years of remembered loss.

Not all the memories, we have discovered over time, were accurate. Because there was a tool box in the house didn’t mean that he was a brilliant handyman. That is what my wife thought and that is the image that she compared me with. She found out many years after we were married that this was far from the truth. This took some of the burden off me!

Warm memories are like treasures which we nurture and protect. We can take them out of the box every now and then to admire and to reminisce. They give perspective and depth to our lives and take us out of our present and anchor us in our past.

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