Your basket (0 items) | view basket
A Hundred-Year-Old Giant Tortoise27 June 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
Last Saturday I went to a reunion. I can just hear my friends say: ‘But you never go to reunions!’ That’s right: normally you wouldn’t find me at such an event. Death is the guest of honour at most reunions. But I went as my mother’s wheelchair-pusher.
It’s not that she can’t walk, but she can’t walk or stand for very long. I was wearing a suit and a white shirt so that I wouldn’t embarrass her when introducing myself as her son.
The reunion took place in the village where my mother (aged 87) and Aunt Ted (aged 85) were born. My mother prefers me to use 88 and 86, because they both have their birthdays in a couple of weeks’ time. Just four siblings survive out of eleven brothers and sisters. The school where their father was headmaster was celebrating its hundredth anniversary, and that’s why I went with my mother and Aunt Ted.
The classrooms were labelled by era and the first sign said: ‘1912–1945’. ‘That’s us,’ I muttered, and no kidding: my grandfather was hanging on the wall. Well, not in person – he has been buried in the cemetery behind the school since 1946 – but photos showing my grandfather were hanging everywhere. I wasn’t born until 1962, but still I feel I know him, because we were told the stories. ‘He was a darling,’ according to my mother.
An elderly man asked who I was, and I answered: ‘I’m Jacques Hendriksen’s grandson.’ He replied enthusiastically: ‘Ah, the headmaster.’ ‘Those are his daughters,’ I added; ‘the one wearing a hat is my mother.’ The same conversation was repeated about twenty times.
‘Hello, headmaster’s Mientje!’ a few people exclaimed. ‘Hermien, actually,’ my mother said quietly, because that’s been her name ever since she was born. ‘You’ve shrunk,’ noted the man who once used to ice-skate with her. That’s true: my mother is losing height and she stayed standing for far too long in order to say hello to people. I suddenly wanted to give her a cuddle.
I had never had seen so many people in one place who had known my grandfather, who was born in 1882. Four elderly men with faces looking like apples that had outlived their time in the fruit basket were examining a picture. ‘Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters,’ I whispered in my mother’s ear, and I thought about my grandfather, who had always wanted to move away from the village. Not until the last year of his life did he finally go to live in the local town.
The strange thing is that I knew the names of the elderly reunion-goers from the stories. Only this time they told me who else had died: a jolly gathering is beginning to form in the cemetery behind the school, also the resting place of my grandmother and Uncle Harry.
One of my earliest memories is of going for drives on Sunday afternoons. We regularly passed through the village; that’s how I know where grandfather’s father’s tobacco shed was. Recently we took my mother for a drive around the village, and she could point out who lived in which house: ‘Look, that’s where Mr Arnold and Miss Cor lived, at Tusculum.’
Are there still people who remember Mr Arnold and Miss Cor? I even know the first names of my grandparents and great-grandparents.
I’m already the owner of my paternal family’s archive. At some point I shall inherit the maternal archive too. When all of the previous generation has died I’ll have inherited around ten graves. I’m collecting the dead.
I’m starting to feel like Lonesome George, the hundred-year-old giant tortoise who died last week on the Galapagos Islands. He had never bred either; he was the end of the line. I just hope they don’t stuff me like George.
I’ve made up my mind to turn up, as a hundred-year-old, very much alive at the school’s 150th anniversary, just in order to announce: ‘Hello, I’m Jacques Hendriksen’s grandson.’
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
You can leave your comment on our forum.
Tips for Parents
Tell a friend
Back to magazine
Magazine archiveMay 2013
NewsReciting in the Rain
19 June 2012
Poetry conquers Manchester
Find out more
Finding Soutbek & Karen Jennings
19 June 2012
Breaking launch records!
Find out more
Launch of Finding Soutbek
07 May 2012
June 13, Book Lounge, Cape Town
Find out more