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The Canadian years, 64, the aftershave

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Tuesday 03 February 17:47


The aftershave

We were back at the table and my mother was still looking happy. My sister had cooked a wonderful meal and my uncle and aunt were beaming beside my mother. Betsy sat next to my father.’You should not swim against the tide because then you’ll drown,’ she had said a few days ago to me. I decided to be less critical. It was no denying the arrival of my uncle and aunt had given everything an almost positive turn. My father almost behaved sociable until I noticed something. Something strange. In the stories at the table or in conversation with my aunt and uncle, my brother always played a major role. Not once, no every time. We all had, because of my father's work, lived in various countries. But we had all been there, the entire family. That is not what an outsider would think when he heard my father tell a story. Nevertheless, our experiences had been shared experiences.

Many events in the stories were events from the past, which was logical for that is where they had taken place. What was missing were contemporary events. Everything happened in the past which was completed safe and immutable. Was I the only one who noticed it? Or was I jealous? That was not me, I knew that down to my toes. Suddenly at the so manieth story, this time in Malta, where my brother was guarding the security of the family, on an elevated rock in a deserted bay, playing  shark lookout, the penny dropped.


My father was working out something that had to do with my brother. I could hear behind the words, I could read it. He also wanted my uncle and aunt to think when they were back in the Netherlands, that my father and my brother were the greatest of friends. I realized it, just like solving a sum or a physics equation, I realized it was an irrefutable truth. Nothing happens without a reason and I did not understand the reason behind it, but that was the main idea. In the following story, which by the way was a nice one, my brother played the main role again. Almost all stories were associated with him.

If my uncle said that he once had a puncture during the pouring rain, then you could wait for it. My father, immediately, told a story about a rainstorm, a rain storm he had endured to see my brother. ‘I know exactly what you mean’, he said, I rode the motorcycle to the hospital through rain, an incredible pounding rain, the water became a screen before my eyes and the cold cut to the bone. I went to my first born son and he nodded at my brother. I stepped through the doors of the hospital and where I stopped, a puddle formed around my feet. It was about the rain but it was also about why he had become so wet, his newly born son, my brother. I gave up, I could find no reason and thought that maybe I saw ghosts.  I now know, that the plan was not yet visible, it lay hidden in a possible future plan, which still needed execution.

My brother took the floor and said,’ I will be a few days away from home.’ ‘Oh,’ my father said and looked at him as if he were an object of study. ‘What for?’ ‘I will go for my work two days to Vancouver,’ said my brother, ‘a short supplementary course on heavy duty mechanics.’ My father wanted to take over the conversation immediately, but my brother continued, maybe uncle Henk and aunt Jet want to come along. We’ll be gone just a few days and they get to see a very different part of the country’.’ Is it far,’ asked my aunt? ‘Vancouver is, 600 miles away,’ replied my brother, ‘we’ll take the high route that saves travel time, through the BC Icefields,’ ‘What are those,’ my uncle asked? ‘A glacier area,’ replied my brother, ‘in the winter the tunnels are closed there but now in late spring they’ll be open.’  ‘That sounds like a lot of fun,’ my uncle, which I could understand, because they spent all day next to my mother in the living room.

‘Oh yeah,’ my brother said, ‘I’d like to speak to you, later’ and he looked at me, ‘it's about your Pontiac.’ ‘Okay,’ I said, if only he had not found something serious wrong with it, I thought, for my cash reserves were running right low. He saw my distressed look and laughed, ‘it is about something good,’ he said, you’ll hear it later.’ ‘Mom’, the kids asked with their sweet light voices.’ Yes,’ my mother said, and I realized however ill a mother is, she will always hear the voices of her children. ‘Were we baptized,’ asked Marion? ‘Yes Tonka,’ my mother said with a blissful smile.’Mom, was I baptized,’ asked the youngest one now.’ Letty yes, you too’, my mother laughed.’ I was present’, said Aunt Jet. ‘Was I also sweet on your arm,’ asked Marion. ‘Very sweet,’ my mother said, ‘you were scared of the cold water’. ‘Was I sweet on your arm too,’ Letty wanted know. ‘You too were very sweet,’ my mother smiled at her. ‘You see,’ Marion said to her sister, ‘we are all baptized here.’


As a small part of the conversation focused on baptism, my father took over the word. ‘When my oldest son was baptized’, and he looked around scrutinizingly, ‘the priest, who was a very good friend of mine also put some butter on his head’. I looked at my brother, ‘hey’ I said, ‘it is still there, oh no, sorry, it's brylcreme.’ We all laughed accept for my father who looked at me as if I had wronged him. Only a week ago he would have slapped me, now he laughed a wry laugh. He carried in his view the suffering of my mother all alone and he must have felt it that way. Making decisions all by himself. The arrival of my uncle and aunt had reasonably normalized life. I suddenly realized that he had been torn by inner conflict. I also had the greatest difficulty with the situation and could not accept what was happening to my mom, but I had an escape. My friends, Beverly and the boys. My father had nothing, he worked at the university, came home into a melancholy situation, every day. Stomping in and kicking the dog were just signs of deep frustration. Since my uncle and aunt had come that did not happen anymore. I felt an understanding for my father. An understanding that some weeks later, he would lose forever.

‘You want to know, of course, what I have to say about your Pontiac,’ asked my brother while we were drying dishes under the supervision of my sister. ‘Yes,’ I said ‘I would like to know that.’ ‘It's a worthless wreck,’ my brother began, but when he saw what effect it had on me, he laughed and said, ‘I was only teasing you. The car is perfect. I took a cheap insurance for your wheels, you hear me, your wheels boy and I paid 16 dollars for the plates, road tax.’ ‘Wow’, I said, ‘thank you!’ ‘Oh yeah, I’d like to see that money come back some day,’ my brother said, ‘but in your own time, do not rush with it.’ ‘Hmm,’ he said there was something else, ‘what was that again now.’  Just the way I always teased my little sisters telling them a fairytale. ‘What was it again?’ He laughed suddenly and said, ‘ok , I’ll say it, I have filled it up, I do that only once because there's a monster of a tank in it’. ‘How much did it take,’ I asked a little worried. ‘No’, my brother said, ‘I am the great brother, the sharks lookout from Malta and all the other 540 adventures more. That’s my pre Christmas gift for you, good luck with your car!’


‘You're really good,’ I cried and I hugged him. Ho ho, my brother said, ‘you're my brother, my unshaven brother and there was still some .. hmm, what was it again? He kept the excitement into it. He picked up a small package.’For you’, he said, ‘we can not tolerate barbarians behind the steering wheel.’ The package contained a white bottle 'Old Spice' aftershave. ‘It's not Christmas yet,’ I laughed. ‘No, see it as a pre birthday gift. If I go to Vancouver I’ll take my own aftershave, and so you have got some now, and when I come back, you won’t use mine anymore. ‘You really are amazing,’ I cried.’ Oh yeah’, my brother said,’ in order to avoid confusion between our bottles, yours is slightly larger not to make it last longer, but then you have no excuse to use the wrong one.

I just could not stop smiling and he was right, the last gift I got from him, still lasts, now after 46 years, it is still on a shelf in the bathroom. It was the only thing I could take with me when I fled from my parents' home. Only on special days I put a drop behind my ears so my brother is present in the spirit and then again I feel the pain, because no matter how well you suppress the pain, sometimes it comes forth without warning.

San Daniel 2015

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