The Canadian years, 92, the ashes and the river

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Wednesday 25 February 09:07


The ashes and the river

The evening passed and in any story of my father, I appeared better and bigger than life. I looked at the ring and shut myself off from all the complimentary stories. It had come out of the hands of my grandfather . I felt that I now had a talisman, a connection to my grandfather, a connection to the ancient India. I had a bottle of old spice of my brother and I had a ring that had belonged to my grandfather, as if he was reaching out across a generation back to me. Two valuable assests. I tried to picture the story of the ring. In 1920 my grandfather had carved out his existence in Java and when my dad had finished the Grammar school,  he had given his ring to my father. ‘You are going to be enrolled,’ he have said, ‘here you can not get the training that I have in mind for you’. He was the only son and the apple of my grandfather’s eye. ‘You are going to Delft in the home country and will have to live in rooms, he said. Every two years we will see each other on leave. This is my ring for you, wear it and do not disgrace us in a distant land.

My father promised to do so. Like my grandfather and his father, he would study engineering at Delft University, the technical male bastion. The stronghold of student associations, such as the Virgiel to which both my grandfather and his father had belonged. Where you dined in tails and never brought any report out. Where friendships were forged between those who would serve 40 years in a highly technical world, before becoming  retired. Pragmatic men with love for technology. With pain in his heart my  grandfather had  waved his son out, until the ship was a speck and then no longer distinguishable.

‘Why don’t you bring the little ones to bed,’ my father said kindly, taking  my mind away from  the old East Indies, rupturing the image, ‘and tell them a story’, ‘I'll have to discuss something with Pastor Ohler and Betsy can you make some coffee please?’ The little girls brushed their teeth and put their pyjama’s on. They jumped into bed,’ hah a fairy tale,’ Tonka said. ‘What fairy tale do you want to hear,¡ I asked? ‘Hmm Frau Holle,’ Tonka called out and Nicolette reiterated that. ‘There were once two sisters,’ I started, ‘who fell into the ditch.’ ‘No,’ they shouted, ‘stupid boy,’ and they burst out laughing,’ one fell into the well.’ ‘Oh yeah,’ I said, and went on. They were old jokes but they always worked without failing. I stopped after a while, Nicolet’s, eyelids had already gone heavy.


When I went to tuck  Marion, our Tonka as she called herself in, she said, ‘Boy?’  ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘You are not going hunting, huh?’ ‘No’, I said, ‘I feel sorry for the animals.’ ‘Me too,’ she said.’ Really you won’t do it, huh? Not even in secret.’ ‘No,’ I said, not even secretly.’ ‘Promised, huh?’ This was strange, I thought.’ Of course,’ I said, ‘I promise. Why do you ask Tonka?’ ‘Because mom Betsy said that.’ ‘Betsy, said that to you, Tonka?’ ‘No to Dad.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, what did she say exactly Tonka.’ She pulled a grown up big wrinkle,’ eh maybe he needs to go hunting with you...’ ‘ Go sleep well sweet heart,’ I said ‘I will certainly not do that’. Moments later, I turned off the light and went back to the salon.

Around the church, said Ohler, which was formerly very common, the dead were always around the church. We will let choir sing and then you walk with the ashes and scatter them little by little, while I ring the church bell. Then she will be rung out as it were..’ ‘That is a bit too ..’ my father said, ‘I’d rather have the choir  later. ‘What is it about’, I asked when I sat down again.’ Where we disperse mom,’ said my father, ‘as if it was about feeding pigeons.’ ‘No,’ I said,’ mom stays with us.’ ? I won’t  have her here in my house’, Betsy said, ‘and around the house is impossible because we will soon be moving.’’ Really’, I asked? I would have liked to give her a slap. ‘We are going to live in Huntington Hills. We have seen a nice house.’ ‘We,’ I asked? ‘Big Dan and I,’ she said decidedly. ‘Precisely, glad I now know that as well.’ ‘We need to do something with those ashes boy,’ my father said, ‘and around  the church is not a bad idea.’ ‘I did not even know mums ashes were released,’ I said. ‘I've put them in the shed,’ said Betsy, ‘on the workbench.’ ‘You have what..?’, I said as I felt anger rising about so much bluntness. ‘It is in a small square box,’ she added to it. ‘You did not have the right to open it,’I said.

‘That's the last thing I would want,’ Betsy said, ‘rummaging in one's ashes.’ I got up abruptly and walked out the door. On the bench was a small cardboard box. ‘Oh Mom’, I said, ‘there you are, I'll fight myself to death before I let that moron scatter you around the church. With reverence I picked it up as if it were a precious gift. ‘This is my mother,’ I said, when I entered the house again, ‘the woman I love dearly.’ I felt strong thanks as well to my grandfather’s ring which I wore and it did not interest me what Betsy would or would not do. I held the box in my lap. ‘Let him’, my father said, ‘he means well.’ I knew what had to do be done, my mother had to be free and not rest in an urn or a box or scattered where she would not have wanted to be strewn out.

I thought of the poem by the Byrds about the river, the one I had given  to my brother. ‘Mom loved to travel’, I said and I began to recite out loud. ‘ the river flows, it flows to the sea, where ever that river flows , that is where I want to be flow flow river flow..’ That does not come from the Bible Ohler said sternly. ‘No fortunately not,’ I said, ‘otherwise people would mess it up.’ ‘Tomorrow, I want to entrust Mom to the river,’ I said, ignoring him further. ‘Not thrown in, but not laid lovingly floating along with the stream, so she’ll be carried with the flow to the sea where she can go traveling around the world. Where ever I will be in my life,’ I decided, ‘she will be near me..’


‘That's nice,’ Ohler added, ‘because she was baptized ..’ and I picked up the whiskey bottle and poured it in, that is yours pastor because we have seen the light.’ ‘Thank you boy’, he said. ‘Then comes the choir ..’ ‘No,’ I said, there will be no choir. I will sing with my heart and my tears will accompany her in the water, because I will never see her again. There are only two people at this table who can do that and those are dad and I, the rest is not worthy.’ I could no longer talk, the chunk in my throat  prevented it, my throat ached and was screwed tight.’ He has gone mad,’ Betsy said. ‘Shut up Betsy,’ said my father,’ he's right, later I’ll sort him out.’ I understood that it was a bad promise to my address but it meant nothing to me anymore. I had my voice back and said, ‘I have brought my mother home and now I will take her to my room as a wake. I took my mother and I left the room  and in doing so I said, ‘Pastor Ohler with all due respect this is for my father and me.’

‘This is what he is like all the time,’ I heard Betsy say. ‘He makes our lives so difficult. ‘It did not interest me, tomorrow I would trust my mother to the river and she would be freed from all kinds of horrible people with bombastic rituals, applied for  their own interests.’Flow Flow river flow, let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town.’


San Daniel 2015

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