water color by my great-uncle and painter Gerard Huijsser (1892-1970)
OK, everyone, I feel a bit bad about posting that last story about my mom. We had an interesting relationship for sure but I also know she loved me, and she probably loved me more than I loved her back, although, admittedly, I never doubted her love for me and I think, I hope, I pray, she knew I loved her the way we all want to be loved.
I spent the last night of her life with her while she was coming and going into a morphine-induced dream and I thanked her and told her I loved her and gave her permission to let go. I hope and I think she knew I loved her for being the mom she was for the majority of her and my life– however, what you saw in the piece I posted was not my mom, but a destructive disease taking over every healthy brain cell it could find and voilà that was the hapless narrative we both shared at that point.
More importantly, we do carry our parents with us as we go through the rest of our lives ourselves and in some way that relationship is also a very interesting one– a relationship of renewed appreciation and love. I remember that when my mother had just passed, I told some friends, whose parents had passed too, that I was so afraid that those last few images of her struggling and dying would be seared onto my brain– but time is both cruel and just, because as my friends assured me, those images would fade and be replaced by the younger and healthier images of my mom. And this is happening as we speak, as I write these lines.
To counterbalance the piece I wrote I want to show you a piece of my mom she was particulary proud of. Even though she never went to college, she had a way with words and she was the go-to person for songs composed for weddings (yes we do that in Holland– make songs to embarrass the bride and groom, just so everyone can have a laugh and make us realize that life is vanitas— remember those Dutch vanitas paintings in the museums you have seen?) and Sinterklaas poems– unlike Christmas presents, the Dutch celebrate St Nick’s birthday on Dec 5th, which is not so much about the presents as the poems that come with the presents, usually making fun of something the receiver would chalk up as a bad habit or an occurrence that year the receiver is not particularly proud of. Case in point, when my grandmother came over one night for dinner and we were out of toilet paper, my grandmothers wrapped 100 rolls of tp with a poem to give to my mom at Sinterklaasavond, or pakjesavond. It’s the whole humility thing again– Calvinism, whatever you want to call it, but I see it as a Dutch inclination to tell the world that no one, NO ONE should take themselves too seriously and well, if they do, someone should tell them that their head’s too big or their pride too petty. (We don’t do that enough in this country…)
So… my mother, late in life, discovered she could write poetry… and she was good! Got published and won prizes. Sadly, poetry, like opera, seems one of these art forms that have connotations of pennilessness and hobbies for retired people (for who can afford the opera?! I realized that when I went to an opera performance in San Fran and was surrounded by people with very expensive opera gear/cocktail dresses, sipping champagne).
I think I may have given her the self-confidence to write more when we started reading an old diary of her uncle (my great-uncle) together; his name was Gerard Huijsser (1892-1970) and he was a painter who traveled around North Africa as if it were Paris and he wrote about the most amazing adventures– trekking through the desert on camels, meeting people from all over the world, getting drunk, getting laid, and getting into bar brawls. He was funny and we loved him as a character so we decided to write about him in two little books that we self-published for the family. For the second volume, my mom prefaced the book with a poem of hers that I found again today and it’s the poem I want to share with you here.
She was just starting out as a poet but I was struck again today that she had that touch, that love of language which I recognize and love too, but she was the master and I am just the admiring student. I will give her version in Dutch and give my translation below, although her version is much better and mine, well, let me just say that in the world of translation, translating poetry is the hardest thing to do. Here it is:
Ik zie de bladzij van zijn leven
Ik zag de toekomst, het verleden
De smart, de liefde uit zijn dagen
Ik keek door de nevels van zijn leven
Zoekend naar de wortels van mijn wezen
Voel ik de illusie
Van doorleefde dagen
Ik mis de wellust, haat en honger
En proef de helderheid van het heden
De generatie van een droom
Van charleston en schildersdoeken
De schaduw van een bewogen leven
Loopt langs de letters van mijn oom.
~ Laurine Hollander Francken
Gerard Huijsser and his little niece, Laurine, In Memoriam
I touch the pages of his past
And witness the dimension of his days
A pain, a love experienced so real
Yet I see them in a haze
While reading my way back to family roots
I feel the illusion
Of days lived and full
Yet I miss the lust, hate and hunger
In the transparent numbness of the now
The generation of a dream
Dancing the Charleston and painting canvases unseen…
While his shadow of a life well-lived
Falls across the page.
The translation never does justice to the original, but I hope I am paying homage here to the artistic souls in my family, with whom I reconnect in this paltry form of what we call a blog. Mom, uncle Gerard, I owe you, love you and remember you. Thank you for being in my life.