Monday 1 December 2008

Bedtime story

Let me tell you a story about your grandpa tonight. He was a very special man, Maggie. Unlike most Canadians, he decided to stay in Holland after the war was over. Oh yes, most of them fell in love with the Dutch girls, and believe me, the Allied soldiers were very popular among the natives. There's a lot of Dutch people my age that don't know their father, because most of them returned to Canada after a brief love affair. But your grandpa was different. His love for Theresa, my mother, was serious. He adored her, and asked her to marry him immediately. When she died while giving birth to me, he was devastated.
Though he'd only known her for a year, he never really got over the loss. I cannot blame him. You should see the pictures of her, she was gorgeous. That's where you got your ginger curls and freckles from, I figure. You'll grow up to look just like her, I'm sure, and men will swarm around you like wasps around a catcher.
Without Theresa, one would say, he didn't really have a reason to stay, but he wanted his daughter to grow up in the country of his beloved. And I believe he loved The Netherlands like he loved my mother: indulging in the soft curves of the rivers, overwhelmed by the rough sea and exhilarated by the perky spots as if they were her nose and nipples.
Oh yes, he loved every inch of that country: both the feminine, damaged but resilient cities and the bold, masculine countryside; the prude protestant peasants and the wild worldly women he had helped to liberate. He loved it so much, he couldn't really chose for one side of it. He wanted it as a whole. He rented a room in a city near the sea, but kept travelling to the countryside to see if he could do anything for the farmers.
The easiest way to help, he found out soon, was by transporting their goods. That way the farmers could focus on what they loved most and what they were good at: growing crops, rearing cattle and breeding poultry. So every week he returned with his van loaded with vegetables, fruit, eggs, cheese and what not. He would sell the goods to the local shops and return the money he got for it to the farmers the next week. They were more than happy to share their profits with him, because somehow he managed to sell their goods much better and it seemed to cost him no effort at all. The grocers liked him too. Along with their supplies he brought them the news he had picked up at his other clients', and he could often arrange a good deal for them. Both the farmers and the grocers told their colleagues about his services, and soon he transported goods every day of the week.
According to Dutch measures, he made a good protestant, too. He never liked to spend much money. We never moved to bigger place, no matter how I begged him, and most weekdays we ate what he couldn't sell or what the shopkeepers gave us as a sign of loyalty. With his savings, he bought a small lorry, and after a couple of years he had to appoint a second driver. By the time I was sixteen, my father was one of the richest men in the Netherlands, my dear. And do you know why?
I'll tell you why. Because he followed his heart. Oh yes, my father knew what he wanted, he wanted to stay in touch with every aspect of the country he loved so much. And he found a way to respect others' ambitions as well as his own. The farmers could focus on farming, the grocers on their city life, and your grandfather could benefit from them both. That's the lesson I want you to learn from his life: as long as everyone gets to do what they love most and what they're good at, everything will work out fine.
Sleep well, my darling, and may you take after your grandpa as much as after his beloved wife.

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