Ben Oostdam story # 254


Last night I dreamed of my Aunt Tinah. I was cycling in Amsterdam and had just left the Vondelpark, then decided to ride by her apartment at the corner of The Roelof Hartplein.
When I looked up at her window, she waved at me and met me a bit later at the door. I recall her saying the word "opslag", but then I woke up and continued thinking about her.
By now she should be well into her eighties, and I have not seen her for more than a decade. I maintain a minumum contact with her son Rick, who recently retired early, pulled up roots and now lives on a farm in France. According to Rick, she is in amazingly good shape.
I distinctly remember our first meeting, when she just had gotten engaged to my Uncle Joop, my mother's younger brother. I must have been about nine years old and was impressed with her "girlfriend" status. Joop had just gotten a job at the Incassobank after completing the Gymnasium. He rode his bike to work for years, well through my gymnasium years spent not far from the first Amsterdam Skyscraper building which housed the Incassobank. Later, my sister Carla and I went to their wedding, and after that, they moved into the apartment next to the Incassobank at the corner of the Keizer Karelweg in Amstelveen. That was a marvelous house with mysterious niches and corners and where we later yet visited to play with our cousins Ciska and Ricky.
Aunt Tinah was born in the Netherlands East Indies, where her father was a well-known jurist and authority on "Adat - Law".
Her brother was also a lawyer and represented the Netherlands in the United Nations Law of the Sea Conferences. Intrigued as I was with the Indies, I loved my two aunts who had lived there - and had thus become "pedis"-rice instead of "rice with butter and sugar" proponents, who could display and tell tales about the "pusaka" krisses and brass sirih sets and gongs they had taken back home with them just before WWII. Both of them appeared aristocratic and had an aura of complicated family affaires and alliances.
I recalled the pleasant summer evenings spent in our yard with Aunt Tinah, my parents, my cousin Lo who since emigrated to New Zealand and established a family of 26 there, but who that summer courted one of the two sisters living in a room we rented. They both worked for the KLM, one as a link-trainer. Regretfully, they were Roman Catholic and Lo was Reformed, so there was no hope for them....Nevertheless, we ate tons of cherries, he played the guitar and would take a lock of Tinah's long hair, hold it under his nose and say: "I've always wanted to be a man with a droopy moustache!" which tickled her pink.
In 1960, I organized that my "boss" at Woods Hole would lodge with my parents with his wife and three children, while we did a research project with the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat. At the last minute, we also took along the WHOI underwater photographer, who was to stay at my aunt Tinah's. When we picked him up there after his first night, he told us that my aunt had gently tapped on his door late in the evening and asked him at what time he would want her "to knock him up" the next morning.
Next, they moved to a large country house in the woods near Doorn. I recall a party there where we all gathered around the table and saw Ciska carrying in a lit oil-cooking set for a Bourguignon dish. Suddenly, the flames burst out and threatened to scorch her hair and face. All of us appeared frozen in time, except Uncle Joop who jumped up and took the burning pan between his fore arms and walked it outdoors. We were all very impressed and grateful, because nothing much had happened to Ciska. Joop had first degree burns on both arms, however, and was treated for months. Around the same time, two ladies moved into the small gate house of the property, and it was only years later that we found out that they had both worked with Joop in the Bank in Amsterdam and that one of them had had an affair with Joop for years. It was strange also to see later how she took care of him when he died and how she and Tinah managed to get along with each other.
The next contact that came to mind was a summer in the nineties, when my American friend Paul and I stayed at Rick's house while he went vacationing to France. We found all kinds of notes as to what to do with the cats and the groceries, and were surprised to find that Hilversum had at some time been a "Zuiderzee" port and that we stayed close to the old harbor. For some months after this, Rick's daughter E-mailed with us. Decades ago, her Aunt Ciska had gotten married to an ardent sailor and made him get a job on the shore, which led to a divorce. Since then, she lived with a friend and lost touch with us. If, as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I do plan to visit Aunt Tinah(d.v.) and Ciska this coming June when I plan some family and food time in the Netherlands.

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