Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Flemish Gypsy

At some point in Bob's disease I was able to get some help with a daycare via the VA. They liked him there as he did not make a fuss and sat in a corner waiting for a bus. They asked him a bus to go where? He answered Santa Cruz (his birth place) . The workers made a sign and put it on the wall above his chair. The sign read " Bus to Santa Cruz". He loved it and after meals or play time he went for his corner. When the bus driver came to get him home he was easy to get on the vehicle and when he saw me he did not complain.

This made me think that perhaps we always have a desire to go home again. Perhaps it is going back to our childhood. No matter what kind of childhood we had. Is there this yearning to go back because we know the end is near or do we think that this was a good place which we left.

Lately I go back to my own history , 8 decades of it.

We were a dysfunctional family before the word was invented. There was a lot of womanizing on the part of my father. My mother had been raised in a convent till she was 18 and entered into her marriage at 19. Not knowing much about the world at large outside convent walls. To say that she was strict and Victorian is just a tiny bit of her make up. Mother did not know the word "grey". It was white or black. She also had a bit of a temper. My father was cool as a cucumber and calm, always calm but sarcastic and not understanding the word "love". 

Both parents products of WW1. My grandfather Van Melle was a first class musician and was called in to fight but he really conducted the army's band, he directed and did the solos including Mozarts Oboe concerto.( I always saw that man with an oboe in hand, I was small and wondered if he ever ate.    )But he was taken prisoner and his wife was stuck with 8 children. 3 passed on early in life. My father and his little brother learned German very quickly and learned how to steal at the soldiers camps in Hasselt where they had been settled just before the war. 

My mom and her sister came out of the convent during the war and fled from one town to the other. She remembers running with a gas mask. All survived but had nothing but stories about "their war". 

Soon I had my own "war".  The grown ups were not convincing me that this too shall pass very quickly. It was more about doom, bombings and being without. Father was a policeman and had joined the underground in 1938 started by one of his officers when he was in the army.

Father had excuses not to be home much.

What in that period would I want to go back too? I can't imagine.

The Americans came and changed my world. Anything American I just loved. If a movie came out we just saved franc by franc so I could see Doris Day, then my idol. I knew I wanted to be in the USA. I thought Errol Flynn would be my lover, he had a reputation of liking young girls. 

I worked early on (15) in my mother's office. I called her the "gendarmerie". She watched me like a ferocious lion. I was the receptionist and I was spoiled by the reps who came in wanting to talk to the engineers and little old me calling all over the plant to make sure they knew someone was waiting. Next visit the rep would come in with a box of chocolates for me. Mother did not like that at all. She said I was young and man looked at me differently. Lucky I had my own office but I just could not wait till I could leave her company. During that period in the early 1950's the only way out was for me to marry. (another prison). So I found a man willing to move away from Ghent. He wanted to go to the Belgian Congo. It was still rich for the Belgians who pretended to work there and had servants and little consideration for the Congolese. I did not understand much about these prospects but I knew I did not want that. I wanted the USA. We married in 1951 and by August 1953 we were on a boat to Canada to wait for a visa for the USA. We had a sponsor willing to sign for us so we would NOT depend on the government. We also could not have TB nor affiliation with communism

My mother was devastated, her only child, how could I? How cruel I was, she would not know her grandchildren, (she did) she would be sick and I would not be there for her.(I was) I was just like my father. Later she said that she wondered if they changed babies and I was a GYPSY!

My cousins did not want to leave Belgium. My aunts had never left. What was wrong with me? They all looked at me figuring that I must be in a bad mental state. An old boyfriend even came to say goodbye to me and my mother chaperoned as I was then a new bride. Jean started to cry and said :I will never see you again. I had a hard time keeping a straight face. He never saw me anyway. Do not know if mother had not arranged this as a last plea.

My journey took me to Montreal, New Brunswick NJ, Milltown NJ, San Jose Cal, Campbell Ca,Brookdale Ca, Boulder Creek Ca. It was in Brookdale that after 17 years of pain that I managed to make a break from my Belgian husband. By then I was an American against his wishes. A divorce followed and I opened a shop with second hand clothing in what I saw as a first indoor art/antique/fleamarket, in Santa Cruz. The angels must have had a concert when I met Bob there, I did not hear their concert, I thought Bob's paintings looked like photos and I did not believe he could paint like that. He had just moved back to S.C from San Francisco.   He was a bachelor. He was 42 and I was 36 with 2 girls. 

He adored the girls and he and I had a relationship which is very rare. We worked together 24/7 in the art and antique business. Some people can't handle breakfast , lunch and dinner with the same person every day and I and him did not want to be apart. Looking back I am thinking how damn lucky I have been. Even when he no longer knew he was married, did not know my name, he would look at me and his eyes all but sparkled. He knew "something". Down deep he knew that he loved this person and I loved him. 


We moved to spain for almost 5 years and after that came by "accident" to NC but always missed California.      We had a son in Malaga but we did forget to put him on the Spanish books (still under Franco regime) and rushed to get an American birth certificate. Our Malaganian was the ice cream on the cake. 

The rest is 42 years of marriage which included sadly enough 13 years of being ill with dementia. 

So I go back to the fact that I am thinking a lot about my home town, I would go back in a nano minute but for the enormous hearing loss (80%) which makes it hard to even understand the announcements in the airport, loud as they are. Having a chaperone is OK and nice but after awhile I am tired of asking:"What did she say?"

So this Flemish Gypsy will be happy to sit in front of the Atlantic Ocean and think that somewhere a boat is going towards Belgium and I am here sitting like a queen and resting, smelling the salt sea with Bijou in my lap. 

Who cares what part of Belgium I truly miss I am in a very good place right now too.      



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