Sunday, July 6, 2014


and so he did.
I was thinking all day about my cousin who passed away yesterday.
I could not get him out of my mind.
I had not seen him since he became sick (Alzheimer/dimentia), I had not been home
in fact since Bob was seriously advanced with the same malaise.

Home to me is Belgium.
I had 2 cousins left and now I am down to one.
The numbers are dwindling fast.
Why did I always think it would all last forever?
I'd get my ticket out of season and visit Mom, then the cousins, friends and
my usual trips to the fleamarket on Friday.

I thought I should give him more honor than a few lines of "au revoir, RIP".
He was born in 1932, 6 months after me.
He had the most beautiful crop of red hair.
In our Flemish Folklore it is said that red heads are TROUBLE.
He was no exception, he was full of mischief.
His sister said that he got more spankings than food.
I'd rather doubt it because their parents were quite mild.
However, I do think that daily he found something to ruin by taking it apart.
He always had to know what make something work, getting it back together was another matter.

He had learning disability. In school he would be bored and get in trouble so it was not
his place of choice.
Quite early in his teens he was an apprentice in a toolmaker shop.
There he came into his own. His hands could be full of grease so you hardly saw his fingernails and he was in heaven.
What no one could figure out was that he did not understand math.
YET, he could read the blue prints and make parts accordingly with accuracy  to the millimeter.
 Later he was hired at a larger factory and stayed there till his late years before he retired.
Often after his retirement they would call him to come in and solve a major problem.
They could always count on him.

He married a gorgeous girl when both were too young.
She liked to party and dance, that only lasted a short time. He never wanted to drink alcohol.
He had finished his army duties of 2 years and I think anything in the partying vein he had done
already then.
So he started to immerse himself in a hobby.
Fixing clocks was his first love. He'd buy old clocks in the fleamarket and try to find parts to make them work.
Soon he had his own "man cave" filled with clocks and parts and junk!
He also became a bit of a recluse.
He continued to work every day but he was starting to be afraid of everything his immagination
could get together. Afraid to eat certain things. Afraid to wear a new coat so he would hang on to a rag of a jacket. He had panic disorder and more and more stayed inside. He would go as far as an auction house if he wanted a part but he would stay at the door and not go in. They knew to watch for his bid.
He bought a car thinking this would help him and his wife (she went to work on her bike every day
and wanted better) .Quickly he found out that driving the car made him very confused. The streets he knew by heart, he had been in all of them in the city on his bicycle, this felt different, there were signs
to pay attention to, cars coming and going. It was to much. He became extremely worried about driving this machine and sold it to buy a heavy motorbike. That became his friend. His poor wife rode on the
back when he was in a mood to go somewhere but the party scene was no longer his scenario.
They were married I think about 15 years when she found a much older man with a luxurious apartment
and divorced. I did not blame her.

Her background was quite different from ours. She was raised with the "boat people".
"Boat People" I was explained by my Mom, were very special.
She showed me the daily row of barges which went to and fro on the canal of Terneuzen
by our doorsteps. Sometimes I saw children and we waived. I learned what nationality they were from the flags hanging at the rear. You could tell if they were loaded with merchandise as the boat was really close to the water, if the barge was empty of goods it was floating quite high.

To the boat people that was their house and their living.
Many would continue this for generations.
They would have comfortable living quarters usually at the back of the barge and a very large
hole next to that to fill with goods, coal, lumber, all sorts of items went from a factory to a
delivery place in another city or country. When trucks became popular after the war that took a bite  in that industry but as far as I know there still are barges working the canals.
The kids were often sent to boarding schools. In every port they would dock sometimes 4 and 5 side by side
so they had to jump from one boat to the other to get to a street but that was not a problem.
The boat people were all old friends up and down the waterways.
They would hang out in the same taverns and restaurants and share ideas about what to avoid.
It was a very tight group. Very jovial. Very giving. Hard to get into their so called society.
E's wife had grown up in that millieu and I think then her parents were still on the barge.

When E. became single he just immersed himself with more hobbies and now he also started to
put gold leaf on everything he owned. I went to visit him one day and on his mantle he had at least pressed together three candelabra sets which came with clocks too. All in gold. He was beaming. Then he would tell me :"This is Louis Quinze" , this one is Federal English. He was always learning from a friend
in the business. 

His panic attacks escalated so he would not get very far from his house, the fleamarket was still his safe place and on my yearly visits we would meet there. He would drag me from dealer to dealer and say: This is Jeannot my beautiful cousin, she is from America". I would poke him time and time again as I knew
the price was going to be higher if I wanted something. But before too long they all knew me and waited to bait me or to tell me that they had not seen him yet this morning. He would not eat with me unless he knew the restaurant owners. He was afraid of certain places and people. How much I learned about this
behavior when my son became ill with agoraphobia.

His later years, after his retirement he met his first love as she was buying dolls. She was a neat lady, was divorced a long time ago, and became his friend. She got him out of his shell. Dragged him to the
dentist and held his hand. All his teeth were bad so he now had white dentures and smiled at me while
showing them. They were just friends but she did not let him get away with hiding. Soon he would take the
train with her and go to Ostende and walk on the boardwalk. He'd whisper to me:"I go on trains now".
Then he went to the Paris fleamarket and felt like he had conquered the world. He did it one row at a time with every visit and one day conquered the whole market. That was his diploma for conquering fear.

I missed seeing him when Bob became ill and I could no longer travel and leave him.
I would get a card now and then or a photo someone made of him. He often would forget  the whole address but somehow it came into my hands anyway.

He had enormous challenges but he did not see them , he thought everything was  as it should be.
I never heard him speak ill about anyone.
I will miss him even if I get back to Belgium, he will no longer be by the clock seller.

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