My parents met at a dance organised by an Air Force colonel, my mothers’ uncle.
After finishing his training as a teacher my father was fulfilling his draft as a sergeant.
It was love at first sight. To impress her he made his men march up and down the road she lived. After a shotgun marriage they had two more children in quick succession as being a practicing Catholic dictated in those times.
The country was still in a post-war depression, so my father restless and adventurous as he was soon decided to move his family to the island of Curacao, one of the Dutch Antilles, which had just become independent in 1954.
After living in a house with no heating or hot water and a bike to share between them, ex-pat life with more luxury, they had a car !, than they ever dreamed off was very nice in the beginning. It was parties, practically living outdoors and endless trips to beautiful unspoiled beaches.
But after nearly twelve years my mother wanted to go back to the Netherlands, to be nearer her family.
It still took them two more years to accomplish this.
My story starts about the time the idea to go back was very much nearly a fact.
I was 14 at the time and had very much adapted to the slow island pace.I kept a diary from April 1968 until I had children myself, which was in 1988.The earlier years will be talked about as far as they can be remembered.
In spring of 68 I had already heard that my best friend M.J.and her family were going to “go back” to the Netherlands. I was devastated as we had practically grown up together. The first time we met we were both about 3 years old and sitting in the front child seat on our dad’s bikes when they met accidentally in the city of Nijmegen. They knew each other from some teacher event, as they were both teaching lower grade school. During their conversation they found out that they both had just applied for a job as a teacher in Curacao in the Dutch Antilles. The island group of six just had changed its status from colony to an independent governed part of the Netherlands.
The educational system was mainly ruled by the Catholic church and the sole teaching language in the schools was Dutch. That is why my father had to start out in a Catholic school even though he hated religion, “poison for the people, as he called it”. But the church paid the passage to the island for him and his family. So in order start their adventure, he had to let go of his principles to be able to give his family a good life. The Netherlands were suffering from a post’-depression period and it was hard to make a living. My mother, barely in her twenties, had to tell the rent collector quite a few times, that her mother was not at home and to come back another day, as she looked too young to be a wife and mother of three.
My dad’s subjection to religious rule did not last not very long, but more about that later.
That first meeting must have sparked my friendship with M.J. because when we later met again in Curacao and came to live in the same street after a few years we were inseparable. We even looked like each other. In many school holidays the families switched children. I would go and stay with her parents while her younger brother Robbie went to stay with his best buddy, my little brother Clemens. After a week or so we would switch houses.
My parents were always very strict about bed times except in the weekends when we could make it as late as we wanted. During the week we were sent to our rooms with the directive NOT to bother them again. Parents this day would be shocked about this treatment as non compliance was met with a wallop and dire threats if they heard one more peep out of us. Nowadays I see tiny little children running around at midnight because their parents, having both worked all day and feeling guilty about not seeing enough of their offspring, think this is spending quality time with little Peter or Sara.Who by the way have to be in school next day at a quarter to nine sharp, the poor mites. And then they wonder why children now are so nervous and have to be tagged with all sorts of acronyms.
In my day with a stay at home mum and a teacher as a father by 8 pm they had had enough of dealing with us so off to our bedrooms we went. We lived in the Caribbean where the sun set and rose at 6 pm every day so it least it was already dark by then. As in those days reading was very much promoted we were allowed to read as long as we liked, but no playing or talking. The latter was bad for my two brothers who wouldn’t read unless forced to so so, while for me it was lovely to have as much reading time as I wanted. But sometimes when I had nothing to read and was bored we thought of all sorts of ways to get around being stuck in our room.
One thing was to remove the glass shutters from our window, we had adjoining rooms, and sneaking out to talk to each other outside. We never went anywhere as it was just the thrill of being outside at that forbidden time was all we needed. My brothers shared their room, but I as the only girl was so lucky to have my own.
Another exciting thing to do was to have a long string with the ends tied together. Before we went to bed we made sure in both our rooms we had one end of the circle tied down and were each in possession of a clothespin. So after lock down we would exchange written messages by attaching them to the string and circling it around until it had reached the other room. Very Enid Blyton.
It all must sound dreadfully boring in this day and age of being able to kill and maim whole hordes by pressing a few buttons on a console, but I can tell you that for us the sense of outwitting the grownups gave us a tremendous thrill. Looking back it also taught us resilience and being able to find solutions to problems. And as those “adventures”made us very tired we slept like logs and went to school bright and full of energy.
My parents were a little bit frowned upon by their friends at being far too lenient with us. The late weekend bedtimes, being allowed to refuse to eat food that we hated, porridge, sprouts any vegetables for me, and letting us roam wherever we wanted without any supervision. You have to understand they were very young when they had us and I must admit a bit careless.
Looking back I am sometimes amazed we survived our childhoods. For example on New Year’s Eve my parents and most of their friend got together for a big party. We would be with about twenty children with most of us carrying shoe boxes full of fireworks of which some would be completely forbidden now as they could blow up medium sized things such as letterboxes and limbs.
Some of us were lucky to have a cigar smoking dad while others had to use mosquito spirals to light our stash. The pack of us would roam around the neighborhood throwing our firecrackers, bombs and ground-spinners indiscriminately at houses, cars and each other . Now and then sending one of us inside to get snacks and drinks while the by then quite inebriated grownups did not pay any attention to what we were up to. I can proudly say that all of us made it into adulthood with all our limbs and eyes intact. The only casualty one year was my little brother C. who got his arm badly burned. This was actually on New Year’s day itself when we all were up early, our parents sleeping off their party, to go around the neighborhood to collect all the fireworks that had not gone off for some reason or other. We then would take one of our dad’s Gillette razor blades and cut all of them open and shake the powder in one heap. The idea was then to throw a lit match on it to get an enormous flash. C. was allowed to do this for the first time as his big brother had been sent of to boarding school. Well to make it short. It was a great flash but most of it engulfed his arm. We then had to wake up our hung over parents to take him to a doctor.
When I see all these children this day and age with helmets, knee and elbow protection and constant supervision some even being tracked by electronica, I have to smile and even feel a bit of pity.
Next time I will talk of our adventures at the coast.