this is very strange, but after watching a video advertising a Corporate Wellness corporation I’ve been invited to join, I was reminded of Opa’s tongue. It both fascinated and disgusted me. He had one huge ‘crack’ down the middle of his tongue; something I’ve never seen before or since.
According to the video I just saw, it’s a sign of stress in the body. I always assumed it was from his enjoyment of spirited beverages.
Strange the things that prod our memories…
I have never asked my Aunt about this, but at some point, my grandparents “found religion”. I don’t know how long it lasted for, or why it ended or any other seemingly important details about it. I do remember that at the age of three or four, it was decided that I should attend a Catholic School for pre-kindergarten, and this made Opa very happy. I was baptized Anglican – after my father – and my step mother raised me as a member of the United Church of Canada, so Catholic School was pretty new and exciting. I mean, they had little foot rests in the pews of the attached church!
After one year there, though, I transferred to the regular public school. I can’t remember what Opa’s reaction was to that, but around age 8 while we were visiting my grandparents, I remember going to Church with them. They were enamoured with this new minister they had, and were excited for us to share in his service. The only memory I have of this visit was this minister: he was an excessively sweaty asian man who was almost aerobic in the delivery of his sermon (which makes me think it might have been a Baptist church, but I could be very wrong). He shouted, he slammed his fists on the pulpit when he wasn’t shaking them heavenward.
This was a side of my grandparents I have never witnessed before, nor really saw much of again. Thinking back on it, I feel as though I was given a keyhole to peek through into the lives of Gran and Opa as the people they were, not just the grandparent roles they held in my life.
Religion was never mentioned much past that time. When they’d come to visit us at Christmas, I seem to remember them coming with us to our Church, and how I’d park myself between them so I could hear Gran’s strained soprano attempts that came out more falsetto than anything, and Opa’s deep, accented baritone.
As I question my own faith and in particular, regular attendance at some secular institution, I often think back to these memories and realise that attending Church for me has been more of a role of an audience member at some weird circus than any sort of moving soul-stirring experience.
One of the few times Opa went shopping, he took me with him. He wanted a new jean jacket to wear while he gardened. Opa was old school; denim was work wear only. At this point in the 80s, I would have committed murder for a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt’s. But Opa just needed a new work jacket. I still can’t remember why; after all, his old one was so stiff with dirt it could have walked away itself. But then, maybe that was the problem.
I just remember the day he bought it. He finally settled on an acid-washed Levi’s one. I laughed at his choice. He couldn’t understand why. I couldn’t explain to him why the sight of a seventy-plus year old man in a slim fit acid-washed jean jacket was funny. Trends never had much sway with Opa.
Opa was from Holland (duh!), and was fluent in several languages. Naturally, Dutch was his first and strongest language. He tried and tried and tried to get me to learn, faithfully repeating words after him until he’d almost lose his mind with my horrible pronunciations. I think every birthday card he ever gave me he wrote in Dutch, and then would read aloud what he’d written, and get me to repeat it back. (And then curse my lack of skill with the foreign, gluttural sounds.) Recently, I downloaded a program to teach myself how to speak, read, and write Dutch. I still have to fake the gluttural rolls, but in my head it doesn’t sound half bad.
I often wonder what he’d say about my attemtps to say “sandwich met ham”, or “afsleutin”, or my personal favourite word, “kakkerlak”.
My aunt gave me some more boxes of stuff from my Grandparent’s place today. These boxes always have an odd assortment of things – mostly stuff she doesn’t know what to do with, or doesn’t want to throw out, or thinks I might want. In one of the boxes today I found a photoalbum my mum had made for her parents, and it’s all pictures of me as a baby (Mummy passed away just before my 2nd birthday.) At the front of the album were some loose pages – the first was a page from a monthly calendar – December 1979. One date has writing on it, and it reads, “The last day I spoke to my S.” Next is a letter in Mummy’s handwriting to Opa discussing a life insurance policy he had advised her to take out. This letter is dated about six weeks before she passed away. After that is what I assume to be a draft response to her letter. Then there’s a photocopy of a letter sent to my dad from the Chief of Immunology at the hospital saying that the results of Mummy’s autopsy give no further concrete evidence or solutions as to why she died. Then there are more letters: letters written by Opa up to a year after she died sent to different doctors and other officials trying to find out why she died. There’s also a newspaper article on the success of a particular company’s stock dated 1994 and written at the top is “This is the company S worked for until she passed. She performed very well.”
I’m at a total loss tonight. This discovery has opened up feelings I thought I’d successfully locked away for good. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m lost.
One thing I will never understand about my grandparents is that they owned – and frequently listened to – Zamfir.
They had one of those huge cabinet stereos that stretch about four and a half feet wide, and stand three or so feet high, and I remember Opa cranking up the volume on Zamfir one day. I asked him about it, because it was odd to hear anything outside of news radio on in their house or car. Apparently, though, they were both huge pan flute fans.
Opa used to say this a lot. It was always in reference to his beer glass, whether we were out in a restaurant or at home – it was his little joke. It meant he wanted another one. I do remember actually looking at his glass to check for holes the first few times he tried it on me, then I caught on.
It’s making me smile just thinking about him sitting there with his big goofy grin. This memory is so imprinted on my mind, I can totally bring him back to life, sitting at the table in front of me. I see his white-blonde hair, the deep craggy face, I can smell His smell, and I can hear his voice – his booming, accented English.
What a man.
I remember Gran and Opa would always have cocktails around 4pm. A sort of tweaked version of the High Tea my grandmother grew up with. Opa did like to drink. He would drive seven hours to another state just to save an extra few bucks because the next state over had less tax on liquor.
I’m trying to recall what Opa drank the most of. I always remember him drinking beer with meals, or wine if it was a more fancy meal. I remember him drinking a lot of Black Russians with a drop of vermouth, while I think Gran would either have a glass of sherry or sometimes a gin and tonic. I think she would usually have sherry, though.
I can’t remember what I used to have – probably tea. I do remember always wanting to help mix the drinks; I became quite the bartender at a young age. A talent that would likely get myself seized by CAS nowadays, if someone else found out about it. It’s funny how acceptable behaviour changes from generation to generation. My parents, aunt and uncle and grandparents would all allow us to share drinks with them. During cocktail hour, we were allowed to take sips from the adult’s drinks to taste them. At dinner when wine was served, we’d get a child’s version of a wine spritzer: about an eighth of an ounce of wine and ten ounces of gingerale. And it is this ritual alone that kept me from binge drinking as a teenager, I’m certain. Knowing that I could have some if I really, truly wanted it made me not want it – get it? It was no longer taboo.
In the end, this entry is about Opa and cocktail hour. I always looked forward to it, because it usually meant dinner and games were to follow shortly, which was my favourite time of day.
I know I should really be writing about Opa; about the man himself. But it seems I keep writing more and more about his posessions. I guess this is how I knew him. I’m not even sure my aunt really knew him all that well. She admitted at his funeral that she didn’t know much about his childhood, and as she tries to settle his estate, more and more “secrets” keep coming out. So, perhaps it is better for me to keep writing this way; to remember him via the items I remember best and associate with him.
When Gran and Opa bought the farmhouse, it was just that – a modest, simple farmhouse. At the time of it’s purchase, they were still living in a metro city about 2 1/2 hours away. So Opa had an extension built onto the house. It added three more bedrooms upstairs, two large sitting rooms, another full bathroom, laundry cupboard (my grandparents were the first people I knew who had their washing machine and dryer on the ground floor, and I thought it was BRILLIANT), and a root cellar. I will write about my grandparents separate bed and sitting rooms later, but in Opa’s sitting room, above the fireplace hung a large oil painting that still haunts me. It was a painting of the sea and horizon. Waves and sky, really. I have never been more moved by a single piece of art as I have been by this piece. It was dark and murky and entirely engrossing. I would sit and stare at it for hours because the longer you looked at it, the more you’d begin to see those waves moving and rolling. And that’s all there was to it. Just dark waves and a cloudy horizon. I once tried to replicate it, but of course couldn’t.
I remember the night we had our official falling out, after I’d been coaxed back downstairs I sat and stared at those waves, wishing they would wash over me and carry me far, far away.
Opa wore his traditional Dutch wooden clogs to garden in. I still have my two pairs, although can’t get my feet into them anymore. He insisted and swore by his clogs for gardening. I don’t know of anyone else who wore them. The memory of them, faded yellow and covered in mud makes me happy.