maandag 10 maart 2014

Unforgettable Years

During the year 2011, I questioned my mother about her formative years. Having reached the venerable age of 87, my father, her husband, had died only recently. How often had she told my brother Marnix and me about those wonderful days in the Dutch East Indies and about the terrible war years in the Netherlands thereafter. From our earliest days we had loved her stories about Tempo Doeloe, the baboes, kokkie and the sense of security that she must have experienced as a young girl. A life that would never end. And we shivered hearing the tales about the bleak, cold and unfriendly life in occupied Holland and the jobs she did for the Resistance. So, bit by bit and when the opportunity arose, we had formed ourselves an image of the early years of our mom’s life. But never did we get a consistent, more or less chronological account. 

Nevertheless, there is one now. A fact that stems from a piece of text, to be represented in the book 'Years never to forget' under the title ‘Part One’. A text that Els van Hesteren had taken down in her own characteristic easy, chatty writing style.

It induced me to place myself with my notepad at her kitchen table in her apartment in Amsterdam-Slotervaart. “Now, why don’t you tell me about your life in its proper order, Mam! What happened exactly, during those wandering years in World War Two, how did you meet this Scottish guy George, why did you never finish an academic education?”

At the kitchen table in Amsterdam. Picture Henk van Hesteren

So, week after week, I have been returning to Amsterdam with typed out pages, that brought her to new reminiscences. For weeks, sometimes months, we co-operatively developed this biography. Sometimes my mother’s tales needed some editing and when I felt that things did not feel chronologically right, we discussed the item until my mother and I were in agreement. Eventually the moment arrived when she could not add much more to her memories. We had to conclude the story and put it aside for a considerable time.

Some years later, at the end of January 2014, the long, fascinating life of my mother came to an end. At the age of ninety years, she had still been living independently in her apartment in Amsterdam. Early in December 2013, she had agreed to move to our family home in Harlingen, in the North of the Netherlands. My wife Inge and me had been insisting on this move for some time. After a fall in 2012 she had not left her bed any more. In our view, this made her solitary life in her apartment lonesome and risky. Who was paying attention to her, besides the weekly visits of my brother and me and some home care assistance, for ten minutes, two or three times a day?

Picture: Inge van Hesteren 

So, she came over to Harlingen. All of us had been hoping that she would have some good years in our family home. “You’re making me feel like a princess!” she used to tell us. A cup of tea, a sandwich, homemade food in the evenings, the merry Christmas days, happy birthdays and perhaps a barbecue party in the garden. But, after some weeks, her body and her mind decided differently. My mother had come to the conclusion that she had done and seen enough. Slowly but surely she allowed the life to flee away from her, as if she had been living on spiritual power alone. We had to accept this and we were happy that we had been able to experience her last fifty days so closely. What really helped, was her certain confidence in the life hereafter, where all of us are destined to go when we leave this world. A favorite subject of her and probably worth a book in itself!

After everything that had happened during those last fifty days, I had developed a strong desire for a worthy conclusion to the 59 years that I had taken my mother for granted. So, my search for a conclusion and an homage resulted in this e-book: sometimes unbalanced, not very chronological, here and there mixing opinions and events. But certainly a good representation of the person Els van Hesteren, how she lived, how she acted, how she felt …

Gijs van Hesteren

This is the preface to the e-book 'Years never to forget'. I'm working hard now to finish the English version of this e-book. The Dutch version has already been published on Amazon: 'Onvergetelijke jaren'.

Read this blog post in Dutch

When I published the Dutch version of the e-book on I created an author page, at the instigation of Liesbeth Heen, about whom I will tell more in a future blogpost.  See my author page :

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