Mijn moeder, mi amor

I love my mother; she is a bit crazy, but in a good way. Of course all good-crazy people are crazy in a good way. Un poquititito loco. She is a linguist and an artist and a musician, is my mother, though not by profession. By profession she was a teacher. Her father had said “get a serious profession.” But not in those words. Her father was Dutch, a Groninger, as was her mother. She was born in the northernmost Netherlands, where the land is lower than the sea.

“’Quiet night,’ said the Englishman. ‘Kwijt ook nait,’ said the Groninger.” This is a linguistic joke upon the Gronings dialect which my mom and her closest brother love to tell, laughing themselves silly.

My mother loved her father. He was a mathematician, a good man, a kind man, a stern man, a serious man except when he was laughing, and even then there was some quiet irony to the laughter. I’m making that part up; I did not know him. But I’ve seen his photo and that’s how I imagine him. His name was Ubbo Willem. He smoked a pipe and taught at the local school, writing sums with chalk on the blackboard.

He and my grandmother owned a townhouse near the school, until it was bombed at the end of the war. After that he didn’t want to own property again. That’s how I remember my mom telling it at least. To lose every material possession is to understand the value of everything and of nothing. They had each other and that was all that mattered. Perhaps that’s how the story went.

My mom remembers the cellar under the house, during the repeated air raids, and the subsequent shelter, after the bombing of the house. She was only four years old. Her sister was five; her brothers were three and one.

The toilet was the only thing left standing. For the older children, the cellar and the shelter were exciting. At least it sounded that way when mom told the story. My sister and I were fascinated by the toilet. “Why was it the only thing that survived?” we asked her, peeking over our covers as she tucked us into bed. “Toilets are built to last,” said my mother. There is a photo of the porcelain toilet among the charred remains in a Dutch documentary-style book somewhere, which I have never seen. For the parents it was devastating. I imagine them with four children under the age of six, hearing the bombs shattering everything they had above the earth. Except the toilet, which was built to last. Neither parent was the same after that.

Her father remained a teacher and a lecturer, and my grandmother remained a book-loving mother of four, originally a milk-maid on her parents’ farm, and later was hired as a household assistant in a wealthy home. She was the eldest of 10 children, or maybe it was 12. At one point it was certainly 11. One of the siblings died soon after birth.  Today, one of the 11 or 12 is still living. I met some of them when I was younger, when more of them were still living. I remember snow white hair and rosy cheeks, blue eyes twinkling and the sound of fricative g’s. Most of them did not speak English. Every summer, when she was a child, my mother would stay at the farm. Hiding in the barn reading books to keep away from doing chores.

When she was a young girl, my Dutch grandmother loved to milk the cows. There she could be alone, away from the noise and endless work of the household, meditative, milking on her stool, leaning her cheek against the warmth of the hulking, quiet animals. She was top of the class at school and was told she should carry on with her studies but she was not allowed. Or that’s how I remember the telling of it. Berendina was her name. Berendina Wilhelmina. Is that right? No, she had no middle names. I have to check the records.

When my own mother, Lucie Wilhelmina, finished teacher’s college, she set off on a huge boat to Australia, met a handsome mathematician in Sidney who was said to have the loudest voice in the southern hemisphere. She fell in love, saved her love from drowning, met up with him again at the Trevi fountain in Rome after he’d travelled through India, married him in Holland, where her parents had arranged a beautiful wedding for them, with all the Dutch family, plus friends that the nuptial couple had met on their travels. She wore her elder sister’s ivory brocade sheath dress, with the sleeves and hem shortened. Then they flew immediately to Canada with one-way tickets that the loud mathematician’s parents had sent them as a wedding gift, and they settled there, near the southwestern-most city, to raise their family.

In Australia, c. 1966-1968. My mom with the guitar and my dad leaning over her. (Side note: The guitar was given to her by a fellow traveller, “Johnny” Giovanni, when she worked as a tomato-picker in Tatura. Mille grazie, Giovanni, this guitar served her, and us, for decades afterwards)

In Canada, she was told by a disparaging principal that she would never be able to work as a teacher, with such an accent. That was the moment which galvanized her resolve to become a teacher. She got a second university degree from a Canadian university, then taught in Canada for at least two decades after that. As did my father the mathematician. At first my mother taught French, as a substitute teacher (she knew five languages), but the unruly anglophone children didn’t like learning the obligatory French that was part of the Canadian public school curriculum. They mistook her accent for German and called her Hitler to make her cry. That was the worst day of her professional life as I remember it. I remember her sobbing at the kitchen table. Or maybe it was me sobbing for her.

Later she taught English as a Second Language to immigrants and refugees. ESL was a new program instituted at the high school where she worked. She loved her students, with whom she had a deep rapport, and she sang songs with them in the classroom and heard their stories. At home, she continued to play piano and guitar, and make art. And still does, to this day.



p.s. T and I watched Disney’s Coco with the kids on Sunday movie night. Wonderful. This song reminds me of my mom.

Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal – Un Poco Loco (From “Coco”)
68,686,700 views 333K likes DisneyMusicVEVO Published on Dec 21, 2017

[Miguel:] What color is the sky
¡Ay, mi amor! ¡Ay, mi amor!
You tell me that it’s red
¡Ay, mi amor! ¡Ay, mi amor!
Where should I put my shoes
¡Ay, mi amor! ¡Ay, mi amor!
You say put them on your head
¡Ay, mi amor! ¡Ay, mi amor!

You make me
Un poco loco
Un poquititito loco
The way you keep me guessing
I’m nodding and I’m yessing
I’ll count it as a blessing
That I’m only
Un poco loco

(Musical interlude)

[Hector:] The loco that you make me
It is just un poco crazy
The sense that you’re not making
[Miguel:] The liberties you’re taking
[Both:] Leaves my cabeza shaking
You are just
Un poco loco

Un poquititi-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-to loco!

Lyrics transcribed by Disneyclips.com

Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. If you wish to contribute and/or show appreciation, please recommend/like and/or comment. Thank you for reading. ❤︎

16 thoughts on “Mijn moeder, mi amor

    1. Thanks so much Bob! Everything I learned was thanks to my mom and dad’s wonderful stories that they would tell haphazardly, at any opportunity. Most of the main stories were repeated over and over and we never got tired of them. Well almost never. :)) Realizing that encourages me to just tell little stories to my kids aloud at any given moment they seem interested, instead of feeling like I have to write everything down. Of course, writing things down is helpful, too. But that oral storytelling tradition of old is what builds living connections between family.


  1. I love this. I’m forever repeating myself, but I don’t know what else to say because it happens every time I read your words: I love this. Thank you for sharing this. It’s funny because I came on here today thinking about my own mother this morning and a conversation we had last night, so it’s funny timing. And I also love this journey into your heritage and the insight into some of the things that make you YOU. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anna, you are the sweetest, thank you so much, and I feel the same, I keep repeating myself. But your words truly mean a lot to me, in more ways than one. So I am grateful for every one of them. Thank you!! xoxox

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant, I enjoyed your words so much, you are an enchanting writer. I feel inspired by you to try again to recall my family. The last time I tried it took a month to write a year. I thought I will not live long enough to accomplish this….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clinock, thank you so much. Such beautiful and kind words! I feel the same all the time – completely overwhelmed by the task. I also feel some huge responsibility to capture every single person’s story whom I meet, but most particularly the older generation and of course most particularly those of my family. Then I get overwhelmed and I do nothing at all. I saw some saying the other day that said “don’t do nothing just because you can’t do everything.” So as you already know, being a prolific artist as you are, all we can do is sit down and hit the keys or the pens to paper or whatever we use. And just keep hitting them (or moving them across the page). That’s the only way something appears out of nothing.

      I’m also reading this tiny booklet right now called “Write Your Family Story: Leaving a Living Legacy” by Judy H. Wright (2012). The book is slim and imperfect, but I think its inherent imperfection makes it the perfect example. She gives inspiring little tips such as just taking a moment to jot down names on the backs of old photos, if you can’t do anything else. But I think it’s would be such a gift to give one’s grandchildren… some kind of mildly-curated small tome of personal written memories. Especially juicy, truthful ones.

      Thanks again, so very much, clinock/john

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What you started in the review you finished here. I guess you can forget what I wrote there about mixing the “Nadine” stuff in with the review. Honestly, I should have prefaced what I wrote with: I’m no editor, please take with a grain of salt.

    C’est la vie. Or something like that. (I’m ‘Merican which means I don’t know no languages other than ‘Merican.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww, so lovely!! I really wish it could become part of a book. We’ll see. I’ve learned not to commit to too much creatively, but yes you have of course discerned one my (many) inner book longings. :)) Very perceptive and very very encouraging, thank you friend ❤️


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