Do you ever feel that you can talk to your ancestors?
I do. I didn’t think I ever would when I was young. But once your life progresses and you become more aware of life’s fate of family and close friends passing, you begin to think about where they went. They can’t just have gone away when you still feel their presence.
This happens to me with several people who have been instrumental or influential in my life. You still feel their heartbeat, you hear their speech, you know they’re in your room as if listening in, wanting to continue partaking in your life. My grandmother, my mother, Fioen, the girl who gave me my first kiss and died in a dreadful accident when she was 16 years old; and my dear cousin intended co-writer, Anne van der Laan.
It happened again when I dwelled in the library and workroom of my great-uncle Joost, or Joshua van der Poorten Schwartz, alias Maarten Maartens – the once-famous Dutch writer who wrote primarily in English at the turn of the 19th and 20th century – in his splendid house in Doorn, a small town in the Netherlands. I had visited this workroom many times before, always impressed by its serenity and literary wealth, with the many old books in French, English, German and even Latin and Greek, filling the shelves along the walls.
In 2002. I sat at his writing desk and suddenly felt Uncle Joost “speaking” to me. “Pick up your pen and write. Do as I did and feel fulfilled.” To my regret, I did not follow his gentle push right away as I was still fully absorbed by my consulting demands. However, a cousin, who had also been in that room at that time, and felt the same way, agreed with me to outline our first book together, entitling it Some Women We Have Known after the title of our uncle’s first volume of published short stories. Then he passed away before we could finish it and again on my next visit to Maarten Maartens’ desk I felt his strong urge, “John, you go on. Don’t let this fail.”
I started with short stories in English about each woman I had selected for this purpose. Audrey Hepburn, whom I had known when we were kids, she 13 and I 7, was the first. Eventually, these stories became a coming-of-age and early-adult memoir, ending with my marriage, this time keeping the same title as Maarten Maartens’ first short story volume, Some Women I Have Known.
After I climbed that first hurdle – everyone who writes knows that a first book is a hurdle – I wrote my first novel, Enchanting The Swan, about a musician couple whose love goes wrong before it gets right. It’s quite a dramatic tale, starting at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and from there to Brussels, Geneva and New York. Even though it is written in the first person, it is pure fiction, except for the description of the hall of Baron Maconville’s house in Waterloo: as close a description as possible of the antiques in the hall of Uncle Joost’s house. It had to be based on memory: when I went back to the house to verify my memory, all the antiques had disappeared (harnasses, musquet rifles fixed to the ceiling in a perfect circle, little canons, and other collections from North Africa where the Maartens traveled – see the picture below in Th. M. Gorissen’s book Maarten Maartens, 1992). For some sad reason and madness, they had been removed. Nobody could tell me how that happened and where they went, but it had to have had the approval of the then managing committee (including family) responsible for the upkeep of Maartens’ library. Shame. If I had still been in Holland, that would never have occurred.
At the stage of writing Swan, I strongly believed Uncle Joost communicated with me. In 2013, my sister Mary Kranendonk and I and a small group of family members decided to celebrate Maarten Maartens’ one-hundred-year passing in 1915. I heard this voice in me to write a summarization of his 13 novels and his 4 volumes of published short stories. By reading his work, often twice, to enable me to commingle my summarizations with passages of his own writing, I bonded with this long-gone family member-writer and now feel that I’ve known him all my life. When I am in his workroom, I don’t feel like an outsider. I am part of him. Other learned people may have studied his work and life, and analyzed it, but nobody ever made his works available in a contemporary format that allows family and interested readers to enjoy Maarten Maartens’ writing without having to read his sometimes lengthy 19th century style in full, that is, if they can still find them in antique bookstores or libraries.
The One-Hundred-Year Commemoration of Maarten Maartens in September 2015 became a very successful event, thanks to the hard work of a small dedicated group of family members who spent many months preparing it (see a previous blog in November 2015, describing the festivity). It gave us a feeling we had revived his memory and done him right.
Living in the US, I wanted to go back to Uncle Joost’s house once more. My sister and I decided to celebrate our 80th birthday there in July 2017 (she a half-year ahead and I a half-year past). This scribbler went “home” to the Maarten Maartens House to pay his respect and express his gratitude while at the same time celebrating a life with many family members and friends (the subject of a next blog). For me, as a modest scribbler with no fame, it was also a day of reconnecting with an uncle who had instilled in me the joy of authoring stories.
Soon to come:
Francine – Dazzling Daughter of the Mountain State: She rises to the top of a mining conglomerate, demobilizes the anti-mining lobby, but will she save the company and find love in the meantime?
Fred and Tom meet in de makeup room.
“You know what she’s going to talk about?” asks Tom.
“The same thing they’ve been talking about all the time,” says Fred. “Russian roulette, Watergate 2.0, leaking sewers, deep state, all things that excite viewers of all stripes.”
“It’s the rating game, isn’t it?” says Tom. “I bet they won’t talk about how much better their 401Ks look now compared to just a year ago, though I’m sure they’re happy about it.”
“The old adagio is good news doesn’t sell, sex does,” mused Fred.
“I heard millions of women bought Weiner’s pics so that he could cover his legal fees.”
“She’s not going to talk about that, Tom. That’s her party’s side, and she won’t shoot herself in the foot. Rule number one of the Panel Debating Club, friend. Better take note.”
“You know what side you’re on? They didn’t tell me.”
“Me neither. Doesn’t matter. She’ll look at our face and knows right away you’re right and I’m left.”
“You wear your parting on the right and mine’s left. Simple,” Fred says.
“What if a guy’s bald?”
“All bald guys are right wing. Look at Karl Rove, Giuliani, Gianforte, for example.”
“But James Carville’s left wing, Fred, and so is Jerry Brown.”
“They lost their hair because they couldn’t get it right.”
“What about women pundits then?”
“Come on, Tom, you know. They fake it, whether left or right.”
A program assistant enters. ” OK, guys, you’re on next. Come with me. You, Tom, you sit on Sheila’s right, and Fred sits on her left.”
“You see? I told you so,” Fred says.
WWN’s show The World in Seven Days is on. Sheila introduces her panel members. “Tom, let me start with you. We have these daily leaks from Deep State. Your thoughts?”
“Washington’s leaking like a sieve as it always does, and the stinky dirt left is bubbling up. Washington press cooks take the blubber, make so-called news of it, and nobody cares, except you.”
“Fred, don’t you believe these deep state stories are true?” Sheila asks, her eyes showing bewilderment.
“Of course, they are. Deep state wants to save the country from going down the tube. Under the previous administration, society was changing so nicely to the left until it got criminally stopped by Russian infiltration.”
“Tom, don’t you think too the Russians stole the election from the American society?” Sheila asks with a sneaky smile, fixing Ted’s eyes.
“The Russians are pokers and thieves and have always been,” Tom acknowledges. “Its operatives act like those nesting dolls. You take one out and another one pops out, just looking the same, and before you know it you’ve wasted your money buying the same thing over and over, only getting smaller. Voters got fed up because they wanted real change.”
“Do you agree, Fred, that the election was lost due to those nesting dolls?” Sheila wonders, throwing a helpless glance at Fred.
“Tom is right. The Russian leaks turned the Democrat party into those dolls. Each time the party spoke, the same old same old came out, and, of course, they lost. Ergo, the Russians stole the election from the Democrats and the Republicans helped them doing it. That’s why they are guilty and the Special Counsel will prove it.”
“But why would the Russians do that, Fred,” interjects Tom. “They got twenty percent of our uranium under the Democrat administration. They might’ve gotten the other half too to beat us, if they stuck to them, rather than going for a change in party they can’t be sure of.”
“Well, Fred, Tom seems to have a point. Why would Russia want the Republican party in power?” Sheila asked.
“The Russians are against measures to stem climate change, as is the Republican party. That’s why,” Fred said, stone-faced. “They want the artic to melt so that they can more easily dig for oil and gas, like the Republicans want.”
“Should we not feel sorry for those polar bears losing their habitat, Tom?” asks Sheila, tears welling in the corner of her icy blue eyes. “Is it not clear to you now why the Russians sabotaged the re-election of the Democrat administration?”
“I thought we were talking about the deep state leaks and sieves,” Tom says. “Aren’t we straying off the subject?”
“I am asking the questions, Tom,” says Sheila, giving him her charming cold smile. “There are anonymous reports of Russian attempts to tamper with the election boots in thirty-nine states. Fred, I’m sure you’re aware of that.”
“And so is the Special Prosecutor,” Fred asserts. “Anonymous sources tell me he has hired Clinton lawyers to look into each boot.”
“So where is this heading Tom?” Sheila asks. “Don’t you think too the President must be impeached?”
“I would break this down into three segments, Sheila. ‘Imp’ stands for ‘troublemakers’; ‘Peach’ stands for deep state leakers peaching bad on the President, and ‘Ed’ stands for anonymous editorials in the Washington Post or the New York Times that have no ground, altogether standing for stench stinking to high-heaven.”
Sheila turning to Fred: “Stench stinking to high-heaven, Fred, is this not journalistic overreach?”
“Of course it is. Exactly the language of the radical right. That’s how they have divided our nation. I repeat, during the past eight years, our society was changing so nicely to the left. Freedom of speech only for those who deserve it according to them, violent protests only for those who feel belittled or racially profiled by the right, and healthcare only for those who cannot afford it regardless of the cost. And only black is beautiful and only the rich must be taxed. And Tom wants to change all that back to the right.”
“Last comment, Tom?”
“I love black is beautiful, really do, but I’ll keep changing the left’s downward curve to America’s destruction until I see blue.”
“Thank you both for being here,” Sheila says, and the screen goes to Cialis extra strength.
PS: In the noisy exit room, Tom is left with a blue eye and Fred with a bloody red nose, both in the true colors of the American flag. Neither knows the fight is taped by the insidious WWN, and maybe leaked to the Special Prosecutor for breaking news from anonymous sources. Continuation of the panel is in doubt.
Hello Everyone: Ever finalized a manuscript? If you did, you will understand why ENCHANTÉ was out of the air for a while. “Francine, The Dazzling Daughter of the Mountain State” will be out soon.
Now we are back with Tom and Fred, this time invited by World Wide Network to form a panel on important daily political matters.
“Fred, how are we going to do this?”
“Simple, Tom, you make a point and I make a counterpoint. We never agree because the opposite side must always be right, whatever side you are on.”
“But if I agree with you because you make more sense, why shouldn’t I say so?”
“Because you get fired if you do. It’s like a sports game, boy. You’re not supposed to kick the ball into your own goal. You must kick me as hard as you can, regardless of whether I’m right.”
“But isn’t that ridiculous? If I make sense, you wouldn’t agree with me?”
“Of course not. That’s how it works. You have fans on your side, and I have fans on mine. Each side wants the other to lose as badly as possible. Scorched Earth. That’s politics. It’s a sports game, the American way. Each side gets paid for making crushing opposite points. Otherwise, the viewers get bored.”
“Which side are you on?”
“The opposite of yours.”
“But which is it, left or right?”
“If you show me yours, I show you mine.”
“But does WWN not want to know first what yours is?”
“They will only tell me if they’ve seen yours first.”
“Can we switch panes when you like mine better?”
“For the viewer, left of the anchor is right, and right of the anchor is left. Don’t confuse people. They want to see which side you’re on.”
“What side is the anchor on?”
“Tom, don’t be stupid. It’s WWN that pays their salary. They talk WWN’s side.”
“How much do they pay?”
“The more they like yours or mine, the more they pay you or me.”
“Do they give equal time?”
“They may or may not. If you crush me or them, they may let me pay back twice.”
“Geez, Frank, this is really like Monday Night Football without referees or line backers.”
“It is, or more like national wrestling or kick boxing, male or female.”
“So this is how people in Congress live?”
“And what tax payers pay for. Your tax money is like buying tickets for the games. And to beat up each other in the streets if you lose.”
“What about those election slogans then, stronger together or America first?”
“Well, Tom, those are essentially sports terms. The political teams fight it out, either to show they’re stronger than the other, or to become first.”
“So we must fight it out on TV too?”
“Sure, if you want to get paid. Not physically, of course, like that guy in Montana, but by blabbing better and faster than your opponent, while keeping a straight but very false smile, as if you are the friendliest bastard or bitch ever.”
“Do we train for this before we start?”
“Don’t have to. Just look at today’s TV and you get the message.”
“Which side do I chose?”
“Just wait which side the anchor puts you. Then, whatever he or she wants you to comment on, you take the left or right side of his/her point of view. The truth does not matter. Nobody knows what that is anymore anyway.”
“But I don’t know in traffic sometimes what left or right is.”
“Doesn’t matter, as long as you take the opposite side. You’re insured by the media.”
“Fred, I’m going to sign up and hate you.”
“Me too, Tom, I hate you already.”
Kathy is facing another hard day trying to keep her young offspring in line. Being a mom is a continuous battle. And so it is today: She feels compelled to give little Frankie a bang on his bottom because he pushed his sister onto the floor. We’re listening to the ensuing discussion with Frankie after he was punished and his reaction to his stressed mom that has many more troubling consequences. (Based on a real story).
“You took the risk, Mom!”
“What you mean, Frankie?”
“You wouldn’t have me trouble you all the time if you hadn’t done it.”
“What you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You and dad.”
“What about me and dad?”
“You doing it.”
Some hesitation on Frankie’s side. Then he mumbles, grinning, “making love.”
“Who told you that?”
“Miss Tilly at school.”
“And what else did Miss Tilly tell you?”
“If you don’t want babies you must use a papa-stopper.”
“A what? Is that what they teach you in school?”
“Amy knows it too. Tommy told her.”
“Your sister is only eight! And you are only ten! You tell your friend Tommy to stay away from Amy. It’s scandalous! I’ll raise hell about this in next week’s PTA!”
“You may not say ‘hell’ Miss Dooley said. What’s a papa-stopper look like?”
“Well, did Miss Tilly not tell you?”
“She drew one on the blackboard, but I’ve never seen one.”
“What? On the blackboard? I’ll go straight to the principal and have her fired!”
“What’s so bad?”
“I’ll tell you when I get back!”
Kathy sits with the principal.
“You know Mrs. Johnson; our state law requires that we provide sex education. Even the Republican Party voted for it.”
“Why so young? When I was eight or ten, I’d never heard of it.”
“We have the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the industrial world. You want your kids to be one of those victims? In The Netherlands, they teach kids about love as of Kindergarten, and they have the lowest teen pregnancies in the world.”
“Kindergarten age is four; what do they know! My eight-year-old knows no more. Isn’t it bad enough that my boy’s ten-year-old friend tells my eight-year-old girl?”
“No, I don’t. Frankie said Tommy did.”
“I’ll tell Tommy not to tell anyone in second grade. But I won’t fire Miss Tilly. She’s an excellent teacher and a mother of six.”
“Six? My goodness! Does she know about the pill?”
“Let’s not go there, Mrs. Johnson. Good day.”
Kathy walks with hubby Frank senior in front of their beach house.
“I clam up telling kids about sex,” Kathy says. “Can you do it for me, Frank?”
“How did you learn about sex?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“Why not? Was it in school?”
“Certainly not. We’d be expelled if we were talking sex.”
“I said, I’m not telling you.”
“You’re not saying I was your first kisser? You did pretty well at the prom.”
“I got it from the movies.”
“Hah! And my hard-on and what followed? Did you get that from the movies, too?”
“Come on! They never show you the bottom part.”
“Frank, you’re embarrassing me!”
“You see? I bet you had sex before me. And you didn’t get pregnant like so many others. So who told you?”
“When I had my first period.”
“Aha! Wise mother! You know how many girls get pregnant nowadays at that age and wished they’d been told?”
“I see where you’re heading. We better tell the kids then. It’s so hard to be a mom.”
“Not harder than your mother. At least you have Miss Tilly.”
“But she has six children, Frank!”
Kathy and Frank are discussing how they’re going to tell the kids.
“The books tell you to use the proper terms, not the slang ones,” Frank says.
“But I feel uncomfortable about even using the proper terms. I prefer the little words, you know, willie and foo foo. They’re still so small!”
“As long as we tell them to keep their willie and foo foo private and not for use with or by others. That’s why we call them private parts.”
“But what when they start feeling sexy?”
“Well, by that time trouble starts. Remember? We’d better tell them to put a stop on it.”
“Oh Frank, Frankie asked what a papa stopper was. Miss Tilly told him.”
Frank laughs. “You told me she has six children.”
Next, Kathy and Frank have dinner with the kids.
“How’s Miss Tilly doing, Frankie?” Kathy asks.
Frankie looks up, a suspicious glance in his eyes. “Why you’re askin’?”
“Oh, just to know… What’s the latest gossip in school?”
“Amy used the F-word and got punished,” Frankie says, pointing his fork at Amy.
Amy puts her fork down with a broad grin.
“Is this true, Amy?” Kathy asks. Frank’s face shows he’s about to burst into laughter and that he has trouble not to.
Amy grins again, looking at her brother. “F*&in,” she says to him, dragging out the word, giggling, her eyes shining a naughty glance.
Kathy raises her voice. “That’s a very bad word, Amy! I forbid you to use it, here and anywhere! You don’t even know what it means!”
Amy giggles again. “Hee, hee, hee. Tommy told me. Like daddy and mommy doing it.”
“I don’t think we need Miss Tilly anymore,” Frank says, getting angry. “Now you guys: you listen carefully. This is serious business. Sit quiet. No more jokes!”
And so Kathy and Frank explain love and its physical consequences in fourth-graders’ terms to the best of their ability.
Amy has been listening half while drawing lines on her placemat with her fork. Then she looks up to her mommy and says, “Tommy told me you can blow up a papa stopper like a balloon. Can you buy me one?”
“What would you like for mother’s day?” Frank asks.
“Eight hours of sleep, and champagne on the beach with you alone.”
Read this story about another Frank and Frankie!
Fred and I sit at the counter of our favorite bar, listening to two women arguing.
“Better you follow those TV ads on eating light,” one says, pointing at her companion’s plate full of French fries.
“Do you think I need it? Look at your fat self!” her companion bristles.
“Oh, you! Don’t get uptight. There’re many fat ones like you who do.”
“You believe that TV stuff works?” asks a male friend at her side.
“They’re just selling food,” his neighbor butts in. “You ever watch those ads? Granola bars, dripping cheese, dripping lasagna, everything’s dripping, just to make you feel good.”
“It’s a fad,” Fred agrees. “They only want your money.”
“Like those ads on shaving,” says the woman with the fries. “Another new fad.”
“They want me to shave my mustache, my beard, my legs!” says her woman friend. “My bathtub’s red with blood.”
“You women also have hair on your teeth,” says the male friend. “How do you get rid of those? Look at them wild feminists at those rallies.”
“It’s all Trump’s fault,” says the woman with the fries. “He started it with talking pussies.”
“I’m sure he’d been taking too many testosterone pills,” the other woman says.
“You take those pills?” the male friend asks his buddy.
“Every day, to stay in shape,” he replies. “You take pills?” he asks the slimmer woman.
“Only one, if you’re interested.” She smiles at him. “How many testopills do you take?”
“Only one, if you’re interested.” He smiles back at her.
“Is this a pick-up call?” She eyes him intently.
“Right, but like that TV ad with the two bathtubs, the fine print, and without the blood.”
“You can start by getting me another Bloody Mary.”
Fred asks me, “How many pills do you take?”
“About twelve. You get these magazines how to avoid dying early. I’m a sucker.”
“Do they make you feel any better?” asks Fred.
“I wouldn’t know unless I stopped taking them. And because I’m afraid of dying early, I keep taking them. So I’ll never know until I die.”
“That’s the whole idea, of course,” Fred says. “It’s a billion dollar industry even though the small print always says consult your doctor first.”
“Like those TV ads on medicine,” says the woman near us. “If you see the horror that could happen to you when you take them, you think twice.”
“Are your twelve pills all testopills?” the other woman asks me.
“Your friend over there says he takes only one a day,” I say. “So why should I take twelve?”
“Because you look it.” Everybody laughs at me.
Amy, the blonde bartender, comes by with new drinks and saves me from more embarrassment.
“The news just said the blonde woman lost,” she says.
“Mary The Pan?” asks Fred.
“It’s Marine,” says our pesky woman neighbor. “Trump’s blonde friend. Macaron won.”
“It’s Macron,” I say. “Macaron is a cookie.”
“Whatever,” she says, looking at me as if she’s ready to murder me. “Obama voted for him.”
“Come on, silly,” her fat friend says. “We can’t vote in France since we started calling French fries Freedom fries. Besides, Mackerel is not a socialist, they say, so why would Obama vote for him?”
“The name is Macron, silly, you just heard,” her companion bites back. “Mackerel is a marine fish.”
“So mackerel being marine fish, and Marine’s name being Marine, Macron and Marine must be the same.”
“That’s the most crooked analysis I’ve ever heard,” my neighbor tells her friend. “You should get yourself analyzed.”
Fred and I, having heard enough, are making a move to get up.
“Get your testopills, honey, before it’s too late,” I hear on our way out. “Obamacare is going broke.”