The ten Short Stories entitled Some Women I Have Known start with a personal story about Audrey Hepburn. She died way too young in 1993, but her life was such an amazing whirlwind of brilliance that she will remain an icon for many into the far distant future. She was 7 in 1936 when I was born, from a Dutch mother, Ella Baroness van Heemstra and a British father, Joseph Ruston. Audrey spoke English, Dutch and French (from their stay in Brussels, where her father worked for a while.)
Audrey 7 years old with her mother from Wikipedia.nl – Family photo.
Why write about it now, as it is twenty years ago that Audrey left us for another world? Because her disappearance keeps coming back to me. A cousin, Anne van der Laan (http://www.genealogieonline.nl/en/stamboom-smits-van-oyen/I1066.php), and I talked about the women we had met in our lives at a family reunion at the Maarten Maarten’s house in Doorn in The Netherlands in 2002, where Maarten Maarten’s Some Women I have Known stood prominently in the Library. Shaking hands, we agreed we would write our own Some Women together.
John and cousin Anne van der Laan – 2007
He asked me which woman I would write about first. I mentioned Audrey at once. Not because I had been part of her living circle, but because I had met her at a very young age as a normal girl who came to visit us, played with me, and then ten years later suddenly stood shining at the firmament, leaving me bedazzled of her beauty and charm. Was that the same girl? My whole life I remained bewildered by her inspiring personality. Anne and I started writing our stories but then Anne passed away shortly after we took the above picture. Project down. I took it back up only a few years ago.
The Audrey story starts how I met her when I was 7, in 1943, during World War II. She and her mother, then divorced, fled to Holland from England in 1939 when the war broke out, thinking Holland would remain neutral as it did during World War I (1914-18). It turned out different, when Nazi Germany invaded Holland in May in 1940, bombing Rotterdam to smithereens. I was just four and a half, but still remember seeing from our backyard the bomb explosions clouding over Schiphol airport. Her mother, two step brothers, Alexander and Ian Quarles van Ufford from an earlier marriage, and Audrey, stayed with her grandfather, Arnoud Baron van Heemstra, in Velp, a residential suburb of Arnhem in the center of Holland. Arnoud was previously mayor of Arnhem (1910-1920) and thereafter Governor of Suriname (1920-1928), then still a Dutch colony (“Dutch Guyana”, in the Caribbean).
Arnoud knew my grandparents van Coehoorn van Sminia through family (linked with the van Limburg Stirums), and of course, through local life. He took Audrey and her mother one day to see them in the small village where they lived, about ten miles from Velp, when I was there on vacation. The Germans must have given them passage or visiting was still allowed during the day, I don’t know. It was 1943 and Audrey must have looked like this, as I remember:
Young Audrey at thirteen – Wikipedia.nl, probably a family photo
The family suffered enormously from the harsh living circumstances enforced on them by the Nazis, but Audrey’s mother Ella saw to it that Audrey could take ballet dancing lessons, Audrey’s dream of becoming a ballerina, at the Arnhem Conservatory. My personal story starts there.
Photo from Wikipedia.nl, in 1944, a family photo.
Would Audrey have become as famous had she pursued her dream to be a ballerina? I am sure she saw the ballet movie The Red Shoes that reached the theaters in 1948 and was widely acclaimed. Perhaps she would have liked to act the ballerina role of Vicky Page and if a bit older she might have done that very well, but would she have reached her pinnacle and touched us the way she did in the much broader medium of the movies? I doubt it.
With the next blog, we will publish the short story.
Men know women and women know men, but some are worth writing about more than others. This blog is to launch ten short stories about women I have known. The first short story is about how, as a boy in Holland, I met Audrey Hepburn, who developed from a young Dutch girl wrecked by World War II to one of the most beloved and enchanting film stars ever. And how I met her again in Switzerland. A story I can’t forget and would like to share with you and which her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, found “a sweet story” when I asked him to have a look at it.
Some of the “short story women” left a lasting impression on me (such as Audrey Hepburn and my grandmother, “Lady D”) and some shared part of my life. Some are left out because writing about them would be too painful.
Meeting women of different plumage seems to have been my star-enforced fate. I always felt that astrology had something to do with it. One astrologer told me that it was because I was born at 1:00 o’clock in the night when the moon stood at a particular angle to Mother Earth in the Scorpion month. My stars pointed to eternal adjustment (euphemism for continual trouble), and that included women.
My grand uncle-author, Joost van der Poorten Schwartz (pen name “Maarten Maartens”, see my blog of October 18, 2013) wrote books one hundred years ago, widely read in America, England, and Germany, and one of his books was a collection of short stories entitled Some Women I have known. After reading these often humorous short stories, written in the Victorian age, I decided to write my own Some Women, though content and style are of course totally different from the great-uncle.
Apart from his eloquence as an author, which I surely do not pretend to match, his Some Women is more a blend of satire and psychological realism of female characters in his time, and a reflection on marriage as it evolved in the upper-class in his days. His characters are fiction, likely painted from people he met. The stories are approached from an objective angle – probably the reason why he wrote them in the third person despite the title – although his stories do contain autobiographical elements. My stories are based on real characters I met – mostly in romantic relationships – and they are written in the first person because of the autobiographical elements. A few stories are “memoir”-type such as “Audrey” and “Lady D”. As a consequence, I borrowed my uncle’s title as a hull for my own stories, while their content and approach are different and from a personal angle.
In several stories names and places were changed, where needed, to avoid complaining phone calls or knocks on my front door. Maarten Maartens was accused by people who thought his characters resembled them! Here is where non-fiction, memoir and autobiographical fiction must draw a fine line.
The short stories will appear on a monthly basis, probably in the second half of each month.
Coming soon. Stay on the look out.