zondag 12 mei 2013

The biography

Recently our oldest son had to write a biography of a person born before 1945,
preferably from his own family. He chose, who else could he better choose
to find out as much as possible about almost a century of history,
my grandmother, now almost 97 years old. Although she has been
struggling a bit with swollen legs and feet lately, she is otherwise
in remarkable good shape for her age and still lives by herself in her house.
She was a child during the First World War and only married for three months
when the Second World War started. Her two oldest children were born
during the Second World War. She still remembers very well how English
planes were flying over the house as she was giving birth to her son.
On that day, all of Kortrijk, a nearby city, was bombed.
She also remembers how they often had to flee into a bomb shelter
and how her father refused to do so, not wanting to be buried alive.
During the First World War, she and her family had to flee to Balen
near Brussels because the village they lived in was in the middle
of the battlefield. It is amazing to see how the village was ruined
when they returned after being refugees in Balen for several years.
We've found images from the village before 1914 and from after it, it is
unbelievable. The pictures of a destroyed Ypres are well known, but
it was much more than just Ypres that was destroyed, everything
in the wide area to the East of Ypres had just as much to suffer
I now realize. When families returned to their homes, they found
nothing as it once was, only the church was more or less still standing
and recognizable but severely damaged as well, everything else had to be
rebuilt from scratch. They had nothing left, and still, they had a lot, a lot to
start building a shelter, from what they found just lying around everywhere,
and what a shelter they built, a gem really, with their own hands,
everyone helping eachother, o yes, that they did have as well, they had eachother.
Beautiful little houses emerged in the middle of the destruction.
The houses were called 'barakken' but the people named them
'Villa's' instead and gave them all their unique name.
The Villa where my grandmother and her family lived got her name.
Her mother, my greatgrandmother, had lost four babies in a row
before they were one month old before my grandmother was born.
Somehow, she couldn't imagine that my grandmother would survive
the harsh circumstances they had to live in but she did and it has
always felt like a miracle to her mom that she survived. Her mother
did not have more children after my grandmother, she was the youngest
and quite a bit younger than her brothers and sisters.
I went with my son every time he went to interview my grandmother
because she speaks a dialect he doesn't always understand, which I do,
having grown up in that same village.
It was such a revelation for me as well as for my son to hear her tell us
all about her long life. She even remembered some games they played
in school during playtime, and where her fear of horses originated from
for instance. It's those little things that make this biography
so interesting and worth to read and reread, to me at least.
It's become a extended work and I'm sure
his teacher will have his work reading it all.
I am so happy my son got this assignment and today we're visiting my grandmother
to give her a copy of her own biography. I'm so anxious to see how she'll react. I think she'll be thrilled with it. She certainly loved telling us all about her life and was constantly telling my son to ask away so she would remember more and to call her if he'd have more questions, which he did.
He's so glad he's gotten to know his greatgrandmother so very well now
and feels much closer to her now all because of that assignment.
The biography is illustrated with pictures, mostly from my grandmother's
 own collection of photo albums but also the ones found on the internet about
the destroyed village they came back to after the First World War. There was even
a picture of one of the villa's that were built then and my grandmother is right,
such a beautiful and cosy looking little house it is, right in the middle of all that destruction.

One of the villa's.

Sometimes it was possible to make a comparison between
'before' and 'after'.

The two pictures on top show the building before 1914,
the picture beneath after 1918.
I don't know if that building has ever been rebuilt
after 1918 but I've always known there was a parking lot
next to the church right on that spot.
Castle and church before and after.

Most of the pictures from right after the war have the church in them,
maybe because that was the only recognizable thing
still more or less standing then, there wasn't much
of the houses left.

The inside of the church before and after.

All original pictures found here.

PS From the comments on my last post, compared to the amount of pageviews,
I can only come to the conclusion that cemeteries are not easy to talk about
or to express an opinion about. I do understand that and
want to express my gratitude to everyone who did give an opinion
or who expressed their feelings about cemeteries. I appreciate that so much
and want to thank you all for doing so. Thank you!
I've also come to peace with the fact that my blog will probably never
become a blog that gets tons of comments, so I want to thank everyone
 who does leave a comment on my posts. It's very much appreciated
and I really love it!
 Very often your comments put a smile on my face.
Through those comments I get the feeling I somehow get to know you all
a little bit. Thank you so much for taking the time to write an honest comment.

And a very happy mother's day to all the mothers today!



14 opmerkingen:

  1. Dear Marian - this is such an important recollection of your son's great grandmother, and how wonderful that his chats with her have brought him closer to her, and also to understanding more about her and her life.
    This is something that I regret about my own grandparents that I didn't ask them more about their life - there is a lesson in this post for all of us.
    During that period people were so strong and resilient and as you mentioned pulled together to rebuilt their community and homes.
    I hope she has a lovely day today, and I am sure that she will be thrilled when your son hands over his work for her to keep.
    Happy Mothering Sunday to you, and also to your Great grandmother.

  2. Wat een indrukwekkend verhaal, Marian! Geweldig toch dat jouw oma haar achterkleinkind haar levensverhaal heeft verteld en dat ze daar ook nog toe in staat was, ondanks haar hoge leeftijd. Niet alleen voor haar maar ook voor jullie moet dit heel waardevol zijn!

    Ik wens je een fijne moederdag! Lieve groet, Ingrid

  3. Wat een bijzondere post! Ook van je vorige post heb ik genoten, niet het meest voor de handliggende onderwerp, maar zeker de moeite waard. Afgelopen week hebben wij een bezoek gebracht aan Parijs en hebben toen ook een kijkje genomen op Pere Lachaise.

    Fijne dag. Lieve groet, Miranda

  4. Wat mooi Marian, dat je zoon via een opdracht zo'n indrukwekkend familieverhaal omhoog krijgt. En dat je overgrootmoeder dan twee wereldoorlogen heeft meegemaakt.
    Wat een goed idee idee van je zoon om zijn opdracht bij het levensverhaal van zijn overgrootoma te beginnen. En wat zal ze trots zijn dat zij een kopie van het werkstuk krijgt.
    Zoveel herinneringen en belevenissen brengt je als familie vaak ook weer dichtbij.
    Wens je een mooie zondag!

    Lieve groet,

  5. Hi, Marian !
    Your son make your grandmother very happy :)
    Great story, thank you for sharing.
    Happy Mother's Day !

  6. Hoi Marian,
    Wat bijzonder is het toch dat er zo veel foto's bestaan van vernielde steden (wij zagen ze een paar jaar geleden in diverse musea bij jullie in de regio) waar toch de torens van de kerken steeds nog overeind stonden. Zou er toch zoveel respect voor de kerk zijn geweest? Of zou het toeval zijn...
    Mooi dat jouw zoon op deze manier zijn overgrootmoeder zo veel beter heeft leren kennen, schept een band toch?
    Ik wens je een heel mooie nieuwe week,
    Lieve groet,

  7. Marian, your son is lucky, he has seen and spoken to his great grandmother. Here very little children has done it. During the blockade of Saint Petersburg many civilians died of hungry and cold winter without heating. Many villages and cities were destroyed. It is very interesting to know people helped each other and have been together against cold, hungry, bombing and survived as your granny's family.

  8. Wat een bijzonder verhaal! Fijn dat je grootmoeder nog leeft. Mijn grootouders zijn helaas allemaal overleden, maar ik denk nog vaak aan ze. Zij hadden ook zoveel interessants te vertellen. Net als jouw oma.

    Fijne week & liefs,

    Madelief x

  9. Such a wonderful assignment for your son and you, as all of this might have been lost if your grandmother hadn't had the chance to tell. Amazing that you have the images also Marian. Loved this.

  10. Such a lovely posting, Marian. Your son did great work and I'm sure your grandmother appreciates that. She's lived a long and amazing life. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

  11. Dear Marian,

    I was very happy that you left a few words! Thanks and best regards to Belgium - Sylvia

  12. Fascinating. We have no such war history in our country but life had many natural hardships, along with those of that era. How wonderful your grandmother remembers so well and enjoys good health even today. How did she receive her biography?

  13. Het is wel een hele boterham maar ik ben toch blij dat ik het gelezen heb. Ontroerend verhaal! En zo'n levensles voor je zoon.
    We kunnen het ons niet voorstellen wat het is he, oorlog. En dan nog bevallen tijdens de oorlog... Moet toch gepaard gegaan zijn met heel veel angst.
    Ik ben er zeker van dat ook de 'stille' lezers je blog heel mooi vinden, maar ik begrijp je wel. Daar is geen tastbaar bewijs van he :) Maar vroeg of laat reageert er dan toch eens iemand die dat normaal niet doet-zo gaat dat toch bij mij. Daar ben ik dan ook altijd blij mee :)

  14. I so enjoyed reading this account in your family history. I have such a different perspective on those years in history, having grown up in the US, which was removed from the actual battle scenes. It seemed so much more tangible to see those photos of their churches and town and all of that loss. How nice to save those heroic stories for your family to come. Thank you for sharing it here!