It’s been a strange year. There’s been the pandemic to cope with, I’ve had some mental health struggles, we have bought a new house in Nijmegen and plan to leave Amsterdam in the new year. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, another emotional challenge awaited us in October.
An Amazing Woman
Sadly, on 25 October, my mother-in-law, Dee de Smalen, died after a short illness. She celebrated her 95th birthday on 11th August, and was then in good health and very with it. To celebrate her birthday we gave her a book, Billy de Kat, (When Fraser met Billy) about an autistic boy who forms a special friendship with a cat. For her 90th I had given her, ‘A Streetcat named Bob’ which she really loved. When we were house-sitting in Worcestershire later in August she phoned me on my birthday, (we are both Leos which explains our love of cats) and told me how much she had enjoyed Billy de Kat.
I read a few passages to her from the book when she was in the final stages of her life. Frank held her hand. Whether she registered any of this or not, we don’t know. But Frank and I were there when she passed. She was born in Cheribon on Java on 11 August 1925. I imagine her early years must have been quite idyllic. She told tales of monkeys raiding family picnics, playing high jinks with the local children, convivial gatherings on the veranda, learning to cook Indonesian food with the house-keeper, and the sound of cicadas as she drifted off to sleep. But things changed dramatically for her and her family when the Japanese invaded the island in March 1942. Some of you have read the article about her years in the internment camps in Java during WWII which I published on my blog on her 90th birthday. Her life was truly a story of survival against the odds. Returning to the Netherlands after the war, she and her husband had to build up their lives from nothing.
She was always a faithful follower of my blog and it moved me to see the Prisma English/Dutch dictionary on her desk next to her computer so that she could read and understand my blog posts or stories. It’s difficult to believe that she won’t be reading these words. I am sad that she didn’t get to hear some of my stories which I have now translated into Dutch and even had one recorded for Youtube TV. I’m sure she would have enjoyed this one on Thuisbuis (lockdown TV) about Koko, the heroic dachshund who chases a thief into the woods.
Farewell, dear Dee. You live on in our hearts.