A Day of Change
November 1 is my — late — grandmother’s birthday. Although ‘Oma’ has long gone from my life, I still feel her presence to this day.
For as long as I can remember, November 1 has been a special day for me. It signifies new endeavours or major changes in my life. I have started several jobs on this date and experienced many life changes starting from this date.
“It was November — the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.”
― L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Of course, November 1 has been the start of NaNoWriMo since 2000 — incidentally, the same year I registered my first business with the Chamber of Commerce. Coincidence or serendipity?
I can think of no better day to start my second Medium publication, dedicated to change — in every shape and form.
Change has always fascinated me. It is amazing how nature continually renews itself. Everything changes — and so do we.
In this publication, I will be writing about change in the broadest sense of the word. From changes in the seasons and in the world to the changes in my world — how I dealt with them, came to terms with them and prepared for even more changes. I will write about how changes influenced my life and fuelled my writing.
I will address one of the major changes in a woman’s life — The Change — write about my experiences and offer my two cents on how to deal with it.
My grandmother, ‘Oma Martha’, whom I have been named after, certainly was no stranger to change. Unfortunately, the little I know about her, I have been told by others, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the stories about her. One thing I do know is that she was German. As the story goes, Oma Martha came to the Netherlands to work as a housemaid. She married my grandfather (I have no idea of how they met), an independent contractor, and they settled in Voorburg, a small town near The Hague in a house that my grandfather built. They had three children. The last one, a doctor ordered afterthought, was my mother.
According to my parents, I inherited my modest drawing talent from my Oma Martha, as well as some musical interest. Apparently, she once played the violin, though I cannot attest to that. I do know she used to draw me birthday cards until her hands were shaking too much to hold a pencil. When I was sitting at the table drawing, she used to watch me and absent-mindedly play with my crayons.
It surprised as well as pained me a little finding her family tree online. As if the internet somehow know more about her than I do. There are photos though, and letters — the ones she wrote to my uncle, who emigrated to the U.S. Neatly collected in a binder, the letters found their way back to The Netherlands when he died. They are my insight in an era long gone and in my mother, who turned out as enigmatic to me as her own mother was.
By way of Oma’s letters, I discover how my parents found each other and the house they called home for over 50 years. Her letters to her oldest child, my favourite uncle, are my grandmother’s most important legacy to me.
“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.”
― Fredrik Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
I don’t remember her cremation. I don’t think I even attended — my mother probably discouraged me, trying to shield me from matters such as these. As it was, my last memory of my grandmother was seeing her propped up in a wheelchair, in a so-called ‘recreation room’ in a care facility. A stroke had left her unaware (hopefully) and unresponsive. We considered it a blessing that she did not survive the second one. Her farewell ceremony must have been practical, a little impersonal — a little cold, even. Like she was, I know my mother and her sister will have thought. For them, that may well have been true. My mother sometimes complained about her ‘distant’ mother and tried to be different with me. To me, her youngest grandchild, Oma Martha was nothing but warm and loving. In the pictures I found of her and me she is always smiling, seemingly delighted with my every move. That is what I remember, as well. Oma (as well as Opa, for that matter) was always happy to see me and would do everything in her power to make me smile. She loved to spoil me. I loved being at their house in Voorburg — it is there that I spent the most carefree days of my childhood.
“Whever I came into the room, she’d light up, so happy to see me. No one ever in the course of my entire life was ever as happy to see me as she was. Looking back, now, I realize that you only ever need one person who lights up that way when you enter a room. One person is all it takes to give a kid confidence.”
― Adriana Trigiani, Don’t Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from My Grandmothers
After all Oma Martha had been through, perhaps it’s not that far-fetched to think she might become somewhat distant at times. Growing up, Oma often struck me as sad. I could not yet imagine how she must have missed my granddad, who died in his early seventies from heart failure. Opa’s heart may have failed, but my grandmothers’ broke. She was never the same after that. That strong, cheerful woman I had come to know became fragile, needy even in her old age. It must have been so lonely for her without my grandfather.
Once upon a time, I visited Brighton with a friend. She knew of a psychic and since we were both ‘into that’ she booked us an appointment. I will never forget it. The psychic greeted me with a warm smile and said: “I just have to tell you this: do you know your grandmother is always with you? I just saw the both of you walk in here”. The moment she said it, I felt it was true.
Every November 1st, when I wake up, I congratulate my grandma out loud with her birthday. I am proud to have known her and sad that I knew so little about her. I feel she is still looking out for me as every November 1 marks the start of something special for me.
This year, it is this Medium publication that will help me tell my stories.
This post was originally published on Medium in my publication The Changing Blog on November 4, 2019.