ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “remembering my father”

Reminiscing in the Tower

When I was a child, I lived in South America. I attended an English school, learnt to read and write in English, sang English songs and studied English history. In third grade, I had a teacher named Mrs Miller who was charged with teaching us about The Hundred Years’ War as well as with starting us in French. Mrs Miller was also in charge of the dreaded deportment classes, where tomboys like me barely scraped through. To this day, I still don’t know why it was so important for me to learn how to make roses out of crepe paper, or why it was imperative for a young girl to walk about with books on her head, sit down & stand up with those books on her head. On the other hand, I never slouch, so maybe…

Don’t get me wrong: there was plenty of Latin America in my life as well, all the way from TV shows such as Topo Gigio, Esmeralda and Papá Corazón (aaah) to salsa and cumbia and frijoles con arroz, empanadas and arepas.  But mostly it was school and Mrs Miller, to be followed by Mr Carey and Mr Wilmshurst – teachers I will never forget. I really wanted to be English—or at least British. I wanted to go to boarding school in England (too much Mallory Towers), I wanted to be part of a nation that had brought forth such men as Harold Godwinson, Richard I, Edward I and Edward III. I had a serious crush on all four of them, but I wanted to marry Henry Grosmont, the Duke of Lancaster. Unfortunately, he was very dead. In fact, all my heroes were very, very dead.

These days, I realise it was history I was falling in love with—more specifically, British history. Since then, I’ve gone on to discover the deliciously spicy history of present day Spain, of France under the Capets, of my own country Sweden. But my first love is, and will always be, British history up to 1690 or so.

My parents weren’t all that much into history, but when I was twelve, my father took me to London via Casablanca. Just him and me for a week—a most unusual occurrence. And while we were in London, we went to the Tower of London. It was love at first sight, even if I was very disappointed at discovering there no longer was a lion pit.

Tower princes-in-the-towerWhile not a history fan, my father was more than willing to listen to me as I told him about this king or that king. I think it was the first time I truly impressed him, and as the hours passed and we’d not got beyond the Salt Tower I was worried he’d hasten us along, but he didn’t. He asked questions, he asked for more details. He stood to the side as this very young me had an intense discussion with a Beefeater about the fate of the two little princes purportedly murdered by their uncle, Richard III. Afterwards, he told me I needed to become better at separating wishful thinking from the actual facts.

Some years later, 75% of my family moved “home” to Sweden. My mother was worried we were forgetting our Swedish roots (we probably were) and I think she’d been homesick for Sweden for years. My father remained behind in South America, promising that next year he’d come home to us. It took eighteen years before he did, and then he died a few years later, still relatively young.

For obvious reasons, my relationship with my father was never close. Too many years of only seeing him a couple of weeks a year, too many years of feeling abandoned by him. There he was in South America, here we were trying to cope in a country both my sister and I found unfamiliar and unwelcoming. (Swedish teenagers are about as warm and cuddly as teenagers everywhere…) Plus we had to cope with our mother’s obvious disillusion with the country she’d always painted as paradise on earth. Things had changed in Sweden during all those years we lived in South America, and our mother was as much of an outsider as we were.

Tower 450px-WhitetowerlondonStill, whenever I visit the Tower of London, I think of my father. I recall how he and I were chased down a street in Casablanca by people begging for Mr McQueen’s signature (he was an eerie double of Steve McQueen). I remember playing in the Caribbean surf with him, shrieking with joy as he threw me to land several metres away in the water. I remember the beautiful sword he made me, complete with a matching shield sporting Richard I’s arms. I recall those few heart-to-heart conversations we had when I was an adult, and how delighted he was by all his grandsons. All of that I remember as I stand on the old cobbles of the Tower, with ancient walls on both sides. Maybe that’s why I always go there whenever I’m in London, wishing to recapture that perfect day I spent here with my father, so very many years ago.

 

A little house in delft porcelain – a reminiscence

ljus i mörker 2In the not so distant past, All Hallows was the day when the graves of our dead were visited. Come evening, the graveyards would be alive with the flickering light of candles, a night of light in the otherwise so permanent dark of the dead. Headstones were eerily lit from below by the candles left in lieu of flowers, and should one be unwise enough to be out and about, chances were one would not only hear, but also see a ghost. As Sweden had at the time not succumbed to the somewhat cheerier version of All Hallows as represented by Halloween, there was rarely any reason to venture abroad, as chances were the night would be too cold and too wet. Ergo, I never saw a ghost – at least not on All Hallows.

All Hallows is a night of remembrance.  These days, many of us don’t even have graves to go to, as so many of our loved ones are cremated, their ashes spread over the sea or in designated groves. But still; the day as such evokes memories that rise like dancing fogs around us – or at least it does for me.

delft houses

Part of the collection

When I was a child, we lived in South America. My father was a constantly working manager, travelling with frequency back and forth to Europe. On many of those trips, he returned with a little blue delft house, a miniature genever bottle, that he’d been given by his airline of choice (and as I don’t want to advertise, I m leaving it to my savvy readers to work out just what airline that might have been). He gave me the houses, and to this day I have them, a decorative little collection that I am rather proud of.

When I was almost fifteen, my parents decided that my mother was to return to Sweden with me and my sister while my father was to remain in Venezuela until his present contract expired. How they arrived at this decision I don’t know, but in my opinion this was a stupid decision. Our family was torn apart, and in Sweden my mother moped and pined, longing for my father, while in Caracas my father sat in his lonely apartment , far away from his wife and his daughters. And as to the daughters, we were suddenly in the position of having to cope with an entirely new environment and a depressed parent.

Geskel_Salomon_1872._Göteborgs_konstmuseum_STF_1978For my mother, returning to Sweden was a dream come true. Except that it wasn’t. As so many returning former emigrants know, the homeland they’ve so carefully conserved in their memories has very little to do with the reality they have to confront, and instead of having come home, the returnees are trapped in limbo: they no longer belong whence they came, and they will never truly belong where they went. Since my mother moved abroad, things in Sweden had not stood still, and the society she now had to face was in many ways as unfamiliar as that of a foreign country – with the added anguish that the rose-tinted description of Sweden she’d been feeding us crash-landed within a week. For a teenager, Sweden was harsh. Either you conformed or you were totally cold-shouldered, and both my sister and I  stuck out like sore thumbs among our peers.

My parents loved each other. A lot. So much, in fact, that they were quite convinced living on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean would not have a detrimental effect on their relationship. But as the year passed, distance may have made the heart grow fonder, but inevitably two people who lived very different lives evolved in different directions. Besides, love isn’t always enough: there were all those years when my mother felt professionally frustrated by her life in South America – ergo her yearning for Sweden. Then there were all those years after we’ve moved back when my father was too afraid of what a move back home might mean professionally. A touch of bitterness crept in. So many wasted, lonely years – for both of them.

It took my father eighteen years to come home, years in which he, at most, saw us four times a year. Years in which my mother went into a frenzy upon each approaching visit from my father, because the house had to be just so, the fridge had to be filled with all his favourite foods, and his little family had to be glowing with joy when he arrived. For two weeks, all those unspoken recriminations were swept under the carpet and we played at happy families, at being people we no longer were. And then he left, and my mother was devastated, he was devastated, we were devastated, attempting to pick up the pieces of our ordinary lives – the lives that no longer included our father as he had been reduced to being a Visitor.

When he finally did come home, the consequences of living apart all those years clearly showed. He preferred to eat his main meal at noon, she wanted to eat dinner by candlelight. He had a pedantic approach to clutter – more or less everything was clutter – and she was irritated by him moving her stuff around. But there were times when he’d put on the record player and sweep her away in a dance or two, crooning along as Frankie Valli sang “Can’t take my eyes off of you”. And she laughed and swirled as they turned and dipped, two people moving to the same rhythm, the same underlying heartbeat – some moments of perfection, of togetherness. In those moments, their love was still there, visible to all of us.

These days, I’m the one who travels the world for business. It is me who spends endless hours on airplanes, who hurries from gate to gate, always in a rush, always on my way to somewhere else. Recently, I happened to fly with my father’s favourite airline. And when the hostess placed the little delft house in my hands, it was like being hurtled back in time, to those long gone days when my father would grin as he handed over his latest airline collectible. My eyes stung, and I was swept with a burning desire to see my father again, to hug him and tell him I love him. That, sadly, is impossible. My father is among those we commemorate with gasping candles, little beacons of light in the resting place of the dead.

dance-1962It happens at times that I think I see my father. He’s standing somewhat to the side, his hands clasped behind his back. And every time I do, I rush towards him, only to realise halfway there that the man presently perusing the ducks is a stranger. But every time I hear Frankie Vallie sing “you’re just too good to be true” I see him with my mother in his arms, elegantly turning them across the living room floor. He is smiling down at her, and she is clinging to him, eyes ablaze with pride and love. That’s how I will always remember him.

My latest delft house now stands among the others, one more little miniature in blue and white. I run a finger over the dark blue roofs and hope that somewhere way up high, my father sees me and smiles. Jag älskar dig, Pappa.

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