Ghost signs, ghost ads & other phantoms
How do surviving near-death experiences change you? What would you do if your car malfunctions on a highway while traveling 55 miles per hour and you try as hard as you can to keep the car steady on the road. You feel the car pulling to the right, and you turn left and no matter what you do, you ultimately lose control of the car, hit a guard rail and crash through a “Trump/Pence: Make America Great Again” billboard and your car rolls three times stopping upside down. You get out of the car without a scratch not even knowing how you got out.
Then what? How does this change the trajectory of your life? Or what if you survive being sexually abused at age fourteen by a summer camp dramatics counsellor twice your age who tells you lies and says he loves you then leaves you with strange men for some cigarette money?
Or what if you find out at age 26 that for the last two years you have had HIV in a period time almost a decade before antivirals were developed. What do you do with that information? How does this knowledge inform your decisions on short-term and long-term goals. Do all goals fall by the wayside or do you become urgently driven to survive- and not just settle for a mediocre survival but a transformative one that transforms not just your life but the lives of others around you.
I’m speaking from my experiences and the experiences of others. These events have happened to me and those for whom I care deeply. Ponder this: what if you survive a war in which you were on the brink of starvation only to become physically abused by your father and sexually abused by a neighbor. Your only escape is to marry a man you don’t love – you blow up the dikes and create an ocean separating you from the flood of memories of your past and continuing mental hardship.
My mother did this and made a life for herself for the most part on her terms. Willy navigated a post-WWII late fifties American social landscape with a post-WWII Amsterdam sensibility. She was a stranger in a provincial but quickly evolving culture that valued traditional families, excessive consumerism and strict adherence to gender roles.
This all became her new reality a little over a decade after her father would forage through local gardens for tulip bulbs to bring home for dinner. Tulip bulb soup. Or going out with her mother to search for food in the farmland outside Amsterdam. Willy’s mother Johanna Maria would leave her in a safe house, an earthen-like structure with a grass roof that looked like pasture from above – disguised from German or Allied planes aerial sorties. Willy sat waiting anxiously, sometimes until dusk for her mother to return sometimes with just four frozen carrots crusted with clay and a half rotten onion. While walking back to their stowed bicycle constantly scanning the sky and the horizon for troop movement, a horse quietly followed them, my mother walking slower behind her mother with her precious carrot behind her back unaware of the hungry mare’s intentions until she felt its hot equine breath on her hand. These stories came to Willy after years of suppression, often after smoking a doobie, but almost always during our visits back to Amsterdam, the sounds and smells of the city conjuring and coaxing these deep seated neural seed stores.
What have you survived lately? A weekend without Wi-Fi? An evening on public transportation? An obligatory visit to a surly senior who never saw the silver lining even when it was screaming rainbows? Some of us have survived plane crashes, walked away from car wrecks or have struggled with major diseases and have lived to share the tales of woe. And with these epic life-changing and sometimes bodily and mentally disfiguring events, few of us have survived an actual war – on our soil.
Yes, the AIDS crisis deep in the decades of death of the Reagan-Bush years seemed like we were in a war and one can only hope this new administration doesn’t provoke a civil war, let alone trigger a global one. My mother Willy was born during the Depression in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1936, just four years before the Nazi invasion in May 1940. During walks with her Opa to the market, German soldiers would be randomly line up young Dutch men and force everyone to be active onlookers – or risk being hurled on the pile of machine gunned youth bleeding and dying on the sidewalk. Her Opa would grab her by the hair on the scruff of her neck and point her face toward the firing squad.
In 2012, I took my mom to NL with me to say goodbye to those memories as I could tell her Alzheimer’s was progressing and I wanted to go with her while she could still enjoy walking and eating and carousing. Near Leidseplein, we got off of the tram to walk down the Korte Leidsedwarsstraat to her Oma’s house on Easter Sunday. I got the idea to ring the bell and see if anyone answered. When we walked down the street I could see my mother was deep in remembering. The street had become somewhat of a casino back alley with headshops and coffee shops (the cannabis kind) all up and down the street punctuated by assorted shwarma shops for the munched out masses. There were young guys dressed as Hare Krishnas in front of her grandmothers townhouse (see posting).
One was very stout and it was obvious by the videographer documenting this scene that it was a spoof. We rang the bell. A German woman by the name of Monika Thé answered the door. I explained who we were and she invited us in, but first we posed for a picture with the carnivalesque street performers. I could hear she was German from her accent and I whispered to my mother that she had to behave. Along with PTSD from the war – Willy was left with an irrational antipathy for Germans. So I said we were guests in her home so we must act accordingly. We were offered tea and while Monika was in the kitchen my mother started to relax and look around. My uncle who died three years before had done the same thing for as we explained our connection to the house, Monika said a man that looked very much like me had visited her some years earlier and sat with her and cried. I vaguely remember him telling me this on one of our drunken rampages through town a decade earlier and it was how I got the idea to ring the bell. One thing lead to another and Monika started to recount what a tragic childhood she had after the war and how she was treated so badly by Dutch neighbors. Willy jumped right in and said but what the Germans did was unforgivable. Monika took my mothers hand and said, But I was just a child. She explained her parents were Bohemians, non-conformists and hung out with a Brechtian crowd on the fringes of German society, often shunned by neighbors during a turbulent and dark time. After the war she moved to Amsterdam and her parents settled there, and she had lived in my great-grandmothers house for almost 50 years.
It was a breakthrough moment for Willy. They hugged and cried and I drank a vanilla black pepper camomile that soothed my tension and transported me back in time.
To this day, my mother will recognize a picture of her Oma’s flower shop storefront residence but she doesn’t remember this unforgettable day. And although she has very little memory left, I am thankful she has finally no more recollections of the war. The families that disappeared in the middle of the night never to be seen again. Or the neighbors that were forcibly removed from their homes only to return after the camps were liberated, walking barefoot from Bergen-Belsen, the soles of their feet almost worn to the bone. Or the refugees from hunger that were secretly snuck out of the country in cattle cars bound for Denmark, then by boat to Sweden where they would survive the ravages of starvation. My grandparents tried to get my mother and her brother out but there was a snafu and they couldn’t meet their connections in the middle of the night on a canal in the Bos en Lommer that connected to a main water artery to Centraal Station. Weeks later they had heard that the train my mother would have been on was blown up. (To be cont’d…)
Robert David Grier was born in Milford, Delaware on October 27, 1856 of English immigrants from South Shields, England. By 1888, Grier had set up a foundry with his brothers on East Railroad Avenue in what is now called “The Red Light District” of Salisbury, MD according to Instagram. On June 15, 1920, Grier was killed in a grade-crossing accident just south of Salisbury in Westover, MD.
Plans for the €150 million redevelopment of the historic Boland’s Mill site in Dublin’s docklands, including the construction of a 15-storey apartment block, have been approved by Dublin City Council. The Nama-backed development involves the construction of three new office and residential blocks and the restoration of the five original, but now derelict, mill buildings.
However the reference to the “mill” has been removed from the title of the development which will be called “Boland’s Quay”. The development is one of the first schemes undertaken though the fast-track planning system for the docklands. – Irish Times, Olivia Kelly – July 2015
Robert Peter Beshar, 86, died peacefully at home in Somers, New York on April 16, 2014…In 1993, Bob became President of his family’s rug and antiques business, Beshar’s, in New York City. Bob’s interests were varied and intense. A love of decorative arts — bronzes, china, jewelry, clocks. He liked to say: “the hand shapes the mind.” Reading novels late into the night — convinced there was more truth in fiction than in non-fiction. Telling a great story over dinner and challenging children, grandchildren and startled guests to “sing for their supper.” – NYTimes Obituary