Saturday, June 11, 2011

How to be whole, when you feel broken

I write when I'm lost, when I need to vent, when I want to remember, when I'm upset, when I need comfort, when I want to laugh and when I don't know what else to do.

Tonight is not my usual blog about my own foibles as a mother or about the adventures of my kids.  Tonight I write because my Opa (my grandfather) passed and I don't know what else to do to stop the tears, to sort out my loss and to figure out how to not be a puddle tomorrow for my kids.  I already lost my Oma (grandmother) about 6 months ago and the first couple days I was useless as a mother.  I had to do my best to explain why, although it was good that she was with God and it was good her suffering was over, I was so very sad.  Now I have to do it again.  I don't want to be useless mush for them again.  I don't want to have to resort to more TV than I'd like because I don't have energy... but here it is.  He was 93, he lived a full life, he has an AMAZING story, he wanted to be with the love of his life whom he lost in December.  I want to let go and be happy for him.  But for now, I'm a sad little girl missing her Opa.  I loved Oma, there is no doubt about it, but there was something about my Opa.  He's HUGE to me.  Larger than life.  Present in so many of my memories.  This loss makes my chest feel caved in.

I've talked a lot about him lately because he taught me so much.  Not all of it on purpose granted (I can say some amazingly bad things in Dutch thanks to him!), but still a lot.  I was just thinking about him yesterday as I watched William write his name because one of my earliest memories is of sitting down with him in his house in Buena Park, CA as he taught my sister and I to write our names before we went to Kindergarten.  I was jealous that "Lori" was much easier to write than "Mariska."  I was just telling William about how he taught me to swim "frog leg" (as he called it... it's technically the Breast Stroke) when I was just a little girl and William asked if Opa could still teach him.  I smiled and said, "well, he's too old now... but perhaps I can teach you the way he taught me."  I was just telling a friend two weeks ago (as we talked about how parents in public often don't pay attention to their kids) how Opa saved a boy from drowning when I was a little girl visiting him in Hawaii because the boy's stupid mother was too busy reading a book to hear her own child screaming and then barely mumbled a thanks when my Opa brought her to him, his own foot bleeding profusely from cutting it on lava rock as he rushed to save the boy.  I was angry that she didn't care, but Opa just shook it off and said, "eh, the boy is safe."  I was just thinking of him the other day as William got excited to help me with dishes, because I remember being SO excited to be tall enough (with the help of a kitchen stool) to help my Opa wash the dinner dishes.  It didn't matter that I was young... he taught me that if I was to help, I would do it right.  Clean them thoroughly, dry them thoroughly, or face Oma's wrath.

When I was a kid, my Opa seemed like part super-hero, part magician and part fairy tale.  He swam so fast under water that he could cross a pool 3,4, 5 times before coming up to breathe.  His laugh sounded like Ernie's from Sesame Street, kind of like a scratchy "sssshhhh sssshhhh".  He could make things disappear and re-appear, usually from behind my ear.  He saved a dog from a whole bunch of kids who were trying to drown it in the park and took her home.  And like every other dog he encountered, he had her well trained almost immediately.  And not just your usual sit, shake stuff.  Dogs that misbehaved could suddenly walk at "heel" without a leash when they were with Opa.  The would leave food alone until he motioned it was okay, even if he balanced it on their noses.  It was like magic.  He was the original Dog Whisperer to me.

While he loved us all with a huge heart, he was INCREDIBLY blunt with us.  When I gained 40 pounds shortly after graduating college he informed me that I "looked like a wrestler."  When my cousin Tara began, in her teen years, to wear a TON of make-up, he called her "Greta Garbo" and told her she "shouldn't wear all that shit" on her face. He either had no idea how loud he could be, or just didn't care.  I remember him calling a very large Hawaiian girl who was chasing my cousin Danny around a swimming pool in Hawaii a "battleship" and I'm pretty sure she could hear him.  He used to pull his hat down over his face in church so he could try to sleep through the service, but he always said a prayer before his meal.  He had a strong faith in God, but was never "evangelical" about it.  He prayed quietly, without telling anyone... you'd never know unless you noticed him crossing himself very quickly before diving in to food.  Yet he and Oma taught me my prayers in a quiet, matter-of-fact way that was not pushy or demanding, it's just part of who he was.

Opa also had a very mischievous side... he used to play jokes on my mom with this fake cat poop that he had and he got her every time.  He would always try to feed me some strange, often icky tasting, weird Indonesian something-or-other that he'd pick up.  I remember something horrible wrapped in a banana leaf, in particular.  He just cracked up when I spat it out. 

He handled life's challenges with humor.  When Oma told stories of prison camp, you could feel her pain... she told of being loaded naked, like cattle on to trucks, of starving, of the guards' cruelty.  Opa told funny stories of jumping into a latrine pit full of shit in the middle of the night to escape a tiger, only to discover it was a German Shepherd belonging to a guard.  He told of finding a way to make fish and cats and whatever else he could find look sick because the guards would feed them anything sick or rotten, laughing at how easy it was to fool them.  He told of offering to guard the women's camp so he could look at the pretty ladies... and that's where he saw my Oma for the first time.  The only two scary stories he told me came with an important lesson.  He told me once that it was important to keep the mind active and always seek to learn, because those who stop using their minds die.  He said he knew who would die next in the camps because they stopped trying.  The other story involved a sketch he showed me once of a naked, bound prisoner kneeling beside a huge pit and a Japanese guard with a huge sword raised up.  I asked what it was and Opa said, "they often picked someone to die and took off their heads."  When I asked him if he drew it from memory, he said, "no I was watching it when I drew it."  He then told me that he was proud that I wrote because it is important to tell our stories... he said his art was his way of telling his stories.

Opa was an AMAZING artist.  He could paint, animate, sketch, sculpt, etc. with just about any medium you can think of.  I used to love to stand in his little studio in the house in Buena Park and smell the paints and pastels and watch how the picture would develop on the canvas.  I remember him showing me how, starting with just a huge blob of blue on his canvas, to create an ocean with sweeps of green and dots of white to create the colors of the water and the white caps of waves going across.  Of course, his talent came in handy too and became a big family joke, because Opa could manage to "alter" any picture to "erase" any boyfriend our girlfriend we wanted to forget.  In fact, my cousin's wife Deanna purposely stood right in the middle of our family pictures because she said she knew our family's "trick" of making "newbies" stand on the outside to make it possible to paint them out.  We all cracked up as she shouted, "Yeah, paint me out of this one Opa!".  Opa loved it.  His talent also resulted in my sister probably having the most realistic, three-dimensional landscape to her science fair Volcano as opa sculpted contours into the mountain and rocks, bushes and trees all around.  He even made my mom a painting of a lighthouse and using I believe just Styrofoam and paint, made 3-dimensional cliffs that rise out of the painting.  Guests to her home always marvel at that painting.

I'm finding it hard not to have regrets.  I want so much to focus on what I'm thankful for.  I regret not knowing enough Dutch to record his story from his birth in Indonesia, to his time in prison camp, his move to Holland, his move to here, etc... but instead I want to be thankful that I at least heard the stories from him.  I regret not having the patience to learn more about art from him... but instead I want to be thankful that his art leaves us with a permanent piece of him.  I must be thankful. I must remember to be thankful.

Thank you Opa for teaching me to swim.  Thank you Opa for piggy back rides, magic tricks and teaching me to write my name.  Thank you Opa for making us laugh with your practical jokes as well as with your harsh honesty.  Thank you Opa for teaching me how important it is to use my mind every day, to always try to learn.  Thank you Opa for your boundless curiosity... you knew more about Hawaii than some Hawaiians after only a year of living there because you always sought to know as much as you could about your surroundings.  Thank you Opa for your art, your weird food cravings (seriously... butter on Corn Flakes or Sambal on bananas?!), your broken English, your humor and your big heart.  Say hi to Oma for us.  Give Oom Art a hug.  Enjoy being back with all your brothers and sisters and friends who went before you.  You hung in to be the last.  Now go enjoy the party.  I love you.

1 comment:

  1. These are beautiful memories Ris. You honor our family with your words.