Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Learn to Let Go to Deliver

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prompt by Corbett Barr
What would you say to the person you were five years ago? 
What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

Prague 2006.

Inside the ancient shul, I go back in time 26 years to 1980.
In my search for roots and ancestors I find not Golem but an apparition of my own father at my side. The smell of his tobacco juice impregnated red farmer's handkerchief tickles my nostrils. My fingers remember circling small balls of tread in the fabric of his shirt cut from 1950s plaid. A smoker's hack brought me back.
"Excuse me," the dolled up octogenarian beside me grunted, her lips a scream of red.

Remembrance —a reminder I owe my father his story, history, my story, our mystery.   

Back in the hotel I find an email message from two gents in the the Netherlands. They've bought a portfolio of my father's work, a good 200 painted sketches, at a swap meet. They want to honor him with a book. "I can write," the typist says.
"Good for him," my husband quipped. "He won't have to, how do you say that in Dutch?"
"Get back the money he paid for school?"

I laugh with Gary, but a claw of fear grips my stomach. I've spent three years organizing data, writing my father's biography, simultaneously, side-by side on my monitor in both English and Dutch. And these dudes want me to hand over all that so they can put the information in a catalog that will raise the value of material that should have been mine in the first place?

The email says the man who demolished my parental house after I sold it, found the port-folio hidden underneath the bed box in my mother's room. I break out in sweat, I stopped my search for valuables when I reached the bottom of that bed box and noticed pink pallets of rodent poison dispersed across the boards. Did I ever know about the hiding place underneath? An ever so faint recollection of a dark hole, a scary place for a child, surfaces, nausea adds to the tightness in my chest. I know crying is the best way to release the fear, to soften the blow and the rock on my stomach. I cry in the shower, where my tears mix with the water running down the drain,

Back in Seattle I start the negotiation, and write the couple that I'm delighted they've recovered my father's art, that I'm saddened that the demolisher didn't contact me when he found the hidden treasures, and that I'll be happy to reimburse them for their expenses plus for postage and handling when (not if) they send me the goods.
"I remember the sketches my father made with colored ballpoint pens during meals at the dining room table in Amsterdam. it'll be great to see them back."

"That's not possible," the typist replies, "You cannot have seen your father create this work since you weren't even born in '35."

The nerve! And yet, it's true, I was born ten years after, not before WWII. Looking at the paintings on my wall, I can see how someone would mistake my father's painted '53 for '35. I know for sure his career as an artist did not start until the early 1950s. I ask them to send me JPGs to proof their point and to see if the work they talk about really is my father's. The couple feels insulted by what they see as my insinuation that they would not have obtained the artwork in a legal manner. However, they understand the work belongs with me, but not in exchange for reimbursed expenses! The work will need to be appraised, they state.
Before our trip to Prague and Amsterdam, I was almost ready to post my father's bio on Wikipedia, but after the correspondence I keep my writing to myself, until I know what to do about the portfolio, I tell myself.

Going back in time to 2006 I tell my younger self: 

Don't lose your momentum, you've worked so hard on your father's biography, it's time to share. Five years from now, you won't even care that you can't afford to buy back his art from these men. And you'll consider their browsing the swap meets similar to your parents bidding at auctions. 
Let them enjoy their find. You know they love his work! Don't worry about them using your father's biography for the content of their catalog. You've got something bigger in the making, not only a biography in Dutch and English, but memoirs, not one but several novels and a screenplay.
Learn from your mother's departure. Let go. Let go of your need to hold on, let go of your need to hide what you have discovered.

In 2016 I'll tell myself: BRAVA! You've delivered!

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Julie Jordan Scott said...

We are kindreds in our 2016 selves. Love it...

I love the early photos, too. Gorgeous and clear.

I am grateful I found you via #trust30 today....

Gary D said...

Another good day. Sounds like the
'letting go' is in full swing. Nice job.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Judith! Same thing my mother taught me: Let go, no matter how hard it is. You will only rise up stronger.
BTW: do I recognize the Prinsengracht, opposite the Gerechtshof, in the second picture?

Sezin Koehler said...


I am enraged that those people wouldn't give you back your father's drawings! Did you ever get them back?

This is a beautiful piece and I am getting more and more excited to read all these works you have going.

Lots of love,

Zuzu del Praga

mary lou said...

Have you talked to a lawyer? What's to hide, Judith? The pain?

Write your story....include the one about the people stealing your inheritance, his work....

My father liked to paint to. He was a disabled War Vet and painted to lose himself. As a child I watched him, and wanted to be a painter too. In my dark home, only the Bible with its beautiful paintings shone.

So sorry....write this story...but also a comedy at the same time to keep you going. That is what I am doing.

Be brave.

Mary Lou

Judith van Praag said...

Grateful you linked in from the Trust30 Facebook page and for your kind words. From your blog I gleaned we have more in common than this project and message to our future self. Foremost the loss of our firstborn (and for my husband and me only) child. Keep on keeping on girl, you're doing the write thing!

@Gary, You know better than anyone. Thank you for being on my side and having my back.

@Mina, Our mothers, ourselves... Glad you stopped by landgenote! Re: location in Amsterdam, the view is of the Zieseniskade from the Lijnbaansgracht near Spiegelgracht (opposite Rijksmuseum). My parents returned to Mokum from Zandvoort when I was 1 year old, and waited in this small flat (front door on canal, back windows on Korte Leidsedwarsstraat) for a larger one.

Judith van Praag said...

No didn't get the artwork back. I'm tickled my saga is of interest to you. Love seeing you here. As my Texan friends and in-laws say: Come back you hear!

@Mary Lou, Have not taken lawyer. So far response has been that I was "stupid" for not doing a better job of emptying my parents' house. Of course it's unethical not to even let me know what was found, but that my dear is part of the story. In 1981 Elsevier Magazine published an article that stated this hamlet in Drenthe had the highest number of collaborators after the beach town of Zandvoort, where I was born. Talk about looking for trouble.
Re: Hiding. Very astute observation Mary Lou! But no, if you refer to earlier conversations, this is not the main secret that needs to be uncovered in my book. But hiding is the conceit (extended metaphor) throughout the story!
Our father's were both War Veterans. Mine of WWI and WWII. Yours?
As for comedy, my book actually has a lot of humorous moments.
A laugh and a tear, keeps us in the clear.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I see it now. It's the back of Barlaeusgymnasium.

Judith van Praag said...

@Mina, Exactly! Btw I have another picture where the view of the Lijnbaansgracht is so peaceful, so empty, it's hard to believe when you see the same location now.