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"Why don't you write a book about us, you and me," my mother would say now and then.
I'm not so sure you'd really want me to do that, I'd think, share what I write about us with the world? But that was a long time ago, when writing about my parents still had a therapeutic function and I was by no means ready to share those notes with anyone, let alone my mother. My mother myself, my mother and I, so many years spent trying to understand what could not be understood.
Children try to understand where their parents are coming from, literally and figuratively. If parents keep a secret from their children out of shame or for fear their offspring might repeat their mistakes, those same well-protected children most often step in their parents' footsteps anyway.
"I used to do exactly the same things you do," my mother would say, and I'd think, yeah, right, sure mama. It wasn't until I started to sort-out all the material I inherited after her death, piecing together letters, photographs, postcards; scanning Identity papers and the like, that I realized how true her words had been.
My mother, "Mina Bakgraag", my father's muse, my teacher, the woman who challenged a man 20 years her senior to become a professional artist —because she wouldn't give him a child if he didn't. My mother, the wife of the artist who always said he couldn't paint her for the life of him. But what about this painting?
I recognize the woman with the short bangs as the one in a photograph taken in 1955, showing Nita with her and Jaap's dogs, she pregnant with me, the dogs on guard, Jaap no doubt behind the camera. I'm panning left and right, zooming out, imagining what happened back then, how my parents lived before I was born, zooming in again to our lives together, our "folie". Yes, I've been and am writing about us, about her and him and me.
Do you ever wonder whether your memoir should be called a novel?
This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License