Today I met my Dutch aunt for the first time. I say aunt, but she’s not a blood relative, although it certainly felt like she was when we were laughing and joking over lunch. You see, my grandmother is from Rotterdam where she lived with my overgrootvader en overgrootmoeder until 1940. She was an only child and hated it; always vowed that one day she would have lots of children to make up for it (she later succeeded and had six!).Thanks to my great-grandfather’s British passport, they escaped to the land of saints and scholars by boat on the day the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. After a short stint in Northern Ireland (I think Fermanagh but I’m not entirely sure..) they finally settled on Dublin as their new home. Despite being hundreds of miles apart, she kept in touch with her best friend who ended up playing the important role of ‘aunt’ to my dad and his five siblings.
As a child, I remember there being great excitement when Tante To came to visit. I called her ‘Ton-to-Toe’ for years and assumed it was a nickname. It didn’t even occur to me that tante means aunt in both French and Dutch until quite recently as I have never seen it written down before! My sister and I occassionally called her Head-to-Toe while chatting amongst ourselves, because we were hilarious like that!! She always had so much time for us, and treated us like her own grandchildren, always bringing something small back for her Irish kleinkinderen whenever she visited.
As a result my relatives keep in contact with their Dutch familie so as not to lose their link to the Netherlands. Today I had lunch with Tante To’s niece who I discovered lives literally around the corner from me. So warm and friendly, I felt like I had known her for years. That’s the thing about family, you don’t have to see them very often (or ever in this case) but they are always there for you. My grandparents once had a Swiss ‘cousin’ stay at their house for a few months while he was studying in Ireland. My great-grandmother is from Lausanne in Switzerland so my family-ties are not only restricted to the Netherlands!! I know that for the duration of my stay in Utrecht, my family will always be there for me, be they biological or not.
Dit is het verhaal van mijn family.