Today I went through my box of things kept since childhood. Or, rather, it is a box of my things which mom kept for many years and then passed on to me. Lots of stuff in there: a wooden race car my dad and I made and the trophies we won for both the speed of the car and its design; my old Stockade (Boys Brigade) badges; my swimming lesson patches (I got my white!); a small collection of ugly keychains; the “C” (for Cougars) which would have gone on a varsity jacket, had I purchased on; old, non-specific hockey trophies (e.g. “Pee-Wee -A- 1st Place” — no date or location) and medals (two for Most Improved Player!); old yearbook pictures of friends and of me, etc.
As you can see, my yearbook pictures got progressively worse. Glasses, which I got early on, did not help a thing. The first picture was taken in October, 1985, just a couple of months after we immigrated to Canada. I was nearly 8 years old, and I was quite cute then, if I do say so myself. Then I got glasses.
The second picture was taken in the fall of 1990–grade 9. Judging by my attire, I must have forgotten that it was yearbook picture day. The last picture is undated, but can’t be more than a year or two later. Acne is present on the chin.
The truth is, my yearbook pictures were rarely acceptable. I recall my mom ordering only 2 sets of yearbook pictures in 12 years and looking at these, I don’t blame her. Early on, I tried getting away with not wearing my glasses, but my mom insisted I wear them, as she also did for my hockey pictures (even though I didn’t wear my glasses when I played), because I was a person with glasses–they were part of me.
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For some reason, I kept every single birthday card, postcard, letter, etc. I received between approximately 1979 and 1992. I’ve been carrying them around in a bag from apartment to apartment and house to house. Today I threw most of them out–I hadn’t looked at them in years. Dixie’s wondering if I shouldn’t keep some of them–they’ll be interesting in 20 years. It’s extra bulk, but there’s room in the box of my stuff, so I may have to take some of them out of the recycling bin.
Several of the cards were from my Oma. Here’s an example of a classic greeting from Oma:
For probably a decade of birthdays, if not more, this was all she wrote on the birthday cards she sent me. “Oma.” I never resented this–after all, we’ve always lived at least 3,000kms away from Oma, so she didn’t know me all that well. In fact, over time it became rather endearing. I looked forward to receiving the card which would predictably say so little. That was just Oma’s way. I don’t remember her as a particularly affectionate person (other than the times as a child I was forced to kiss her prickly face); Opa was the affectionate one, but he died when I was quite young.
I was surprised, then, to discover that as I move back in time in Oma’s birthday cards that more would be said. Some said, “I love you. Oma.” And then there were a few that said simply, “Opa en Oma”. Further back still and the cards would have a paragraph two of writing.
It occurred to me today as I was looking through these cards that Oma said less and less as time went on probably because I never wrote her back. I don’t blame her.
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Among the birthday cards were other interesting items, like this postcard from my school in the Netherlands, announcing when the 1983 (grade 1) school year was to start and who my teacher would be:
It reads (rough, rather literal translation):
It’s great that you will be coming to our school!
We will be expecting you on Monday, August 20 at 8:30a.m.
You will be in Meester de Jong’s class.
We’ll see you then!
* * *
This is the back of a postcard from my dad, postmarked in Chatham, Ontario in 1984. Dad was visiting Opa in the hospital in Canada, after Opa had a stroke. (Opa would die in that hospital bed 9 years later).
The postcard reads:
It is very warm at Oma’s place and in Opa’s hospital. I may use Opa’s car–a really big, light-blue Ford–with which I go to Opa in the hospital 2 or 3 times a day.
On the right is what used to be our address in Holland. Note that my last name should technically be spelled “Vandersluÿs”.
Until recent years, Dad had excellent penmanship. Green was his ink colour of choice. He used to be left-handed, but that was in the days when left-handedness was frowned upon, so he was forced to learn to write with his right-hand.
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Speaking of Valentines, here is a valentine from me, but clearly filled in by my mom:
She made it out to “Whomsoever”, which I think is hilarious. I’m not sure what happened there–perhaps I had forgotten about Valentine’s Day until the night before, so Mom had to fill them in for me after I went to bed. Or maybe I just had extra cards and Mom filled it in just in case “Whomsoever” was left out. Evidently, I never gave it to anyone.
Here’s a valentine from a Virginia:
It’s home-made, printed on a dot-matrix printer. They may have done the home-made thing to save money, but there’s not a spot of red on it, which is unusual for a valentine, but I imagine the text would have been illegible on red paper.
I recall that we weren’t the kindest to her. We’d say this: “This is Virginia. We call her ‘Virgin’ for short, but not for long!” and then we’d laugh and laugh, even though we didn’t know what the hell we were talking about. Kids can be cruel.
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Here’s a portion of a Bible lesson brought to you by the people at U.B. David + I’LL B. Jonathan Inc.:
This lesson is probably from about 1988.
- 2 Bibles
- Trumpeter angels
Not in heaven:
- The sun?
- Light bulbs
- Gravestones (death, I suppose)
- The moon
- Medicine (or hard liquor, but it probably means sickness)
Apparently my effort was “Excellent” and deserving of a red star. I wonder what kind of comment I would have received had I circled, say, the gravestone or crossed-out Jesus.
(I see David & Jonathan Inc. is still around.)
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Last, but not least, my True Love Waits commitment, signed January 14, 1994:
I meant it, too. “Sexually pure” is a frustratingly vague term which mystified me through my adolescence. Actually, it still mystifies me, but now I don’t have to worry about it so much any more. Non-specific terminology aside, I say with confidence that I was a virgin when I got married. Make of that what you will, True Love Waits.
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Also kept: a floppy disc labelled “PC-WRITE MASTER”; a paper boat I made and named “The Jolly Cow”; a card for my 17th birthday, from my friend in Holland. He wrote, “PS I don’t know what the card means exactly, but I did like it.” I probably didn’t know what it meant at the time either, but reading it now I think I do.
The card has a picture of a cat sitting at a business desk. The card reads (it was in English):
At the soonest opportunity
I’d like to propose a merger . . . [turn the page]
of our corporate bodies.
If we knew then what we know now, he probably wouldn’t have chosen that card to send me.
* * *
The box also contained a large rock collection. Some of them are my brothers, but most of them were found/acquired by me, including a rock picked at the Columbia Ice Field, smoothed over by the retreating glacier, a piece of the Berlin Wall (not acquired personally), and numerous rocks with small fossils in them. As memory serves, I was quite adept at spotting befossiled rocks.
And that’s today’s trip down memory lane.
Now to decide what to do with a decade’s worth of birthday cards.