She calls me. A scan has been requested at the hospital, by the GP. However, they haven't heard anything yet. "Then you should call the hospital" I say. " Oh yes, that will have to do then," she says. Five minutes later she calls back again. "How do you do that, call the hospital?" "Can't your friend do that" I ask. A minute later the friend is on the phone, who finds it hard to call and after all it is my mother. Okay, I call and make an appointment for the scan. I give the day and time to my mother. Five minutes later the friend is on the phone. "'I can't make it then because on that day I always go to my garden'," she says. I sigh and accompany my mother to the hospital appointment. Plaques in her brain: Alzheimer's.

They became engaged quickly. She had just stopped studying Spanish at university. She chose to become a cooking and home economics teacher at the Higher Domestic School because she could get through that with great ease. Not too much was expected of her there and she could do something she enjoyed. Making things pretty and cooking good food and, above all, forgetting where she came from.

Her father asked if she thought that getting engaged was a good idea. She could also go travelling for a year. For instance, to an aunt, who had ended up in the United States after the East Indies; he would pay for it. But she was stubborn and wanted to forget the past so much that she thought becoming a married lady in the Netherlands was a better option.

They married in 1958. Her parents paid for the wedding. On a canal cruise, joined by her father's family and business associates. My father in a tailcoat, my mother in a light blue dress and pumps. The night before the wedding, she stubbed her toe which apparently left her with sore feet all day. The honeymoon went to South Limburg, sleeping in a tent. After a few days, my mother fell ill, severe abdominal pain and high fever, fallopian tube infection. At the Academic Hospital in Nijmegen where she was taken by ambulance from Limburg, she was told she would not be able to have children. Two years later in 1960, my brother was born. In 1963 her daughter (me).

I am on the bed in her bedroom in the terraced house, she is sitting at a small table. We got out the nail polish and paint each other's nails. We do that every week. I never saw my mother without painted nails. She never went out the door without lipstick either. She asks if I want to take care of her. She knows or suspects that her friend won't want to or won't do that. I reassure her, of course I will take care of you. She wants it recorded in court. I have to become her mentor, my brother has to look after the money and be a fiduciary. That will be arranged.

My father graduated in 1964. He had been studying mathematics for 17 years; he had pretty much rushed through his inheritance. He was married and had two children. He assumed his wife would be a housewife. But this story is not about my father. We moved to a village in Brabant in the summer of 1965 because my father was offered a job as a mathematician at the university in the big city there. It was in that village that my childhood took place. We attended a progressive Nutsschool, because unlike the children in Brabant, we were not Catholic.

A Nutsschool is neutral because it does not teach from any particular religious belief. Special because, within the rules of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, it has greater freedom of movement than a public school.

My mother was on the board of that school. She had a reading club and a knitting club. A few days a week, she taught at the Household School in the big city. Then my mother would leave at four in the afternoon and there was a beautiful black woman with an exotic name looking after us children. When my father came home that woman went home. My mother did not come home again until we were in bed. There was one time when the babysitter couldn't come, I must have been about 9 years old and I was in cooking class. We were quite capable of staying alone for a while. In my effort to always please my mother, I offered to cook. Meatballs, salad and rice. She helped with the preparations and left. I started preparing the meatballs way too early; they were charred when my father came home. The rice was burnt. We fetched croquettes and french fries.

"I want to go to Amsterdam again": my mother says. "To Amsterdam? What should we do there?" I say. "Walking along canals!" she says. We go to Amsterdam, by train. She gets to the station by bus by herself but gets there way too early. By the time I get there, she is slightly panicking in the foyer. "Where were you?" And off we go into the train, to Amsterdam. By tram to Dam Square. Drinking coffee on the terrace near the New Church. And now? "To the Kalverstraat": she says. And I think:" what are you doing there?" It turns out she has the Kalverstraat of the 1950s in her mind and is looking for the Bonnetterie, because that's where she once bought her wedding dress. We take the tram to Nieuwe Herengracht where we lived and where my brother and I were born. She knows exactly where the baker and butcher were. She looks at the Stopera with wide eyes. There never used to be one. I'm sure she has seen it inside and out before as an adult, but she has forgotten. By lunchtime, she is already tired and I decide to replace the canal walk with a canal cruise. She is as happy as a child. The captain's Amsterdam humour passes her by as she beamingly tells him, "I married a canal boat" to which he replies, "with or in a canal boat ma'am?" We eat another ice cream on the Spui and take a crowded tram back to the station. It is a successful trip.

There was a hole in my mother's childhood and in my mother's stories. That hole was the Jap camp, which, like many, was not talked about. In 1941 after Pearl Harbour, Indonesia was conquered by the Japanese. First, the men were interned in camps. Father was taken prisoner of war as a reservist (he was a city guard in Batavia) and from January 1942 until after the liberation in August 1945, she saw or heard nothing from her father. She was sent to a camp with her mother, brother and sister. She was 10. With two thin mattresses, with some jewellery sewn in by her mother. They had to live together on a stretch of 4-square-metres. She told me loose fragments. Once she dropped a pan of soup, which meant they had no food that day. The open sewers that were fiddled with a stick to make sure they flowed. The day they had to be transported and Jonkie, her little brother, had to stay behind because he had to go to a men's camp as a 10-year-old boy. That she contracted dysentery and yellow fever. That she lay alone in the infirmary and was sure she was dying.

The hours on roll call....that her mother refused to hand over the jewellery and as it lay in her open bare hand, she looked defiantly at the Jap and said: Get them.... so she got beaten up. That she had to share glasses with her mother because they only had one left and they were both equally visually impaired. Blisters on feet because she had to walk barefoot to and from the train that took them to yet another camp. Carrying the barang along on her back. Her little sister who didn't know any better, who couldn't remember that there was another, more beautiful East Indies. The liberation, that the Jap still had to guard them because it was not safe, there was shooting outside the camp. The hunger oedema, her mother only weighed 40 kilos, and herself only 35 kilos. The army truck that drove them to an airport, an army plane that flew them to Singapore. There was father, who had managed to arrange that, a small apartment, where they could recover. There was food again, "but slowly": said father "not too much, you'll get sick". They played with water balloons on the balcony. A soldier was walking down the street and the little balloon fell on his stately cap by mistake. He came upstairs to give a friendly explanation. It was General Mountbatten.

I take her to a concert at church. A matinee, Bach cantatas always good. She looks around, the Catholic church in town has recently been restored and is gleaming towards us. I have brought extra cushions for her, so she sits softly on the hard pews. Loudly my mother says, "How beautifully reformed this church is!" She has an audience laughing, but doesn't actually understand what was so funny about her comment.

The smells of the East Indies; the mangoes, the cloves, the coconut, the flowers in the garden, the heavy sultry air. She could tell about it with melancholy. She also cooked Indonesian food. In the provincial village where we lived, we were exotic. Rice instead of potatoes every day, Indonesian sauces over the endive, peanut butter with sambal. When I first started eating alone at a neighbour's house, I was amazed; a mother in a coat apron peeling several kilos of potatoes. At the table, I politely said Slamat Makan to which the neighbouring children laughed heartily. Once a month, my mother took the train to The Hague to buy Indonesian spices and condiments that you couldn't get at home. She was over the moon when a Toko opened in the new shopping centre in the early 1970s. As with many war victims, food, especially throwing away food, was a problem. But my mother additionally refused to queue for food. She NEVER stood in line at a buffet. In the late 1960s, self-service restaurants and coffee corners became popular. She refused that too. I can still see me standing there as an 8-year-old girl, a tray in my hand and then neatly asking for a cup of coffee for my mother and a glass of soda for myself, with a sandwich and a sandwich please. Paying neatly at the till and walking very carefully with that slightly heavy tray.

Painting of the birthplace in Semarang

Wedding in 1958

Elsie with Jonkie 1934

We are in the kitchen. My mother is slicing an onion. She can still do that perfectly, having been a cooking teacher for years and her motor skills still working fine. We make perkedel, small Indonesian meatballs with a sweet soy sauce. She no longer knows how to do that, so I do it for her. The small Ikea kitchen in the terraced house where she has lived with her friend for a few years now; a friend she doesn't really love anymore and who doesn't want to take care of her. But now that they are old, it is hard to change things, especially now that my mother has Alzheimer's disease. She asks, "Where did you learn to cook so well ?". I reply that I learned that from my mother. With big puzzled eyes and with a moment of clarity she replies: "Oh yes, I used to be able to do that too". I spend at least one day a week with my mother. I go with her to doctor's appointments and am at all meetings with her case manager. I take better care of my mother than she ever took care of me.

The first time my mother chose to care for herself was in 1974. We had just moved to the big city and my mother was done with motherhood. My little brother was 13 at the time and I was 11. She wanted to work full-time and found a job as an education worker for women and young people. She also went back to school, the Social Academy. The household chores had to be divided more fairly. My father, a somewhat awkward but well-intentioned mathematician with a job at university, was quite willing to do the dishes and learn how to operate the washing machine. She wrote extensive instructions for him, but it didn't really help. Even when cooking, he fell back on the cookbook for everything; and if it said to cook red cabbage for 20 minutes, he did so, never longer and certainly not shorter! He didn't understand why she insisted on working, she didn't have to do it for the money, he earned enough anyway. Nor did he really want to listen to her stories about people who lived such a completely different life than he did.

She has a box of jewellery. Mostly jewellery she inherited from her mother. Now that she has Alzheimer's, she handles it a bit carelessly. I notice that her gold watch is gone. "Oh, she sold that," her friend manages to report. I suggest I keep her jewellery for her and put it in the safe at my house. She wants absolutely nothing to do with that at first. After some haggling, I am allowed to take them anyway. The next week when I am with her, she is very angry with me. You stole my jewellery. I want them back immediately. So I bring them back with me. The jewellery moves with her, first to the care home, later the nursing home. Things get lost. At some point, she is so gone that she doesn't remember me taking the jewellery, which is left, to put it away safely.

That house in the provincial village where we were an average family: boy, girl, dog and cat. Rabbits in the garden. On holiday with the tent in the small Renault four. Camping was my father's passion and life. My mother was less keen on it. She had endured enough primitiveness in the camp. However, she didn't talk about it, not even to him. In fact, we rarely went on holiday as a family. There were always others with us, perhaps to mask the silence between my parents? Good friends, another family, estate camps and later whole groups of people, "the Group" six or seven families, large groups of children, all in tents. The atmosphere of all together around a campfire, as if my parents had not grown up and continued to sing their songs studentishly with guitar.

It is summer, I take her in the car, away from the nursing home for a while. We drive to the village where we lived when I was little. At the café in the middle of the village, we have a cup of coffee with a wedge of apple. She looks around interestedly. "That's where the bakery was" she points out. I think she is right, but I don't remember it as well as she does. We also buy her some new shirts. She has been losing a lot of weight lately. I have her debit card with me. While checking out, I forget her PIN. I say: "You do the ATM". I don't really expect that to go well. But yes, without hesitation. the motor memory is still more or less intact.

At Christmas 1973, they dropped a few bombs on us. We were with several families in a big house in the Ardennes. After the Christmas holidays, we were told that the parents of such and such, and the parents of such and such and the parents of such and such (all lodgers in that house) were getting divorced. Mum and dad were not getting divorced, but we were moving to the big city. A big 1930s house with seven bedrooms was bought. I didn't want to move, I whined that I wanted to stay at my old school to finish sixth grade there. That was not allowed. I had to go to a new scary school in the big city.

10 years later, I heard that my mother had had an affair with the principal of the school in my village, who was also there in that house in the Ardennes. Therefore, we had to leave quickly. We moved in the summer of 1974. Before the summer holidays I had to pack up my room, I was 11. I had to get rid of all my toys, take them to the kindergarten in the village; my tea set, my cooker, my trolley of dolls. I was only allowed to keep one doll. The rest were given away without pardon. I cried. "I was a teenager now": my mother said. Teenagers don't cry. Teenagers don't have toys. Teenagers had a record player and a desk to do homework at. I got that too. Years later, I understood that my mother too was robbed of all her toys when she went into the camps. She was only allowed to take one doll with her. She was 10 at the time. She carried that doll with her for the rest of her life.

We are sitting in the restaurant of the department store the Bijenkorf. It was there that we agreed to meet for coffee and cakes and catch up, we don't see each other often. She has come by bus. She doesn't driving a car very often anymore, eventhough this was once the joy of her life. I notice that she tells the same story three times in a row, and point this out to her. She defends herself with the excuse that she doesn't experience much anymore these days. I advise her to go and see a doctor; it looks like more than a little forgetfulness. She,  being afraid of doctors after being sick in a Jap camp, preferes going to her herbalist , who convinces her it is a mineral deficiency. Three years later, it turns out to be Alzheimer's disease. Neither she nor her friend wanted to know for a long time.

Years later, I understood that my parents' relationship then, in 1974, had long since ceased to be what they had both imagined it to be. They had met in 1953. She, 21 years old, had just moved to Amsterdam with a grammar school diploma in her pocket. Because of the jap camp, nothing had come of school for a long time and she started first grade at 15. He, 25 years old, orphaned and traumatised by the war in the Netherlands and his mother's suicide.

They were each other's anchor, not in love but fond of each other. She soon moved in with him at his apartment on the Nieuwe Herengracht in Amsterdam. She brought stability to his student life, making him go back to college and slowly but surely pass his exams. She studies Spanish in the meantime.

Department store De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam

Typical Renault 4 from that time

She calls me. "I have decided to go to Indonesia and not come back! That's my country, I don't belong here"! She begs for my approval or consent. It is too late. Alzheimer's disease is not to be messed with and certainly not to emigrate. In her "childlike" fantasy, everything will be fine again as long as she is home. I do understand.

She was born in 1931 in Semarang on Java. Her father and mother were Dutch, true blandas (white people) who married in Amsterdam in 1929 and took the boat to the Dutch East Indies on their honeymoon. He was a chartered accountant and ran the East Indies branch of the accounting firm in Semarang. He drove all over Java with his driver, checking the accounts of the plantations. In 1933, she had a baby brother. The big house with the rear gallery, the babu who sang Nina Bobo to her. The djongos and the kokkie who was chased out of the kitchen by her father on New Year's Eve because he wanted to bake the "oliebollen" himself. The kebon (gardener) was also a driver. He was Muslim and she liked the praying on a rug. In the mornings, he took her and her little brother to school by car. Walking was considered too hot and was unfit.

Twice a day she was given clean clothes. In the mornings, after having washed with a traditional "mandi" a nice dress for school and white patent leather shoes were put on. When she came home in the afternoon, she went to eat first, then sleep, then mandi again and had clean clothes to play in. In the evening, a nice clean white nightdress and a softly singing babu until she slept. When it got too hot, they would go up into the mountains with the all the staff in two cars. There she and her little brother swam in mountain lakes and played tag with the native children. There was a story about a tropical bird that was shot every night but still sang again in the morning. This was a kind of ghost story that the Djongos read or told. In 1935, another sister was born. Her mother was homesick and wanted to see her parents in Holland. So the family went to Holland on leave. At least, her mother with the three children and the babu, as the youngest was only a few months old. Father came six months later. They were in Holland in the winter of 1935/1936. They stayed with relatives; Grandpa and Grandma in Friesland and Grandpa and Grandma in The Hague. They visited lots of relatives. All the trees were dead because there were no leaves on them. The food was awful and it was so incredibly cold. She hated it! She was happy when father came and the whole family got on the boat to return home in August 1936.

Typical Indonesian Mandi

Perkedel Kentang Daging

She is at the day-care centre, doing crafts or clay every day; she hates it there. She does not recognise women and men from Brabant who are there. The atmosphere of sprouts and cauliflower, she no longer understands the local slang of Brabant either. She wants to go to the Indies. I investigate online. It turns out there is an Indies day care centre. Two days a week, with Indo's, Indies decoration, Indonesian food. I go and speak to them and she can come, on a trial basis. I take her there, the first time, like taking a child to kindergarten. I go inside with her for a while. She likes it there. In the following weeks, she blossoms. I'm at the Indies shelter she tells everyone. After a few weeks, I get a call from one of the supervisors. Whether I would please take my mother somewhere else. They also find it very annoying, they are really very sorry, but the other participants have trouble with my mother. She is, of course, a totok, not a drop of Indo blood... but that is not a problem, it is that she treats all the people there with a slightly ethnic appearance as her personal staff, her babu, her djongos, as she was used to as a child. Go get me some coffee. So unfortunately my mother haleaves there again, she doesn't understand that either.

My mother's language was a bit of everything. Dutch with here and there a Frisian word from her mother, but always also combined with English, which she spoke and read fluently. Old Malay: tidde ada, adoe seg, kassian, pedissss, with extra sliss ss, barang, ketimoen, soesa, senang, djinten, klapper. Never whole sentences, always words between Dutch and English. Depending on her mood more English or more Dutch, and when really angry, more Malay, we children would seek refuge. For the then small group of English expats, she organised an English book club in the village. She proudly told them that English people complimented her on her pronunciation. In 1952, she had accompanied her father on a business trip to London. Her mother had forgotten to pack an evening dress for her and the girl she was staying with had had to resize an evening dress for her because she was so thin.

She bought a passe-partout. For me and her. The two of us can go to the movies 10 times. That's exactly what we do, at the movie house, beautiful films. If there is a film about World War II, I am afraid she will get emotional but all she sees is the female protagonist wearing such a beautiful green evening gown. The films are clearly out of her control, the storylines completely elude her, but she enjoys the colours, the nature scenes and the bottle of soda at intermission. She enjoys "being out and about".

In 1976 there was one more ultimate marriage-saving action, at least that's how I interpreted it in retrospect. We moved into a housing group. The neighbouring house to the nineteen-thirties house was bought and along with two other adults and the children of one of those two, we went into a living community. Nine people, including five children, two dogs and two cats, all having their own room and pretending everything was hunky-dory, typical 1970s. Soon there were arguments, about everything, about how to cook, about what the children were and were not allowed to do, there were group discussions and negotiations about pocket money and curfew times. I played the bravado more and more and felt smaller and smaller. My mother demanded a bedroom of her own, away from my father. I started having sleep problems, the valerian drops didn't help, I became anxious and was sent to a youth psychologist. One evening there was an argument and four adults were in the room shouting at each other. I shouted NO very loudly. They didn't hear that. I walked outside and grabbed my bike. I cycled around, for at least an hour, and ended up with a friendly couple, more or less on the other side of town. They took care of me and called home to tell them I was there. They hadn't missed me yet. For the next three months, I stayed with that couple. Then my mother had left, the living community dissolved and I went back to my father.

She hasn't had Alzheimer's for very long. We are at home, it is evening, the news is on. There is a call from friend. They had an argument and my mother hit her. My mother is now in her room. Friend asks if we can come, she is especially confident in the peace my husband can bring. We get in the car and drive there. The argument was about cooking food. My mother does that, Friend can't or doesn't like it. Friend got all kinds of vegetables, but my mother doesn't know what to do with them anymore and makes the simplest tomato sauce there is. Tomato puree with water. Friend says she doesn't like the food, she doesn't or won't understand that my mother can't cook anymore. My mother never accepts complaining about food. Be glad there is food, is her motto since the camp. My mother comes down the stairs crying. "I don't want to have Alzheimer's either": she says. I understand that, but yes... We appease. On the way home, I have a crying fit. Why do I have to appease things now, when she wasn't there when I needed her. I am furious... but also determined. I will take better care of her than she ever took care of me.

At 16, I ran away from home. I took a big bag of clothes and all my school books with me and arranged to stay with a school friend. I wanted to make a statement. I knew that this school friend's mother wouldn't ask any questions. I did go to school. I expected the police to come and knock on my door. I expected to be called to the vice headmaster's office, where one or two concerned parents would be sitting. But nothing happened. After two weeks, I went home again. My mother came home. "Oh you're back? Was it nice with your father? "It turned out that both my parents had assumed I was with the other parent. They hadn't verified that. They hadn't missed me.

We need to move, one more time! The temporary location of the nursing home is closing. The original nursing home has been rebuilt and equipped with all new conveniences. Moving frightens my mother. We pack the stuff, the room there is smaller and besides, my mother has deteriorated further. A bookcase with books and records no longer really adds any value to her life. She loves the new location. The day after the move, she sits pristinely in the sitting area, feet in slippers on the table, cup of tea by the side, watching television. She seems to have gotten over her grief and become a happier, younger child. She seems to have crossed a threshold. The nursing home gets an official opening and Anneke Grönloh comes to sing. Before the performance, I go to the dressing room and ask Anneke to look at my mother as she sings Nina Bobo. My mother enjoys the old Indonesian songs. Anneke walks up to her and takes her hand in hers as she sings Nina Bobo. My mother beams.

My mother moved very often in her life. Her father kept seeing another house in Semarang that was bigger and nicer than the previous one and then he would rent it and the whole family would have to move. When she was about eight years old, the family moved from Semarang to Batavia, 600 kilometres away, because her father was promoted. As far as I know, she was in four camps during the war. With the annual leave, Singapore and boarding house in Zeist added, she moved at least 10 times before she was 15. The appartment in The Hague was followed by a house in Wassenaar. She went to student accommodation in Amsterdam, then moved in with my father. Then a gallery apartment in Buitenveldert and a house in the provincial village. Then the big city, a rented apartment after the divorce and the little house she bought. With her girlfriend, she then lived at five different addresses in the 25 years they lived together. Then a care home and a nursing home in two locations. That's at least 27 moves in a lifetime of 80 years. My mother was always looking for stability and security and found it nowhere. She did try to bring her own ambience, the Indonesian trinkets, the incense, the wajang dolls and shells, but there was also something displaced about her everywhere. She was never "at home" anywhere. Except in a fictional East Indies that may never have existed, but at least no longer existed when she, with her Alzheimer's brain, very much wanted to go there.

My mother becomes quieter, she also forgets more. She is now completely incontinent. In fact, she no longer knows how to eat, how to stir her coffee. She no longer recognises anyone. She no longer has a spoken language, but still sings. She knows I belong to her, but doesn't know who I am anymore. She likes it when I paint her nails. I still do that every week. With girlfriend I hardly have any contact anymore. We disagree about my mother's care and try to avoid each other. We both have our own visiting hours. One day I come and the carer on duty tells me they cannot care for her. She doesn't allow anyone in her room. She throws slippers. I go to her. I manage to move her towards the washbasin and together with a carer I quickly wash her and help her get dressed.

My mother taught me a lot. She taught me to cook and darn socks. She taught me English, long before you learned that at school, so I was more or less brought up bilingual. She took me to movies you weren't supposed to go to at that age: Once upon a time, Gone with the wind, Jesus Christ Superstar. At ten or so, earlier than the government advised. She taught me a love of literature and history. The most important lesson I learnt from her was in 1987. I was arguing with my sweetheart and grumbling at "that man" who didn't understand a thing. She said "Don't fall into the trap I fell into, don't think you can ever change him". Most wise lesson ever!

For the last week of her life, my mother lies in bed. She no longer eats, she lies in a foetal position, occasionally getting a sip of water. She no longer speaks. She has deteriorated rapidly in recent months. She is losing a lot of weight. I ask if she wants a drink. She shakes her head and pinches her lips together stiffly. I leave her and her friend and go home. I call my brother. We know the end is coming. At 11 o'clock in the evening, girlfriend calls. She is dead. She is laid up in a funeral home. I have my mother's doll. I put it with her. The doll goes into the coffin with her. At her cremation, my brother gives a eulogy. He says: "My mother was born twice; the first time in Semarang in 1931, the second time when she managed to hit Mountbatten's cap with a balloon of water in Singapore in 1945. She could tell that story with a childlike twinkle in her eye. My mother also died twice. The first time when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007 and slowly faded away. The second time last Saturday, 2 June 2012."

Barbara van Benthem Jutting, February 2023

On leave in  1936

My father in 1945

My mother Else

The whole family in 1969

She moves to a care home. Her friend can no longer cope with living with a patient with Alzheimer's. She is scared and angry. She doesn't understand why she should leave. Neither do I actually, but I am not sure how to deal with the girlfriend's whining. There is little understanding between us, there never has been any at all. She has never lived alone for long. We try to furnish the room as familiar as possible. With her own things, her own Indonesian trinkets. It is 30 degrees outside on moving day. We get Chinese spring rolls. It feels like letting a teenager live on their own. I turn off the gas supply to the cooker just to be sure.

After the camp and after Singapore, the family, that is, her mother and the three children went on a ship to the Netherlands, this time without a babu. They arrived in the winter of 1946/1947 and were accommodated in a boarding house in Zeist. Her mother was tired and emaciated; she was basically unable to take care of her children. Silent timid children who did not understand where they had ended up. In the cold, distant Netherlands where they were actually not welcome. They were called peanut because they spoke with weird ss sounds. They were four years behind in learning. Her mother did not manage to get them into a good school in Zeist. After a few months, father joined them. He took one look and decided they weren't going to stay there, in Zeist. He did take his three children to a shop to buy skates and take them out onto the frozen water. Dreadful she thought, so cold.

Father arranged for an apartment in The Hague in no time. He arranged a housekeeper for his wife who was still too weak to do anything. He also went to Paris by train to buy a car, as they were not available in the Netherlands so soon after the war. He returned in his Renault. He arranged for his eldest daughter to be admitted to the first class of gymnasium at the van Maerlant lyceum in The Hague at 15, despite her learning deficit. In 1953, she took her final gymnasium alpha exam, she was 21 at the time. She went to her exams with painted nails and lipstick on. T

he night before her maths oral she was tutored by her maths teacher. He went over the material with her. The next day, he asked the exact same questions as the night before, and she passed with flying colours. My mother never demonstrated any adolescent behaviour. In the camp there was no room for recalcitrant behaviour, after that there was no one to fight with. Her mother was too ill, her father too detached and besides, what would she do without those parents. Her father held things together, something she badly needed after the traumas. Traumas that, by the way, were not talked about. "My children did not suffer" her father would say, probably to keep his own guilt under wraps. As a result, my mother had no idea how to deal with adolescents and, as a result, I became what you might call a superpubesque.

She lives alone in the care facility. She doesn't actually know how to do that. Things get worse and worse for quite quickly. She no longer knows how to wash herself. Friend takes the dirty laundry to wash it at home so that she does only keep clean clothes. She also doesn't know how to make coffee or change a bed either. The carers do their best, but it is already clear after two months that they cannot provide enough care in that home. It takes a few months before a place in a nursing home becomes available. Months in which one of us goes to her every day to help with washing, with eating, with putting her to bed. She is like a small child in her room. Afraid to be alone, constantly sad, constantly lost in her own apartment, in her own head. Friend still does not admit how bad things are with her and how much care she needs.

When I was little, my mother sewed many of my dresses herself. Many mothers did that. However, my mother tended to make the same dress for me and for herself. Sometimes in a different colour and of course in a different size, but with that I was always a little copy of my mother. She purple, me orange, the same kind of necklaces with it, she with tights I with tights, she with heels I with good Renata shoes. I thought that was terrible. She could only see me if I was "just like her", which I was explicitly not and did not want to be. Even when I was well into adulthood, my mother liked to emphasise that we were the same. That was always uncomfortable for me. The last time I argued with her was in 1994: She wanted to be a larger part of my life. I said, "Yes but Mum, I want to have contact, but I don't need you". She became furious and jumped up. Before storming out the door, she shouted, "A camp child never says she doesn't need her mother". "But I am not a camp child" I said, "you are". After that, I never argued again. It was pointless.

She is huddled up in her wicker chair in her room in the nursing home. Around her are snippets of photographs. She has recently started working on these assiduously. Her photo books are rather systematically torn into very small shreds. I managed to save the oldest books with some childhood photos of her, there are not many of them. Only the photos sent to the Netherlands at the time were saved during the war. She also broke her doll. I take that one home with me to prevent further deterioration. It is just before Easter so I put on a CD of the St Matthew Passion. She starts beaming and singing. We sing along together. She used to sing the Matthew in the choir, high soprano, together we went to another sing-along version.

The second time she chose for herself was in 1978. At that time she left, away from my father and away from us. Announcing: I'm in love with a woman and I don't want to be a mother anymore. You stay with Papa and I will leave. There is more to life than being a wife and mother.

The divorce was neatly arranged. She was given a lot of money and considered going back to Indonesia for good. But she did not dare to do so at all, afraid of her own traumatic memories of the camp. So on the pretext that she had to stay in the Netherlands for the children, whom she was not taking care of, she bought a small house in the town where we lived. That summer, I went with her to Paris for a week. I was 15. She loved showing off such a great daughter and "showing off " together. She told me she had met someone. The woman she had left my father for had soon realised that my mother had way too much unsolved issues and had broken up with her. But now there was another woman who liked her. She said she felt more comfortable with women. That was because of the camp she said. Men were scary, you couldn't be yourself with them. I asked if she had been scared of my father. "No, of course not" she said. I didn't understand, but kept quiet about it. That was always better with my mother.

She is in a nursing home; she fortunately has her own room. I have been afraid she would feel as confined again as she did in the camp. But she is not, in her mind she is already further back in time, feeling the warm tropical sun of her childhood. I bring nasi rames for her. O lekkkkerrrrr she says with a nice rolling Indonesian r. Her contact person approaches me. From time to time they don't understand her. Then she uses terms the carers don't know, Kasian, tidde ada, ketimoen, pedis, makan, asin, kopi manis, barang barang, soesa, senang etc. I make a word list for the caregivers.

When she completed the Social Academy in 1980, she moved in with her friend. The small house in town became vacant and she suggested I could rent it from her. I was just 17, didn't really have any plans for my future and didn't really have a positive outlook on life, but I was looking forward to a little house of my own. I looked for someone who was willing to sublet one of the two rooms upstairs so I could pay the rent. She came by every week to check on her little house. After a few months, my tenant was replaced by my boyfriend so we could play house. Meanwhile, she went to Amsterdam once a week to do advanced training; Group Dynamics and Formation Work. She was still working as a formation worker with women. She also went into therapy, but I only heard about that years later. Afraid of doctors, however, she did not seek a psychiatrist with knowledge of war traumas but an esoteric lady who tried to help her get rid of her war traumas with yoga, Bach flowers and a pendulum, without success. Two years later, she and her friend were living apart together, as she put it. Each having their own bedroom, and I saw little affection. She was clearly too scared and too damaged to really spread her wings and make something of her life.

I want to visit Mama again. Mum's grave? I ask. Yes that is what she means. On a beautiful spring day, I drive with her to the Land of Maas and Waal. In the village is the old cemetery under big oak trees. That is where her mother is buried. We walk past the little farmhouse where her parents lived. In my memories, of course, it was much bigger. Then we drive along the Waal dike and eat a pancake in the Veerhuis. She tells stories about her mother, that she could knit so beautifully and that she learned English by reading Gone with the wind and looking up every word she didn't understand.

I was lying in my bed in our house in the county village. I was about eight years old. My father was playing the piano on floor directly under my bedroom, Mozart sonatas. It must have been about eight o'clock. Then I heard my mother's soprano. Du Holde Kunst in wie viel grauen Stunden, " An die Musik" by Franz Schubert. I can still see them before me when I think back. She with one hand loosely on his shoulder and the other hand on the piano. A light on the score, utter harmony. When exactly that harmony between my parents subsided I can't remember. After the divorce, my mother always spoke of my father with some disdain. She said she wanted to leave when I was four. I never knew whether any of that was true. They wrote letters to each other in the year after the divorce, letters of reproach presumably. I was engaged as a postman, until I refused and told them to just put a stamp on it and pos. It wasn't exactly a fighting divorce, but things never worked out between my parents after that either.

A sunny day at the nursing home. People sit in the shade in the courtyard garden. A patio with lots of greenery and flowers, but enclosed so that people cannot leave. There is lemonade and fruit. I peel the apples and give everyone a piece. I start a song. Dikkertje Dap... sat on the stairs. Everyone joins in, they know it, the Alzheimers as I call them. Hansje Pansje beetle on his fence.... My mother beams when she sings. I think let's make it a little harder and start on Schubert's Ave Maria. "That should be higher" says my mother. "That's right, but I'm an alto, so you do it" I say. And there she goes, flawless and high, wordless because she has forgotten it, but every note in place. One lady hums softly along. At the end, my mother gets applause. She beams and makes a neat reverence. Until a week or two before her death, my mother will continue to sing.

I was an angry and scared adolescent. Afraid of life and angry at my parents who made that life so extra complicated. There was a big difference between my parents' reactions, though. My father was there. If I was scared, woke him up in the middle of the night, he was there. He patiently listened to my fears, stroked my head and promised me he would always be there for me. There was a time when I had a serious argument with his girlfriend. He chose me unconditionally. Whether that was justified or not.

My mother was not there. If I called her in tears, she would ask:" Now what ?" Or she would unplug the phone. I was not comforted, I had to stop whining. I had to understand that she also had her own life and that she was entitled to it. Besides, in the camp it had all been much worse so what was I whining about. I couldn't stand that. By definition, my mother's grief and fear and pain were much greater than mine.

My mother cries. She doesn't want to be here, not in this nursing home. She wants to go home. She just doesn't know what she means by that anymore. Indonesia is the most likely option. When asked if I can stand that, I say that I have known for a long time that I cannot make my mother happy. Her dementia doesn't change that. I don't even know if that's true myself. It's sad to see, but I don't feel responsible.

When I was 19, things went wrong. I didn't sleep much, if at all, was always scared. I broke up with my boyfriend, and fled home to my father. With therapy and attention, I got my life back on track. I went to college, met my husband, also moved back into my room. My mother was pretty invisible at the time. There was contact, but for instance, I only told her about my new love after six months. Her reaction: "Can't you ever find a normal man?". When I had a fallopian tube haemorrhage when I was twenty-two, she did call, but she only visited the hospital once, with new nightdresses. After all, she was afraid of hospitals, I had to understand that. I didn't tell her that the gynaecologist said I probably couldn't have children. It was the same message she had received many years before. I was, however, allowed to recover in her house. Then I could look after the dog nicely when they were on holiday. We did, it was better than living in student rooms on the second floor.

Girlfriend really wants another trip to Portugal, to the Algarve where they have spent the winter together for several years. Starting at Christmas, and then for about four weeks. Every year the same tour operator, the same apartment complex in the same village, the same travel companions. But now, my mother has Alzheimer's and friend is seriously looking forward to it. We suggest that they go along for only part of the time then. They go first, just before Christmas and we arrive a few days after New Year. Though in our own little appartment but in the same complex. We rent a car and take my mother with us a few times. Then girlfriend has some peace and quiet. We get to places she has never been before. Together, it turns out they barely get out of the village, even though they have been holidaying there for years, how sad. Again, the utter lovelessness of their interactions strikes me. How did they manage to put up with each other for so long, I wonder.

I was living with my boyfriend and studying, my mother came for coffee. It was around 1986. She saw a baby picture of me, my picture on a Christmas card. She had taken that picture. I told her that my aunt, my father's sister, had made that Christmas card and had asked my permission. In the evening, my mother called to tell me that she had called that aunt and told her not to use the picture. I got angry because she was again interfering in my life without being involved and broke off contact with her. A few weeks or months later, girlfriend called to ask if I was willing to talk. They got together. I said I did not appreciate her meddling unsolicited in matters that did not concern her. Friend said, "Yes but then, do you think she only does that with you?" I said I didn't care; "Even if she does that to everyone thats fine but not with me!" Both my mother and girlfriend looked at me dumbfounded, as if it had never occurred to them that you could also NOT accept certain behaviour from my mother. After that, the relationship cooled even further. Weeks passed without contact. She came to my birthday and I came to hers. Occasionally, we drank coffee in town.

It is evening around 10 o'clock. I get a call from the caregiver on duty at the nursing home. My mother has fallen. She has gone wandering down the corridors and has a wound on her head. It is not serious and they were able to take care of her themselves. However, they cannot get her to calm down. She is in a total panic, war, war she says. I drive over and she sits totally dejected in her wicker chair, in her nightgown. She thinks I am her mother, and I put her to bed like a little child. Hum a lullaby: sliep seft myn bernstje... The Frisian lullaby of my youth. The roles are definitely tilted. From then on, she usually thinks I am her mother, sometimes her sister. In any case, older than her and much wiser.

In 1992, my mother took the plunge and went to Indonesia, alone! She went to Java for six weeks, to Semarang and Jakarta where she lived and past the places where she had been in a camp. I took her to Schiphol Airport with her friend. After those six weeks, she flew on to Hawaii where that aunt from Indonesia had settled after the war. Then across the United States by train from Los Angeles to Chicago. It had taken her almost 50 years to gather her courage. She talked about it at length, she was so elated. Her father and her brother looked surprised. According to her father, the East Indies as he had known it no longer existed and so there was no point in going there. Perhaps he was right, but then he had not been born there. The following year, she went with her sister. She also loved it. In the following years she went every year. First alone to Java, then to Bali. Once she asked me to go with her. I kindly but firmly said no; 6 weeks with my mother was asking for trouble, arguments, old sorrows, etc. Once we went to London for a long weekend. On the way back on the train, we got into a fight on the last 20 kilometres, and we had both tried so hard. My brother did go with us once. Her friend also refused to go with her. The tropics were not for her, far too hot. My mother hated that. In 2008, she went with my brother for the last time, who felt like he was going out with a child, and to some extent that was true.

My father passes away. It is 2007. My mother has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the time. She comes with her friend to the cremation. There is a relative of my father's who speeks his mind out loud, wondering what she is doing there, I say snidely, "because her children's father is dead". She recognises my father's sister, who is also suffering from dementia but who also recognises my mother immediately. This is wonderful to see; two women who are already quite lost, hardly recognising anyone really, but recognising each other, despite not having seen each other for over 30 years. My mother is angry because one of the speakers says something about the divorce and that my father was sad about it. Afterwards, she says she did not recognise anyone.

After she went back to Indonesia for the first time, things changed for my mother. She started to explore. She became a member of the KJBB (Children of the Japanese Occupation and Bersiap) where she also actively participated in meeting days. She wrote a story for one of their publications about memories from the camps aptly named, "When I grow up, I want to be a child". She became more Indonesian. At least she tried less to be a Dutch woman. This caused more misunderstanding and separation between her and her friend, who was an archetypal Dutch woman and really liked a crumbled potato better than nasi. It also caused more rapprochement between her and me. The fights were behind us. I had grown up by now and was also more understanding of her and her camp past. At least she was proud of me. Proud of the fact that I had completed academic studies and had a career. She had the restored doll, she had lugged around the camp, on a cabinet at all times.

We are having a sandwich in town, close to where I live, so she doesn't have to walk so far. Suddenly she asks:" What was that like for you?" The fact that we were getting divorced? I tell her that I was angry with her. That she didn't take care of me. That she should have. She tells how powerless she felt, how alone. She says, "I'm sorry". It is 2008, thirty years after she left. Maybe she can speak up now because my father is dead.

1998, I worked in The Hague a hectic job, on the train every morning at 7, never home before 7 in the evening. My mother complained that she saw me so rarely. I suggested she travel with me to The Hague so she could visit her sister there. On the train, she told me that her friend wanted to end the relationship. And that she, my mother, had started a relationship with a woman in Amsterdam, a woman with a camp past. She was afraid she would be alone otherwise. She didn't want to change again, to have to figure it out for herself again. She was crying, in that crowded train. She asked me what she should do. I jumped into the role of counsellor, I am a psychologist. I advised her to talk and start doing something again. By now she was retired and really did nothing but wait for her friend. We said goodbye at The Hague railway station. All day at work, I was angry and moody. She was not leaving her friend. I don't know how they worked it out or resolved it. The Amsterdam woman remained a good friend.

We are out walking in the forest next to the nursing home. It's spring, leaves on the trees. She asks, "Why doesn't your father ever visit?" I am dumbfounded. She never asks about that. I say, "He's dead". She is startled and bursts into tears. Why didn't she know that? She is genuinely sad. I suddenly see that she did love him. In the months that follow, she still regularly asks about him and why he doesn't visit. It is pointless to keep repeating that he died so I say, "I will ask him" and at some point even, "He is coming tomorrow." There is a moment a few months later when I visit and she says happily, "Your father has been". I don't respond but I gather from her subsequent story that my brother, who looks like my father externally, came to visit yesterday. For me, it is good to know that despite her anger and dedain, she still loved my father.

I was visiting her, friend was off to work, sometime in the late 1990s. My mother was retired by then. Friend had just had her second grandchild. My mother didn't like it. She thought she actually deserved a grandchild too and why hadn't I provided one for her. I never told her that I probably couldn't have children. Not even at that time. I blamed it on my desire to have a career and on my husband who already had three children. She seemed genuinely sorry. I said, "Yes but Mom, if you had known, you wouldn't have started having children, would you?". She agreed.

A place has been found in a nursing home. An emergency location on the outskirts of town, far from girlfriend, also quite far for me. But she is welcome to come. She lived in the nursing home for about six months. There she was angry and scared. Meanwhile, it is winter and slippery on the day she has to move out. She gets a small room, a bookcase, a wardrobe, a bed a table and two chairs. Also something on the wall. We unpack quickly. First we unpack things, then she arrives with friend so it looks cosy. She has been looking forward to it. She is a bit disappointed, but in good spirits she introduces herself to everyone, using her first name. She hasn't wanted to be addressed as mrs for a long time. The "living room" where she is assigned is not terribly cosy, but she still likes a cup of coffee. I'll come tomorrow... I say and we leave her to the carers. Here's to hoping all will be well.

In 1979, my father got a new girlfriend. I ran amok so much that my mother finally allowed me to live with her, at least temporarily. My father paid me an allowance, which I then passed on to my mother. They thought that was a more logical solution than alimony, even though I was only 16. My mother worked, and went to the Social Academy. She got her degree in 1980, the same year I got my HAVO degree. She had her girlfriend and often went to the women's house. The second feminist wave was in "full swing". I wanted my mother to love me so much that I went all in. I played truant a lot. An acquaintance of my mother saw me on the street while I was supposed to be at school and briefed her about it. My mother chastised me but did nothing. When I contracted Pfeiffer's disease, I was sent back to my father because she had no time to take care of a sick child. Neither did my father, of course, who worked all day. I was home alone almost whole days for weeks in a row.

We have an interim progress meeting at the nursing home, with her contact person. This one explains that we indicated at intake that my mother is vegetarian. This is what friend said. That's never quite right. My mother likes meatballs and satay ajam. She certainly won't eat a whole steak, such a big piece of meat, yuk. Now there is a problem, because my mother is angry every Sunday. In fact, on Sundays there is a croquette at lunch and she wants it, but doesn't get it because her records state vegetarian. Friend doesn't think we should do that: after all, she would never have wanted that. I try to remain calm: No maybe she wouldn't have wanted that, but now she does. So let's just give that croquette. The contact breathes a sigh of relief.

It was Saturday, 16 November 1974, my father's birthday. A few months earlier, we had moved into the thirties house in the city. The birthday was taken as an opportunity to give a big housewarming party where family and friends would come. My mother had spent a week in the kitchen making the appetisers for the buffet. We were sitting at breakfast when the phone rang. My little brother went to answer it. Phones still hung in the corridor back then. An uncle, my mother's brother-in-law, was on the phone. My mother walked into the corridor. We first heard her talking and then crying. I had never seen or heard my mother cry before. As it turned out, her mother, my grandmother, had died suddenly. There was great consternation. My mother called all sorts of people and things. A friend of my mother's came over with a car and my mother left with her and an overnight bag rushing to the farm in the land of Maas and Waal where her parents had settled after retirement. My father phoned more people to cancel the party. Some people, who had to come from far away, were already on their way to us. Other close friends came anyway to support him. Nobody looked after us. No one explained anything. I was 11 and scared. On Monday, I was just sent to school by my father. On Wednesday or Thursday, the funeral was in my grandparents' village. I had a fever from the tension. My mother cried during the service. She sought comfort from an aunt of hers, not from my father nor from us. That was the first time I knew for sure, that I could not make my mother happy.

A typical Dutch meat croquette my mother used to love

This Javanese couple called Loro Blonyo Else bought on her first trip back to Indonesia in 1991. For her, it was tangible evidence of her Javanese "root" even though she was a totok.

These glasses are the glasses Else shared with her mother in the camp. After she found it among her mother's things, it remained in her jewellery box until her death and was a kind of tangible memento of the camps.

Santaclaus celebration in  1933

Malay words:

  • Adoe Seg: zo iets als: Gosh
  • Ajam : Chicken
  • Asin: Salt
  • Baboe: Nanny 
  • Barang: Bagage
  • Boemboe: Mixture of herbs
  • Djinten: Cumin
  • Djongos: Male servant
  • Kakkies: Feet
  • Kasian: Unfortunate/pitiful
  • Kebon: Gardner
  • Ketimoen: Cucumber
  • Klapper: Coconut

  • Kokkie: Cook
  • Kopi manis: Sweet coffee
  • Makan: Food
  • Mandiën:Bathing by (having) buckets of lukewarm water thrown over you
  • Pedis : Sharp / Spicy food
  • Senang: Feeling good 
  • Slamat Makan: Enjoy your meal
  • Soebatten: Whining, pleading, begging
  • Soesa: Bother
  • Tidde ada: Not there, no more, finished
  • Wajang: Indonesian shade puppets

For the past few years, Barbara has maintained a website and blog about Tera van Benthem Jutting who was born in Batavia in 1899. The blogs and a nice timeline can be followed under this link

The book "Twee levens, een liefde" written by Barbara Benthem Jutting can be found under the "books" section of this website.