In reading Carolyne Van Der Meer’s remarkable work, Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experiences, I was reminded of the intricate lace curtains found on the windows throughout Holland. In this creative reinterpretation of memories and experiences, Van Der Meer has eloquently succeeded in intertwining short stories, poems, and essays with the delicate touch of a fine Dutch lace maker.
Based on the recollections of the author’s mother and other Dutch Canadians, as well as letters from and interviews with Canadian soldiers and resistance fighters, Van Der Meer takes these accounts and her first-hand research to craft a compelling view of what we are left with after war’s end.
The journey begins as the author, a journalist, PR professional and university lecturer, goes in search of her mother’s memories as a young child in Nazi-occupied Holland.
Her quest is fuelled by the need to find a connection between that childhood – a world of hunger, bursting bombs and a father in the resistance who hid Jews in the space between the home’s two floors – with the placid, safe world they now live in. The fear of traumatizing her mother leads the author to seek other recollections as well, and these individual memories are seamlessly interwoven linking the past to the present with the power of shared memory.
Van Der Meer visits her mother’s hometown and even the house where she had lived. However, it is in Amsterdam, after exploring museum archives that she is struck by “the taste of memory” while eating speculaas, her favourite Dutch spice cookie. Despite being Canadian-born and raised, she notes: “I get that odd feeling again – of being home, of feeling like I belong.”
That feeling of belonging when there is no experiential history is not uncommon among first generation Canadians. In the poem, The Bartender, the author wryly muses about a young Pakistani,
…in September. He goes home to find
his, I leave home to find
Van Der Meer is also driven to understand what forged the woman who became her mother, to understand the connection, that indefinable element that separates yet binds women to their mothers. The gentleness and awed respect that arises from the author’s journey to her mother’s town will resonate with all those who have gone searching for clues as to what forged the strength they both struggle with and admire.
It is in Van Der Meer’s poetry, in its sparse clean lines, that she best delineates the lasting tragedies of war – the inescapable memories – as in the poem, The Department Store that describes people hopelessly trapped beneath the rubble of a bombed building.
No more Vroom & Dreesman
Only a fine coating of dust –
and echoes everywhere.
Gina Roitman is a writer, editor, and author of the acclaimed short story collection Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth, and the co-producer, co-writer and the ‘me’ in the award-winning, documentary, My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me.