I'm skipping over Day 7 in Holland for now, although I will try to write about it later. I'm going to move ahead to Day 8, Saturday Sept. 12, the day I celebrated my 30th birthday in Holland.
My real birthday is actually a few days later, but since I was leaving Holland on Sept. 13, I celebrated it early. It was very important to me to spend my birthday with my grandmother, who was there when I was born and after whom I am named (my middle name), because I knew it would probably be the last time I'd see her. In August 2006, she was diagnosed with cancer and was given three to six months to live. More than three years later, in September 2009, she was still with us, and I was acutely aware of what a treasure that was.
She passed away this morning, January 16, 2010.
On Friday Sept. 11, my aunt Ellen called the bakery to make sure they would have enough of the pastries ("gebakjes" in Dutch) we like, so we could pick them up fresh the next day. We ordered tompoesen (like a Napoleon) and moorkoppen (round, cream-filled, chocolate-covered éclairs). On Saturday, we picked up my birthday pastries and took them over to my grandmother's. Ellen and Oma ("Grandmother" in Dutch) presented me with a nice birthday gift: three tall, colorful, pillar candles and 20 euros. I am looking at the candles as I write this; they are sitting on a shelf in my living room, as yet unlit, reminding me of that Saturday.
My cousin Michael stopped by with his three cute kids, and scored one of the extra pastries I had bought. My aunt Nancy and her boyfriend Geert also came by, enjoyed some birthday "gebakjes" and gave me a lovely gift of some Hugo Boss women's perfume and lotion. My aunt Astrid and uncle Frits also stopped by, and we took a nice photo together on Oma's sunny balcony. Her balcony overlooks a canal with a bridge arching over it, and as kids my brother and sister and I would take the old bread crusts that my grandparents saved and feed them to the ducks at the canal. It was one of the delights of my childhood.
That evening, Ellen made salmon and Dutch-style potatoes and green beans ("snijbonen") for dinner, and the four of us — Ellen, Oma, my mother and me — enjoyed our last meal together.
Those days I had with my Oma in September were priceless, and I can only be grateful I was able to see her just a few months ago. Other than the house I grew up in, no place in the world is as vivid in my memory as my grandmother's apartment by the canal, with its heavy wood furniture, bright kitchen, cozy living room and tiny spare bedroom, where I spent many nights.
Tonight, after sunset, I may light my birthday candles for the first time. My grandmother once told my sister, "Every day is a holiday for me." It reminds me of a quote by Thomas Dreier that I read on New Year's Day this year: "If we are ever to enjoy life, now is the time — not tomorrow, nor next year, nor in some future life after we have died. The best preparation for a better life next year is a full, complete, harmonious, joyous life this year. Today should always be our most wonderful day."
So, I'm going to light those candles, and I'm going to enjoy them.