Cornelia Rinsche Hartog was born January 2, 1924, in Holland. More than that, I don’t know. Somehow, the city of Rotterdam rings a bell, but I honestly don’t know.
I always knew her as Corrie. Not that I ever called her that, of course. She was my then-girlfriend’s Oma, grandmother. But that’s the name that Rienk, her husband, always used. I can still hear him calling her now.
Old pictures have a way of captivating me. Probably you, too. Black and white. Grainy. Sometimes sepia-toned, always indefinably but unmistakably old.
And always the knowledge, the background bittersweetness, the nostalgia and the mute vague anger that here is a person, here is a human being, a soul at some stage in a life: alive, real, feeling, touching, hoping, dreaming, laughing … whose heart no longer beats. Whose breath is stilled. Who you cannot touch anymore.
A picture is a stolen moment. Stolen from us and … stolen from them.
On April 24, 1996, Corrie died of cancer in Langley Memorial Hospital. As she died, so did her husband Rienk, in a sense. He outlived her by 9 years, but in truth became only a shell of his former self.
I hardly knew her. She served us drinks and snacks, lunch. Asked questions, laughed. Said “yah, yah,” with a shake of the head in the good old-fashioned Dutch immigrant way. Always dressed up: hat, jewelry, shoes. Proper, but not stiff.
Someone – was it her father – made her that toy wheelbarrow. Maybe an uncle. The shovel that rests in it. Look at the thing – cross-bracing, handles. They knew how to make toys back then, toys that didn’t break the day after Sinterklaas. This one was love frozen into wood and metal.
See how blond she is, the prototypical Dutch girl. How artless her arms and fingers fall to her sides. How her white sleeves puck up at the edges. Her square-toed child’s shoes, with little white socks slumping down over the latches.
What is she – four, five? She was tall as an adult; probably tall as a child as well. She looks well-fed, but in just a decade and a half she would live through WWII and know both hunger and sorrow.
She’s already developed a child’s reserve – you can see it in the mouth, the cheeks, the slightly off-kilter stance. Perhaps this was the genesis of the dignity that I saw, 60 years later.
You look at her and you wonder: this girl was involved in the resistance. A brother died fighting the Germans. Her future husband helped the Canadian troops who were liberating the Netherlands. How could she know what was coming?
And after the war: marriage, immigration to Canada. A new life, a new house – many houses – throughout British Columbia. Years slipped into decades. Children – three, a teacher, a doctor, a musician. A community, a church. A home. A life.
And now a memory and a photography.
But more than that. Corrie was a Christian. That’s someone who knows a heavenly father. Someone who trusts a Savior.
And someone we’ll see again – in the fullness of time.
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PS: We keep a birthday calendar in our house. I saw the scrawled “Oma” with a cross beside it about a week ago, and have been wanting to post something in her memory ever since.
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