My youth

We lived in Amsterdam where my father had an ironmonger’s shop.
He was able to give my mother and I a good life with the money he earned there.
Our life would have been wonderful if there had not been any disruptions, which destroyed our happiness.
My mother carried the blame for it.
Although she was not wanting in anything, she did not need to deny herself anything, she still wished for a different kind of life.
She would have preferred to go out and party than to look after her small household, she put dancing and other leisure activities before the happiness with her husband and child.
I only started to see her as she was when I was older.
But as a child, I already felt that she missed the love which I knew other mothers had.
I was not pampered by her, or cuddled, or spoilt, as my friends were by their mothers, although I was her only child.
She had nothing to give; she was empty and cold.
Father, who saw this and suffered as a result, tried to make up for this lack.
He only partly managed to do this; I continued to want my mother’s love.
She was so restless that she did not make any time for me; rather, I irritated her with my dependency, my demands for affection.
She pushed me away from her time and again, and sighed that children were just a nuisance.
So her heart remained closed to me.
As young as I was, I searched for the reason for it, but I was only able to discover this later.
She did not need us.
Mother did not look for her happiness in her family and preferred to spend her time outside the home.
Where and how I gathered from the words which father and mother exchanged when mother sometimes came home in the middle of the night, inflamed by drink and having fun, and father was waiting for her.
Father was patient with her for a long time.
He kept on trying to convince her that she was busy throwing herself away and he begged her to give up those low-life pleasures.
“Your child and I need you”, he was in the habit of saying, “of course, I want you to have your fun and your time out, but do not look for it on your own.”
But however much father argued, pleaded and begged, mother continued to follow her own dark path.
She called father a dull man, who had more of an eye for his books than for the rights of a healthy, lively woman.
For her part, she made every effort to convince him to come with her.
She would show him life and promised him all the fun the world had to offer, but father refused to take part in that debauchery.
It was a terrible conflict for years on end.
The situation in our house was tragic, where happiness could have reigned if mother had shared father’s views on life, marriage and the family.
It was especially clear to me that father suffered as a result of all of this when I was seven years old and once listened to a conversation which father had with a lady in the shop.
Mother was more irritable than ever that day and had already shouted at father a few times without any reason, so that he just preferred to stay in the shop.
Then she could no longer tolerate me and sent me to father with a few ugly curses.
Just as I was entering the shop, I heard father say: “... I do what I can to make things pleasant for her, but I cannot do a thing with her.
She leaves no stone unturned in order to sour my life and the life of the child.
And I am powerless and cannot make her change her mind.”
The lady replied with: “You do not need to tell me anything; we neighbours know what is going on.
But there is something everywhere you look, there is no peace and harmony anywhere on earth.
So many people have to cope with one thing or another which makes their lives hell.
As long as you know that it is our own fault.”
“Our own fault?” I heard father ask in amazement.
“But ... do I not do enough then to ...”
The lady interrupted him at this point: “I have read a lot and got hold of some good books and they have changed me.
As a result of them I have started to look at things differently.
I tell you it is our own fault, it is the cause and effect which we must undergo, these books taught me.
In the past I would have laughed at those truths, now I think differently about them.
I now know that we have experienced several lives; in those lives we did a lot of wrong things.
Now, in this life, we have to try and make up for these mistakes, or be released from them.
But I advise you to read the books yourself.
As a result of them I got to know myself and other people.
I experienced a lot of misery and trouble, but now I am pleased about it.
I have learned to bow my head.
If you want to borrow them from me, I will bring them round today.”
This is how it happened.
The friendly lady brought the books to father.
Immediately after the shop was closed, he started to read them.
They made my father more serious than ever; every hour that he was free, he used to delve further into the books.
After these books he bought himself new books, he kept on buying more.
This was enough to make my mother furious and she attacked him as one possessed.
“What kind of rotten books are they!
Where did you get these books, minister?
You should have become a minister and have passed me by, that would have saved me a miserable life.
As long as you make sure that those dirty books leave this house, otherwise I will throw them out!”
“The books are staying”, my father assured her, and again, as so often in the past, he tried to calm her anger and bring her to other, better thoughts.
He even went so far as to try and persuade her that she should read the books as well.
It would calm her down, he said, and open her eyes.
This is not the place to reiterate the swearing and cursing with which mother answered father.
As if she had given up trying to convince father of her views, she stayed away that night.
The following day I saw her walking with another man, with her arms firmly round him and in deep conversation.
She did not see me.
I thought it was necessary to tell father this.
For the last time, father, who still loved her despite everything, tried for a reconciliation with her.
Her farewell was brief.
“I want a divorce and as soon as possible!”
The divorce came through and my mother was denied her parental rights.
Now mother had got what she wanted, nothing tied her down anymore, she was free to live the life of pleasure, which she had longed for all those years.
Despite everything father and I missed her.
We only got used to it after a while that she was no longer there.
Then a quiet, deeply happy time started for us both.
I finished school and then helped father in the shop.
He encouraged this.
Because, as he said, the business would belong to me one day.
Father often went walking with me, he took me into nature and told me a lot about plants and animals.
He was occupied with his books even more than before, with the difference, that he could now talk about what he read.
He read whole parts aloud to me and a new world opened up to me.
Because all those books told about life, which was eternal.
About death, hell and heaven.
Even if I did not nearly understand everything, I did not tire of listening to father.
As a result of the books father made new friends and they were the ones who invited us to be present at the ‘séances’, which they held regularly and whereby they came in contact with dead people, spirits, or intelligences, as they called them.
I was sixteen years old when I was present for the first time at one of those séances.
Soon father and I were there once a week.