For Canadians, Flanders was where a lot of men got killed a long time ago.
For Anna -- or Annie or Annje if you wish -- it's where she was born, where her father was killed by retreating German soldiers, where her Dad came to see her mother and a flame of affection and attachment caught light into a fire of lifelong love.
For Peter, it was a place to have a honeymoon with Anna.
But most of all, it was the essence of origins and understandings.
July 26, 1965
The train from the Brussels airport bumped along steadily under grey skies. We didn’t have trains like this in Canada that served to bring people to the center of town from the suburbs or the airport. Even Toronto’s subway only served the center, and only on one line. Montreal didn’t even have that yet. Somewhere I’d read it was supposed to open next year. So was the second Toronto line.
It wasn’t far to go to the Bruxelles Midi station, which being Belgian, is also called Brussel Zuid. Dad told me once that when he came here with Mom in 1947 the Central station wasn’t finished. It’s apparently a fairly modest station and all underground. Wonder why my mind was drifting to that.
Outside, the dark, rainy skies added to my fuzzy and slightly sombre state of mind. Peter was beside me. We’d got married on Saturday. That thought should cheer me up.
Married! Wow. He’d be beside me ... ’till death us do part. Suppose I should have thought of that before. Not that I would have called it off. It’s what I want. Just that the whole deal is a bit scary when you get down to it. He’s going to be there, hopefully, for a long time. That’s the good – and the bad.
What if we don’t get along after a bit? The big toss of the dice. But I guess he’s in the same boat – plane? Train?
We haven’t said much to each other for the last 30 minutes. We’re both a little disoriented, even though we had a good flight on Sabena from Montreal. When Dad took Michelle to England, he warned her to get as much sleep as she could on the plane. I already knew this from our last trip to Europe. That time I’d been too excited to sleep. Wasn’t good – wasted a couple of days being in a fog. Peter had done the “pond” before too, and we were lucky to find one of the back seats was free and the agent said unlikely to be filled. She warned it didn’t fully recline, but having 3 seats between two, we were able to angle ourselves. Actually Peter was very gallant and let me put my head on a pillow on his lap. He got himself wedged against window and the seat – reclined as much as it could – and his feet under the middle seat. We managed almost 5 hours, though a bit broken up.
We’re going to spend a few days in Ghent with Wil and Joop. I vaguely remember their house from when I was 3. Mom was back a couple of years ago when we all came over to England. Dad and I went home after the England part of the trip because he had to get back to work, and I needed to get ready for school.
The flights had been uneventful – Dad said any flight where you walked off the plane was a good one. Black RAF humour – or maybe wisdom. Boring was good when it came to flights.
The border agent saw I was born in Belgium and the name Tremblay and started talking to me in French.
“Vous etes originalement Wallon?”
“Non. Je suis née a Ninove en Flandres. Ma mère était veuve qui a epousée un Canadien, actuellement anglais mais avec un nom français.”
“Daan uw spreek vlaamse?”
“Sorry, alleen een beetje. Et maintenant, je suis marrièe à ce gentilhomme qui est Canadien d’origin écossais.” I was starting to mix up my languages.
So did the border agent.
“Welcome in Belgium, Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair.”
Hmm. That’s who we were. Better start to get used to it. Was I going to use Sinclair? We hadn’t really talked about it. I’ll ask Peter what he thinks.
No I won’t! He’s almost asleep. His chin is stubbly. No good chance to shave. No wonder Dad wears a beard. Wonder how Peter would look in one. Be simpler for travelling like this. But I’ll let him doze and keep awake to make sure we don’t miss our stop. We’ve got to change in Brussels.
Given the overnight flight, the airport delays getting luggage and then time spent converting some travellers’ cheques – the “fee” meant the real exchange rate was pretty poor – and the change of trains in Brussels, we got to Ghent after noon. Wil had written that she would meet us if we knew the train we would be on, but we said there could be delays and we’d take a taxi. Following the advice of Dad and Michelle, we had backpacks and small suitcases. They made it easier with the trains. Europeans seemed to think it their duty to make you go up and down stairs. Heaven help people in wheelchairs.
I’d practised the Flemish for Wil and Joop’s address, and the taxi driver understood me first time.
Peter also had a smattering of Dutch, but he’d never spoken it in earnest. I had Flemish as my first language, but I was only 3 when we went to Canada, and I hadn’t had too much chance to use it since. I’d found a small Dutch / English dictionary. Would help in a pinch, but didn’t really give you the quick and ready words.
Wil and Joop must have been watching the street. They were outside their front door before the taxi stopped. Peter paid the driver over Joop’s protests, and with greetings and all speaking at once, we came in the house.
“We have talked about how we will speak with you.” Joop said. “I speak some English, but Wil speaks Flemish and French.”
“Je parle français un peu.” Peter said “En mijn muder war in Gorinchem geboren. Ik kan een betje vlaams verstaan.”
“Geud. Geud.” Wil said. “Mischien, met frans en vlaams, wir kan praaten.”
We all laughed, but we did have a fashion of communicating.
Despite this, it took several tries to explain that we should rest for a while, but get up for supper and then go to bed at a “normal” hour for Ghent.