“We’ll do the novena after the dinner”; “we’re all starving”, she said. “No, not the novena to-night again” a chorus of children protested. “Ja, natuurlijk”, “of course we will”, her dad said sternly in guttural Dutch. All Dutch fathers are stern and ramrod morally straight. A novena par for course it would be, with those large and fatally catholic families. No interruptus of any coitus there. Let the little ones come, and mother will do the endless scrubbing, stove sweating, cooking, shopping and kiddie feedings! Gutturally challenged fathers are often in easy chairs and smoking Graven A’s.
The novena was popular with large catholic families. It involved something religious with the number nine and praying. Nothing voodoo though! In Annemarie’s family it soon became clear just after dinner when instead of the usual thanks-giving prayer; the whole lot sank onto their knees on the floor with crossed hands on the dining chairs in front of them. They were doing this for nine weeks and were now in the second week. I dutifully followed kneeling just behind and beside Annemarie. They were all fingering the rosary beads while praying for a good future, including for ‘own home on own block and own solid Torrens Title’.
Of course, with the mashed potatoes, carrots and onions and some minced cows, the bedding down of the food while kneeling in pious prayer was not easy and soon a few light-hearted farts were wafting around. Nothing too serious and parents smiled benevolently and lovingly at their happy off-spring, gathered on knees. Apparently, the farting was the acceptable price negotiated in return for everyone agreeing to do this nine week family Novena, ‘for a better future in Australia, for our children.’ I suspected the farting would be on regardless of any novenas. Good Dutch families that fart together stay together.
In all that what was going on I was focussed on showing due piety in my posture, eyes turned at a slant and heavenly upwards. But, and as usual, it was in direct contrast to those infernal and intruding carnal thoughts. So close and yet so far. How ironic. There she was the dreams of my youth. So lovingly on her knees, dress hiked up somewhat, lovely roseate thighs with rosary slipping through agile fingers. Oh, the irony of it all, the temptation so close and yet so far and under such dire and difficult circumstances.
With the novena having come to its last bead, we all got up and I offered to do the washing up, hoping a reciprocate move from my beloved. “No, it’s Elizabeth turn”, she quickly retorted. Roderick is waiting! So much for love reciprocating. Mother stepped in though, “no, you do it tonight”, she said sharply. With this latest set-back I decided that Mr ‘normal nose Roderick’ was more on her mind. No doubt waiting for her around the corner, practising his ramrod straight morals as I was bloody well helping her do the washing up, even dried the dishes allowing the towel at times to stray against her leg. That’s the best my thousand kilometre scooter trip was capable of achieving. Bitter rewards and pathos at its best that I would now be sleeping in her bed; perhaps with her scent on pillow case, providing her mother hadn’t changed the sheets or pillow case. Was it any better than sleeping in my lonely tent? Is this what I had been so good for?
The kids were around the table playing Monopoly, squabbling over who had the most money and who was cheating, the novena wearing thin already and materialism rearing its head. “Don’t be late”, her mother said. I could smell a kind of cinnamon odour and a rush of Annemarie’s frock bolting to the door. Insult to injury. I certainly know when to beat a retreat and after a ‘good night’ I crept to her bedroom but at least in her bed. Beggars can’t be chosers! No doubt, her dad would follow soon.
He did, “Hey Gerard, would you mind sleeping on the stretcher”, “I have a sore back and you are so much younger?”
I said goodbye next morning never to see lovely Annemarie again.