Escape from Bank and National Service to Italy’s Bolzano.

Helvi in Amsterdam

Helvi in Amsterdam

The trip I took back to Holland was supposed to be permanent. While earning money was good in Australia, the jobs were not. My parents had the house built with the help of the Dutch Building society and a mortgage on ‘easy terms’. Apart from a mortgage, we also managed to get an electric frypan and a large wooden TV on splayed legs, all on easy terms. Life had settled into a routine and if the criteria of a successful migrant family was ownership of a house and white goods, we had achieved that in a remarkable short period, even if on easy terms. As the rest of the siblings grew older they too joined the workforce. Each Thursday evening was the keeping of Mum’s financial books. Our wages were produced and ledgers were ticked off. The family was prospering and it showed in our diets. Eating meat was now common and the sauce bottle wasn’t quite that much rinsed out anymore. A general relaxing of frugality was now creeping into our lives.

While the standard of living was going up the standard of my private life remained static and lukewarm.   I had saved enough and booked my trip back. I moved in with my terminal cancer suffering uncle in Amsterdam.  He was an ex-chess master and as I had picked up the game in Australia we shared many a game. He won all of them. He knew the moves and even had names for them. There was a ‘Budapest in 1933’ move or the ‘Vienna 1867 opening’. He kept on about his previous fame as a chess player while also eating huge portions of my mince meat and chilli mixture, which he thought was a magic cure for his cancer. He vested so much hope on this mince and hot chilli, it was pitiful. He blamed his ex wife for his misfortune and when that subject came up I suggested yet another game of chess, even though you would have thought he would at least give me a game in exchange for the mince-meat voodoo cure.  He never did and would thrash me merciless. I did mix the mince 50/50 with dry bread and an egg to try and bulk it out. He used to wolf it down while rubbing his shoulder in which the cancer was growing, hoping the benefit of the minced meat would shrink the cancer. The heat of the chilli is what he believed would cure him.

I had learnt some chess from a good English friend in Australia. He was a very good chess player but would always give me a handicap of a couple of pieces in order to have at least a fairly equal match. As my game improved the handicap would be reduced. After I arrived in Holland I received a letter he was back in England and was planning to rent a chalet somewhere in the Italian Dolomites to write words down.  He had put an advertisement in the Sud Deutsche Zeitung. He received a response from a German Baroness, a ‘Frau Johnson’  offering him a chalet high in the mountains at Bressanone. He planned to visit me in Holland on his way to take up this offer of the chalet.

Of course, a few weeks before while skiing in Lienz’s dolomites I had already met my future wife. Yet, it would be a few of years before our marriage. I had broken my glasses while skiing on a down-hill frosted over molten snow sheet of ice. There was no grip that my skis could hold and I just slid out of control deciding to just drop down to prevent slamming in a spruce tree. I had a bad nose bleed and broken my glasses. Fortunately I had a pair of optical sun glasses. It was while I was repairing my nose that a young woman asked me if I was alright. I said I was fine and noticed she had taken her skis off and was walking down to the place where I was staying. It was an old farm-house which in winter was let out to skiers and called Gribelehof. My father’s sister had a permanent kind of summer house at the same address.

It is still there and the same family, the Notdurfter’s are still running it. Amazing after all those years! The woman had beautiful eyes. I don’t know where I got the courage from but I said ” you have beautiful eyes.” Her answer floored me; “Yes, I know.” and calmly looked back at me as if trying to see my reaction. My response was surprise and looking nonplussed. However, there was already a feeling of liking each other. She was encouraging and even she said she was aware of her lovely eyes, there was no sense of exploiting the situation. She was really trying something out. We saw each other a few more times before we exchanged addresses and said goodbye.


But back with my uncle and my visiting English friend from Australia, a game of chess was proposed. It was a rather tense game with uncle being opposed this time to a very good player. It turned bad after an hour or so and my friend won. The uncle looked red and upset but wanted a return game. This game he lost too. My friend left to catch the train to Italy. My uncle was really upset and put the board back again with all the pieces. He remembered exactly the move that he should not have done and played it over, this time making the right move and winning. This gave me some relief. He was not easy to live with afterwards. A few weeks after I too moved to Italy and had a letter from my mother’s sister Agnes. My uncle had passed away. The mince meat-chilli mixture was of no avail.

He had lost the last game of chess as well.





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11 Responses to “Escape from Bank and National Service to Italy’s Bolzano.”

  1. berlioz1935 Says:

    “He had lost the last game of chess as well.”

    “And so it goes,” Kurt Vonnegut would have said.

    Other people’s lives seem to be so much more interesting than our own. Are we voyeurs or is that genuine interest?

    I’m really proud of the fact that we came to Australia. It widened our horizons in so many regards. Meeting people from other countries is a real enrichment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      You are right Berlioz. Imagine never having had the experiences of migrating and travelling. The school friends that were left behind all seemed to have grown rather staid and boring. Mind you, they might have said the same about me.
      The job at the bank wearing a suit wasn’t all that is was cracked out to be. But of that more next time.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Carrie Rubin Says:

    I love your wife’s initial response to your compliment. How fun that it stayed with you all these years. Much better than a dull retort soon forgotten. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. rod Says:

    Is Helvi offering you a drink or using a Finnish technique to repair your nose? We, the people, need to know!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    Isn’t it interesting how we meet the one who will change our life forever? Thank you for sharing it with all of us.


  5. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    I agree with Berlioz that meeting new people from all over the world is so interesting. I don’t look at it as being voyeurs, but we develop a genuine interest and concern after “meeting” on the internet often. We meet people in person perhaps a few times, at the grocery or at a party, and call them “friends”. Here we learn about backgrounds, beliefs, and a little personal history whenever we write. So yes, we can call each other friend.


  6. Patti Kuche Says:

    Do I have to say anything? Your words, and most touching photos, say so much.


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