Sontolojoh!


More from the treasure trove. This is my grandfather, “Opa Dam”. Playing Bridge, one of his passions. His full Christian name was William Kodama Leopold. The middle name is Japanese. His mother named him after some Japanese general and it saved my granddad’s hide once when Japanese soliders caught him out after curfew, in the war.

Opa Dam tried to teach me to drive once, in a parking lot not far from where my grandparents lived in Amsterdam. I drove forward. I drove backward. I parked the car. Then I forgot where the brake was and the car very quietly bumped against a tree leaving a dent in the fender.

I’d expected him to get angry and shout ‘Sontolojoh!’ at me. I’ve no idea what that means, but he used to shout it a lot at us, his grandchildren, or at the telly, watching football. He said it didn’t mean anything, that he’d made it up. I didn’t believe him and thought it probably meant something really, really bad.

He didn’t shout at me. I said I was sorry. Then we went home and never spoke about it again. He probably put some money in my hand later on when I left. He always did that.

That was the last time Opa Dam tried to teach me to drive. He never did tell my grandmother.

I remember my grandmother, Oma Lien (Caroline… I was named after her), always wringing her hands, worrying about her kids and grandchildren.

Here she is, third from the left. Smoking a cigarette. When I grow my hair, it looks exactly like that only more straight and less dark. I don’t think I ever heard her yell at any of us. She was sweet and quiet and sometimes a little batty and maybe she wasn’t the greatest cook, but it was always there and always ready for me and all the friends I brought to meet my grandparents.

Anything I needed, silly things I wanted, whether books or kitchen ware, they’d provide me. Whether from their own shelves or from the shops, all I had to do is ask.

I wish I had asked them to tell me about themselves some more.

One Reply to “Sontolojoh!”

  1. I’ve been going through a similar period of grandparent-oriented reflection recently.

    The question is, will we learn the lesson that you imply in your final paragraph – will we make sure we get to know our parents as well as we can, while we can?

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