You’ll find links to previous guest posts in this series here.
KRISTEN DEN HARTOG is the author, most recently, of the novel And Me Among Them, published in the United States as The Girl Giant. With her sister Tracy Kasaboski, she wrote The Occupied Garden, a family memoir about her father’s childhood in Second World War Holland. The two are currently at work on a story about their grandmother’s family in First World War England. Kristen lives in Toronto, and writes about the books she reads with her daughter at Blog of Green Gables.
Seven treasures, in no particular order:
Years ago I lived in Alberta and I would spend the weekends with my friend Janet, driving from town to town in a pickup truck to visit flea markets. We’d buy up old things like delicate chipped china, or mysterious rusted farm tools. Once we came upon a pair of cloth-covered scrapbooks, made just after the Second World War, every inch covered with bizarre rather than political news: a 24-year-old typist whose appendix was on the wrong side; a boy found living among gazelles. The random way the books were put together offered few clues as to who made them, or why. More puzzling still was why someone would get rid of them. It seemed to me that the books needed to be rescued, in the way of family photos that have lost their families.
I inherited my dad’s stamp collection when I was a child. The hobby didn’t last long for me, but I treasure the collection because it makes me think of my dad as a boy in Holland. I can picture him poring over the stamps — tiny works of art in scalloped frames — wondering what the countries themselves must be like, and how he could get himself there. The collection makes me think of my dad now too — a fit, weathered 74-year-old with the dust of many countries on his sandals. In the mid-1990s, he sold his house and belongings and set sail with his wife in a boat they built themselves. Almost twenty years later, they’re still travelling the world, and have been to most of the places in his childhood postalbum.
I was given my grandmother’s wedding dress, but I never married, so it hasn’t been worn since September 1934. My own parents divorced when I was little, so my idea of marriage deflated somewhat early on. But when I think of my grandparents, married for more than sixty years, I’m impressed. She kept a scrapbook full of Valentine’s cards signed “?” — though of course the sender was no real mystery. Perhaps a lack of mystery can be a pretty wonderful thing. The dress reminds me that relationships can last. Before my grandmother died, she waited for my grandfather to come and hold her and kiss her goodbye. In the ensuing years he often spoke of her. “She was one heck of a lady,” he’d say.
When I was 7, my dad took my older sisters and me to New York City. He says now that he wanted to show us there was a very different world outside our small hometown in northern Ontario. And certainly we got a taste of it. I have vague memories of driving through Harlem, and travelling the wrong way down a one-way street. One night, as we slept in our hotel room, someone entered. My dad and I were in one bed, my sisters in the other. They woke and saw a light under the bathroom door, and assumed it was me or my dad in there. I slept right through till morning, and woke to the sight of police officers interviewing my dad and the news that we’d been robbed. All the cash for our trip was gone — a fortune to my dad back then — but the camera remained, a good one, I think, with fancy lenses. That’s why we still have this picture of me and my sisters on the ferry heading for the Statue of Liberty. (The sisters are also a treasure.)
From the time we met, my partner Jeff and I have been squeezing into photobooths periodically, documenting our life together. After Nellie was born, we began bringing her in too, and over the years we’ve collected a hodgepodge of these zany photobooth shots that we keep in a special album. I love these pictures, four in each set, Nellie toothless at first, then toothy, then toothless again.
This is a virtual treasure. A few years ago, I started blogging about the books I read with my daughter, Nellie. The essays aren’t book reviews of any kind, but meandering little posts about how books weave themselves into our family life. Sometimes I research an author like Roald Dahl or William Steig or E.B. White, and include anecdotes about them as well as old book covers, or some of Nellie’s drawings of characters. Over time, I see now, the blog has become an evolving journal of Nellie’s childhood, of parenthood, and of our family’s trip through children’s literature. There are all sorts of memories, images, and quotes stored on the blog that might otherwise get forgotten, such as her musing about the fact that “sum bilive, sum don’t.”
I have a little wooden rocking chair that was my mom’s when she was little. It’s meant for a toddler, but when we were teens my sisters and I could still wedge our bottoms into it and walk around with it stuck there. Those kinds of antics always got my mom giggling, at which point she was vulnerable and you could get her giggling even more. The chair makes me think of her and her wonderful, infectious laughter, and our house on Darwin Crescent — three girls and a mom against the world.
Also by Kristen den Hartog on this website: