Sunday, 30 November 2008


I first saw Elise on the beach of Heist-aan-Zee on the Belgian coast. I knew immediately that I would marry her, even though we were unable to speak to each other: she knew only Dutch and I spoke only English and a smattering of French. Still, the sand made an excellent writing and drawing surface and we communicated through that sand, together with signs and wonders. Elise was in Heist as a monitor for a group of children on one of the only occasions that her parents had allowed her to go somewhere by herself.

That was 1966.

Elise was born in Aalst in 1949 and grew up in the small village of Denderleeuw. Although small, it was quite important as a railway junction and attracted quite a lot of attention during WWII. Elise was an only child and was somewhat dominated by her parents, particularly her mother, who seemed to regard her as an investment for her old age. When I came on the scene, things were not pretty: apart from being a distraction of the opposite sex, I was a foreigner and, even worse, the son of a coal miner!
Still, Elise was made of sterner stuff and maintained contact with her "foreigner" for several years; we communicated by letter and the occasional phone call. Elise's parents would not allow her to travel, so we only saw each other once or twice a year, when I was able to get enough money to pay for the fare to Belgium and the hotel costs (I was rarely allowed to stay at the house).

By 1970 we had decided that I would move to Belgium: Elise would then be old enough to be able to legally defy her parents and we would be able to get married, whether they liked it or not. Finding a job and making all of the other arrangements in order to get a work permit took longer than expected and I was only able to move to Belgium in August 1971. We married at the end of October. The day after our wedding (a simple civil service), Elise travelled abroad for the first time, when we took the ferry from Oostende to Dover.

When Elise left school in 1967, she worked for the Ministry of Education in Brussels. A year or so after we married, a position of receptionist became available in Samsonite, where I was already working, and Elise filled it perfectly. She remained there until 1982.

Elise enjoys all sorts of sewing work and can turn her hand to anything in that line: patchwork, crocheting, knitting, dressmaking, teddy-bear making… whatever, and she's good at it, too. She also loves cooking (rather unfortunate, as I am not enamoured of food) and eating even more: she is willing to try anything and likes almost everything.

Elise's health has not always been wonderful. The biggest problem occurred in the mid-1990s, when she was found to have a large brain tumour. An operation was quickly performed to remove the tumour and a second operation was carried out a few of months later to place a skull prosthesis about the size of the palm of a hand. Fortunately, there has been no recurrence of the tumour. Some years ago, test revealed that Elise was suffering from diabetes. Now she must be careful what she eats and is able to maintain the diabetes under control through diet and oral medication.

As I write, Elise and I have been married for just over 37 years. We have seldom been apart during that time. We have done and still do everything together and that is how we like it. I wouldn't want to be with anyone else.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great story, thanks for sharing!