A New Way of Family Gathering
Last August, my father, Aage Holm (1920-2007), would have been a hundred years old.
I had my closest family on his side on a sentimental walk in his footsteps in his childhood’s area on Amager, an island connected with Copenhagen.
My husband Henry helped me to mark an old Copenhagen City map with his parents’ two flats and his school as well as the closest relatives living nearby at the time. A essential place was the Baptist church all of his family attended. A trip about one square kilometer.
A few years before my father died he wrote a book about his life. At each point of interest , I shared a short story from the book and as all the participants wanted to add their stories, I had a hard time keeping the scheduled plan.
On his birthday, we always had beautiful weather so I expected the same on this occasion. It started very fine….
His story is a mixture of sadness over having been a child in economic depression and having a loving extended family who invited them for meals on Sundays and to extravagant Christmas parties in their houses.
My father’s father and his nine siblings lost their father in 1901. Carl Julius was a captain on a cargo steamer ship. It was later torpedoed during WWI. The youngest three sons did not get the same good educations as the older sons, which created the difference in the siblings’ social status.
My father never asked us about our school matters, and it had to do with his experience of not being understood by the teachers. On his first day at school, he had to go by himself and didn’t know how to find his class. I always found it strange that his two older sisters didn’t help him but only recently understood that boys and girls went to different schools.
His cousin of my age took a vivid part in the walk and shared a dramatic story about her father, Henry, who was my grandfather’s brother. During the summer of 1944, we had a crisis with the German occupiers. Our people reacted to freedom fighters’ executions, and a general strike broke out in a heatwave in July.
We passed her childhood home on our excursion, a flat on the third floor where the main street had a bend. Henry, her father, sat in the canape and was suddenly hit by shrapnel from a German shell. Luckily, he was saved by a man living downstairs who rushed up and stopped the bleeding from the many wounds on his body. My cousin’s older sister was six months old and was in another room with her mother. It took the mother hours to escape to a flat nearby by hiding in all the door hallways on the route because of curfew.
My father lost his mother during the General Strike as many doctors from the hospitals had left the city. She died from ruptured appendicitis. A few months later, my father, during false air alarm, was arrested on his way to the local hospital in his area where he had the duty to evacuate sick children on the wards. Luckily, he was freed before transportation to Germany.
To cope with the lack of food during his childhood and youth, he and his family enjoyed cultivating vegetables, fruit and even gathered eggs from poultry in their small lot of a garden opposite their flat. Today it’s a parking lot for a supermarket.
The plan was to end the walk on the beach close to where my father and his siblings learnt to swim. We had brought lots of sandwiches, soft drinks and coffee waiting in our car. We had been going around for at least three hours and needed that refreshment.
Suddenly the sky went black, rain fell heavily, and floods of water buried our feet and soaked our clothes. A cousin invited us home, and we had a happy ending for the unforgettable family event. The focus was entirely on memories from the family and not on the food you normally get at family gatherings.