zaterdag 5 november 2016

In my father's footsteps

Last Tuesday was All Saints Day, which is a public holiday here in Belgium. Traditionally, on this day, people visit the cemetery and commemorate their departed loved ones by decorating their graves with flowers, especially Chrysanthemums.


Although I am not averse to cemeteries, especially of the old, overgrown variety, with a higgledy-piggledy collection of tumbling graves and lichen encrusted headstones, the last time I visited the local cemetery was at my mum's funeral, when her ashes were scattered there.



For my dad, we wanted to do things differently so we opted for a biodegradable urn, which contains seeds of a tree. On All Saints Day, we gave his ashes their final resting place. With any luck, a tree will grow in a place which was significant for him.


My dad grew up in a neighbouring village which still had a special place in his heart, even if he hadn't been living there for over 50 years.


It's where he spent his childhood roaming the streets and open spaces, which were still plentiful at the time.


My dad was full of stories of his childhood, which over the years have become part of family lore.

Quite a few of them were situated during the years of the Second World War which, in spite of the danger and depravity, were considered an adventure by him and his friends.

It's hard to believe that they played outside, unsupervised, all day, even when the threat of bombs and doodlebugs (V1 flying bombs) were a constant reality.


One of the places he often frequented, and which featured regularly in his war stories, was the local fort, part of a chain of forts surrounding the city of Antwerp.

Occupied by the Germans, this obviously was forbidden territory, and one of his favourite stories tells the tale of his encounter with a German officer and his dog. But no fear: it all ended well, with my dad being given a bar of chocolate, quite a scarce commodity at the time.


Nearer to his childhood home, and almost bordering the fort, was the local manor house (known as the castle) built in the classical style in the 1770s, surrounded by pleasure grounds and woodland.

Then: the avenue as depicted on an old postcard

The entrance to the house was through a double avenue of  linden trees, from where it could be seen beckoning tantalizingly in the distance, a shimmer of white at the horizon.

The avenue now
The grounds were out of bounds as well, of course, not that this deterred  the village boys, who knew the place like the backs of their hands.


Years of neglect have paid their toll, and the house and its coach-houses fell into disrepair, in spite of the fact that it was classified as a protected monument in 1981.


Derelict outbuildings, decaying plasterwork and pockmarked statues were the sad fate of this once magnificent domain.

At the time of our visit, the house's crumbling plaster façade was being invaded by a colony of ladybirds!



After its last occupant died in 2011, the castle and its domain were sold to the village authorities and Nature Conservation in 2012.

Just before the sale became final, several statues disappeared from the domain, as did some paintings from the castle.


It appeared that they were removed by the aristocratic family, which the new owners considered to be theft.

In April of this year, a court case decided that although the family had the right to take the statues, the paintings had to be returned to the current owners.


In the meantime, restoration work has started on the coach-houses flanking the entrance to the house.

If the area is now reminiscent of  a building site, before long the domain will finally be fully open to the public.


Until then, a walk up the avenue and around the domain can already be enjoyed.

Looking up at the trees' canopies, I was filled with wonder at the fact that these were the very same trees my dad walked under as a young boy, maybe even on a glorious autumn day like this, and that I was - quite literally - walking in my father's footsteps.

24 opmerkingen:

  1. Ann, this is such a beautiful post. I wasn't familiar with planting a tree along with ashes, but it is a lovely thing to do-I wouldn't mind that for myself when the time comes.

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    1. Thanks Goody. I wasn't familiar with it either. When the time came to make a choice, this was the option all of us agreed upon. I wouldn't mind it for myself either ... xxx

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  2. What a lovely post! It's beautiful that you walked under the same, leafy canopy that your dad did.

    Wonderful outfit, as usual!!

    happy thrifting ;)

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    1. Thanks, and wishing you happy thrifting too ;-) xxx

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  3. Beautifully written, and what lovely photographs. Thank you! x

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    1. You are welcome! I'm glad you liked it, as I was in two minds about this post at first ... xxx

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  4. Absolute treat of a post! I love the crumbling grandeur of those beautiful old buildings.
    I still haven't done anything with Dad's ashes. Years ago he told me that he wanted them scattered in North Wales. xxx

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    1. Thanks Vix! I do love old and crumbling buildings too. Maybe you should make that trip to North Wales? My dad loved Scotland very much, and we kept a little of his ashes to scatter there someday ... xxx

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  5. A lovely post, I really enjoyed reading this. It is lovely to think that you can be in a place that your father loved and enjoyed as a boy.
    The idea of a biodegradable urn with tree seeds is wonderful, I hope a tree grows.

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    1. Thanks Hazel. Will keep you posted about the tree ... xxx

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  6. What a beautiful post, with such lovely memories and gorgeous photos. I love the idea of your Dad's ashes growing into a tree. It's such a lovely way for someone to be remembered. xx

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    1. Thank you Cate. This way, we have a special place, not too far from our home, where we can go and remember my dad. xxx

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  7. this is an awesome poetic post!!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3
    should be published in vanity fair - minimum!
    wonderful how you have woven together the memorial for your dad, the history of europe, the local beautiful landscape and the lady-like outfit of you!!!
    gorgeous pics and we envy this special kind of been buried - in germany the funeral mafia know how to avert such libertinage!
    huge hugs!!! xxxxxx

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    1. That is surely too much praise, Beate, but thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed my little rambling. xxx

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  8. A biodegradable urn with seeds is something new to me but the idea of a growing tree is comforting. I am wondering if it would be possible in Italy...

    The place is melancholic but beautiful. It does deserves to be preserved from ruin ...

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    1. This is exactly the kind of place I love, Dan. I'm glad they are doing restoration work, but I do like it as it is now as well. I hope they won't make it too perfect ... xxx

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  9. I hope they do restore that lovely old house.

    The biodegradable urn is a great idea. Do you know what sort of tree your dad might get?

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    1. They started on the coach houses, so I presume they will restore the house as well at some point. Oh, and my dad's tree will be a maple tree ... xxx

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  10. This is a wonderful idea, Ann, very fitting. It'll be nice for you to and visit your dad's tree too. My friend Penny was buried in woodland and a tree planted on top. It's such a lovely tranquil place to rest in peace. I can just imagine your dad scampering around the out of bounds grounds. Not sure how I feel about the paintings. I think I might have liked the original family to have them...xxx

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    1. Being buried in woodland with a tree planted on top is a lovely idea too. I'm sure my dad would have loved what we did. I agree about the paintings. I think it would have been better the other way around, as the statues are so much part of the domain ... xxx

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  11. Such a beautiful post, it really touched me xx

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  12. what an absolutely beautiful place and a gorgeous tribute to your dad the place he grew up looks absolutely magical! I lost my dad 4 years ago, he was when I was 34 and he was 66, too young I still think. He was a huge influence on love of vintage because he introduced me to so many old films, particularly the Astaire and Rogers films. After his death I started wearing vintage every day, partly because I realized life is too short to care what other think. I used to scared to embrace the really big hats and full on vintage looks. I think my dad would have approved

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    1. Thanks Kate. And 66 definitely is far too young. My mum was just 65. At least my dad got to the age of 84. You are quite right about wearing vintage, and it's a bonus that your dad would have approved. xxx

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