Childhood memories

From ‘The Artist’s View,’ a column written by Petrus Spronk for his local newspaper.

From ‘The Artist’s View,’ a column written by Petrus Spronk for his local newspaper.

Memories of the last century.
The last century, which holds the roots to the tree which will grow in the next.
From my childhood I remember my room in a distant Dutch attic. My room where I spend many nights awake, and days dreaming, reading, imagining. Always reading. Always imagining. My room a safe haven and, at the same time, a holding cell. And   I both its happy and uneasy prisoner.
For the Children. And the child in you …

In this room, at the angle of the roof, a small iron window opened out onto a still-life  of red baked brick walls, tiled roofs, chimneys, one tall tree and, what I imagined was always watching, the eye of God, or Father Time, the clock face of the Cathedral tower. I climb a chair or box open the window and, on my toes, wriggle my head and  shoulders out of this small opening to, like another birth, view these things. Standing there, always imagining beyond both the narrowness and distance of the horizon. Further imaginings. What lies beyond. The unseen views. The imagined views. Driving me along my course of childhood discovery.

My room, tucked cosily close under the old clay tiles, slanted ceiling following the roof’s angle. A simple wooden bed and chair, pictures on the wall. I can’t remember the pictures on the wall for the gallery of  pictures inside my head. But I can remember books. Stacks of books, stacks of mind pictures, stacks of doorways, stacks of salvation. My small room with both the warmth and austerity of one of van Gogh’s painted rooms.

In this room, books first encouraged me beyond my perceived ability. In this room, at night, another world. Both closer and further away. Here lying in bed I imagine while I listen to the night’s sounds, the wildness of autumn storms and the stillness of falling snow. I listen to the clip-clop of a horse’s simple dance on its night round or the  delirious arias of a drunk ambling home using the whole of the street, as if he were skating. Here, lying in bed, I watched through the tiny window, a Zen View, the journeys of the stars and the occasional visit of the moon. I watched, and was enchanted by, the watercolour paintings of cloudscapes and the magnificent colour compositions of Sunrise and Sunset. Dutch skies as painted by 17th century artists. Small master-pieces. Here lying, night after night, I watched my imaginings unravel and take shape, unravel and take shape. like a jumper being re-knitted over and over again by my mother for the next child in line, at night, in a pool of warm lamp light.

Here, during these endless hours in my room, my imaginings swelled like dough left to rise, which I’d seen, also on my toes, through another small window. Into the cosy warm bakery across the street. It seems that whenever we want to see beyond our own  world, we have to get onto our toes, we have to stretch.

My imaginings, which I finally understood, were motivated from what lies beyond, but took shape from what lies within. This simple and modest childhood room was entered through a door. A door not into a small room, but a door into a space. A space as big as I could possibly create. A capsule also, in which to travel in time and visit exotic places, to play with my first emotions, to live the fairytales I read as if real. Most of this under the blankets with a torch and a book – pictures first and then later words. Aladdin’s cave. And later, these stories made more real with paint on paper, or clay or in the sandbox, built by my father in our minute garden. My parents who understood, and whose generosity of spirit allowed my creativity wide range and development. In this room I discovered the edge. Not the edge of physical proportions, but that of mental imaginings. The edge, both frightening and real. This was not a place I was allowed to visit in the real world downstairs. But here I could play, discover, experiment, experience and  thus, in my own childlike way, already start to push some boundaries. Boundaries of the rippling sea of white bed sheets which would later become the huge watery waves of the oceans I would cross. No boundaries. Only those created by my imagination.

In this room of childhood meanderings, encouraged by books obtained from the local library, I tugged, pushed, pulled, dragged, hauled, lugged, wrenched and plucked at the edges of my imagination [Edit a little??]. In that room also, I came face to face with the image beyond imagining. The reality that life, inherently, has no meaning. I was eight at the time. When this thought dropped in, uninvited, I remembered wishing I was a flower so I could just be. So I would not have to think. Nor imagine. (Many, many, years later  while waiting with young Lutea for the departure of a train in Bullarto, and  watching a young child investigating the darkness-gap between the train and the platform and hearing its mother’s cry to “come away from the edge”, I remembered my own childhood continuous engagements with the edge. And wondered.)

I have since left that safe haven of my childhood room and imaginings and travelled  those very same imaginings into reality. And everywhere I went I came across the magic of the world. And everywhere I went I came across the healing quality of poetry in its many disguises. And everywhere I went I came across more edges to investigate, more borders to push and pull at. Like a rubber band, there seems no end. And everywhere I went I came across the frantic trials and tribulations of men in search. In search  and desperate attempts to find meaning.  Some meaning within their perceived borders. Sometime I still stand there with my head out of the roof, making a hole in the night sky, trying to read the calligraphy of the stars, trying to discover yet another story. All the while marvelling at that gossamer divide between reality and truth, between reality and dream.


8 March 2000