My aunt Willy was not a real aunt. In our Dutch-Indonesian family we have a lot of those so-called aunts. And those are aunts who are not family members but are regarded as such.
Aunt Willy died a long time ago. Somewhere in the seventies of the last century. She then lived in a rental flat at the very end of the Laan van Meerdervoort in The Hague. From the city passing the Savorin Lohmanplein, on the left. I sometimes visited her with my mother. We sat and drank tea with her. She was also always at the big family gatherings (kumpulans) and birthdays parties at our house.
Aunt Willy was a slim and strong, tall woman with pearly lacquered nails with small ribs. Her husband used to have a job at a sugar factory not far from Bandung (Java). Their children, like most of the children of people who worked at the large factories, were boarding in the city of Bandoeng to attend school there. When the crisis broke out at the beginning of last century, her husband lost his job and they came to live in Bandung City. My grandfather Wim arranged a house for the family and helped with money. Because there were no benefits or another safety net at the time. Aunt Willy immediately started a boarding house for “factory” children. After all, money had to be earned.
My mother, who was good friends with Aunt Willy’s children, always said that she had the air of a jailer. She walked around with a bundle of keys on her belt and was pretty strict with the boarders and her own children Klein and Broer. Studying my aunt I could imagine the stories of my mother for real.
The Second World War came and went. The Japanese occupation was endured and Aunt Willy also ended up in the Netherlands. Without her husband. With some meagre possessions.
Including this sofa. My mother once told me that it stood in the hall of the big house of aunt Willy. And now the sofa was here in the apartment at the Laan van Meerdervoort. With cushions, stuff and magazines on it. It was the showpiece of the room that was very Indonesian itself. With sarongs on the wall and Indonesian trinkets from other times everywhere. But that couch caught the eye. Aunt Willy never used it. She had a high chair with a round table next to it and the room was always a bit dark.
After her death, the couch suddenly appeared at my mother’s house. She had inherited it. Klein and Broer were not interested. It was a memory for my mother. Of the past. Of her youth. Of her life. In an land that disappeared. Not to sit comfortably because the couch is not comfortable at all. The couch in my mother’s house looked stunning with above it two beautiful panels of djati wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl. She had bought those at an auction for restoration.
After my mother’s death, the couch came to me. My sister Patricia was not interested and I could not say goodbye to this piece of history. It was always a bit in the way and to my great regret it actually does not fit in my house where I now live. But I am extremely lucky. Because my sister Patricia has bought a house here that seems to have been made for this Indonesian couch with its stories to tell. So now the showpiece is placed there and I can come and look at it and sit on it whenever I want to hear a story.