In memoriam Frank Thomas van Voorthuijsen
born in Bandoeng, Dutch East Indies, April 9, 1948- died in Sungei-Gerong, Indonesia, October 14, 1954

My little brother Tommie was born a little over a year before the official transfer of souvereignty took place, dissolving the old Dutch East Indies, Nederlands Oost Indie, and  making the Republik Indonesia official.

Bandoeng (today spelled Bandung) had always been the favorite city of European residents in the Indies, with a climate that rivals a place like San Francisco, where I have lived for the past thirty five years. My paternal grandparents lived there shortly before the war, when my mother and I sought refuge with them from the onslaught of the Japanese Imperial forces that had just overwhelmed the British in Malacca and Singapore--and they returned there after the camps shortly after the war. It was the only place I ever got to meet my paternal grandfather, my Opa, Otto Bruno Joan van Voorthuijsen.

I remember him as a quiet, strong willed gentleman, often wearing that sort of white tropical pith helmet I see nowadays only on the heads of US postal workers on the rare occasions the weather here in San Francisco gets too tropical.

The house my grandparents occupied before the war I don't remember--it may or may not have been the same--in fact I think it probably was--at Bougainvillelaan 20, now 20 Jalan Gusanulun--but I can'tbe sure, since I was just a few months old when my mother and I made that short but anxious airplane trip from Palembang in Southern Sumatra to Bandoeng in Western Java.

I do have definite memories from the time after the war, when we returned from Macassar to stay in Bandoeng while my Dad went back to Sungei Gerong, across the Musi river from Palembang, to get settled again in his old job, which he got back, and arrange for housing for his new found family.

Tommie came two years after the birth of my brother Maarten, promptly nicknamed 'Bob' by me after my favorite cartoon character, a cute little dog that kind of resembled the little mut in Kuifje or as the French call him, Rin Tin Tin--and the nickname stuck, for at least within the entire family we all know him as such.

But anyway, about Tommie, I still remember his red, wrinkled little face when I first laid eyes on him. By all standards, Tommie was an unusual kid. He looked a little different then the rest of us--there would eventually be no less than five sons in our family and no daughters, to my mother's great regret--with a much rounder head and bigger bluer eyes--but his personality was also unique--I think he may have taken after our Hommes ancestors, for my Oma Dora's father, Herman Nicolaas Hommes was born in Rotterdam and a four-square Dutchman with what appeared to me to be  similar characteristics--again I can't be sure, for he died in the war and I never met him--although I do still have a picture of him on my mantle.

Tommie also had some serious problems--at first it was eczema on his legs, which required a lot of care from my Mom especially, involving zinc skin cream and bandages that had to be changed every day. Eventually he also developed asthma. But it was his personality that endeared Tommie to everyone in the family and those who got to know him outside the family as well. We were fortunate in having a relatively good medical system provided by the Company--Stanvac, or Standard Vacuum Petroleum Maatschappij, a co-venture of Standard Oil and the pre war Nederlandsche Koloniale Petroleum Maatschappij--which included plenty of European medical staff and a pretty decent hospital.

My favorite picture of Tommie--and we have quite a few, since photography was one of my Dad's prime hobbies at the time--is the one where he is dressed up for our annual bal costumé at the Soos, or Societeit, meaning our Company Clubhouse where he got dressed up as a Huckleberry Finn type, with a little knapsack on a stick, like the old time hobos used to have.

The most typifying characteristic of Tommie was that he never wanted much, he was never greedy, but whatever he got he wanted to lay exclusive claim to as his very own. I share some of that characteristic--but Tommie was really cute about it even when he was little--it was a bit of a good natured family joke--he was just a very lovable kid, what can I say. Come to think of it, the closest any one in my family ever came to reminding me of Tommie was in fact my own son Geoffrey--who also shares some of that Hommes quality.

Tommie would have been sixty, believe it or not, this coming Wednesday April the ninth. How time flies!

In fact, of course, he died when he was age six, on October 14, 1954--one day before the fourth birthday of my youngest brothers, the twins, Karel and Ted--formerly known as Reinout, and occasionally referred to by me as 'Karel's Junior'--because he showed up seven minutes after Karel,  and after the medical staff had assumed there would be only one baby to be delivered, and even my Dad was already on his way back to work from his lunch break--for the twins were born around noon time--and no one had realized there would be two babies! Karel's Junior surprised everyone.

Surprise, surprise to everyone--my Mom was again deceived in her hopes for a girl--after three sons! A girl she could finally name Suzanne after her own beloved mother, Suzanne Gerdienne Lapré--who, like her father also died in the Camps before I ever had a chance to meet them.  I really felt for her when she was blessed on what was presumably her last chance for a daughter with two healthily screaming little baby boys instead!

Of course we all got over it and surprise turned to joy when we recovered from the news--at least I think we did--my Mom I am not so sure about. Couldn't at least one of the twins have been a baby girl for heavens sake. As far as I am concerned, turning out gay was the closest I could do to accommodate her hopes for a girl--but don't take me wrong--I never had the least little inclination to change my gender or even to wear women's attire--I perhaps merely tried to make some  unconscious effort to accommodate my mother's quashed desires for someone to name Suzanne. Not that I ever adopted a female name or something like that--I am quite comfortable with John thank you very much. However, let's not get too analytical about that in a public forum, shall we.

This journal entry is after all about Tommie and how I remember him--he would have been an interesting guy if he'd had the chance to live into adulthood--but our memories of him must remain as he was shortly before our family decided to repatriate to the old country, after four or five generations in the East--on both sides of the family, for my mother came from an English family, the Cookes,  who had moved to Holland in the mid eighteenth century and had practiced law for two generations in Rotterdam as 'practizijnen', as Dutch practicing lawyers, advokaten  were called in those days--but then the Cookes went East and got involved in a tobacco plantation near Cheribon (now Cirebon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  ) on the north coast of Central Java.) All the East Indies Cookes are now back in the Netherlands and have adopted the Dutch way of saying the family name: which sounds more like Coca or Coakuh than like Cooke. And there are huge numbers of them now because if there was 0ne thing the Cookes seemed to have loved more than anything else it was--you can probably guess it--to procreate.

In fact the only Cooke I know of who didn't procreate was gay and lived in Amsterdam--and to him, now deceased, we owe the fact that we know as much as we do about my mother's paternal lineage, for he has been the family genealogist and historian. Gay people often seem to do that to make up for their lack of procreation and/or lack of a great deal of family contact, support or understanding. The best you can do in such situations is try to connect to the wider family so you maintain some a sense of belonging.

As an aside: the word praktizijn is no longer used in Dutch, with some exceptions as in  Praktizijns Sociëteit: a society or association of lawyers in Amsterdam--although in Surinam--located in South America and formerly part of the Dutch West Indies--the word praktizijn was used for lawyer, or advokaat until 1948. See: Praktizijn - Wikipedia

But back to Tommie--the name Thomas was probably bestowed on him because it was one of the six given names of my Great-grandfather, Bruno Otto Adriaan Johan Thomas Joan van Voorthuijsen as well as one of his own maternal ancestors named Joan Thomas Teschemaker--my own name John is of course a variation of Joan and Johan--as well as the name of a bachelor granduncle, John Thomas Adriaan van Voorthuijsen, who lived most of his life in the Hague--and who may well have shared some of my proclivities.

The name Frank obviously must have had to do with one of my Oma Dora's names, for she was amply called Theodora Petronella Georgine Francisca Hommes. Thank God the fashion for endless sequences of given names was relatively shortlived. By now few people go beyond two or three given names.

As you may recall from our family had been booked for passage back to the Netherlands after  a few generations in the Far East and it was with this in mind that a medical recommendation was made to my parents to take care of Tommie's tonsils before we moved to a colder climate. It seemed like the wise thing to do, and the operation in the Company Hospital was routine and unexceptional--well done in fact.

The problem was that right after the operation my six year old kid brother was still under anaesthesia and should have been carefully monitored by a nurse. There was a nurse for two patients in adjoining private rooms. One patient, Tommie, still not yet conscious--the other, an older gentleman, quite conscious and very demanding--so the nurse spent more time in his room than in Tommie's. Tommie started bleeding in his throat--and there was no one there to notice it until he had bled to death, suffocating on his own blood.

Today, in the United States, no bones about it--there would have been a multi-million dollar law suit for malpractice by a hospital owned by a deep-pocketed oil company. But in those days, there was no such thing--besides, my parents were about to leave the country--and to start a lawsuit at such a time when you have no deep pockets yourself would have been unthinkable--almost insane. So my grief stricken parents dealt with this terrible blow as well as they could, buried Tommie in a cemetery in Palembang and we all went on with our lives.

But at least once or twice a year, on April 9th and on October 14th I still remember Tommie.

So this is written in honor of his memory.

May you rest in peace my little brother! Hail and farewell! Ave atque vale! Gegroet en Vaarwel!

And to conclude this tribute, let me reprint a poem by Gaius Valerius Catullus written for his dead brother:

           Ave Atque Vale

Through many countries and over many seas
I have come, Brother, to these melancholy rites,
to show this final honour to the dead,
and speak (to what purpose?) to your silent ashes,
since now fate takes you, even you, from me.
Oh, Brother, ripped away from me so cruelly,
now at least take these last offerings, blessed
by the tradition of our parents, gifts to the dead.
Accept, by custom, what a brother’s tears drown,
and, for eternity, Brother, ‘Hail and Farewell’.

And here is the original Latin with its solemn, sonorous sounds:

Ave Atque Vale

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum.
Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

It will always remain one of my favorite poems by Catullus in its heartfelt grief--and when my long time partner Louis died, I offered this same poem to him, still lying silent in his hospital room.

Today I offer it to Tommie, who died so young but led his short and difficult life with so much courage and bravery. Gegroet en Vaarwel Tommie!