It’s not easy growing up in the shadow of an attractive older sister. Four years my senior, Suzie was the perfect, outgoing blonde and a constant stream of boys on our doorstep attested to her popularity. There were three particularly resilient suitors who, despite Suzie’s feigned aloofness, continued to visit. Every Sunday night Jan, Piet and Adri would arrive, bearing a small gift for Suzie. This was usually a bunch of daffodils or tulips, which, considering that we lived in the middle of the Dutch flower district, didn’t impress Suzie in the slightest. The young men however didn’t seem to notice her lack of enthusiasm and would bustle into the house as if they were the main attraction of the week.
For me, a shy 16-year-old, that’s exactly what they were. I longed for Sunday nights when the whole family, including my two younger sisters, would listen to Jan telling jokes and Piet playing the latest Everly Brothers tune on the piano. However, over time, it was Adri who I most looked forward to seeing. He was tall and dark, with an easy smile. Initially the quietest of the three, he soon warmed up to his largely receptive audience of Barnhart girls. His passion was the past and he could weave the dusty strands from history textbooks into a rich tapestry of stories, which held us all enthralled.
I was falling in love.
I had few illusions that my growing romantic feelings towards Adri would ever be reciprocated. The jokes, piano playing and stories were only to melt Suzie’s heart, or so I thought. It was not until Suzie came home one day with the news that she had been invited to Adri’s 21st birthday party that I had an inkling of things to come.
“Adri said why don’t I bring along ‘Little-Adrie’,” she fumed to my mother, indignant at the thought of having her younger sister tagging along.
Yet my heart raced at this new development. ‘Little-Adrie’ was the term the three young men had coined for me, since nobody called me by my full name, Adriana. “Little” differentiated me from the object of my infatuation, for our two names were pronounced in exactly the same way.
Adri wanted me at his party!
So it was that I nervously arrived at the doorstep of Adri Zandvliet’s house, for his 21st birthday party, with strict instructions to stay as far away from Suzie as I could. I had to fight down the urge to bolt away before Adri could see me. Maybe it was the sight of him, welcoming people at the door. Maybe it was the crowd of sophisticated young adults milling around, looking as if they had every right to be there. Suddenly, despite all my attempts at looking older, I felt like a childish impostor.
I was only two people away from greeting Adri, when somebody tapped me on the shoulder with a loud: “And who is this lovely young lady?”
I sensed heads swivel to look at me, and as the blood rushed to my face, I wished that my whole body could do the opposite and sink into the ground.
“I, I, I’m…” I started, but that most basic stored memory, my name, would not surface.
I was acutely aware that Adri, too, was watching me and I remember thinking ‘pull yourself together’ as I gave it one more attempt.
“I’m Adrie Zandvliet,” I said.
As the laughter and whispers spread, I realised my mistake. Oops! I had just called myself by my host’s name.
“I mean Adrie Barnhart,” I corrected, but only Adri, an amused look on his face, was still listening.
Flustered and unable to make eye contact, I mumbled a ‘happy birthday’ as I reached him. It was then that my mind played its last cruel trick of the evening for I thought I heard a whispered: “Maybe one day….”
Over the next few years, Adri and his friends still regularly visited on Sunday evenings. However, much to Suzie’s chagrin, she was no longer the only object of their attention, for Adri’s flowers would now often end up in my hands.
My most embarrassing ‘faux pas’ eventually turned out to be an unwitting prophecy, for just after my own 21st birthday, I really did become Mrs. Adrie Zandvliet.
This true story is based on my mother and father’s courtship.
Title - partial quote: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
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