with a family who were Dutch migrants. I was about thirteen at the time. My paternal grandparents, with whom I would normally have stayed, were away. My maternal grandparents were going to the same event as my parents. I suppose these people offered to have me. I did not know.
We did know these people quite well and they spoke excellent English. We knew they spoke Dutch of course but I had never heard them do this in public. I am sure they would have felt this was impolite. It was much less usual to hear people speaking another language in public when I was that age.
The weekend however was another story. They were at home. They spoke Dutch. They spoke Dutch to their children and they spoke Dutch to me.
I remember curling up in the bed on Friday night and crying myself to sleep because I did not understand what was being said to me. I told myself it was only for the weekend and that my father would be picking me up on Sunday evening. I could survive that long. I was terrified of being rude without meaning to be rude.
The mother was really very kind. She knew I was frightened and unhappy and trying not to show it. I think she would have spoken English for me but her husband was insistent that Dutch was spoken at home to their two children. Their children were about eight and six at the time. Naturally they understood what was being said to them.
The language was strange. The food was strange. They had family prayers at the breakfast table. Right through the weekend their were things that were different and that made me feel uncomfortable.
I managed to get through the weekend, indeed by Sunday afternoon I understood some things being said to me.English and Dutch do have words almost in common. Nevertheless I was very relieved to see my father. How, he wanted to know, had I got on?
I let him know, as teenagers will, what I thought about my parents sending me into a situation like that. To be fair to him he had no idea what would happen. I know that now but I did not know it then. The couple had offered to have me and my parents had felt it would be rude to refuse.
We saw the parents on and off for the rest of their lives. They always spoke English in public and Dutch at home. On many occasions, even as an adult, I had to visit them to deliver something or collect something. On those occasions they would always speak Dutch to me although a translation would be forthcoming if I looked really confused.
I wondered what would happen when the husband died. I went to visit. There were people coming and going all the time. She spoke English to all but their Dutch friends. She greeted me in Dutch and hugged me tightly, told me I was another daughter. I went to help her daughter clear away some fallen apricots so people could sit under the tree.
"Your mother still speaks Dutch to me," I told her.
"And just like me and John you answer her in English!"