Early memories of Jeremy (Jos) Claerbout from his father's letters to Russia
When Jeremy was 5 years old our family went to England
for the year. Jeremy became very interested in knights.
Piece by piece he persuaded his mother to purchase one of each kind
of toy knight sold in the shops. The shields and breastplates
of his knights were finely decorated with lions and with
crosses. Their hands could hold battleaxes, maces, pikes and
other ancient weapons. Some knights were on horses. He said
the knights wearing black armor were the Turks and that they
were the "bad guys". The toy knights had daily joustings on
his bedroom floor. Not only did he play with them, but
somehow by age 5 he managed to learn more of their lives and
myths than I ever learned. One day while passing a village
cemetery I called his attention to the fact that some of the
stones were white and others were black. "Do you think the
black ones are for the Turks?" I asked.
It was also the year that he learned to ride a bicycle.
I was astonished at how strong a rider he soon became. One
Sunday in late fall we began a bicycle ride more than three
miles to the village of Maddingly. We took a lunch and
planned to picnic near the American World War II Cemetery. It
is on the side of a hill overlooking the flat fen land to the
North. Cycling slowly up the hill we saw only farms and trees
along the road. A short way back from the road beyond some
woods was a long, high stone wall. We did not know that
engraved on the other side were the names of many thousands
of Americans, mostly bomber crews who never returned. We
parked our bicycles in the woods. A few stairs led through a
doorway. Suddenly we had a wide view to the horizon. Arranged
concentrically from the hilltop were row upon row of
gravestones. At first they appeared to be identical. Actually
most were crosses though some were stars. All were white
granite which glistened in the low November sunlight. Jeremy
took in the sight and said, "Wow, the Turks sure did win this
... Here is a story about Jeremy who is now 9 years old. At
School, Jeremy had to write a story. He got very interested
in this assignment, and did his best to write a James Bond
type story. The bad people in the story were Russians. Diane
was disgusted by all the cut-throat violence. She discouraged
him and told his teacher she would be happy if he did too.
The teacher said that the children had to read their stories
aloud to the class. After Jeremy finished a little Russian
boy took strong exception. He said, "You Americans sure have
a lot of strange ideas about Russians!"
...As usual, Jeremy watches a lot of television. According to
him the latest witty remark is something like this, " Given a
choice between Bush and Dukakis, I chose Gorbachev."
... In Japan, Jeremy was very good about learning Japanese
phrases from the guide book, and using them at every
opportunity. He even tricked a few people into thinking he
spoke Japanese, although his vocabulary could not have
exceeded 25 words.
... Six months ago Jeremy read Dostoyevsky's
Crime and Punishment
and was deeply moved by it.
He did not like the epilog,
however, so he wrote a revised version.
He took a drama class in High School where
he enjoyed reading Franz Kafka.
He memorized parts of a short story for oral delivery.
Kafka's method of being spooky, we learned, was to populate his story
with ordinary people and one extraordinary circumstance,
such as his story with the title,
"Report to the Academy on My Former Life as an Ape".
Notice how everything is ordinary until the very last word.
The story Jos chose to memorize is entitled "An Old Manuscript".
A cobbler in a medieval town reports increasing numbers
of ill-mannered northern soldiers are appearing,
grabbing whatever they want.
Officialdom and local guards have locked themselves in their castle.
It's a two page story.
Look for it here.
to Memories of Jos
to The Life of Jos