Memories of the past

In the year 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army lost the battle at Waterloo in the war against a combination of British, Netherlands and Germans. Napoleon was sent to prison on the island of St. Helena. A nobleman and officer (general?) with the name of Antoine Cezar Chevalier managed to escape and decided to leave his troubled France. He and his whole family embarked

Claire E. Geenen-Chevalier
Claire E. Geenen-Chevalier

a ship, sailed to the South to land at the west coast of the island of Nias in front of west Sumatra. On this island the family decided to split and half of the family sailed to the island of Java and landed in the city of Semarang. Antoine Cezar Chevalier, who was born on December 6, 1780 in Paris and part of the family, crossed the waters to settle at the city of Sibolga, the capital of Tapanuli on west Sumatra.

My father Eddie beside uncle Theo
My father Eddie beside uncle Theo

Then the Chevalier family decided to leave for the Padangse Bovenlanden, first to the city of Fort de Kock, today called Bukittingi and a couple years later they settled in the main city Padang.

My great-grandfather Antoine Cezar Chevalier married a Belgium woman Colette Cecille Romainville Velu, who was born in Liege on 3-9-1809, in the year 1836 in Padang. They got 7 children, the youngest, Grand dad Henri Alfons Chevalier, born on 10-24-1848, married to my grandmother Clara Rozenberg in 1884 and had 10 children.
Great-grandfather was a very strong and healthy person and died at the age of 100 years and 5 month.
One son, Henri Antoine Joseph Chevalier is my father, born in 1884 and was married with Jacqueline Beljaars, my mother, in 1903. We became a large Padang, west Sumatra family with 9 children. Daddy Henri his first job was station-master with the Railroad Company but soon he started on his own, was successful and the businesses grew.
First he started a garage business, and became owner of a car dealership for the American brand Hudson, then he started also as Auctioneer and he and my mother became owners of a hotel and restaurant.
Dad was also owner of some race horses and had 4 cars, which was for those days pretty unique.
Every Sunday dad drove the large 7 sits Hudson super six to take mam and the girls to the church, while the boys did it on their bikes. After the church, we went first home and have a breakfast together. After the breakfast mam and the girls went to our flower gardens and took these flowers to the family graveyard.

At the Padang Cementery the Chevalier’s had a family graveyard and when a family member dies, as a tradition, all the text on the stones where printed in French.
One of my sisters, Colette, became ill and to treated her she got injections on a daily bases. She recovered, but was nearly paralyzed because her muscles were badly damaged. Dad got her a permanent nurse who was there 24 hours a day to take care of her. She was also a very bright student and went to the same school where we were going. Every morning we were ready and waiting in the front room until the chauffeur Penguluh drove the old Fiat out of the garage and to the stairs. Penguluh then went up the stairs and carried our sister carefully down to the car and put her on the front seat. Arriving at the school Penguluh help us out of the car and carried carefully our sister Colette to a room where two girls took her over to take her to her class room. The reverse ritual took place when school was over.
Colette died when she was 16 years old and that was my first experience with the dark side of life.

Couple of weeks later at about 2:00pm in the afternoon we had a horrible earthquake.
Ma yelled at us to leave the home, while it was moving up a down. A large cabinet nearly fell on mother and on the street a horse with a carriage fell over because of a shock wave.
As a teenager I will never forget these dark periods.

In those days my grandfather and grandmother were living in the town Padang Pandjang in a large home on the road to Fort de Kock. Opposite their home was the home from ant Cecille, who was the youngest sister from dad and married to uncle Bram Israel.
Mam and Dad had also owned two homes in Padang Pandjang across from the governor’s home and besides the Catholic Church. One of these homes was always our vacation retreat and those vacation times I will never forget, from the days as a small girl until today.
We were always allowed to take some friends with us on our vacation trips and we then went with the two 7 seats Hudson cars. One friend of my father, Mr. Chattelin, uncle Dollie for us, joined some of the vacation trips. Uncle Dollie was a very good violin player and two friends from my brothers had their guitar with them and that means after dinner, time for krontjong music and entertaining fun.
During day time we often went for a swim to the swimming pools in Lubuk Ajer Minburun. The top pool was build against the mountain wall and filled with red and golden koi fish and at the bottom of this basin was a large hole with a top filter to prevent the fish from going into the lower large basin, which is the normal swimming pool.
The family Chevalier had free access, because father had built the water basin, the swimming pool and the water was always clear, clean and cold.

Padang Pandjang was famous of a special dish called sate padang (bbq meat on sticks) and the guleh tundjang (Jung bamboo mixed with special parts of the legs of a cow). It is a very complex dish and cooked in large stone pots. On our way home we always made a stop at the market where they sell these dishes.
When vacation is over and on our trip home we always made a stop at Ajer Mantjur, the large waterfall. There we had our picnic with the food that we just bought at the market.
After the lunch we went home with a happy feeling.

Sometimes we took a short vacation to Lubuk Selassi and stayed a couple nights in the Pasang Grahaan, a vacation home. This vacation home was located south-east of Padang on the Bukit Barisan, a very difficult hilly area and difficult to drive for the Hudsons.
But being high in the mountains was nice and cool.

The home at the Slinger lane in Padang is the place where I was born and was situated in a very happy environment for us children to grow up and I also learned how to dance from my brother Rudy, who came home from boarding-school to celebrate our oldest brother Vent his 21st birthday. A few years later we had also mam and dad their 25 years anniversary in this great house.
But we also had our sorrow time, because a large fire destroyed completely my dad his garage business. Dad came home with head and hands in bandages and his close totally damaged. For month dad had to stay home because of his wounds.
Dad had the parking garages for the two Hudson, Fiat and truck at the Slinger lane and also the stables with the horses King, Rosaline, Liberty 3 and Betsy 4 were there. Dad kept there 3 karbau‘s and also 4 geese, who were the guards at night.
A large pond was available for the ducks and a fenced area where he held the chickens.
Our home had a large porch and on the corner was a cage with a talking parrot and in the back yard of the home dad had many cages and his pigeons.
Below the rambutan tree was the large cage for our monkey who knows how the climb the coconut trees and choose the ripe coconuts to drop them down for us.
Our home had on 4 sides’ porches and inside the rooms were pretty large.

Mam held many plants like all type of ferns and in the yard under a tree was a very nice patio with wrought iron table and chairs where we had thee time in the afternoon.
It was always a surprise what kind of snacks we then get, because it varies from day to day, but it looks like pisang goring, kwee lapis, kwee talam,  boerboer, sepulu itam, kwee mangkok, ondeh-ondeh, goreng obi, and so on.
In those days we were well off and spoiled but we children did not know better.

My mother and I had a love for plants and especially orchids. Mam had the earth orchids and tree orchids. They were all planted in the shades of the large pomelo tree (djeruk bali) and their flowers were in a variety of colors from white, pick, lilac, yellow and red (the angreh bulan). We had so many that my mother sold the flowers to women who went to balls and other dance parties or wedding.

I was 12 years old when we had to move to again another large house, but the yard was a lot smaller. My father also sold the two 7 seats Hudsons, the race horses, the 3 kerbau’s and all the ducks and chickens. He also had to fire all of his personnel, except one maid and the boy who had to maintain the yard. Dad also kept a large piece of land with many coconuts – and mango trees that were located about a one hour drive to Padang Pandjang. On that land was also a small little home where we had many pick nick days.
The home was occupied by a djaga (guard) and while dad and the guard were sharing information, we children went hunting for the ripe mango’s, djambu’s (guava) and tjempedah fruit ( nangka type).

Mam and dad had given us children a fantastic youth period, a living like the rich and famous and they have never showed us when they had financial difficulties.


“Memories of the past” is a story and a tribute to my mother Clair Elisabeth Geenen with the maiden name Chevalier. Years ago my youngest sister Peggy has asked her to write down her experience of her youth years before WW2. She started when she already past the age of 60. She died in Zoetermeer, Netherlands at the age of 90. I am her oldest son Ronny Geenen.