Long lost lovers reunited in Huntingdon 0
Ali den Boef Verloop and Huntingdon-based artist Clarence Vandergeest were reunited on November 3 as part of an episode for the Dutch television program ‘Memories’. The couple were to have been married in Canada over 50 years ago, however Ali never made the journey from Holland, until now.
“This is the story of Ali and I,” said Clarence Vandergeest before launching into a description of a tortured love story Shakespeare himself could not have written any better. On Saturday, November 3, He and former fiancée Ali den Boef Verloop were brought back together after 54 years apart by the popular Dutch television program ‘Memories,’ which flew Ali and her youngest son Eddy to Canada, a flight she was to have taken so many years ago to join her then husband to be. Instead, a Dear John letter crossed the Atlantic, shaping both of their lives and setting the stage for a very emotional reunion.
The pair met in grade school in Holland. She was one year ahead of him and they quickly became the best of friends. This blossomed into a romance, and eventually they became engaged, despite a devastating lack of parental support from either family. An 18-years-old Clarence left Holland for Canada in 1958 as a carpenter, with only a few dollars in his pocket and even fewer words in English, but high hopes for the life he hoped to establish so Ali could follow one year later. They were to have been married in Canada, however during that year their meddling families tore the two apart and eventually ended their relationship.
Now 73-years-old, and an internationally renowned artist based in Huntingdon, Mr. Vandergeest was hesitant at first to welcome the film crew into his home, with the accompanying the flood of memories that would most certainly swell with talk of a reunion. Friends however convinced him to take the chance, and his own desire to see his first love once again eventually led him to accept to tell his story on ‘Memories’.
“It was really rough. It was a relationship I had buried to cope with it all, and now it is all being brought back,” he said. “When you think about it, it’s a hell of a story,” he added, with a nervous laugh the afternoon before the reunion.
“The original idea is that everyone has had a first time of falling in love, and everyone remembers that throughout one’s life,” said Madeleine Holtzer, the television show’s producer and director. “It is almost always about the first time that you fall in love and some people marry their first love but many people don’t and at a certain point in your life you start to wonder what happened to her or him,” she said, describing the show’s premise. “Very often it is just curiosity, but sometimes things went the wrong way where the persons themselves were not able to do anything about it. Like in this case, so it takes on a different meaning later on in life. We soon found out that the best part was when you have a reunion,” she added.
“In 15 years we have had extreme stories,” she said, suggesting that no Hollywood studio would ever believe these were true accounts. “Reality really is more extraordinary than what they think of in films and movies,” she smiled, admitting she still gets goosebumps with every story. As producer, she works hard to bring the couple back to the era in which they first met, often times travelling to the very place they first met or where they fell in love. The show travels all over the word to reunite lost lovers, but this was the first time it has filmed in Canada, and the cameraman spent a great deal of time filming throughout Huntingdon. “It was difficult for Clarence to come to Holland,” she said, noting it was equally hard for Ali to come to Canada, but that she really wanted to make the trip. “In this situation, their plan was for her to come to Canada and that never happened,” said Ms. Holtzer, suggesting the journey is better made late than never.
“It is very special,” she said of the experience of bringing people back together. “I don’t know anyone who, even the tiniest little bit, has not fallen in love. Not everyone needs to experience seeing their old loves again, but what that does to you… everybody knows it,” she grinned.
As we were speaking, laughter emanated from the other room, where Ali and Clarence had been sharing memories and catching up. An earlier concern for their ability to communicate, as she speaks only Dutch and he had lost much of his Dutch, was lost as both were so ecstatic to be back in one another’s company that language was beside the point.
With a chuckle, Clarence brought out a back scratcher, producing peals of laughter, as he and Ali recounted how he used to relieve that all too familiar itch to anyone who has ever been in a cast. Ali had been placed in a body cast after a surgery on a paralyzed leg, the result of a polio diagnosis when she was young. The backscratcher, he said, has served as a reminder of his former fiancée.
He also presented her with a painting of the tree growing in his Huntingdon yard in full fall colour, a beautiful reminder for her to take home to Holland of their reunion.
“It is fantastic,” he said, adding it was better than he had imagined. “Of course, it’s impossible,” he suggested of any notion of rekindling their relationship. “You don’t move an old tree half way around the world. It would be too difficult for her to adjust and I certainly do not want to go back to Holland,” he added. Instead, the pair spent several days following the taping of the show with each other touring the region before parting ways once more.
“It is super,” said Ali in English, adding, “never say never,” as a huge smile blossoms across her face as she sits next to Clarence before a warm fire in his home, as if somehow it was meant to be.