my parents’ move from Belgium
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I did it – my parents’ move from Antwerp

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I did it! I thought with a big sigh of relief! I got it done, mission accomplished – or so I thought…

It was a hot summer evening in St Louis; our plane had just landed from the long oversea trip from Belgium. I pushed my father in one wheelchair while an attendant pushed my mother in another. I was home. Finally, I had moved my parents with me to St Louis.

It had been two unbelievable weeks of frustrations, negotiations, arrangements, packing, dealing with movers, packers, landlady.

All of this had started actually months earlier. My parents lived in Antwerp, Belgium. My father had taken ill, was hospitalized, had been in a drug-induced coma for a while, spent some time in a nursing home. Finally, he returned to his and my mother’s apartment.

It soon became clear that he was suffering from dementia, was drifting in and out of reality and needed constant care. My mother just could not handle it all by herself. The only solution was to bring my parents to St. Louis where my brother and I lived.

Being a woman, however, it soon became clear that I would be the primary care giver and mover in the process. I arranged for an immigration visa for them, rented an apartment near me and made reservations for us to fly to St. Louis.

My mother assured me that she had hired the packers, had looked through her apartment, and sorted what she wanted to keep and what she was to give away or sell. “You really do not need more than two weeks to make all the final preparations,” she said, “I have taken care of all the logistics locally, terminated our lease, hired movers and sorted everything. I will need your help with just a few things. Two weeks should be more than enough. You can make our flight reservations. Everything is under control.”

Well, I arrived in Antwerp one sunny morning and soon realized that I had greatly underestimated the task. There were drawers and closets full of “stuff,” old papers, clothes, shoes, linens that had not been dealt with. The kitchen cabinets were stacked with dishes, pots, pans, glasses. After all, my parents had lived in this specious apartment for over 20 years. There was no way they could take all that with them. They were moving into a small one-bedroom.

I spent the next 10 days sorting, making decisions as to what to leave, what to take, selling items I could, closing bank accounts, transferring funds to a bank in St. Louis, but making sure there was enough funds for the packers, movers and the trip. The packers had to be paid the day they finished the job. “I got a firm estimate,” my mother assured me. “I know exactly how much we need. They told me they needed one day for packing. They would move the crates to their warehouse the next morning so that we could still sleep in the apartment. I planned for them to pack on Thursday and load on Friday.”

I was skeptical. “Can they pack all this in one day?” I asked.

“Sure,” she replied, “they were here. I showed them what I had and they assured me that is all the time needed.”

Everything sounded in order. We made reservations at the local kosher hotel for Shabbos to give us a truly deserved day of rest before flying out to the US on Sunday morning.

Thursday morning, the movers came – one man – two crates. I was astounded: “How can you pack all this in two crates in one day?”

“I am sure I can,” he replied, “just show me what you have.”

As I led the man through the rooms opening drawers, closet doors, he got agitated. “There is no way I can pack all this by myself in one day,” he exclaimed, “I have to call the manager.”

We waited, the packer did not move, he just sat and waited. Finally, the manager arrived on the scene: “When I asked your mother what she was taking, she just showed me one room, not five!” He exclaimed. “This will take more manpower if we are to finish today and load tomorrow… and,” he added, “it will cost you much more.”

“How much more?” I inquired. “I have transferred all the funds out of the country already. Will you allow me to send you a check from the States?” After several calls to the home office and discussions with some head honcho, he finally agreed that he would allow the packing to go ahead and would do us the great favor and unusual exception of allowing us to send him a check when we got back to the US. I really think he felt sorry for me.

We, my mother and I, breathed a sigh of relief. My father was in one of his “out of the world” modes. He sat and stared into space unaware what was going on around him.

More men were sent in and the packing started. Things were looking up. In the late afternoon, one of the men told me we had a big problem. Because my parents lived on the seventh floor, they had to lower the crates through the windows. However, as the roof had recently been replaced, the large hook that was supposed to hold the ropes of the pulley had not been replaced. They would have to take those large containers another way. But, they were not allowed to use the elevator without the permission of the building’s owner because they might do some damage. They were also not allowed to carry the boxes down the narrow spiral stairway for fear of scratching the newly painted walls.

The landlady, Mrs. Feldman, was called. She got very angry. The owner of the building would never allow us to move those boxes by elevator or stairs. They had to go out through the windows. As to the hook, “Well, they just forgot to put one in, which is not our problem,” she continued. She called the building manager. He was adamant. “You cannot use the stairs or the elevator!” No amount of reasoning, arguing on my part had any effect. I was accused of being rude and impolite. They would not budge, repeating over and over again that it was my problem and not theirs. They were only telling me what I could not do. The solution was for me to figure out.

Finally, I said, “Fine, then we’ll just leave the boxes in the apartment and leave. Do with the stuff whatever you want.” Mrs. Feldman jumped up. “You cannot do that. I already rented this place and the new tenants want it painted and ready to move in a week. You have to remove all your property.”

“How?” I asked.

“That is not my problem” was the response again. “I am taking you to the police station,” she threatened. “The police will take care of you.”

“Fine,” I said, calling her bluff, knowing that there was nothing the police could or would do. Mrs. Feldman and I walked over to the station. She explained the situation, and so did I.

The officer looked at her and nonchalantly replied, “What do you expect me to do? This is not a police matter.”

When we got back to the apartment, the manager of the moving company had arrived on the scene, as had a representative of the building’s owner. I realized then that I had finally found an ally. The movers wanted to finish the job. They would not be paid otherwise. They wanted to find a solution as much as I did. The two men started arguing, shouting, threatening each other. I could barely keep up as they spoke Flemish to each other rather than French. Finally, reason prevailed and permission was given to move our crates using the stairway, provided that the walls would be covered and would be inspected for any scratches after the move was complete.

To this day, I do not know how these men managed to carry these large crates on their backs down from the seventh floor and down the dark narrow spiral staircase without causing a single scratch on those precious walls. But they did and we were able to spend Shabbos in the hotel and board the plane for St. Louis on Sunday.

Read more by Felicia Graber.

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  1. Felicia, I know I already told you this, but I wanted to make it official on our site. What a harrowing experience. And you told it so well. These are stories to save for future generations in your family. The will really cherish it.

  2. What an unbelievable story, Felicia. And, such a difficult time for your family. You captured the essence of this story.