A row of wooden shoes with Spring flowers inside… what a lovely way to welcome Spring. My Dutch grandfather (Opa) wore clogs like these. He took a size 13! and when he didn’t need them anymore my mother hung one on the wall and left the other on the hearth to welcome Santa Claus.
A few years ago I wrote about my visits to Holland when I was a child. Based on what I experienced there, I wove a story about what it would be like to lose your name, something which happened quite often during the War, for one reason or another. Here is the start of the book:
Muisjes – 1 (Muisjes are little mice)
My grandmother’s house was a large, square building of some age. It had a door in the middle and seven windows visible at the front, three up and four down. It looked like the sort of house a child would draw and in fact I drew it myself many times.
The house was situated at the end of the High Street, next to the church and near the sea. It was very elegant. The High Street I mention is in a seaside resort called Noordwijk in the bulb-growing region of Holland, near Leiden. These days it is very exclusive with many impressive looking hotels overlooking the sea and accommodating prime ministers from all around the world but when I was a child, Noordwijk was a small fishing village.
My grandfather, Opa, had a business smoking herrings. The business was at the back of the house. Sheds stretched all the way down the left hand side of the large yard and on the right hand side was a large hay barn. The sheds where the fish were smoked were long affairs and outside each one was a huge vat containing the waste, fish heads and such like. Seagulls proliferated, swooping down in great numbers to eat the scraps and frighten the cats, of which there were many. Opa employed quite a few workers. They were all strong men, tall and fair with brown sea-wind weathered faces who wore large aprons. Their hands were tough enough to put into the icy water in the vats without wincing.
Entering the front door there was a dark hall, which led to a large kitchen, stretching right across the back of the house. To either side of the hall were the two living rooms. I only remember one of them clearly and that was because I spent many hours in it. There was a bed in the wall and I used to snuggle up in there in the evenings and listen to the conversations, all in Dutch, of course. The bed in the wall was like a recessed cupboard, half way up the wall and without doors. It was really cosy. In there I could sit with a cat or two and it was private. Sometimes the adults got quite animated as they refilled their glasses with Bessengenever or Bols advocaat. My grandmother, who I called Oma, used to tuck me up under one of her old blankets and give me a kiss, telling me to go to sleep when I was ready. Naturally, I tried to stay awake as long as possible.
My mother, who was Dutch, was always animated when she talked. She relished the chance to get back to speaking her native language after so many months in England. There were many visitors; brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, people I had never seen before and many never to be seen again.
There was no central heating in those days so a bright fire burned in the grate. The flames flickered and danced up the chimney, crackling in the grate when the coals shifted.
My grandfather always led the conversation. In order to trade with different countries, he taught himself Esperanto and he was fluent in English too. He knew all the principal rivers in the world by heart and carried in his pocket a small book of jokes and anecdotes to amuse us children.’
You can purchase the story on Amazon in the Kindle Store here… if you want to read the rest of it.
If you ever get the chance, you should go to Noordwijk – it’s beautiful. Here are some more modern pictures as it is now.
While I’m waiting for the snow to clear in my English cottage garden, here is a picture from a previous year. These red tulips are underneath that snow somewhere!
While I was looking through my pictures this afternoon, I came across this Easter picture, which my youngest son David made for me. I’ve always loved it and since it is Easter time soon, I’ll share it with you. Here it is:
I just love children’s pictures that they have done all themselves, don’ t you? David is getting very excited because his and Michelle’s baby is due in 8 weeks time. It’s their first baby and my second grand-baby. I can’t wait to meet the little person.