Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Home is Where the Hearth Is

I was born on the second day of May, 1939 in the province of Friesland Netherland.
Whatever happened there at the time had a great influence on building my character because these were not happy times in Holland. This was mainly due to the rumors that were being spread that Hitler was going to occupy our country. And just a year after I was born the rumors became a reality and Germany invaded Holland on the 10 of May, 1940.  At the time I was still a baby and too young to understand but later learned, from teachers at school, that this occupation was a total surprise attack because no war was declared by the Germans. The Dutch people thought they were staying neutral as in World War I, when in the middle of the night German planes with their lights on so everybody thought they were friendly, came and flew over Holland then continue their course and disappeared over the ocean towards England. After everything was quit again these same planes would return, and because the Dutch soldiers were busy guarding the Dutch border, every city was invaded without resistance.

 The things I do remember most were those incidents that happened in the winter of 1944 and spring of 1945 when I was five years old.  It was a very cold winter and everything in
Holland was confiscated by the Nazi’s to feed the German people and their Armies.
There was no food in the stores or coal available anywhere to heat the houses. Food was being cooked in a central kitchen and could be picked up, a coupon was needed for every family member, at noon by bringing your own pail or pan. To heat your house most people used old furniture or whatever was laying around in parks. By this time our family had grown by two more brothers and my Mother was pregnant of another one. My Father took me to the central kitchen a couple times and I saw some of the food they had prepared, it looked like a thick soup, which some very hungry parents would drink immediately and only leave with half their allotted portion for the family at home. My Father, with the help off some of our neighbors, had cut down some trees in the park when after that the Germans posted a notices there saying, anyone who destroys more trees here is going to be arrested which got everyone so scared that they would only burn wood they had around the house. My Dad however had a better idea and took me and my younger brother to the train station, where there were large piles of coal that was used by the trains, where he told the two of us to go and play. He wanted to know which one of us could get the most coal in our pockets and take it home. In the meantime my Dad was distracting the German guards by talking and joking to make sure we were going to be safe. We didn’t have to be told twice because it was fun, my Dad did not give us hell for getting dirty like Mam, however my brother cheated because he picked small pieces and I picked large ones so he had more but I was the fastest home but to Dad we were both winners. It made us feel good, my brother and me, to see our parents happy in a warm house and as soon we saw there was no more coal we would beg them to take us back to the station again. This coal stealing was not as dangerous as it may appear because in our Town we had more older German soldiers (Grandparents) that were used to me and my brother picking up cigarette buts discarded by them and we would then take these Home for my Dad who would cut them open take out the Tobacco and roll a new cigarette with paper from our bible.

 Another time I was at a German check stop where they would stop everyone and take away their bicycles, examined them, keep the good ones and the bad ones were strewn in the
river. At the same time down the street there was a raid going on by the German police
looking for young men, those under forty, to work in Germany. All German young people were in the army and they needed Dutch young people, many had already volunteered, to dig trenches and clear bombed out neighborhoods in German Cities. These raids always created a scene because if a young person was found they were imprisoned and their families were heavily fined or could be shot. My Father had been picked up many a time but because of his talkative nature always managed to come home after one or two months. I quickly ran home to inform my Father what was happening whereby my Mother told my Dad that he should tell his sister about this.  My Father ran across town, making sure nobody saw him, to his sister’s house and told her what was going on and she thanked him. He was not home for more than an hour when he heard from someone that a young man had been shot by the Germans, and to set an example for anyone not to run away, they would not allow the family to pick up the dead person for twenty four hours. That evening we were told that it was our cousin who had gotten scared when he saw the Germans coming so ran out the back door where they saw him and shot him. Later we found out that if he had stayed home he would still be alive because they had already finished the raid. My Aunt from then on blamed my Father and Mother for his death and never talked to them ever again.

 These things shaped my life for the first six years never knowing if there was going to be enough to eat or drink. One year we had a rabbit and I was looking after him as my pet, every day I would pick dandelions a favored food for him and he would eat it so heartedly. Then one day my Dad said that we had to slaughter it because we had nothing to eat, which I didn’t want to hear, so took the rabbit out of his cage and ran away. He found me after a couple minutes, the neighbor’s told him where I was, and promised me he would not kill my rabbit. He told me we had to let this one go so it could return to its family to be happy, to which I agreed, however the meat in our pan sure looked like my pet and I still will not eat rabbit.

Finally in May 1945 the Germans were leaving, I seen them go with my own eyes, and
behind them came the Canadians soldiers with their shiny new jeeps. They would come down the street riding in big tanks and gave chocolates to us kids and nylons for the ladies. All the kids in the neighborhood would gather at noon by the entrance of the soldiers mess hall and they would give us white bread which we had never seen before, my mother would make her own almost black bread from grain we collected at farms grind it in the coffee grinder then bake it in a homemade oven outside, but nothing came close to this white bread and I believed these soldiers came from the Promised Land and I promised myself that I would go to this land someday.

Because the Canadian soldiers were living in our schools I did not start in grade one until I was already eight years old. Our family had expanded to six boys of which I was the oldest plus my parents and it was expected that I work mornings and evenings on the farm, not to make money, but I would receive free milk or butter and sometimes even some meat.

By the age of fourteen I left the family home and started to work as a laborer on a farm. My
Opafiets courtesy of wikimedia commons
Grandfather had got me the job and at the time it was normal to sign a contract for one year from the first of May until the next May. As a signed bonus I got my first bicycle and my poor Grandfather got into a lot of trouble with other family members, because he had forty-five Grandchildren, where I was the only one he got a job. I had to live on the farm and was expected to work from four in the morning till about seven at night seven days a week every third weekend off. I would get paid twelve guilders a week of which ten went to my Mother. My bedroom was in the cow barn, and was only allowed to eat in the kitchen with the maid. I was never invited into the rest of the farm because I was a worker not family. By living in the barn I smelled like cow manure, I did not know this at the time, but that was the main reason why girls did not want to dance with me at parties it was not as I thought that they didn’t like me. I did enjoy going Home every third weekend because that was Home where I belonged.

It was a good time when I was Home because I remember my Father would take me and his Brothers, he had eight Brothers and two Sisters, and we would all go with my Grandfather to local soccer games. Also I remember one time a cousin was getting married in a village nearby and my Father phoned, a luxury item at the time but my father worked for the city and it was needed for after hour’s emergencies, to say he was coming down so we could go to the wedding together. He arrived and we both jumped on our bicycles, however he pedaled so hard I could barely keep up to the old man and I was totally out of breath with my legs shaking, I got mad and told him your crazy I’m never going bicycle with you ever again. He looked at me and said I am not going with you neither you go way too fast for me I could barely keep up, after which we both laughed because we realized we had been raced each other.

 I left Holland for a job in Luxemburg for one year when I was seventeen and there I lived in the same house as the head laborer whom, with his wife and children, treated me as Family. Together we milking seventy five cows three times a day but we had a new invention, a milking machine, which helped tremendously. It was a good time because milked cows was much faster now and the rest of the time I could explore the country side. We were close to a town called Esternacht a very hilly district, unlike Holland which is flat, therefor it is known as little Switzerland. This was the first time I was so far away from home but had all my money to myself and was more in depended. Now if I went to a dance, girls danced with me and even wanted to marry me. This was something new and there happened to be a girl which I liked who introduced me to her Mother, a widow, which would love to find someone like me to help her with bringing home the bacon. So I phoned my parents in Holland and they said they would phone and talk to this girl’s Mother, which I believe they did, however I don’t know what was said for I never saw this girl again. A couple months after that I got a notes to report to an Army base in Limburg for a physical so had to return Home.

Once Home I told my parents that I didn’t want to go into the Army but wanted to go to Canada where my Mother had a sister. At first my Mother said she wanted me to join the Army because I was classed as a breadwinner and she would receive an allowance. However she would not stop me if I wanted to go for ones I was in Canada she would come over and visit her sister there. So it was that I applied, got a visa, and departed Holland three days before I had to report for Army duties on 3 April 1958 still only eighteen years old.
SS Groote Beer (The Big Bear) courtesy of Wikipedia

 I left Rotterdam Holland on the third of April on a big boat called The Big Bear which had a large Banquet room, Dance hall, Movie theatre and Swimming pool. My trip was subsidized by the Dutch government so slept in a large cabin with three other man. If some of these men had their lady friends over for a little bonding they would pay me to go on deck, in the bar, to have drink on them which I was happy to accommodate. Sometimes I would go to the front of the ship to look for icebergs because I did not want to us to hit one as what happened to the titanic. After eight days we arrived in Quebec City and I saw all the different color houses, so different from the grey old buildings in Holland, but felt sorry for the poor mailman who must be going color blind. Once we got through customs we boarded a Trance Canada train which took three days and nights, only stopping for an hour in various cities to drop off passengers, until we finally reached Calgary where I believe we arrived on the fifteen of April 1958. Finally I was in the Promised Land of which I had dreamed so long ago.

 This year it has been fifty-five years that I’m here and it has been good. Been married for over fifty years, without time-off for good behavior, to Margaret who was also born in Holland and I believe this was one of the things which attracted me to her because we both believe in having strong Family ties. We now have two Sons, two Granddaughters and two Great-Grandchildren and I don’t believe that it ends there, so we are blessed. I still think of Holland and have a strong pull towards that country. But here in Calgary is where I belong and Canada is my country now plus I want to be buried here. When I sit at home alone or with family I’m in heaven. Even when on vacation, sometimes Disneyland which I enjoy, I still long to go back to Calgary a beautiful city with the mountains in the background that once they get it finished will be a great place to live. It is my Home.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your very intresting story Bruce .
    All the best