I cannot remember much of my earlier years, particularly youth, yet there is no particular reason for that. When one gets older short term memory is supposed to become less effective and long term memory is said to improve. That is not really the case with me. Lack of practice remembering things has some effect, for instance writing my personal history improves recollection. There is some change in reduced ability to recollect recent things and that clearly relates to simply getting older.
HOLLAND - THE EARLY YEARS
I was born and lived in Ede, a small provincial town, in the centre of Holland in the province of Gelderland near a larger town Arnhem. There I lived in a two storied brick house similar to many like that around there, in a street called Op den Berg.
My parents had their bedroom on the ground floor, of the family room. The kitchen and laundry were towards the rear and towards the front, of the passage the lounge we quite often used thus not having the status of a parlour as so often happened then. Of the passage towards the front of the house and to the right was the door to the cellar, not used that much. It had an access shoot for coal to be tipped down it but I don't think that it was ever used for that purpose.
Storage in the cellar amounted to a few sacks of potatoes and shelving for preserves. There were always rows of these, many jars of peaches and other fruit and vegetables of all sorts from the garden. At one stage my father had preserved chicken, or it could have been rabbit, I remember being very intrigued by it all the yellow fat settling in the top and the process burning methylated spirits on cotton wool in the preserving jar with the lid on to exhaust the air from it. All the other vegetables and fruit were pressure cooked a dozen or so bottles at the time.
The other two bedroom were upstairs, two separate ones and a bed at the far end in the large upstairs area, of the stair landing. I remember sleeping there for a period and also in each of the other bedrooms. There were also a couple of storage walk in wardrobes there. My father had a collections of books there and I still fondly remember the Sherlock Holmes collection.
My parents bedroom interested me, I was a late developer sex wise but was aware that in that room my parents did things related to sex but I was not sure what it all was about. We were not allowed in their bedroom wether they were in it or not which made it of course an attraction but investigating the room there never was anything of interest there.
In addition to the garden at the back of the house we also had an extra allotment down the back, used to grow vegetables and I recall being drafted from time to time to help work in that. Adjacent to our house was an easement which gave access to the vegetable plots at the rear.
I was a very active child when I was very young. Once I had climbed onto the outside window sill on the first floor and being unable to turn around and walk back in. People gathering in the street and pointing to me brought my parents out in a hurry and got me back inside. Much of my playing time was in the extensive State forest at the end of Op den Berg and across the main Highway. If one wandered through the middle of the forest you ended up eventually at extensive heath fields.
I have good memories of my mother as a warm person as opposed to my father who seemed cold and remote and I never came close to him yet I do recall the many times he took me and somewhat later my brothers also for walks when I was very young. Sometimes during such walks we called in at one of the cafe's, family places I gather along the lines of English pubs for a cup of coffee or his gin.
Somewhat older I was allowed to try this or that but never developed a taste for it and did not indulge in any alcoholic beverage until I was 20 and aboard the SIBAJAC on the way to New Zealand. Even then I limited myself to two drinks and in later years was referred to by my mates as one two Hennie.
Dutch gin comes in a variety of tastes and flavours. On high days and holidays father used to buy his bitter gin and pink gin (orange flavour) for mother. Never was aware of any over-indulgence by them. Dutch gin is oily and drunk neat and I never liked it. In New Zealand I was presented with a bottle of Dutch gin as a favour once and ended up giving it away.
The earliest recollection I had of my mother is of her being in trouble again with my father, on this occasion having forgotten time altogether again. She used to like reading, anything, and once started would forget time altogether. On this occasion after saying goodbye in the morning to him of on his job, at the front door walking partway up the stairs, coming across a book, sitting down on the stairs to read it and still being there when he returned home for lunch.
I too enjoyed reading from an early age and when very young having read all the books in the house. A year or two later father suggested to mother to remove some books from the shelves being as he called it to old for me. Mother responded that probably I had already read everything in the house in which she was correct. I was questioned extensively on the contents of some of them and as they seemed relieved I probably did not understand the naughty bits.
Reading in bed was prohibited which I overcame by reading with a torch under the blankets. For deeds like this and others I was often punished. The usual was to go to bed upstairs without a meal. Generally some time later mother would sneak me a meal. I refused to eat some vegetables which had the effect of a stand off which was terminated with me being send to bed. Brussell sprouts, lettuce and tomatoes were the main culprits. While still not to keen on lettuce but I will eat small helpings of the boutique varieties, I always felt they were good rabbit food but not much good for humans, I now like brussel sprouts but still not keen on raw tomatoes, the green snot used to put me off.
I never had a push bike for some unknown reason although my brothers had. Well remember using my fathers bike on one or two occasions and getting into deep trouble about that. Mother used to warm me I took no notice.
We used to keep rabbits in cages in the large workshop. When they were ready to eat a man used to come over and dress them. He had a little knife to slit theirs throats, bleed, skin and gut them. I watched him with considerable interest and was recalled with the utmost difficulty and was told that I was ghoulish.
Close to the forest, not far from home was a well established orchard. As a small gang of youngsters we regularly raided this on an organised, military raid style basis. All the investigation and planning took place in a small clearing in the centre of adjacent shrub and we made lightning raids to selected trees. We all had individual targets. Still remember the tree I had selected for its very sweet, very large apples.
One day, following change of ownership of the orchard I and my mates were apprehended in front of the orchard by a police officer on a push bike. Being always so successful we had become careless over the years. The policeman got of his bike and interrogated us and took some time to explain that our activities had been known for some time but that the original owner had not been to fussed, other than that we selected his best apples and pears. The new owner not being able to catch us had called in the assistance of the police. The police officer commented on the advisability of putting our parents into the picture but assumed we did not care for that. We readily agreed to desist in our actions and were thus allowed to go home. The story did come out some time later, however we did give up apple stealing.
We had good neighbours, an elderly couple, a tall man with a goaty beard. They had a couple of Great Danes who where always hungry and eat anything not nailed down. They used to swipe the fresh meat from the kitchen bench which caused the usual upheaval in the household. On one occasion upon arrival I say the lady of the house pulling at something at the rear of the dog, closer inspection revealed that the dog had swallowed a whole towel and she was pulling it out.
Our neighbours on the other side were largely a mystery to me. There must have been a husband but recollection of him eludes me. In addition to the lady of the house, a thin smallish person, they had a son who was an epileptic and more than once saw him lying on the foot-path in front of their house in convulsions, we must have been taught not to be upset about this nor touch him when he was like that but do remember vividly watching him having a grand Mal.
At the conclusion of the second world war, one day there was a great commotion in front of their house people in the street having grabbed the daughter from next door and shaving of her hair. It was the practice to do this to all women who were collaborators in one form or other. In her case it was a case of her going out with German soldiers and sleeping with them.
Further up the street lived a couple of lesbians, the only thing remarkable about them was that one was very short and the other very tall. There were constant comments about them but not of much interest to us boys.
A bit more interesting were a brother and sister living together a bit down the road. Very short, roly poly people who were reportly living in sin, although in their mid thirties they looked much younger. They where mentally retarded but were friendly souls. Ultimately they too moved because of peoples prying.
Looking back I must have had a lot of energy and interest in many a things, at one stage it was my objective to find out what sort of people lived in every house in the street and if not possible by direct means visualise what they were like.
Having assisted my father, very reluctantly, occasionally, as his assistant in painting relating activities I also gained more inside knowledge of several houses in the street and area, that part made it interesting. My father wanted me to learn and take over the business but I was to his great regret totally uninterested.
A very old couple a couple of streets down towards the city centre were very interesting and after the painting there was finished I continued to visit them. They had a rather old, rambling home full of antiques and interesting things, and I usually came home with one thing or another. Very old books came to great use when I had to write essays for school work. In adapting the stories and ideas or rewriting them I got great grades and usually highly commended. I was also given a small stamp collection and I pursued stamp collecting for a period. Some of them were very rare. When leaving for New Zealand I left them with one of my brothers, I think it was Rien but when I wrote for them many years later he no longer had them and I think sold them.
In Holland and in that era the oldest son in the family is expected to assume the key family responsibilities as first born. Even the family bible recorded the first sons way back. This also went to the extend of naming children. My name being Hendrik Jan, My grand father being Jan Hendrik, his grand father Hendrik Jan and so on. My parents had great expectations of me from a young child and I suppose invested in me their own never realised ambitions. Thus as early as ten, when the war commenced I was very mature for my age.
Mother used to take me in her confidence whenever having difficulties relating to her husband thus I learned the art of listening and councilling at an early age. Other members of our extended family used to confide in me as well. I accepted but resented becoming a mini adult at such a young age.
Nearly all the family lived in close proximity then, if not in the same street then within walking distance. Thus on public holidays, Xmas, New Year, Easter and family celebrations everyone turned up sometime during the day. For New Year mother used to make a large quantity of olie bollen, tubs full of them, smaller quantities of apple fritters, apple slices dipped in batter and deep fried.
A form of fruit gruel was also popular. A large pot of this contained barley grain, sultanas, dried prunes, fruit peel, oranges, cinnamon, apples, cherries and so on. I have never come across this since.
My parents felt it was a good thing to go to church thus we went once in a while. They did encourage us to go but as they were not a good example we did not take much interest. We too were put off by the three to four hour sermons and the preaching of hell and damnation, seldom delving into the new testament. To be regarded as a good Christian one had to go to church, in the morning, preferably afternoon as well and in the evening and you could do what you liked during the week.
Hypocrites my father referred to the majority of the burghers. From that early age I developed a personal standard of ethics to suit me without bothering about religion to much. At church we wanted to sit upstairs in the gallery where the large organ and the choir was but we were never allowed by our parents for no good reason it seemed
Being agnosticly inclined at an early age I used to have great fun as a young boy in debating aspects of religion, particularly with my more strict Christian friends who generally stuck to the literal interpretation of the bible.
I was a fast growing lad, very active, here there and every where. Somewhere in my teens growing so fast that I fainted on the odd occasion. From that time on an for a number of years having recurring dreams of vertigo or falling into a vortex. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that I am one of the types with an over-active neurological system. I believe having a highly emitting neurology system which self stimulates, causing one to listen to oneself in that sense and needing less than normal outside stimulation or social contact. Thus I can explain myself why I am different from other people. I am self reliant to the point of being unsociable.
Winter in Holland is a very cold time featuring ice on the road, snow and sleet. One day walking down the street Op den Berg at the lower end were it joins another street at the round about with a large tree in the centre a horse and cart came slipping and sliding down the street seeming out of control with the horse fighting to stay on his legs which it succeeded in doing even if the cart tipped on its side. Horses were shod in the usual way with an iron shoe but in mid winter also had metal studs in them to give them better grip on the ice and this obviously saved the horse on that occasion.
When it snowed the snow would end up in drifts in corners and against fences thus the snow would pile up quite high, up to two metres in places. When it melted it became a slush of icy cold water and when there was a frost again it was almost impossible to walk on it. After the City Council road staff had thrown coarse salt or coarse sand around it became an unholy mess when it melted.
I had friends off all ages from around where I lived, the YMCA and the Grammar school at the other end of town. Although not a leader of the pack so to speak, nor a bully in any shape or form, I was the instignator of many an activity. Being of a placid nature, self secure, no doubt helped by the fact that I was tall, never saw the need to assert myself. I was however teased on one occasion by an older schoolboy who ultimately got my goat and I retalliated by whipping him with a tree branch or such along the whole lengh of the street Op den Berg where I lived which was a very long distance. There were repercussions from that and parents from both sides ensured peace (of sorts) between us but the event confirmed the general opinion to leave me in peace and not provoke me.
Sport took my fancy and I enjoyed playing volley ball, joining a team of older players and had some great games. At high school I developed an interest in long jump, discuss, javelin and sprinting. To take that interest further joining practice and competitions with the boys of the grammar school at the other end of town who had very nice running tracks. Soccer took my fancy for a while and boxing for a bit but this did not last long. I still remember these big lumbering amateur boxing gloves. Having been convinced that this was a good sport to take up the gloves were put on my hands, the basics explained eg you squarely face your opponent put your arms up thus and jab at your opponent preferably hitting him on the chin and knock him out. The referee blew the wistle and I did exactly that. It was explained to me that one also should give the other bloke a chance to defend himself and do boxing, I did not know what they were talking about, however I was told to try again with a larger, older boy. I got hit a few times which I did not like but was able to sock him with the unfortunate result that he was was out cold and it took some time to revive him. By that stage I thought that it was a silly game and never played it again.
Many of my friends were involved with the YMCA. The YMCA in Holland at that time having a different outlook to what you see here in Australia and no doubt back there things are different as well. It was religious oriented, of which I took little notice, but a noticeable cultureal content which I liked, thus I was involved in cultural activities, music recitals standing out.
A young man, several years older than me stuck in my mind, at a very young age being a very accomplised piano player and as I discovered even better organ player being asked to play the Amsterdam Cathedral Organ on special occasions. One occasion I remember him being asked to compose a major piano and concert work for a centenary event at the YMCA which was broad casted on National Radio. The last image I had of him was leading a military parade. It probably was an Anzac type of thing. As this young man was a modest chap, the last he wanted was to seek to promote himself or stand out if he could avoid it. He innitially refused to march and particularly lead the parade but was talked into it. Being a colonel at such an early age and being by far the most senior officer in the region, it was interesting to see him walking alone way in front with the next group of officers what seemed to be a long away behind, then the rest of the parade of army men. It was a large parade. I cannot remember his name, unfortunately he died at an early age, a very talented man. These were interesting times.
We made up groups and travelled all over the country on our push bikes, camping everywhere.We made up discussion groups which were fun nights which lasted for hours, some times into the wee hours of the morning. No alcohol was involved, some of us smoked (tobacco that is).
As cigarettes were totally unavailable during the war years everyone who smoked grew their own tobacco plants, when the leaves had matured they were bundled and dried in sheds or garages and when dried out treated with pure liquid nicotine to give it the flavour. I thought I liked to smoke and tried this out by making cigarettes from tobacco leaves as I had seen my father do. This experiment lasted only for a few weeks as smoking my product made me sick as a dog not taking up smoking until years later.
Hennie van Dyk