Memories of my youth by Hendrik Smid
translated by Leffert Smid
The 5th of December is Sinterklaas [St. Nicolas] day in the Netherlands.
My sister Lumke didn’t believe in Sinterklaas anymore and openly said that Sinterklaas was a fake, which didn’t please my father, since he played the roll of Sinterklaas for as long as we remembered, disguised with a white cotton-balls beard and dressed in a colorful old window curtain.
My sister Lumke, the oldest of the children, and the only girl, got her first job when she was fifteen. She helped to make some money for the family, which was sorely needed.
It wasn’t much, but it helped, ten cents a day and one egg. That egg was for mother.
Lumke had to work hard for it. She had to do the washing for the whole of the farmer’s family, by hand, and clean the forty-liter milk cans. Some times it was too hard for her and she came home crying.
Mother comforted her as best she could. “Don’t say anything; you may loose your job yet.” We depended on even that little extra. One child out of the house working helped double, there was a small income but also one eater less.
Sinterklaas steps into the living room.
He carries a large, jute potato sack with him and also a long chain. He ferociously rattles the chain, then scatters hands full of pepper nuts [ginger-cubes] on the floor. We dive after them as hungry chickens grabbing as many as we can.
Lumke stays out of the frenzy, defiantly looking at father Sinterklaas.
“Is there a sinterklaas?” my father asks her. “No,” she says.
“From who do you get your present then,” he asks again? “From you and mother.”
Sinterklaas quickly put the potato sack over her head, lifts her up over his shoulder and carries her outside to the orchard.
“Is there a Sinterklaas?”
“No,” comes the answer out of the bag. He puts her down, so she can free herself and escape. When she joins us the Sinterklaas is gone and the pepper nuts too.
Sometimes we must suffer for our principles.
One time when father was working in Germany, mother suggested that my older brother Sipke should play the Sinterklaas roll, it would be nice for the smaller children. Sipke was then twelve. That might have worked out but I overheard them from behind the sleeping- alcove doors. I informed my brother Jan of the conspiracy and his reaction was, “We’ll jump him.” He was 10 and I was 8.
The Sinterklaas evening arrives.
It’s dark outside and we together with our smaller brothers are already singing. Mother beams with pleasure and here comes the little Sinterklaas.
The little ones shout for joy, then Jan and I rush up and jump him. The little Sinterklaas stumbles and falls, and the pepper nuts fly through the air. Mother is angry and this time we don’t get any pepper nuts. Mother had her hands full with her then seven children, when father was gone.
*My father was illiterate, since he had virtually had no schooling; what he knew was self-taught in the army.
We loved spring. Donkerbroek is blessed with woodlands and many kinds of birds make there their home. The magpies started construction of their beautiful nests, complete with a roof on it. We closely followed their progress. After the roof was finished we knew that the laying of eggs was not far of. Brother Sipke climbed the three to have a look at it. He stole the eggs he found, out of the nest, pricked a little hole in each end of the eggs to blow the contents out, leaving an empty shell.
We collected eggs of as many different birds we could find, and strung the empty shells on a string. We traded with other kids too. One time we found five beautiful baby magpies in a nest, they were feathered but couldn’t fly yet. We took them home, but father made us bring them back. We brought those little creatures back just before nightfall and put them at the foot of the tree, hoping that the mother would take care of them from then on.
Lumke, my sister had changed into a young woman. Boys noticed her. One in particular. He was a butcher’s helper and peddled meat, he came by every week with the cheapest cuts and delicacies such as hearts, lungs, kidneys, fatty bacon and sausages.
He was a boy with a job at least, and yes, one Sunday evening, there he was.
I listened intently from my bed behind the doors and spied through a crack of the ever so slightly opened door, but Lumke made sure that I wasn’t going to see anything and locked the doors shut. He was not the man of her heart and he came no more.
When tante Lum, as we called her, married uncle Jan and lived with him in Gorredijk, where he operated a freight boat, she would bike to Hijum sometimes and always take a Kwatta chocolate bar along which would be divided in ten little 'blocks,' heit would get a double block, so did mem, five kids received each one and tante Lum got the last one. That was a feast, of course we loved tante Lum. (lex)
Father could make use of my oldest brother Sipke who was still in elementary school since he was only eleven. Father, who himself had gone to school only a few years, had no problem to keep Sipke home, and he promised mother that he himself was going to teach his son useful things, which not included worldly songs. Father didn’t make a great teacher; his short temper had something to do with that too. Lying in bed I could not help but witness to the tutoring.
Sipke was a timid little boy at the time that the Smid family moved from the little paradise in Donkerbroek right in the middle of the heather fields, what much later was going to be called Waskemeer. The stead was much larger than the farm they left behind but the majority of the land was heather, but my pake Fokke was going to change that by digging the entire parcel over with the shovel powered by strong arms.
It was tough work and he lost a lot of sweat on that Donkerbroekemer field as it was called.
Four-year old Sipke, the oldest son was watching his father plodding away when a little bird caught his eye.
“What is that heit?”
“That is a little bird.”
“Does that little bird have a name, heit?”
”That is a blue-mannetje whip-tail.”
“Does that little bird have a mouth heit?”
“Ya, that blue-mannetje whip-tail does have a beak.”
“Heit, can that blue whip birdy eat with that beak?”
“Ya younge, that little bird can eat alright,
“Can that little bird eat me heit?”
“Well you great stommerik,” dumbbell
Pake must've looked bewildered up at his first born, the strength of his loin, thinking how in earths tarnation could his offspring ask such a stupid question. The kid is only four but...
Sipke meanwhile raced to beppe's safety.
Beppe wants her children to attend the Christian school but Pake thinks he can teach Sipke, who is six or seven by then, in the evening and have him working with him during the day. (Lex)
From where comes the corn?” Sipke, too scared to give a wrong answer keeps quiet, so father provides the answer, “The corn comes from America. So where comes the corn from?” Sipke still doesn’t know for sure, which severely tests father’s patience.
“What is the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam or Rotterdam?” I know that one and yell “Rotterdam,” to help my brother. “Rotterdam” whispers Sipke and heit blows his top, how in the world can Sipke listen to an even greater fool (me) than himself.
Sipke makes grade six eventually in spite of my father's home teaching and is hired out at one of the neighbors as a junior farmhand, for a salary of fifty guilders per year, plus board and room. He is the first one out of the house, making one eater less, and whether the capital of the Netherlands is Rotterdam of any other Dam is no concern to Sipke, chances are that he never will have to travel that far.
Some say that people over there do not even understand the Frisian language, so there.