Memories of my Youth by Hendrik Smid
translated and edited by Leffert Smid
The terrifying February storm of 1914 blew a large part of the clay tiles off our roof. It was night, the wind blew with hurricane force and was accompanied by an horrendous rain, a rain that had free access to our living room.
Father (Fokke Smid) walked in rubber boots on the living room floor, while the water, gushing through the ceiling rose by the minute.
I was nine when we moved in 1913 to new farm into what had no name then, the heather fields, but is since the sixties called Waskemeer.
Six hectares (15 acres) of heather was for sale in, wat was then referred to as ‘t Bovenveld [the high fields] One of the six hectares was grassland. Father liked it and bought it. Plans were made for a small farm. Three builders wrote in on it and the the lowest bidder was granted to built it for 1,050 guilders, it was cheap, but all father could afford.
Father didn’t like to work away from home in Germany anymore. There was talk of Germany going to war, which indeed happened in 1914, the start of world war one. The Netherlands stayed neutral, so it didn’t effect us much.
We said goodbye to our friends of school and church and to the Sunday school of Haule as well.
We loved the spring in Donkerbroek where we came from, which was blessed with woodlands in which many kinds of birds make their home. The magpies, the only bird I know to build a roof over its nest, had started constructing their beautiful dwelling. We closely followed its building progress and after the roof was finished we knew that the laying of eggs was not far of and brother Sipke climbed the three to have a look at its progress. He stole all the eggs he found in 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, stringing the empty shells on a strand which we traded with other kids.
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 three, hoping that the mother would take care of them from then on.
At the new place was nothing to see but heather fields as far as the eye would wander with here and there water and reeds. We had to make other friends and go to a different school.
I had great respect for my teacher. Twice he saved a child by pulling them out of the water of the canal where they had fallen through the ice. He followed the children when there was ice on the canals and ditches and made sure that the children got safely home.
In this time many, special young, men contracted T.B. Whole families were decimated. Mr. Ek , my teacher’s family was effected too. First his wife died, then two of his children.
He who took care of so many children and saved at least two from a certain drowning death, could not save his own.
Master Ek demanded punctuality.
He lectured some boys about their tardiness
“If you come late again, I’ll give you a drubbing there where your backside changes name.” The following day they were late again, but came prepared.They had stuffed heather sods into their shorts. Stiffly they walked to their seats but they couldn’t prevent the sod from slipping down the pant leg.
Master Ek spotted the exposed sod at the unnatural bulky rear end of the boys and ordered them up front where they, their backs facing the class had to unbutton their pants, and there the sods slid to the floor. They didn’t get the promised drubbing but had to clean the mess.
Loved by pupils and parents alike, he was fondly remembered, which showed after he passed away. An unusual large crowd followed him, giving him the last honour when he was laid to rest.
Next to school was a nice apple orchard. The owner sometimes threw apples over the fence onto the schoolyard, which was really nice for him to do. One season, he was tardy, or at least it seemed to us he was, so one of us thought, maybe we should help it along a bit.
We climbed over the fence starting to trow apples over it onto the schoolyard just like the owner used to do. He caught us and complained to the teacher. As part of the punishment we were to ask forgiveness to the angry owner for our misdeed. We did go with the best of intent, but not used to this exercise, we nervously laughed.
We couldn’t stop laughing, every time we started asking forgiveness we laughed harder. That didn’t make the owner very happy.
We did get a detention, but what was worse, my uncle Folkert had seen most of our dreadful behavior and reported it to mother. She was very upset and again made us know that we had let her down and that she was ashamed of our behavior. That was the worst of all.
After our move to the heather fields, we had to attend a different Sunday school as well. In Donkerbroek it was held in a beautiful room, but here we met in the in the workshop of P. Offringa. The most boring part was the waiting. After church we were immediately to go to the work barn, where we had to wait outside for the leaders, who first went for coffee in the house next to it.
We dangled around for at least a half an hour, which was bad enough, but criminal in rain or cold. Brother Jan, who had experience in this, one time when it was cold and miserable, crawled through a small window, unlocked the door from the inside and let all of us inside.
Offringa was most angry. “Who opened the door?” He asked, looking at me. I got a red face but said nothing. Just the same he sent me home and my brother Jan too, threatening to have talk with our parents, a threat he fulfilled, because mother said that it was very bad what we had done, she expected much better of us. Jan quit Sunday school and did not get a diploma.
I changed my life for the better and two years of good behaviour later, I got mine.