My Mother – Her Early Years
My mother, Dirkje , was born on August 12th, 1936 in Engwierum, a small village in Dongeradeel, Friesland, Netherlands in a small cottage, which housed the whole family. She was named after her great-grandmother Dirkje Jacobs Bos (the tradition was that you named your first son after your husband’s father, the second son after the wife’s father – the oldest daughter was named after the wife’s mother, the second daughter after the husband’s mother – the other children were named after the grandparents in the same order)
She was the 5th girl (after 1. Wijpkje,2. Sjoukje, 3. Stijntje,4. Froukje) born to Jacob Hiemstra (Pake)and Baukje Hoekstra (Beppe), later followed by one more sister (Romkje)and a brother Jacob(Oome Jappie as we knew him)
Pake, as I remember was short man, but he worked very hard to provide for his large family. When he was only 5 when his mother died, but his father remarried a few years later and from what Pake would tell that this new mother was extremely good to them, that is probably why he named his 3rd daughter after her.
I wish my mother was still alive, as I am writing this story about her, to ask questions and again listen to the stories she used to tell. I also wish I had listened better, so I would remember more.
When she was only a small girl the family moved to the village of EE – it was a small house – with a small barn attached to the house. There was no indoor plumbing and no running water, however there was a well with a pump in the kitchen, so lugging water was not a problem . Water had to be boiled for doing the dishes, which were then cleaned in a bowl on the table. There was an outhouse at the end of that barn and chamber pots were used during the night. There was one bedroom upstairs where all the girls slept on 2 beds. It probably was great for sisterly bonding or not, mom would tell us that often invisible lines were drawn on the bed – and when lines were crossed it was “war”. Pake and Beppe would sleep in the living room in one of the 2 bedsteads ( my sister and I would visit Pake and Beppe during the summer, and we would get to sleep in the other bedstead, and watch TV through the cracks)
My mother barely remembered the war (WWII), since she was only a little girl when the war broke out, Even though she did not remember specific incidents, she remembered the whispers, the fear, the tension which was always present, but there were glimpses of things she remembered:
The windows had be be blackened out at night, so no light could be seen on the outside. This was a rule implemented so the villages would not be targeted by bombers flying by overnight. They would be laying in bed at night, hearing bombers overhead, often sirens going off somewhere and in one instance
a bomb going off close by killing only a few cows and leaving a big crater. I wonder if one gets used to living in fear, not knowing what the next will bring. German soldiers could come into your house anytime and take whatever they wanted, so people would try to hide their things so they could not be taken. Villagers would drive their bicycles without tires, either the tires were taken by the soldiers, or people would hide their tires so they could not be stolen.
There was certainly a shortage of food in these days, but not as extreme as it was in the big cities. Because Pake was a farm laborer he was often paid in food, milk was usually plenty, as well as potatoes and turnips.
The food that was available was portioned out, even cooking it was often a problem since there was no coal to be had close to the end of the war for heating and cooking. Village elders would cut down trees, even though there were not that many, and the wood was rationed between the families to cook their meals. My mother often told us, that she remembered the worry on Beppe’s face, that she was unable to feed her children properly and often they had to go to bed hungry.
Clothes were always hand-me-downs, re-used and remade. Sweaters were taken apart, unraveled and new sweaters knitted from it. Socks were darned. Pake had wool available, also from the farmer he worked for and during the evenings by candlelight Pake would spin the wool, and Beppe and the older girls would knit. Because of the lack of other materials even underwear was knitted from wool, and as my mother described it, it was very scratchy and hot. There were no disposable pads or any such things, so let us leave all that to our imaginations. Neither was there much soap, so laundry was done only if it was dirty.
They did go to school during the war years, but often in the winter school was dismissed because there was not enough heat. Germans demanded that the Dutch children had to learn the German language in school and soldiers would often come to school to make sure that this rule was implemented.
My mother also remembered that close to the end of the war care packages sent from the US and Canada. These packages were parachuted down, collected and distributed to the families. Pake and Beppe also received one of these packages and every family member received an item out of this box. My mother was given a pair of pink, fuzzy slippers, a treasure for her indeed. She wore them to school the next day, and the following day, and these beautiful pink slippers were worn out by the end of the week. She was very sad!
No matter what age anyone was, everyone remembered D-Day, the day when Canadian soldiers drove into the village with their tanks. There was rejoicing, cheering and singing – what a party.
These soldiers brought with them things that my mother had never seen before – an orange, and her first taste of chocolate – she was 9 years old.
Even though peace returned to the country, it took a few years for things to get back to normal. The children went back to school, breaks would be taken in the fall, so the kids, including my mother and her siblings, worked in the potato fields to dig potatoes by hand, in the spring they worked for tulip farmers to skin tulip bulbs. Saturdays and Wednesday afternoons, when there was no school, all
kids worked to make extra money for the family. My mother’s oldest sister stayed home with Beppe, helping her with all her chores, while the others went out to work. Wages earned from everyone were given to the parents, they got to keep a few cents for themselves and the oldest sister at home also got some allowance from that. This is how the family survived during these financially poor years.
After elementary school my mom changed schools, form the village one-room schoolhouse to the MULO in the city of Dokkum. It was a 30 to 45 minute bike ride, depending on the wind, and only during the coldest times in the winter were they allowed to take the bus.
Later it was off to the huishoudschool – learing to be a housekeeper and wife. In her teenage years during vacation times and Saturdays she was hired out as a servant for a wealthy farmer. Farmers in those days were quite high up on the social ladder, and they had a lot of servants doing all their work. This particular farmer was highly looked up to, he was as my mother called him a “Sunday Christian”. He went to church twice on Sunday and mid-week prayer assembly on Wednesdays, had his own ‘booth’ to sit in in church (when you were tithing more you could sit further in the front, closer to the stove, I guess). But he was a horrible man to work for, a hypocrite swearing and cursing and treating his employees unkindly. My mom would often tell of the time when she had to clean the outhouse and polish the wooden seat on it. She purposefully had used an extra amount of wax and polished it so hard, that when the farmer using the outhouse shortly after , sat down on the seat and slipped right off, his feet pushing the outhouse door open. A lot of cursing and profanity was heard in the barnyard that Saturday afternoon.
As a maid, or a servant, my mom was often responsible to do the laundry. These were the days before washing machines, before indoor plumbing and running water. The clothes had to be taken to the wash house, clothes were rinsed in cold water, and during thee winters my mother’s hands would be red, raw and swollen because of the icy temperatures. I can understand why mothers were so extremely diligent to potty train their children as soon as possible. Often children now are trained by age 2 or later, but my parents were bragging, that they both both just over 1 year old when they were potty trained. There were no Pampers or disposable diapers, and they did not even have plastic pants over the cloth diapers, so when the babies were wet, so were their clothes, the bed sheets and everything else –they did have rubber mats to cover the mattress, so at least it would stay dry most of the time. On top of all that, the wash had to done by hand, hung to dry outside, or if the weather was miserable all the clothes had to be dried inside, in front of the stove. Of course people had a lot less clothes back then, even I remember when I went to school, I had 2 outfits: one which I wore to school every day of the week (in Germany we also went to school on Saturdays), on Sundays we changed into a clean outfit to go to church and wore it for the rest of the week. I was no different than my fellow students, maybe except for 1 or 2 ‘rich’ kids.
For one year my mother worked as a servant in a doctor’s family. They were kind and generous and treated her like one of the family. She remembered that one time the doctor told a patient to bring in a stool sample, so after a few days the patient came back with a large mason jar full of number 2, guess who had to clean that out.
Maybe it was during this time that she decided that she wanted to be a nurse, because one day she packed her suitcase and announced to her family that she was moving to Zuidlaren to become a nurse. The rest of the family thought she was joking, and expected her to come back within a few weeks, but she stayed. She started nursing training in the psychiatrisch ziekenhuis in Zuidlare, Groningen. She would tell many stories about her experiences there, I only wish I could remember more – if only I had listened better.
She did not finish her training there though, she got married before she was done, and in those days, women stayed at home after they were married.