The first 5 years of my early childhood were spent in Goes, – a city in the county of Zeeland (the Netherlands). It’s the county better known at present for the Delta works, aimed to protect the area against further flooding after the flood disaster in 1953, where some 1200 people died.
Still do I have warm memories on this area and our house at 70 Oost Singel, – where I often woke up at the second floor with the peaceful noises of pigeons. The earliest memories are there.
The house had a beautiful outlook on the Singel, a small lake, pretty long though, – with a tiny island at the centre .
On some warm summer evenings there were music bands on this island and there was a narrow (removable) bridge to this island, – where we were not allowed to come. My older brother Tjakko once drowned nearly there and was saved by one of his mates.
It was a nice place actually, peaceful, – it still is. The Singel was good for ice skating in the winter, and was well used for this purpose when the ice was strong enough. Testing the strength of the ice was an art on its own, and not always without danger for playing children. My oldest brother Wiet was both good with testing the ice and ice skating.
The winters were really cosy in Goes. The last perhaps in part because St Nicholas did visit many homes including ours on the evening of the 5th of December.The doorbell went then at about 6 pm whilst everybody felt some tension as youngsters. This (holy) St Nickolas came from Spain and always had black helpers. When he entered our home they left first a washing basket full of presents at the front door. After this he came into the lounche and sat down in a special chair, taking his “secret” book from his bag, – with all the stories about the children in Goes. In the days before we had to put our shoes in front of the chimney and as children we were led to believe that presents arrived through the chimney, – provided we left something in our shoes for the holy man’s horse. The last one had a lot to do at night with the black helpers from St Nickolas, – and the chimney’s were at times dammed hot in winter.
From his book St Nickolas learnt from our good and “bad things”, – e.g. naughty stuff we did. We were always led to believe that if you were “bad”, his black helpers would take you to Spain, – hence the efforts before the 5th of December to behave as good as possible as this increased the chance of getting decent presents, which was obviously the most important bit…It was the time of “speculaas” and chocolate in those early days in December. When you looked out from the front bay window from our house, apart from the Singel you could see behind the houses on the other site of the Singel, – the Maria Magdalena Cathedral. In the olden days it could have been a Roman Catholic Church, but now it was a Protestant Church. It was built very close to the market place and the Town hall at the centre of Goes. Vaguely I remember strong working horses being either on show or for sale at this market place on certain days. It was often a lively market on weekdays with all sorts of things for sale. Good friends were living at the corner, – at the end of the Oost Singel and I did attend preschool just a few streets away from home.
Walking to school meant that you could safely walk along the street of the Singel in the direction to the corner of the street where you had to cross over, at the end of the East Singel. One particular house on the East Singel looked dark and obscure, as if something mysterious was happening behind closed doors. In the afternoon a drunk old man was often sitting in front of the house and from his chair he made rude comments, – swearing a lot. It scared the hell out of me this man and when I returned from preschool I made sure that I walked sideways the street on the grassy area as close as possible to the water. That low close to the water he could not see me when he was sitting in his chair. At times the man did wave with his walking stick. In my perception it was a house of potential horror. One day I did not see him anymore and he never returned, – the shutters remained always closed. Besides this the walk to school was always nice as I could get a glimpse of Carla Veldhof, often playing in the garden. The last at the corner of the Oost Singel just before you had to cross over a main street.
We often played there after school time. Carla had a brother called Louis and he was my best friend in those early days. We often played together.We either played at his house or in our house but the Wednesday afternoon was special as at his house there was the opportunity to watch television. Strict at 5 pm “Pippo the Clown” was the favourite kids program.
At the very start of the Oost Singel, not too far away from the market place in Goes, there was a complete empty abandoned house. This house was for us most interesting and both Louis and I found our way inside the house, making sure that nobody watched us doing this. Inside this house there were secret cupboards, a cellar and all sorts of other intriguing things attracting our full attention.It was a “real secret” play ground and it was always exciting not to get discovered by the owner of the house, as we realised that someone would own the house. We did however not know who this was. This house was very close to auntie Deer’s house who often invited us for a drink, together with auntie Mien. At times this was stress release for us as well as whilst playing in that secret house we had an awareness that there was a risk of being discovered. On a bad day, a very bad day, Louis’s mum did found out that we were playing there. I remember that Louis got a firm smack on his bottom and that I was not allowed to play for a fortnight, at their house, – which meant as well that I could not watch Pippo the Clown, – the last being a real disaster for me at the time. It was not my lucky day and I vaguely remember that my parents were informed as well, which made it even worse… His dad was an ENT surgeon and was strict (I thought) and when I was allowed to come back at their house I had to do my best to control my bladder, but all was back to normal and nothing was discussed anymore. Watching the ongoing stories of “Pippo the Clown” simply continued as usual whilst Carla’s mum made drinks and apple cake.
We however did do more things which were not allowed and I remember vaguely getting the engine of a truck started at “Stienstra’s Garage”, which was an experience. The last was possible as the keys were left. Louis and I agreed that we better kept quiet about this issue as young as we were, – we knew that quite “bad things” could happen for us, – considering “some little damage”.
Mum was always home after coming back from preschool in the afternoon and she always made tea with milk and sugar.
Often playing in the garden as well. Our garden was not that large but big enough to play around a beauty of an apple tree where you could climb. At the right time of the year there were plenty of apples and as kids we helped dad to get the apples in the cellar. The instructions however were very precise as the apples were put on various shelves and were not allowed to be too close together because when one apple would start to rot, the others would follow as well. This cellar was important for other reasons, not being fully understood by us as children as yet. In case of war it would be a good hiding place and every week the serene’s went to test the warning systems. Those warnings through the air were loud and clear and though the cellar was an exciting place, the noises of the warning systems made us vaguely aware that war was not pleasant but we had no idea what it was.
The summers could be warm and pleasant in Goes. The smell of flowers and the sight of large green trees always made a vivid impression on me and life seemed endless.
One of my other friends was Jan Keesje van de Vreugde. He developed leukaemia and my mum was kind enough to join me during the visits at his house when he was closing in on becoming terminal. Jan Keesje was very special to me in the way he knew that he would die, – the way he seemed to perceive things after all the treatment failed. Obviously I have not a clear recollection on this but he was in peace. During his last days on earth he gave me a little record of Albert Schweitzer playing the organ. He did listen to the same record, day by day and night by night and it gave him the kind of peace you rarely see with people preparing to die and being taken away from their mum and dad. I did not attend his funeral, perhaps because my parents decided I was to young for this. After he died however I did listen to this record of Albert Schweitzer which he gave me, not knowing what sadness was at the age of 5. I played this record really for days and for days. Still do I have the same music and in retrospect I recognise that Schweitzer played some particular parts of Bach in a nearly poetic way, far more different from the usual ways of playing this music. In a receptive mood it may open an area beyond time and place, close to eternity and far away from here. Perhaps it was this which gave me some comfort after Jan Keesje died.
My dad was able to play the organ as well, skilled improvisations then, without being able to read the musical notes. At times he had access to the great Maria Magdalena Cathedral in Goes as he was a member of the church committee. The sounds of this organ were always impressive in this large historical cathedral.
During our holidays in summer we always went to Haamstede near the lighthouse of the island of Schouwen Duiveland.
My parents had a little Austrian style built house close to the dunes and the sea at 19 Populieren laan . There were the regular families with children coming each summer. I remember when getting a bit older being able to join in with football in the evenings. Members of the van Everdingen family from Dordrecht played in particular very well. Everybody could join in but at times it was really rough. This family clan had 5 to 6 very sporty children. Their father was a GP and they lived at the start of the Populieren laan, just at the other side of a tiny lake being used at time by the fire brigade. They came every year like we did and came across as very straightforward. All the boys and the girls played as fanatic as possible on the football field.
The memories and the smell of the sea, the forest and the bushy dunes, – being together with the family on this beautiful part of the country were a great gift at this young age. Often during the day during those summer holidays, and when the weather was suitable, I was allowed to help out on little things at the glider club at airport Haamstede. Often with a free flight in the evening. Before the 2nd world war this was an active airport used by the KLM as well for short distance flights from Rotterdam. The runway is still there. During the war the Germans did build defensive bunkers and there have been quite real bombardments on this airport. The bunkers in my early years, quite some time after the war where still in place and a playground in the dunes.
The transition and the move to Apeldoorn in the county of Gelderland in 1960 -1961, brought many different experiences, – not always that straightforward. It was however so special to have had the opportunity to start my life in Goes and nowhere else, – as this place together with the first early childhood experiences in Haamstede, – provided a sound base for the rest of my life and helped me whatever happened later on to see in the positive, – by choice.
I am still happy for the gift of this early childhood.
Paul Alexander Wolf
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