Down Memory Lane – the First Decade 1943–1953 (Hannie)

DOWN MEMORY LANE – THE FIRST DECADE 1943 – 1953   written by Hannie

We borrowed the title from a very popular radio program on CFRB and have tried to create our own walk down memory lane in the form of reminiscences of the past five decades of our parents’ married life. Each of us will recreate one decade of the Olders family life. As the oldest, I will start off with the first decade. Some of my memories are actual ones, but many more are based on stories that have passed into family lore.

After the wedding, Mom and Dad moved to Tegelen where Dad had a shoe repair workshop and store. The new family started off at a time of extreme stress and deprivation, since their province, Limburg, was occupied by the Germans until May 1945. Mom and Dad spent part of the first two years of their married life hiding in a basement with several other families, and fighting a constant battle against starvation. From this basement they watched their house and business go up in flames during a bomb attack. Dad was a member of the Red Cross, and he was part of the team that would go out and rescue people trapped in bombed houses. He had a number of close calls – on one occasion he was caught outside during a surprise bombing raid and threw himself against a wall. When the attack was over he found a large grenade pieces just inches from his head.

I was born in June of 1944 and must have added immensely to the difficulties faced by our parents during these dreadful years. Apparently I slept in a portable bassinet on the counter of the store right by the front door so that, in the case of an air raid, I could be transported, bassinet and all, to the safety of a basement across the street. During the last winter of the war, the “honger winter”, Mom travelled all over the region on her bike to try to get milk for me. Near the end of the winter she had to fight off German soldiers who would have taken that bicycle away from her.

Possessing a radio during the war was strictly forbidden and if anyone was suspected of having one, the house could be searched and the occupants taken away. Of course, Mom and Dad listened to the radio, and had some tense moments when there as a surprise search. One time they hid the radio under the blankets of my baby carriage, and Mom asked the soldiers to please be quiet since the baby was asleep. The soldiers were so anxious not to wake me up that they tiptoed past the baby carriage and completely forgot to search it. Another time during a razzia (when the Germans collected all able bodied men and took them away to work in Germany) Dad jumped over the wall at the back of our yard into a neighbour’s garden. He dove into the dog house which was a little cramped – the gardener was already hiding there.

However, the war finally came to an end in May 1945, the house was rebuilt, and the Olders family of the School Straat in Tegelen expanded rapidly. Wim (Bill) was born in January 1946, Piet (Peter) in March 1947, Henk (Henry) in June 1948, and Ine’s birth completed the family in June 1950.

Some highlights of those years:

  • Long walks we took with Dad on Sundays (probably while Mom had her sanity break!) – to the river Maas to watch the barges travelling up and down the river – to the duck ponds with bread to feed the ducks
  • the big pear tree in the yard that provided enough pears to last the winter. They were carefully stored on slatted shelves in the cellar. And how about pear sandwiches : thin slices of pear between two slices of bread and butter.
  • Saturday bath night in a tin tub set upon two chairs in the kitchen
  • Dad practicing his violin every afternoon after lunch
  • going shopping with Mom and receiving a little treat in each store – a candy in the grocery store, a cookie at the bakery, a slice of liverwurst at the butcher. The trick was not to actually ask for it, because that was considered impolite, and you would not get anything, but just to look yearningly
  • candy boxes during Lent when all children gave up sweets during the week, but saved all these treats and had a feast on Sundays
  • the feast of St. Martin, the patron saint of our parish church. Tegelen celebrated his feast with gusto –in the evening a parade of all the children of the town, carrying lighted Chinese lanterns marched to an empty field where a giant bonfire had been lit. A man, dressed as St. Martin, a Roman soldier on his horse, appeared and cut his military cloak in two, giving half to a poor beggar, thus re-enacting the episode that made him a saint. Then he disappeared, riding his horse through the flames, or so we were told. After that stirring conclusion, every child received a bag of candy.
  • the Corpus Christie procession where the medieval Guild banners were followed by floats and marching bands, and troops of children dressed as angels in robes of gold cloth, as little brides in long white dresses and veils, or as page boys, in velvet suits and hats. We trod on pavement decorated with religious motifs using coloured sand or flower petals, and each home along the route of the procession had a little altar in the doorway or open window, decorated with flowers, candles and a statue.
  • and after the procession, the excitement of the Kermis – merry-go-rounds, giant swings and bumper cars (only for the adults), and of course, delicious oliebollen and cones of patates frites with a dab of mayonnaise
  • Sinterklaas – what a glorious day for children. We would come downstairs in the morning of December 6 to find that the good bishop, St. Nicholas, and his Moorish servant, Zwarte Piet, had magically filled the dining room table with toys, a big pile for each child. We were not required to get dressed that day, or even to sit down for meals. We played in our pajamas the whole day, munching on giant raisin bread men that were part of the Sinterklaas gift
  • Christmas or Kerstmis – another magical time with real candles on the tree, and a crèche underneath it, first made out of cardboard figures, later real plaster statues, that made the trip to Canada relatively unscathed, and now is lovingly set out each Christmas by Ine.   Mom and Dad decorated the tree on Christmas eve, after we had gone to bed, so that we only saw if for the first time on Christmas morning.
  • playing in Dad’s workshop while he worked. My personal favourite activity was to pour out all the curved metal tap plates and create patterns with them all over the wooden shop floor
  • visits from the cousins in Rotterdam who came with a van – they were the only people we knew who had a car. Legend has it that once, after a visit, they loaded up the van with all kinds of stuff that Mom and Dad were thankful to get rid of. After the visitors had left, Bill announced, with the utmost satisfaction, that they had not stolen anything, because he had secretly taken it all out of the van
  • Carnival, of course, featured a costume parade in which every one, adult and child, took part. After the parade, the adults disappeared into the many cafes, while the children again received a bag of candy, to help us face the rigours of the Lenten fast.

Of course, life did not run smoothly all the time. Bill, for example, became notorious in Tegelen because he constantly took off on his own while still very small. After Dad had retrieved him from the other side of town for the umpteenth time, he stamped Bill’s forehead with the store stamp, so that anyone finding Bill wandering about could easily restore him to his family. We also suffered from all the usual childhood ailments – whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, mumps, etc. (this was in pre-inoculation days}. For large parts of the year, the living room resembled a hospital ward as all five of us, one after the other, came down with the disease of the moment.

Tragedy almost struck when Peter became ill with meningitis, when he was three years old. When the doctor came to the house and saw his symptoms (yes, they made house calls in those days), he bundled Peter immediately into his own car and drove him to the hospital in the city of Venlo. This prompt action probably saved Peter’s life. After many weeks in isolation he came home fully recovered. But I still remember going with Mom to Venlo to visit Peter, and standing outside, underneath his window – on the third floor – so we could wave to him, and Mom crying and crying, because she was not allowed to go to him.

Towards the end of that first decade, tremendous changes were on the horizon for our family. Dad had for a long time wanted to immigrate, as so many did in post-war Holland. He had even learned to speak Portugese, and we almost ended up in Brazil, in a colony of Dutch Reformed. However, he chose Canada, and left in 1953 to establish himself in Canada before sending for the rest of us to join him. While he was away, Mom ran the shoe repair business, first with an assistant who replaced Dad, then with the help of other shoe repairers in Tegelen who divided the work among them. This was a very difficult time for both our parents, Dad living by himself in Canada, trying to find work and buying a house, and Mom having the sole responsibility for the five of us, packing up our goods, selling the house, winding up the business, and getting us ready to travel to Canada. How we got there, and how we fared as immigrants is part of the next decade’s stroll Down Memory Lane.

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