Thinking back about my life is part of history, I was born in 1919, now it is 2009. I play only a very small and insignificant role. But to me and someone else who feels this way, it is a lifetime of ups and downs, happiness, sorrows, surprises, disappointments and everything that can happen in a lifetime. Looking back now to my growing up years, I gradually started to realize the environment I was born into. I don't think it is possible for today's youth to visualize the way life was then, that is, 1920 to 1940's.
I was born in what was called middle class, because my Dad had his own business. He had a contract with a big Dairy to pick up the cans of milk produced by approximately fifty farmers over a two-kilometer stretch. Then walked or rode around 9 km every day, twice on Saturdays in the summer, to deliver his load, empty everyone's and returned the cans back to each farmer. He had his own horse, a flatbed wagon, and 2 acres of grassland.
In the summer, he made 7 trips a week, 2 on Saturday, none on Sunday. His pay was around 20 dollars per week. Mind you, butter was 65 cent for 500 gram. Gasoline 7 or 8 cent per liter. I went with my Dad as often as possible and learned as much as I could about people - the way they lived, did business, got along with each other, animosity, gossip, etc.
When Old Bruin, the horse, became crippled and made into beef at the slaughterhouse, Dad bought a new 1929 Chevrolet truck, for Fl 1500 - Engine and chassis only. The delivery man was sitting on the gas tank. Pa hired a wagon maker to build a cab. Now he could do much more work.
The milk route with horse was 7 hours, but now he cut the time in half. So he transported everything that needed to be moved, I was then 10 years old, but in no time, I mastered the clutch and moved the truck a short distance. I was so intrigued by the working of this man-made machine, I made up my mind to someday have my own. But then I did not think that would ever be possible. Look at Dad, he hauled milk cans for 30 or 40 years, he was 64 years before he was able to buy this truck. Now if I had a good education, or was exceptionally smart, maybe then. But going to a higher school after grade school was out of reach for me. But Mom figured out a way, I could go to trade school and she could pay for it. Nobody knew at the time that I could learn to be an auto mechanic.
Our neighbor in the village was a house builder with screaming electric saws and other machinery. So I told Ma I wanted to be a carpenter, because I was going to a higher class. I left grade school at age twelve, although the law at the time said you must attend school until age 14.
I got my diploma after three years. But the depression was in full swing. Train loads of people from Amsterdam came every day to the farms to dig ditches, level the field, etc. This was the government's way to help the unemployed people from the cities. Nothing else moved anymore.
My Dad had a good reputation at the Dairy, so he arranged to get me a job as a bottle washer. There I was ,with my education, getting a job alright. But I was happy to get it. And every week $2.50, that was 2 dollars and fifty cents for 48 hours of hot and monotonous work. Was I happy? Of course, since my parents did not charge me for board and room. But would I ever get enough money to buy anything? Maybe there was a way. I figured out it was best not to spend my hard earned cash. So I made my own slogan, very simple: "Do I want it, or do I need it?" Having this etched in my mind, I was all set to face the cold cruel world.
Adolf Hitler was gonna save this world from disaster. His slogan was "Deutschland über alles." (Germany over everything). The Dutch government took the truck. My older brother who was running the business, was called into the army. I was 19 when my brother left, I was the only boy left in the family, I thought I was now responsible to keep the milk route going. At that time the Dairy was operating 24/6. I had night shift from 11 pm till 7 am. Then jump in the truck, did the trip, slept for a few hours, then repeat the same again. Picked up and delivered two trips a day. At that time I had been promoted to keep two huge fires going in the steam boilers, that was shovelling coal in one fire, then the other and back again, for eight hours without any let up, not even to sit down for something to eat.
I did this double shift for a whole week before I became exhausted and was unable to continue. Then the Dairy send some help and took over the route.
On May 10 1940, Germany attacked his neighbors to the west, the Netherlands, Belgium and France Every able body was recruited for a four-day cattle drive. All the farmers had to drive their cattle to the road where they joined the rest. Pregnant cows, cows with little calves were all driven together to follow each other to the big river. Here, ships would take the herds and ship them to the north away from the battle line. However, when Hitler ordered to bomb Rotterdam and the Dutch capitulated, we could go home. All was lost, after four days.
Dad, too old to work, the milk route gone, and my brother vanished, what was I gonna do? Face the world all alone with no help or support or advice from anyone, and only 20 years old.
I remember the saying, "If there is a will, there is a way." Okay, I'm gonna do it. From a farmer, I got a horse, built a flatbed wagon from a wrecked car and started hauling anything people wanted to be moved - manure, lumber, hay, furniture, sand, gravel, grain, firewood, etc.
After 5 years of misery, murder and destruction, we had to rebuild the country. Everybody was anxious to get going. I found and bought a 1934 Model B Ford Moving Van, chopped the sides off, and was ready for work. I applied for a new truck, that was not easy because everyone was in dire need.
Two years after the war, I was successful and got a new 3-ton Ford with a rear end dump box.
In the mean time, I applied for a new house, the old one was like falling apart. This was an enormous challenge, with a big part of the country still in ruins. But with the help of my old buddy of the underground army, Captain Huygen, I got a permit. Now we could get married. Unfortunately, my Dad and my future bride's mother died on the same day. That put off our wedding plans for a while. Margaret and I finally got hitched in November 1947.
I thought we had our future secured, new house, new truck, and lots of work for the future. When I got my new truck, I kept the old one going with a driver. Only a few weeks later, the government came and prohibited me from operating a second truck. The reason? I might put another trucker out of business. Ouch.
Agent from the Canadian Pacific Railway (CNR) came to Holland to recruit farmers to emigrate to Canada. They had farmers all along their railway lines lined up to give them emigrants a place to start.
Our neighbor, John the Groot, a very well educated business farmer, came to recruit us and tried to persuade us to apply. I told him, "Are you crazy? I have a good business going. Everything new and lots of work. I am not going to leave this for a dubious future." "Besides they only want farmers and I am not a farmer."
I don't know how he did it, but he made us start thinking. For several weeks,Margaret and I discussed the pross and conss. Like we didn't know the language, we couldn't even milk a cow, and we didn't know anything about farming. But John kept on coming and tried to persuade us to sign up. So, to make him happy, Margaret, my good-hearted wife said, "Go with him and sign. They can't take us anyhow." So I went with him and signed, no more aggravation or interfering in our new married life, we thought.
A few months later, we got a big letter. We had been accepted as farmers to go to Manitoba in Canada. I was so flabbergasted I didn't know if I should cry, swear, or curse my neighbor for getting us into this unwanted situation.
I rushed over to see him, no, he did not get anything. Imagine he got us into this, he had better get us out of it too. But why didn't they take him? He was a smart fellow, he could make it in a foreign land. But all he did was encourage us to go. This was an opportunity you would probably never againget in your life again. He insisted: "Go, man, go!"
Margaret and I were devastated. How could we ever make the right decision? The letter read: get your X-rays and medical test and when approved , be ready to embark in April 1948 from Rotterdam to Quebec. Right away, I sent a letter, we needed more time to arrange our business, hoping they would cancel the whole messy affair, but all they did was to reschedule our departure to July 19 1948. They still had my signature. Margaret and I kept on discussing what to do, and considered the pros and cons.
We started to visualize our future. If we were like most married people, we would have children some day. What would they be doing? There was no variety here in Holland. Everything in our life was controlled by the state.
Uncle Joe andt Aunt Mien inherited a cigar store from their uncle who was imprisoned by the Germans. A 200-pound man came home after the war weighing 98 pounds. Aunt Mien nursed him back to life and got rewarded with the store after he died. But the law said, "You can not run that store because you don't have the proper education." So Joe, her husband, had to go back to school. This was only one example of the restriction the government laid upon the citizens.
What would happen to our children if we stayed here? On top of that, we had come through the most terrible war in history. Only 20 years ago, they said it would be the end of all wars, the one from 1914 to 1918. Would this happen again 20 years from now? Look at Soviet Russia, they took over what Hitler started. They were going to try to take over the world now.
We finally decided, taking all the possibilities in consideration, we might be better off with our children on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We also talked about, what was very hard for us, leaving all our families and friends and a comfortable business. On top of that, we could take with us only $100 each.
One consolation, we had a job for one year, the farmer had to keep us for that time and we have to stay with them. So Margaret and I agreed we were gonna give it a try. We were still young, full of trust for the future, and had each other to rely on. I said try, but it was more like a commitment with no return. It was easy to sell our truck, one phone call and the truck got a new owner. Also, the one truck permit was snatched up by a lucky fellow. So, we literally burned the bridges behind us, never to go back to make a life in the country where we grew up.