A Research Guide for Students by I Lee

Autobiography of Carl Kaas

A Member of the Dutch Underground in World War II

Chapter 28. Our Church

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Us kids had to go to Mass every morning at 7:30 am, except Saturday. Then on Sundays, we had to go twice: 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.

Our school started at 9:00 am, so we had about one hour to horse around. But once a week we had to stay for cathechism lessons. I did not mind, it was easy enough, and it was different now because we could talk out loud if we were called to answer the questions we had learned. Any other time, you did not utter one word.

However, once a year, it was open house in church, the host was taken away and the eternal lite extinguished. That was the time the church pew rentals came on the block. To keep the expenses paid, they came around during mass for donations, but most people put one penny in and that did not go too far, even when a laborer's wages were only 10 to 11 dollars a week. So what they did was to rent out seats for one year to the highest bidder.

Now if you thought you were a very important person, you had to sit up front. Not every seat was for sale, because if you had a seat you liked all you had to do was to pay the rent before auction day and it was yours for another year. Of course, it had its advantages because if you came late to church and someone else had your seat occupied, he had to get the hell out of there. Another bonus, if you did not have your own seat and came to mass, the koster (usher for lack of a better name) would come around and collect 10 cents. One could go around that and take a seat in the poor pews. But that was kind of a disgrace if you could not afford to rent a seat.

Pa, being a businessman, had to rent a seat of course, but he had one in the very last pew against the wall. I never found out how much he paid for it but it could not have been very much, given the location of it.

The poor peoples' seats were just what the name said - just flat wide boards with no back rest, and a narrow board for kneelers. There was a railing which divided those seats: front half for women, back half for men. Officially, those seats were referred to as Public Pews. But we knew better.

When I wrote this without any notes, totally out of memory, I just wondered where all those old people came from. They probably left a big impression on me when I was small, everything which was out of the ordinary interested me.

For instance, I was intrigued by the life style of Hannes Veldhuizen. He lived in one half of the double house of my best friend Job. He was the oldest person I had ever seen, or at least it seemed that way. He never washed himself - proof of that was in the church pew in the poor section where he always had his own seat: it was so full of dirt, filth, and grime that nobody else would ever take that place. Funny though, he would shave himself; maybe that was to stay in line with the present day trend - you see nobody at that time carried any facial hair, except the occasional mustache.

Hannes resided close to us, about one kilometre from the church. He did not walk too good, so to get around, he had a three wheeled bike. Uncle Aores had a two wheeler and that one he had quite a struggle to mount sometimes, but Hannes did not have this problem. When he put his machine somewhere, it stayed, giving him time to climb up and into the seat. Dismounting was slow but gave him no trouble. Much safer than Uncle Aores who, when his two wheeled horse stopped, had to grab a tree or lean against a house to stop him from falling.

It was great fun for us if Hannes went for a ride on his trike: we would act as if we did not see him when he drove by, but as soon as he was past, we would sneak up behind him and climb on the back. He was totally deaf, I believe, because he could not hear us coming clomping our wooden shoes on the brick road.

Eventually, he caught on. Was it because he had to pedal so much harder? All I knew was when he stopped for no apparent reason it meant he knew he had a stowaway. Then all hell broke loose - it was time to make tracks.

From a distance, we would say "Neh, neh, come and get me." He would curse at us with words we never heard before, but we thought that was alright for him being on his way to church and all - now he would have something to confess.

One Saturday, when I had to go to confession, I found the trike parked beside the church and saw my chance. Boy, oh boy, a bike that could not fall over! In no time, I was pumping furiously and paying no attention to where I was going. The unfortunate result was that I smashed into the wall. It hurt a lot.

How was I to know you had to steer this cursed thing at the same time? In fact it hurt so bad, it cured me that instant of ever snatching his transportation again. For a while I thought maybe the old fellow had heavenly powers over me - him being in church and me out here trying to wreck his three wheeled horse.

I was very curious to see how Hannes kept house, so I asked my friend Job if it would be possible to see the inside of the house where Hannes lived. He said we could look inside sometime when Hannes wasn't there.

That day came on a Sunday when he was out for a spin. People did not lock their doors, so we went in. I got the biggest surprise of my life. I did not expect too much, but when I feasted my eyes on what I found, it defied all description.

To start with, the smell was overwhelming. It sure looked like a bachelor's apartment. I am sure it was just the way he wanted it. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement on a shelf, but no noise. The one window did not let in enough light to really distinguish what I saw.

Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a hunk of Gouda cheese alive with maggots - fat juicy ones too. I asked my friend why the old man kept that disgusting piece of cheese in the house. Couldn't he smell it, or couldn't he see it? Job said, "Uncle Hannes does that on purpose: he leaves it there until it is full of maggots, then he eats it, maggots and all. He claims it gives it the right flavor." Maybe I was kind of squirmy, but I could not share his taste, although I never tried it. Maybe I should have.


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