A Research Guide for Students by I Lee

Autobiography of Carl Kaas

A Member of the Dutch Underground in World War II

Chapter 17: Winter Time

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The winters were as varied as the colors in the rainbow. Sometimes, there would hardly be any frost but there would be lots of rain and wet weather. Other years, there was snow, snow, and more snow.

I remember a few years so much of the white stuff came down, Gard Hoogland (the village Jack of everything) had to hitch a team of horses, one was his and he borrowed the other one, to the only snowplough to clear the road. The snowplough was built out of two planks in a vee, held in that position by other planks and boards. On top of this contraption was a seat for the driver. Around the horses necks and backs were sleigh bells, which of course was a treat to anyone who liked music. More bells meant more looks and a higher standing in the community.

Poor Pa, he had only one single bell, but Old Brown didn't care. When Pa hung that under Brown's throat, he stepped out in the snow as proud as a peacock and made that bell tingle with every little step.

Wintertime was a busy time for the village blacksmith or really smiths. We had two of them, both their names were van de Hengel. They were not related but they lived and had their workshops about 150 meters apart. One was called Jan van Reier and the other is Pruts. Van Reier meant "son of" and Pruts meant "can fix everything". So that was what they were called to keep them apart.

Around December, all horses had to be equipped with wintershoes. The difference was that the winter shoes had four tapered holes in them to hold "stiften". Those looked like steel toadstools, but the head was pointed like a chisel. When it got slippery on the ice or snow, you hammered four of these in each foot. Sometimes those things came loose and got lost, so us kids were always looking for them. When we found some, we brought them home and gave them to Pa.

Many winters we did not have any snow to speak of, but when the frost came and the ditches, creeks and rivers froze over, the fun began.

You had to be careful in the beginning. The ice might look good yet not be strong enough to hold your weight. Many a soakers came unexpectedly because the boys weren't careful. But after a couple of nights of freezing, a new adventure started. The ice was as clear as glass, making it possible for us to see what took place in the water. Little fish and all kinds of water creatures, bugs, and waterfleas scurried away when we tried to look at them eyeball to eyeball.

But the biggest kick we got was sliding on our klompen over the ice. You took a fast run and let it go - if the ice was smooth you could slide further than you had to run. And of course it opened whole new avenues of exploration. Many places we couldn't normally go because of the wide ditches we had to cross, were now accessible. Also we could now take shortcuts across fields, barbed wire fences and ploughed land without causing any damage.

A little later on in life when we got or borrowed hand-me-down skates, a struggle started to master the art of skating. Most people had shoes but if you did not, you just tied the skates to your feet only wearing stockings, which worked fine as long as there was no water on the ice.

In the beginning, the slipping, sliding, falling and being made a fool of, was all a part of the learning process. If you made it through this stage, the world opened up for you. Now you could go with the rest of the villagers skating down the ditches, avoiding the overhanging branches, down the creeks across a road, and finally end up in swanewater (Swan Lake). That is where every one came: old, young and in-between.

There even was someone with a big broom who kept the ice clean. It was all voluntary but he accepted donations gracefully.

Older people always said, "Now you don't have winters like we used to get in them olden days." Oh yeah, how about the winter of 1929? That would stop them bragging about the good old days.

1929 was exceptional: the ice was around 40 cm thick. It was a fantastic year to have the eleven "steden tocht": 11 city route. This was held every year, ice permitting, in the province of Friesland. A race which touched 11 towns; over rivers, canals and channels. It was like a marathon in North America: scores of people at the starting line but not everyone made it. Most dropped by the wayside.

In a winter like 1929 when everything was frozen over, the better, hardier skaters from our village, Hamersveld, set out for the southern sea - the Zuider Zee. It was a prestigious trip from a ditch to the creek then on to the river Eem and back again.

Related resources:

Chidren sliding on ice in the Netherlands, circa 1900-1920 Google image from http://www.vintag.es/2014/09/vintage-photographs-of-netherlands-ca.html
Dutch children sliding on ice, circa 1900-1920

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