A jar of hair
By A Rijks-Callenbach (5.4.1)
It is a cold winter’s night in 1944. I am in a hurry to get home. The children are home alone and it starting to get dark. I carry a little pail of rye porridge on my arm. Yummy, much nicer than the food dished up in the Soup-kitchen. They use real milk powder for the porridge at least when you get it from Verkade. There is still quite a queue of people waiting. Must be people from Amsterdam. When there is something left you will be able to get it with out ration coupons. The porridge is disappearing fast. The cook called out: “People go home, the porridge is all gone!”
When I get close to home, I notice a man walking ahead of me. He is staggering from left to right. Must be drunk. Then he stops and is leaning against the wall and resting his head in his hands. I stop also. It would appear to be a decent guy. “Anything the matter?” I ask. He looks at me and desperation radiates from his eyes. “I am finished!.....I have walked all day! I am exhausted!”
The little pail on my arm gets heavier. “Come along,” I say, “we can share this.” The room is beautifully warm. The stranger is shaking so much that I quickly put him down in a chair. First he has to drink something. Surrogate tea with a little bit of real sugar. In the kitchen I poor our porridge into his plate. I’ll make something else later.
When I enter he sits there staring at me with huge eyes. He points to a piece of packing paper on the table. “Is that you?”, he asks with a husky voice. On the paper is written in large letters: “To Mrs A Rijks-Callenbach¹, Zaandam”
The master of the market ship has brought me that package only a moment ago. It contained beautiful Granny Smith apples sent by cousins Lena and Diek (Callenbach) (5.1.2 & 5.1.3) “Yes, that is a parcel for me” I say, somewhat put out. What business is that of his? But then it becomes clear.” Are you one of Calle-bach² from Niekark³? From Mr CC or from GF? Oh my God, I could have known. So good so good!” After I have explained the family relationships, I get the whole story. He was from Spakenburgº. His father’s ship was lost with all hands in1917. The vessel was not insured and mother was left with four boys. Mr CC (1.3) came and all four had been able to go to school. A new vessel arrived. The brother of his father was also a recipient, and now his three brothers owned their own vessel. There was not enough to keep four so he had gone to Amsterdam to work in the port. Things had gone well for him but now this hunger! Yes, he was married and had a child of 18 months. He had walked all day to find some food but nothing, nothing. “Oh God, and now it is a Calle-bach who, again, pulls him out of the mire!”.
It was a strange story, but it could be right. Now he was a guest at our table. We managed some toys for the little child, a piece of soap and some of our apples from “Niekark” We felt like rich people when we were able to farewell our guest with full pockets. No, wait a minute, from the bottom of the duffel bag he retrieved a little parcel. “I had wanted to keep it sell or trade it for food, but now it is yours. It is a jar of real pre-war hair cream!” “My dear fellow I never use it and neither does my husband. I have no idea what to do with it. It made no difference what I said, he would be offended if we didn’t accept the hair cream. The little jar stood in my cupboard for a long time. I took it with me during a visit to Nijkerk and presented it to Kees (1.3.6) in his house “The Meinskamp” as a memento about his father. He also was at a loss as to what to do with it. And so the little jar of hair cream has finally disappeared. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord.
In Dutch a married woman’s maiden name is hyphenated to her husband’s name.
² Locals are inclined to drop the n in the middle.
³ Niekark is the way locals pronounce the name of the town Nijkerk.
° Spakenburg is a fishing village a few miles west of Nijkerk.
(This article was
first published in the family publication “The Prophet of the Velue” No 20
in October 1989 )