by Nicholas P. Snoek
The Spiets have arrived in Zwanenburg, Noord Holland, and Jack is exploring his new surroundings. The house and meat shop are built on top of an old dike, with a street and a canal running just in front of the shop, right along the top of the dike. On one side of the store is a bakery and on the other, a confectionery. There's a large rear yard flanked on the left by willows and hawthorns, with several buildings and pens, a garden in the central area, and a whole stand of fruit trees on the right side. He sees chickens in a pen above the orchard, but no pigeons.
He notices the house seems to be built out of little square or rectangular red stones, all in neat rows one on top of the other, with some hard grey stuff in between. Next door, too. But he's not surprised by that. He had expected it, somehow.
Jack is pleased to find the big horse chestnut tree there, and the toolshed, and the reeds behind the chicken pen. It makes the place seem familiar, to see the things Viktor talked about. Now he is here, looking at what Viktor saw, in Viktor's place.
The wind is damp here, cold with the chill of early autumn. Jack, unaccustomed to this heavy air, feels oppressed. A dirty seagull stands on the driveway, looking at him, and a couple more scurry about on the low flat roof behind the bakery, squawking and squabbling.
Someone is calling. He goes to the house.
Mr and Mrs Spiets are talking to a lady at the back door.
Marie, "Jack, look who just dropped by. This is Minnie, she will be looking after you kids when Dad and I are in the shop. You listen to her. When we're not here, she's in charge. She'll be back Monday morning."
Minnie is a tall and skinny brunette. She seems a little uncomfortable, and soon goes inside to talk to the girls. Jack thinks she may resent him because of Viktor.
Mrs Spiets is talking, "Jack, you'll have to concentrate on your Dutch over the next few weeks. It's true we may be on our way to Canada any time, and then you would no longer really need Dutch, but we can't count on that. We may be here for months, and your schooling shouldn't fall behind."
"That's fine, Mrs Spiets, I've been learning the language all along, with the Schuurmans. I'll be alright."
"Okay. Let's do it this way. You're about Winnie's age. For now we won't register you at school, but we'll have Winnie bring all her stuff home every night so you can work with her the way you were doing with Ietje in Bhutan. The school year is not too far along yet. We'll see how you do. If it starts to look like we won't be leaving for quite a while we'll put you in school. And uhh, Jack."
"I think you might start calling me Mom, now. Mrs Spiets is beginning to sound a little strange."
"Okay. I'll try. Mom sounds a bit strange too."
"I know, but we have to start somewhere. And see if you can call Siem Dad."
"Now come along and say hello to Giel."
Jack is taken to the front of the building, the shop part, and meets Giel, a short black haired no nonsense meat cutter with a ruddy complexion and a grip that clenches Jack's hand like a press. A direct, a physical man.
The meat shop is in black and white, porcelain squares and marble, with large tiled display cases, and a huge front window expanse of pure clean glass. All so shiny ceramic, and clean as can be.
Mrs Spiets stays with Giel in the shop, and Jack resumes his exploring. The dining room is a little crowded, the center is taken up with a large table, and along the far wall is an upright piano. There is a small coal heater recessed in a hearth.
A formal front room looks very static and undisturbed, closed off behind two French doors. More glass. Jack has never seen so much glass.
He goes upstairs. The first room on the left has a balcony. It looks sort of familiar. That must be where Viktor was locked in for long hours. What a feeling that would be! Minnie must have been away or something. Wonder where the girls were.
The small room on the right has a bathtub, but no toilet. And there are no taps in the tub. No sink. Just linen closets.
The other rooms are bedrooms, two of them. He does not go in them, just looking through the open doors, though he can't help wondering where he'll be sleeping.
At supper Jack notices things are much more structured here than they were at the Schuurmans. There seems to be a procedure for everything. The whole family sits down together. Grace is said before the meal. Mr Spiets cuts the meat and gives each person their portion. That seems strange to Jack. If they're in the meat business there should be no shortage of meat for the family's own use. Maybe with so many children it's just simpler this way. Grace is said after the meal too.
He notices that Mr Spiets, who has been fairly talkative away from home, is quieter now. Mrs Spiets however, is busily in charge and talks much more than she did before.
Jack's bedroom is the one with the balcony. He shares it with Pietje. The girls are all in one room, and going to bed is a noisy procedure tonight, all six of them babbling away, glad to be home again.
The Spiets master bedroom.
"Siem, I've been trying to figure out how we're going to do this with Jack's adoption. And I'm beginning to think we made a bad mistake."
"How so? What mistake?"
"If we set things in motion for his adoption, it means writing to Bhutan for an affidavit from Brother Andre regarding the circumstances of his birth. We should have got that while we were there. But anyway, that's not the point. If we do that, by the time our request gets to him in Thimphu and then he replies, that would take several weeks.
The next step would be to get the authorities here to accept his landed status in Holland. That sounds okay, but it may not be so simple. We may be charged with exactly what I said we were doing, importing an illegal alien."
"Oh, come on! That's not likely. How can they object to a young homeless orphan?"
"It's not the person that's the problem, it's the action. The action of bringing the person into Nederland without proper authorization. There's laws about that."
"You're looking for problems, Marie."
"No, I think we took on some without realizing it when we agreed to do this."
"We didn't have a lot of choice, did we?"
"No, but we'd better think carefully before we do anything more about this."
The next day is Sunday. Everyone goes to Mass, and the older ones take Holy Communion. Jack has missed that; he didn't realize how much.
Suddenly immersed in Dutch, with which he is far from comfortable, he finds the old Latin reassuring. And he's glad he knows many of the hymns already. The choir is led by the encompassing strains of a grand old organ. He's never heard anything like that organ! But he prefers the monks for the singing part.
This is Jack's first experience of a large public church. It's a great change from the small chapel he was used to. This is a large old building, with huge dark round pillars supporting a high Gothic vaulted nave.
The church is built with hewn stones and concrete, but even so it has a warm atmosphere, infused with a gentle light from the stained glass, imbrued with the aura of pious generations in earnest prayer. Tiled floors are covered with long heavy benches of dark brownstained wood, seats rubbed bare from use, with brackets to hold bulletins and missals.
As he watches the Mass, he wonders at the richly brocaded vestments of the priest, and the Altar! -- a glittering symphony of silver, gold, red, and white!
Jack cannot see the need for altar boys. They don't seem to do much. They add to the ceremonial mystery? It all seems so formal and ornate.
But he drinks it in. The whole place is replete with the symbols of spiritual sublimation. And for Jack, right at this time, it fosters a feeling of being at home.
Lord God of hosts, hear our desperate petition for your mercy. Lead us by Your kindly light out of the darkness of our despair, and grant that we may, with the help of Your grace, achieve life everlasting. Amen.
Dominus vobiscum. Dominus vobiscum.
Et cum spiritu tuo. Ite, missa est.
What a hubbub! All the kids getting up and running around preparing to go to school. They've had a holiday and they've been away, and in spite of mom's many warnings, no one knows where things are. A blouse is missing! a sweater is suddenly dirty! My shoelace broke!
Jack feels out of place. He's not going to school, and has nothing to find or do or complain about. He doesn't know if he should envy the others or feel sorry for them. He says to Neddie the oldest, as she is last out the door, "Won't you be late?"
"Oh it's the first day. And we can just say we had to wait for the bridge."
Mrs Spiets, "Well Jack, I have to get out into the store; we have a lot to catch up on. Minnie will be here soon. Why don't you play outside for awhile till she gets here."
"Okay." Jack goes outside.
Hmm. Strange. Why does she want me outside? Something about trust. Well, let's go see those pigeons.
Jack locates the pigeon pen. The hatch is open, and most of the birds must be out. He looks in, carefully. Yes, two of them are nesting. They just stare at him, head cocked to one side, but don't move otherwise. He wonders if anyone besides Viktor knows their names. Probably not.
He wanders around, exploring. There's a long white stucco building in the far left of the yard. It seems to be a workshop. There's a couple of clean and tidy sections, with racks of sausages and smoked hams hanging in neat rows. Smells terrific.
Then in the back is an older and messier area. Storage, full of discarded musty stuff, a rat's haven. And behind that, a lean-to piled full of even older and dirtier junk. Behind that again, a drainage ditch with a bit of stagnant water in the bottom. Smelly and muddy. A `sloot'.
The garden runs down the middle, lots of potatoes, and on the far side, two rows of trees, mostly apple, several pear. Some berry bushes in between. And nettles, stinging nettles everywhere! Inhospitable.
Jack spots Minnie at the house, so he goes over.
"Good morning, Minnie."
"Hallo." Minnie is not at ease with English. And she doesn't seem to want to talk. Jack follows her in, and browses through some magazines. She makes the beds, dusts, and prepares lunch.
When she has things under control, she sits down at the piano and plays. And plays and plays. What a wonderful sound! She is an artist! Jack is enthralled. He comes and sits close to the piano. She pays no attention, she's lost in the music. Her hands move over the keys with such easy grace! Jack decides he wants to learn to play the piano.
He looks down at his thick fingers. Would that be possible? Could those fingers ever move like hers? Well, he'll ask if he can take lessons.
Mr and Mrs Spiets take a staggered lunch, first she comes, and when she goes back into the shop, Mr Spiets has his. They visit with Minnie. It seems she's as much a friend of the family as a housekeeper nanny.
Jack asks if any of the girls play the piano.
Marie, "Neddie plays not too badly. Addie and Winnie are taking lessons. They should have been practising, but that has fallen behind too. I'll have to get after them today. Did you hear Minnie play?"
"Yes, it was great! Mom, could I take lessons?"
"No, that's not for boys. Minnie, make sure the girls do some practising when they get home from school."
Ouch! Did I step on something there? Why not for boys? Has she thought this out already, and decided my hands are too big and clumsy? My fingers too thick? Am I not the right age? No, Addie is a year older, and Winnie is younger. Can't afford it?
I wonder if I can get Minnie to show me how, a bit at a time till I get going with it.
After lunch Jack decides to explore some more outside.
The house is raised in the back, and sits on the edge of the dike. The back yard slopes down, away from the road, so the sloot at the rear is level with the surrounding area. On the other side of the bakery is a large vacant lot, then a cross road, the Dennenlaan, it comes up the embankment, and continues over the canal by way of a new bridge. It must have been the concrete foundations of that bridge that Viktor fell along and against when he scraped his legs all raw. The bridge breaks in the middle -- it can be raised in two halves to let taller boats through. Huge metal beams support counterweights on both sides. Neat.
A barge goes by while Jack is watching, but it's so low, it goes right underneath. It looks like the people manning the barge live on it. Little kids are playing on the hatches, and there is washing on a clothesline. The skipper is in a small steering hut, smoking a pipe. What a life that would be!
They walked over the bridge to get to church Sunday, and this morning the girls went that way to school too. He saw it yesterday, a Catholic school. The school and the church are on the same property. When they're late getting to school, the standard excuse is that they had to wait for the bridge. Neddie said before the bridge was built they had to walk about two more kilometers, down to the other older bridge. They were late less often, then. Strange.
Jack sees a muddy truck loaded with what look like white turnips but long and pointier, coming up to the bridge, slowing down to make the turn. And two boys, who must have been hiding between the buildings, come running out, throwing rocks at the back of the truck! The driver keeps on, not bothering about the boys, as if he had expected them.
Jack walks over. They seem disappointed.
"Hi, what were you doing?"
"Who are you?"
"I'm Jack. Why were you throwing rocks at the truck?"
"To get some sugar beets, silly. Where did you come from?"
"Right here, I live behind the meat shop."
"No you don't. Viktor lives there. And Pietje, but he's only six. You're lying."
Jack takes stock of his challenger. He would be about Viktor's age, but a bit smaller. Brown hair, brown eyes. The other boy is a bit taller, with red hair. They must be skipping school.
"What's your name?" Jack retorts.
"I'm Kees. So where did you come from. I haven't seen you around here."
"It's a long story. I was born in Bhutan. I came home with the Spiets on Saturday. They were out there on a holiday."
"Bhutan? What's that? Is that a town? Where's Viktor."
"Bhutan is a country, just northeast of India. Viktor was there too. He fell out of a tree down a cliff. He's dead."
"Get out of here! He is not!"
"I'm sorry, he is. He died. We buried him in Paro."
"You're lying. You probably pushed him."
Jack steps a little closer to the boy. Kees's friend backs away, clearing his throat. Kees just looks, holding his ground.
Jack eyes him intently "You want to say that again."
Kees suddenly turns and, from about ten feet away, yells "Sodemieter op!" then runs off.
Jack is shaken. Where did those two come from. He wonders if everyone around here is like that. Why is his heart beating so fast? Was he afraid? He was, he was afraid of that boy! Why?
Minnie has set out everything to make for supper, and she has left. Mom comes in from the store, to be with the kids and cook the meal.
Jack is looking over Winnie's schoolwork, trying to figure out how best to tackle it.
Marie, "Everybody, listen. Minnie gave her notice today. She's going to get married soon, so we'll have to find another girl to look after you. I thought I better tell you right away so you don't get all upset when she leaves."
Winnie, "Who's going to help us with piano lessons now?"
"You don't need special help. The piano teacher gets paid for that."
"But Minnie is much better. The teacher is a grouch."
"Addie, you should have more respect for your teacher."
Great, Jack thinks. So much for the idea of getting Minnie to show me how to play. And I'm sure none of the girls want to get into trouble over it. I guess I might as well put that out of my mind.
Funny, she keeps talking about Minnie looking after us, but Minnie comes after the kids leave, and she's only with them for a little while after school. Mostly she seems to do housework. I guess Mom doesn't like to look at it that way.
Jack learns there are certain rituals even with what they have for supper, and how they eat it. Every Friday, supper consists of plain boiled rice, with brown sugar and butter, probably to avoid the expense of fish. And on Sundays all the children are required to eat with knife and fork, the knife in the right, and the fork in the left hand, and no switching around. The menu is a little more formal as well, with delicious homemade soup, made from chicken or little balls of hamburger, and maybe some home preserves for dessert.
During supper Mrs Spiets suddenly turns to Jack, "Dad and I are going over to the Van Daam's this evening. I think you should come along to meet them. They have a son, Geerhard, who is your age, you should meet him too."
"Okay, Mom. But shouldn't I be doing homework?"
"Oh, you'll have all day tomorrow for that. Anyway, it's not like you're on a timetable."
Mr Henk Van Daam is a short, very tanned dark haired gentleman with receding and thinning hair. His wife Sanna is a jolly somewhat overweight blue eyed blonde. She has a good forehead and a strong face. She is as boisterous as he is subdued. Jack immediately likes both of them. They have five children, four girls and Geerhard.
Jack is introduced all round, and particularly notices Mies, who reminds him of Truusje. Mies is quite a bit bigger and older, she has strawberry blonde hair, and a ruddy complexion with light freckles all over. She takes after her mother.
Geerhard looks a little like his dad, but wears thick glasses, and he has a wide down curved nose. He perfunctorily invites Jack to his bedroom upstairs.
"Well Jack. I heard something about you coming from a far away country, close to India?"
"Yes, Bhutan. It's probably about the size of Holland. But it's very mountainous, not flat like here."
"Do they yodel, in the mountains?"
"Yodel? What's that?"
"It's a kind of singing. They do it in Switzerland, I guess. The echoing gives it a special effect, but it goes something like this." And he gives a rendition.
Jack is quite amused. And so are the girls, apparently. There is a spontaneous outburst of yodelling right outside the bedroom door! Geerhard jumps up, yelling, "Get away from there you brats. Leave us alone!"
The yodelling continues, but Geerhard ignores it.
"No, Geerhard. I don't think I've ever heard anything quite like that before. Say, you've got a lot of books about airplanes here. Do you want to be a pilot?"
"I used to think about that, but my eyes aren't right for it. There's something wrong with them. I might become an aeronautical engineer, like my Dad. He works with KLM. But my marks probably won't be good enough."
"Koninklijke Luchtmaatschappij. The Royal Dutch Airlines."
"That sounds important. Does he talk about his work?"
"No, he hardly ever mentions it. I guess it's important; they don't want the planes to come falling out of the sky."
"I guess not. No, I guess not. Say, where's the bathroom?"
Geerhard opens the door. No brat girls are in sight.
"It's okay, just down the stairs and the door on the left."
In the front room Marie is speaking, "As I said on the phone, we need to talk to you two. You might have some ideas about what we should do."
Henk, "Well, shoot. What's on your mind."
"It's about Jack. As you know, he's a foundling. Nothing was ever done by the monks about registering his birth, or notifying any authorities about him. Officially, he doesn't exist. Well, because we were short of time, we used Viktor's travelling documents to get Jack over here. The idea was that we could take care of the legalities once we were all over here.
But now it's not that simple. If we set things in motion to adopt him, we may well be right in the middle of a complicated legal hassle when our clearance comes through to go to Canada. And then we wouldn't be allowed to leave. For one thing, I'm afraid we may be charged with bringing in an illegal alien."
Henk, "I'm afraid you would. And he's quite old for a foundling. You're kind of stuck, aren't you?"
Siem, "So what on earth are we going to do?"
There is no lock on the bathroom door. Jack is surprised. And to his horror, it starts to open as he is peeing. Suppressed giggles add to his embarrassment! He reaches over with one hand and grabs the knob... "There's someone in here!" he blurts out.
The giggling turns to laughter, now. And the door is being pulled harder! Jack tries desperately to stop the flow, but he can't! And he can't hold the door either! As the door goes back and forth, he's splashing all over the place!
What can he do?
The crisis breaks when Mrs Van Daam's voice drowns out all other sounds: "You girls get into your rooms, right now! Shame on you, to treat a guest that way!"
Jack grabs some tissue to clean up his mess, and washes his hands. As he comes out there is only the blurred sound of the grownups talking in the parlor. Geerhard's waiting in his room. As Jack enters he looks over, but Geerhard is engrossed in one of the pictures on the wall.
Both boys are embarrassed. Geerhard is annoyed, but doesn't seem the least bit surprised. Jack, now that it's more or less over, can't help being increasingly amused by what just happened. These girls are definitely different from the others he has met. Definitely different! He had no idea girls could be like this! He thought girls were always young ladies. Or at least not so... straightforward.
What is it, anyway, to be a lady? A lady would certainly not have been pulling on that bathroom door!
It was kind of exciting, though.
Sanna, "Why don't you just continue the same way?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, sometimes the best way when you've started with a lie, is to stick to it. What's wrong with getting Jack over to Canada the same way you got him out of Bhutan?"
Marie, "He is not Viktor. We can't keep doing that!"
Henk, "Well, you don't have to keep doing quite that same thing. But I think Sanna's idea is good, for now. What's so terrible about using Viktor's name some more? I'm sure Viktor wouldn't have minded. How do you feel about it, Siem?"
"I can't see why it wouldn't work. It seems to solve the immediate problem."
Marie, "Okay, what do we do after we get out there? Are we ever going to come to the end of it? We'll have to register him at school. They'll want identification. How do we handle that? We can't keep saying he's Viktor."
Henk, "Why not, really. What's wrong with using Viktor's identity on a permanent basis, so far as the law is concerned. It doesn't mean you have to use Viktor's name, you can still call Jack by his own name. There's quite a few cases of people using a name by choice which differs from the one on their legal documents. And it's such a simple solution, the best kind.
Why look for trouble? You've got a perfectly good set of documents for a son about Jack's age. Instead of creating another set, at who knows what cost and sacrifice in time and effort, just use what you already have."
Marie, "Are you all trying to erase the memory of our son from our minds, just to make things easier with the law?"
Henk, "Now Marie, don't be hard on yourself, and on us. Making things easier, or I should say possible, with the law, is a valid objective, and the fact that it involves using Viktor's name does not compromise the memory we cherish of Viktor. As a matter of fact, it's a way of keeping him more in our minds."
There is a pause while everyone absorbs this.
Siem, "I think that makes sense."
Sanna, "So do I. More coffee, anyone?"
Marie, "I guess I have to agree. Since I'm sitting in the midst of a crew of hardened criminals."
Henk, laughing, "Hardly, Marie, hardly! We're just being practical, that's all."
"Yes, practical, illegally practical. Practically illegal. No, definitely and completely illegal."
Siem, "Yes please, another coffee would be nice."