Sunday 15 February – Biezelinge, the Netherlands
It’s a lovely sunny Sunday to take a stroll through my childhood village of Biezelinge. About 1,500 people live here and not much has changed since I grew up here.
The place of your childhood typically seems to shrink over time. The playground is much smaller and distances remarkably shorter. Memories return vividly as I wander the streets. Residents observe me with that confused, almost suspicious look common to agricultural Dutch hamlets. I greet the first five people with a friendly smile, then keep to myself because I feel awkward and I suspect some of these men in suits and ties might be Jehovah’s witnesses. I don’t know how, but I always end up trapped in discussions about armageddon’s five-headed beast or something, just because I am curious and too kind to tell them to fuck off.
Elementary school still looks the same and I sit on a stubby wall I recall to have been considerably larger. Staring at my sixth grade classroom I’m reminded of how we once climbed out the window during Friday afternoon prayer. This wall is the same my classmates stood on to call names at the old crazy lady across the street who sold individual candies for a penny each. I sometimes kept my donation money from church and spent it there. The house is gone; they must have passed away.
Mrs. Piembroek would chase me with a tea towel if I pointed at things and one time she waved a hammer at me yelling “Should I knock of your head!?” I was there when she meandered onto the school grounds as it was pouring rain, picked up a large piece of wet cardboard, made her way into our classroom, inquiring if this belonged to someone?
Every village needs an idiot.
Around the corner I pass the teachers’ parking lot where I was caught smoking a cigarette at 10 years old with my very cool new friend who’d just moved here from the big town. My teacher was very, very disappointed in me and I begged him not to tell my parents. He didn’t. That was nice of him.
Then there was neighbor Piet who held chickens and one day word went round the playground that he would kill one that afternoon. I was among the curious row of kids peeking over his fence with excited curiosity to see the poor animal run around with its head cut off.
The many trees my brother and I climbed to escape the world and claim it ours. The field of sheep, minutes from school. The church where we attended bible studies (I was terrible at it). The center square where we fooled everyone by unscrewing one of the Christmas tree light bulbs, making the lot of them blink off, and on, and off again. The factory behind our house, where we got lost among the apple crates—the stacks seemed likes skyscrapers. The ditch I learned to ice skate on.
The house my father fixed up from top to bottom looks the same and the spiky letters on the lid of the letterbox still read ‘I’m in love with Richard’. Richard was my fist ‘boyfriend’ when I was eight and one day there was snow and I wrote the message with a rusty nail only to find as it melted, that it was permanent.
Thus we visit the memories of our youth, trapped in colors, smells, sounds and realize they grow fainter as places change shape over time.