Last week I wrote that my memory of the past is clearing. The longer ago, the better I remember. Maybe not exactly the way it really was, but the way in which I perceived it.
One specific incident came to mind. During the war, when food was scarce, a five-year-old child was asked to watch a friend’s baby. The friend apparently still had some connection or at least access to a farmer’s family who had provided some food to them. The girl was excited when she found in the baby’s diaper two whole beans that had passed through the baby’s system. She fished them out, washed them and ... ate them.
When her mother heard that story she burst out weeping that the child was so hungry as to eat those two beans from a dirty diaper.
We all said, “How awful!! How could she do that? How dirty!”
Was the child to blame for that? She did not get sick from it.
We ourselves bought sugar-beet feed from a farmer. This was considered only to be good to be fed to cattle. However, the Germans had already confiscated his cattle. He offered to sell the left-over feed to the hungry people, who were thankful to be able to buy it. I stood for hours in line in the rain to buy a share for my family. That was not the worst part of it. When my mother started to boil the feed, the stench was too much for me. And one had to boil it for hours. Its stench penetrated all through the house. If you boiled it long enough, you could get syrup out of it while using the pulp as a kind of dough to bake with.
Once we were forced to take a German officer into our house. I was thrilled because he also brought a cute little puppy with him. I always had wanted a dog, and here it was. The soldier also had a tin of stew with real meat in it to feed the dog, and I saw my chance. He was told he could not feed the dog in his room, only in our kitchen (which was small to start out with). There was no room for the officer to watch the dog eat. So as soon as he was in his room, I fished out most of the meat and ate it with gusto.
My mother, absolutely terrified, refused to eat that meat. I told her it was our right to do so. He had probably stolen a friendly Dutch puppy, and as long as he had that puppy it would be well provided for when he ate in the barracks. My dad, who also was always hungry, sneaked a couple of bites when my mother was not looking. There was nothing wrong with the meat, but for her it was the idea alone that I was eating “dog food.” Never had I tasted such good food, at least not in a long, long time.
It is just how you look at things and how you perceive them.
Before the war, I was picky with my food, a poor eater. But that changed during the hunger winter.
They always say “Look before you leap” but I like to say “Look before you eat.” It is indeed safer that way.