Suddenly, like a flash of guilt that rushes through one’s heart, an image so vividly it was not less real than if I was standing in front of the door again, eight years old, I saw the windows of the bakery at the corner of the Kerkstraat (Church Street) and Dorpsstraat (Hamlet’s Street) before my eyes. The white, multiformed tiles that formed the base board of the wall of spiky gray plaster, and the yellow canopies, every now and then if I had collected a dime or quarter before or after school on my way home, as a child I would enter the front door, and peruse the offering of candy that was stored in plastic trays on the left wall of the bakery. Most often, having bought one or two pieces of sour jelly candy or cotton paper candy, we would rush out again and continue our walk to school toward the Martinus church.
Crossing the cobblestone pavement in front of the red brick Roman-Catholic church, built in 1906 in a plain design, I sometimes took a short-cut along the back of the church, walking by the back side of the priest’s home, which garden borders the back of the church, leading me to the back entrance of the senior citizen hospital Saint Maarten, which stood in between the Martinus church and my primary school, the Saint Jozef School. The path leading directly to the school’s court though was blocked by an iron fence, not without symbolic meaning, because as long as I remember this is exactly what a Catholic upbringing is about: it offers you the delight of a certain acclaimed insight, a path of learning as you may, but obstructs you in its course, in obtaining it with the purpose of making you understand that between you and your goals in life stands the Catholic theology.
So being forced to follow the alley that bends itself around the north side of the Martinus church, along the front of the priest’s yellow brick bungalow, and the side facade of the senior citizens’ flat, I walked along, past the classmate’s house that was built on the slight slope, who only had to run across the street to go to school, a source of jealousy, fitting the petty minds of children. The one story school was built in the shape of a long L, the long back of the L running parallel to the main street and the pedestrian path on the other side. The school separated two different parts of the village, where in my imagination as a child two different types of people lived. The slope in the front of the school was the location for the wealthier villagers, while they looked out below over the older, poorer neighborhood. This impression was not so much based on the prices of real estate, but on the type of characters of my classmates who lived there. As hard as this may be to guess in a child for some adults perhaps, this was always crystal clear to me.
Right at eight thirty a.m. sharp, one of the pupils would step inside the main entrance, being let in by the head master. Out again, he came, with a large bell in his hand, shaking the copper cup up and down, up and down. This was an honorary task, and we children looked with a good Catholic awe at the chosen child, before we stormed en masse to form double lines in front of the doors. The lower classes before the door at the tip of the L’s back, the higher classes at the foot of the L, two rows of two, aligned per class in phalanxes, like obedient soldiers of God, a sight, which must have pleased the priest who came in to teach the beliefs of the Catholic church on our public school. I once got into my only fight during primary school with the class bully. He ended up jumping my back, but whenever my assertivity was not sufficient like now, my intelligence saved me, and with an intuitive bend forward, I leveled him over my hip and let gravity take a hold of him as he dangled upside down and helplessly to the ground. Needless to say, that this impressed both him and others, not to bother me further in primary school.
This memory brought me back to my early childhood, a childhood that I since have hardly thought back of. Actually, I so much had forgotten this period of my life, that it shocked me to remember it again. They say, that when one grows older, nearer to death, that childhood memories become a frequent visitor to the mind. If ever this popular wisdom will hold true, it is without argument this day, that I experienced a radical point of old age, at the age of 35. Either way, I am taken by this memory, because I have always hated my time in the small villages I lived in during my youth. There’s not a day that despite my frolic happiness as a child, I felt at home. I have always been extremely fond of moving, packing my belongings and leaving the space, the walls, the house, the neighborhood, my memories behind and look for something new, beyond the borders of small town life. I never rooted in my childhood.