I have learned from family survivors of World War II, are actually magnificent miracles. (be sure to keep reading to the end forJewel’s rendition of Tis a Gift to Be Simple)
To have enough food, loving fellowship (gezelligheid), safety, time in nature, all of these are the gift of simplicity. Each is a miracle in its own right.
My mother, Bouk de Vries Jobsis, tells this family story about the magnificent miracles and simplicity….
As an only child in the war years, she would sometimes visit some of the large families of her aunts and uncles, sitting with her many cousins, waiting for a meal. With ingenuity, substitute porridge had been found for the usual havermout pap (oatmeal-porridge).
The family gathered at a long table, waiting for the new porridge, their war-time porridge. Every year of German occupation thus far, any food, any survival mechanism had been more improvised.
By the time of this meal, everything was substitutions and deprivation:
- electricity was cut off, maybe a bicycle-run generator could be substituted sometimes, at great risk
- coal or anyway to stay warm was gone. Some could barter for more. This meant long trading trips on the part of my grandfather – Pake. Pake would pole a small skiff along the canals and ditches. During the day he slept inside the skiff tucked under reeds. At night he would trade food for fuel, or fuel for food. My mother as a little girl, and my grandmother – Beppe would wait, hoping he would simply return alive. If he was captured he would be sent to a labor camp in Germany. Fortunately, after the terror of many, many waits, he returned home many, many times. Every wait felt like forever.
So for this meal, everyone gathered for the delicious porridge, and everything was make-do. Goat’s milk replaced cow’s milk. Grains usually used as cattle feed substituted for oatmeal. All this was soaked, cooked, and served with love. Because it was so delicious, the children were challenged to wait through meal time prayer. Everyone peeked while a steaming tureen sat in the middle of the table. This was repeated many times. Sometimes there was also bacon fat. Rarely, there was still stroop – syrup or sugar. Everyone would enjoy.
So years after liberation, around 1946, the family gathered and became sentimental. “Oh wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that porridge again. Every bite was truly delicious.”
So all the ingredients were gathered, the soaking the cooking, everyone came together for fine food. Prayer, peeking, the whole routine. The large family started their pap – porridge. “Oh, this will be so good.”
It wasn’t good. It had only tasted wonderful, had been a simple pleasure, in the midst of malnutrition and lack.
They no longer appreciated the simple pleasure of war time porridge. everyone still appreciated the simple pleasure of food. This story helped me appreciate simple pleasures, such as fresh simple foods. I eat oatmeal or some type of porridge almost every day of my life. TV tells me it’s great for my cholesterol. My family told me it was great for me a long time ago.
It’s great for me to go camping as I just did. To simplify that everything we need to live along a high-altitude river for one week, with adequate warmth and food, fits in one car.
What were your relatives’ simple pleasures. What are yours?
(Stay tuned for my mother’s first publication of World War II memories.Y ou can find it, as part of a collection from De Krant. Not this memory, but another is included in De Krant’s new series of World War II memory books. )
As you wonder about simple miracles, enjoy these lyrics for Simple Gifts” was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song. You can also click on the lyrics for Jewel’s sparkling rendition of this song.