Part 1: A piece of chewing tobacco

Written by Bert Plomp

When I was a teenager, not a Saturday went by without visiting my grandparents in Nicolaasdwarsstreet. Before embarking on the walk to the city centre, I carefully put together my outfit for a day out. It often consisted of jeans, a white T-shirt with a black waistcoat over it, a black leather belt, a blue denim jacket, and black Clarks as footwear.

From Napoleonpark, I walked through Kingsstreet, Goosestreet, and Ledig Erf to visit my other grandfather in Greenstreet. Grandpa Plomp lived alone in an upstairs apartment; his wife had passed away at a young age. My father and his brother grew up in Greenstreet and spent the war years there.
In those days, there was an ice factory right in the middle of the street, next to Grandpa’s house. Unfortunately, they didn’t produce ice for consumption but large blocks of ice for cooling and preserving food. These blocks were delivered to fishmongers and fish stalls at the market. My father’s brother worked at one of those stalls on Saturdays, and as a reward for his efforts, he could eat as much fish as he wanted during the market day.
However, one Saturday, he consumed so much fish that he fell ill and passed away. The stall owner claimed, on the other hand, that my uncle, amidst his activities, greedily swallowed a eel, inadvertently ingesting a fishhook. The hook got stuck in his throat and proved fatal.

Grandpa Plomp was an avid pigeon fancier. He could spend entire days on the roof of his house communicating with his pigeons, which flew back and forth like Schiphol airport. To lure the pigeons inside, he cooed like a pigeon in the gutter, nodding his head. While pigeons occasionally responded to the cooing, they immediately turned back when they saw the old grey pigeon in the gutter, often leaving white droppings on Grandpa’s head in the process.
By the way, with his cooing, Grandpa could have made a decent backing vocal for the recording of “Sympathy For The Devil.”

Occasionally, Grandpa bought and sold pigeons, making some money to afford chewing tobacco. When he wasn’t on the roof with his flying friends, he could be found in the living room, sitting by the potbelly stove in his regular chair, whether it was summer or winter.
Despite his skill in communicating with pigeons, extracting words from him about anything required effort. Having a casual chat with him by the stove about the past was nearly impossible. Additionally, he was quite deaf, necessitating shouting at the top of your lungs to make yourself understood. Even with an ear trumpet attached to his head, it didn’t help much.
On a certain day, when he was fitted with a modern electric hearing aid, there was some improvement. However, his contribution to a conversation remained subpar. Occasionally, the only thing escaping his mouth was a stream of brown liquid – juice from a piece of chewing tobacco he had been chewing on all morning.
Grandpa Plomp was a master at making that stream disappear precisely into his ‘spit can.’ This can was placed right behind the stove and was usually filled to the brim with the brown substance. Occasionally, Grandfather took visible delight in tossing a chewed-up piece of chewing tobacco in my direction. He anticipated that, out of habit, I would try to catch that thrown wet, brown, lukewarm piece of tobacco. Dirty hands were the result, right at the beginning of a day out. Fortunately, this prevented my pristine white T-shirt from being hit by that dirty thing.
Because there was hardly any conversation to be had, and a dirty stream of tobacco juice would fly around unexpectedly, there was every reason for me to keep the delay in Greenstreet as short as possible. After an hour, I usually called it quits and continued my walk towards Nicolaasdwarsstreet, heading to my favourite grandparents.


For all episodes, click on: A waistcoat and black Clarks

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