WITH MILK MORE STRENGTH
Written by Bert Plomp
My parents dragged me from one school to another. What a trial that was. Just when you were getting used to your classmates, you had to prove yourself all over again in a new class, at a new school, and in a new environment.
Living in the Salvation Army building on Lange Nieuwstraat in Utrecht, I could easily walk around the corner to the kindergarten on Zuilenstraat. I could have shortened that walk considerably by climbing over the backyard fence. Then, I would be right on the school playground. Unfortunately, that wasn’t allowed because imagine if everyone started doing that.
Some of the kindergarten teachers at that school were far from gentle. They were real hags. For some reason, I seemed to provoke aggression from them. That’s when I realized that I rarely left members of the opposite sex indifferent. Either they disliked me, or I couldn’t do any wrong in their eyes.
Often, this hostile attitude had to do with the way I looked at them. My gaze was already causing problems at a young age. Without saying a word, I was considered insolent simply because of the way I looked. If I tried to avoid this by turning my face away, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Then I would look at the person giving the order, and it would be, “Don’t look so insolent.” Well, try to figure that out as a toddler. Many times, my ears were almost torn off my head. Those ladies often took pleasure in dragging me by my ears somewhere.
It even went so far that a ‘common woman’ from the ABC street got involved. She had observed the ear-pulling on the playground from her balcony. Then she proceeded to curse the teacher in question for all sorts of things, in good Utrecht dialect. But that wasn’t the end of it. Shortly after, she stood in the middle of the playground, shouting, “Filthy wretch, keep your dirty hands off that kid,” and she grabbed the kindergarten teacher by the hair and gave her a good smack on the head. Since it didn’t happen often that someone stood up for me, that punishment gave me a very good feeling.
After kindergarten, I went to the Christian primary school on Domplein. My older brother Theo was already at that school. It was all about praying there, praying, and drinking milk, not to forget.
There was always a reason to make you pray. I couldn’t stand all that submissive, pious stuff. I categorically refused to close my eyes and mumble along with all those good little kids. That was inappropriate and often earned me punishment in the form of standing in the corner for a while.
What I remember most about that school was the school milk euphoria that prevailed there. It was milk before and after. You couldn’t drink enough of it, at least if you wanted to stay healthy. Every day, countless crates of milk bottles were dropped off in front of the school door by the government. Half-liter bottles, the contents of which you had to finish during lunchtime. The students were not allowed to throw away the silver foil caps from the milk bottles, as they were collected at school for the hungry children in Africa. For this reason, silver foil from home was also brought to school. The school leadership was very proud when a huge bag of valuable silver foil could be taken to a central depot. What happened to it afterward, no one knew. As students, we made jokes about it. We imitated the voice of a poor, hungry African child. A black child, thanking its white peers in distant, cold Netherlands with the words: “Thank you very much for the silver foil; it tasted very good.”
Drinking milk was continuously encouraged by the government. Consuming the white beverage frequently was considered very healthy. The same was true for smoking tobacco. Smoking a cigarette was relaxing and good for your nerves.
In any case, it was all much healthier than eating silver foil, I convinced myself. That’s why I went all in for milk. Smoking could wait until my nerves acted up, I thought. Moreover, drinking milk allowed you to start climbing the social ladder from a young age.
Through membership in the then ‘Milk Brigade,’ you could become the coveted rank of ‘Milk Brigadier.’ Under the strict condition that your entire milk logbook was stamped full. In other words, if you had drunk enough milk. It’s no surprise that this brigadiership appealed to me strongly. It was the first serious title I earned in my career. The honorary name also gave me the right to pin the milk brigadier emblem on my jacket and show it off in public.
When my parents ended their employment with the Salvation Army, we had to leave the building on Lange Nieuwstraat. We had to find a new place to stay. For this reason, I only spent a year at Dompleinschool.
On my way to secondary education, I attended two other primary schools. Because it wasn’t easy to quickly find new accommodation, we camped in a tent at camping Het Grote Bos in Doorn for a summer and autumn. During that time, I attended a primary school in Driebergen for about four months. I even learned to write with chalk on a slate at that school. The squeaky sound still hurts my ears.
I regularly bridged the distance from the campsite to school with my homemade soapbox car. I was extremely proud of my vehicle, especially the metal DAF emblem that I had screwed onto the front of the car. That emblem came from a discarded army truck from the war. It made a ride in my vehicle extra adventurous.
When the newly built apartment in Napoleonplantsoen was ready for occupancy in late September 1954, we returned to Utrecht. From that moment on, my primary school years could truly begin. I joined the second grade of the public Hans Christiaan Andersen School on Adriaen van Ostadelaan.