Part 2: Living in a tent

Written by Bert Plomp

In my preschool years, I lived in the building of The Salvation Army on Lange Nieuwstraat. I certainly didn’t enjoy my time in that large building very much. However, I also hold fond memories of that time.

Next to my bedroom, there was a large room packed with toys that reached all the way up to the ceiling. All sorts of toys had been collected for poor children. The quantity and variety were truly immense. Every now and then, I managed to sneak into that room. It felt like stepping into a store filled with free toys. I would spend hours there. Stacks of coloring books and games were there for the taking. Wooden trains and cars. Dolls and bears of all sizes and colors. It was a toy paradise.

Another beautiful memory from the same period is related to the celebration of Christmas there. My parents organized that event every year in the large hall of the building on Lange Nieuwstraat. Especially the less fortunate children from the city center were welcome and knew the way to this Christmas celebration. In the hall, my parents had set up a long row of tables. All the tables were festively adorned with Christmas cloths and decorated with Christmas arrangements and burning candles. The children had made the Christmas arrangements themselves. My father had helped the children with woodworking and painting the decorations.

At the end of the row of tables stood a large, illuminated Christmas tree. Christmas branches were hanging all around, spreading a delightful pine scent together with the tree. Just as Queen Juliana did for her staff at Christmas, my mother served hot chocolate milk and shared slices of currant bread with almond paste with the hungry children. After singing some Christmas songs, my father would take his place behind a large film projector. He would show a movie featuring Rintintin. On a big screen, the children could follow the adventures of the famous German Shepherd of the same name. In those days, my father often rented such movies from the photo store Mulder on Korte Smeestraat.

A day at the beach in Petten, North Holland, still stands out in my memory as if it were yesterday. First, the tiring walk on bare feet through the hot sand of the dunes. Then descending from the top of a dune to the beach, and finally finding delightful refreshment in the sea. I was already delighted by it as a child. The sight of that enormous stretch of water, the large, wild waves, and the salty smell of the sea made an indelible impression on me back then. It’s not surprising that I’m enjoying myself so much here in Ireland, right by the ocean. Perhaps, with the image of me on the beach in mind, my parents later thought it would be a good idea to send me to a vacation camp in Egmond aan Zee for several summers.

My parents left The Salvation Army rather abruptly due to a difference of opinion with the leadership. As a result, our family suddenly found itself homeless. Instead of helping the homeless, my parents had become homeless themselves. At that time, I, along with the other family members, spent the entire summer and a large part of autumn camping at Camping Het Grote Bos in Doorn. While waiting for a new apartment to be ready in Napoleonplantsoen in Utrecht, I had a tarp as a roof over my head for about half a year.

This forced encampment took place in the very early days of this camping site. That was in the early 1950s. For me, it was a fantastic time. All of us in a tent on a beautiful sand dune. Sitting outside in the evening by the light of a storm lantern. The sound of rain pattering on the tent canvas during a thunderstorm, while playing card games or Monopoly indoors. Simply wonderful.

When the summer vacation was over, I had to go to school. In Driebergen, I temporarily attended a preschool. There, I learned to write with a slate and a stylus. You could erase the slate with a sponge afterward.


For all episodes, click on: Residential Comfort

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