The sharp ‘Tac’ of a pebble against the glass woke me up. Who the hell was throwing stones at my window? For nearly two blessed months, school had been closed and I wanted to lie in as long as I could on these final days of freedom. But there was another sharp ‘Tac’ against the glass and I swung my legs out of bed. I pulled the thin curtain aside and looked straight into Mickey’s grinning face. He was standing across the street, gesturing impatiently for me to come down. I nodded and hurriedly got dressed.
The small apartment was silent; my stepdad had left early and mom had gone out too; no doubt earning a little extra by cleaning house for someone too rich or too lazy to do it herself.
She had left one of her awful sandwiches waiting for me on a saucer. I quickly wrapped it in a piece of newspaper and after shoving it in my pocket, locked the door. Mom had made me promise to leave the key under the dustbin. “That way I could not lose it”, she had said. But I had the feeling that this would be the first place a burglar would look in. Ah well, I thought; there was little to steal at our place, so I shrugged my shoulders, dropped they key under the galvanized can and ran down the stairs to join Mickey.
“What the hell are you doing, you idiot? I shouted
His answer was a big smirk. His hands came from behind his back and he held up a paper bag full of fresh white rolls. How could I remain angry at him when their lovely smell wafted seductively into my nose and made my mouth water?
“Let’s find a quiet spot and have breakfast” he said and a quarter of an hour later we were sitting at the quayside, our legs dangling over the dirty water that lapped at the pilings, a yard or two below our feet. When we had finished the delicious fresh rolls, I took that awful margarine and jam sandwich from its wrapper and tore it up in little pieces. Mickey and I fed it to a cloud of screaming seagulls that did not seem to mind the sickening taste.
“Man; school will start next week”, Mickey moaned.
“Don’t spoil the fun now”, I said. It was a such a wonderful day; the bright early September sun warmed me through and through and its caresses brought back good memories of the summer vacation that had started somewhere in July.
The first few days we had to get adjusted to a different rhythm in our daily life. Initially we hung around the schoolyard, then we gradually went further afield. Living close to the docks as we were, there was always something to see or do.
Whenever the weather was nice – and it usually was – we would wander around the huge marshalling yard, trying to ‘hitch a ride’. In those days, there were still many old wooden boxcars in use. These left-overs from long before the war had a tiny brakeman’s cabin at one of the ends. ‘Hitching a ride’ meant that we tried to sneak into one of those and hide ourselves until the boxcar was coupled to the shunting engine, pushed up a little hill and given a shove in the direction of a forming goods train.
We held our breaths as the rattling boxcar bounced and swayed over the various points and, still going at a good clip, smashed against the buffers of the waiting car. It gave a tremendous crash, accompanied by the agitated clanking and jingling of the loose couplings dangling from all the other waiting cars.
Of course it was strictly forbidden and the railroad guys would give you a sound beating if they caught you but that only added spice to the adventure.
The marshalling yard was at a mere stone’s throw from the docks and we would wander over there if we could not ‘hitch a ride’ or find something fun to do. We would hang around, watching in awe how massive loads were lifted out of the large freighters. The huge dockside cranes on their high, stilt-like legs sometimes straddled whole flatcars on which they dropped their load.
Quite often, those loads were piles of burlap bags and sometimes one of those bags would drop out and explode like a bomb on the concrete quayside. If the gods were kind, it would be a bag full of fresh coconuts that would fly in all directions.
Then we would grab a couple and disappear as fast as we could, find a quiet spot and open the rock-hard nuts with a brick. We thought there was nothing more exotic than sitting in the sun with a grand view of the docks while scooping out fresh coconut meat.
“How was it in that place in the east?” Mickey asked and I made a face.
“Boring”, I said.
Each and every year, I was sent off for two weeks to some place in the woods near the German border on a cheap vacation for young boys, offered by a charitable church-organization. It was all very well-meant but much too organized and structured to my taste, with strict times for getting up and going to bed and saying prayers before each meal.
The house was in an almost deserted wooded area, and there was little else to do than romp around in the woods, pretending we were in the boy-scouts. There were some dolmen in the neighborhood and we dutifully paid them a visit while getting lectured about the – I guess – Neolithic people who had built them (to what purpose was not made very clear).
But when you had seen one, you had seen them all, and by the end of the second week, I would get restless. Each morning I would rush out at the sound of an approaching diesel engine, and each morning I turned back in disappointment as it was only the daily delivery van and not the bus, coming to take us back home. In the evening, I would climb the highest tree I could find and, being high enough to look out over the roof of trees that hemmed me in, would try to figure out where Amsterdam was.
“You know – it’s good to be back”, I said philosophically.
“Damn right; we missed you”, answered Mickey and, with tooth-gapped smile from ear to ear, he said, “Come on; Billy got a new football for his birthday. Let’s go and play!”
— To Be Continued —