Column: escaping the Germans, a goat and healing a broken arm

Observer columnist Bert De Vink on his childhood trials and tribulations in the Netherlands

After I took a dare to cross a fenced little meadow and was hit in my bum by a mean old billy goat, I was lying in the grass in excessive pain and bleeding while the goat was staring at me.

Then, a man appeared, who drove the goat away and lifted me over the fence. He took me to the doctor’s office just past the school, riding on the luggage rack of his bike.

Since Yselmonde was a village built along both sides of an old dike, the doctor’s office stood out because it had an office and small waiting room added.

The doctor carried me into the office and put me on a bench, face down. He then asked the man who got me there to help him keep me down.

A moment later, I thought I went through the roof. I know I screamed and tried to hit those who were subduing me. It took a while, and then the pain started to subside.

The doctor bandaged me up, and the kind stranger got me home on the back of his bike. Needless to say, by the time I got home, I was crying again – riding on the luggage rack of a bicycle with a very sore bum will do that.

When my mom saw me with my bloody pants and leg and holding the hand of a stranger, she screamed and cried. The strange man explained the whole story, including that the doctor’s office had been raided by German soldiers just before I got there. The soldiers took all the pain medication, from aspirin to drugs, for their wounded comrades. My wound was cleaned with iodine and only a little bit of disinfectant, and that was why the person who got me there had to help hold me down.

The man had coffee with my mom and I got milk, and that is how the stranger eventually became Uncle Jan.

My dad went to Rotterdam again and came back with the good news that the last place we lived was saved except for all the window glass. The place could only be reached with three-wheeled transport bikes that had big wooden boxes.

My dad was upset because the Rotterdam he knew was totally gone, with sunken boats and demolished cranes in the harbours.

Eventually, our home in Yselmonde was home again with our own things. This included my scooter with real rubber tires. It was a little too big for me, but I could handle it.

In our yard was a clothes line with a post three-quarters down the yard. I used to race my scooter around the post, until one day the scooter skidded and I fell with my right arm against the pole and broke my arm. My mom took me on the bus to the doctor. My arm was hanging in a 90-degree angle just below my elbow.

The bus stopped right in front of the doctor’s office, and when the doctor saw me, he said to my mom: “I don’t think this kid will get very old. This is the second accident within two months.”

Bert de Vink is a regular Observer contributor. Part 1 of Bert’s story was published in the April 4 edition of the Observer, and part 2 was published on April 25.

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