By Hansje de Zwaan Johnson
From "Vignettes from a teenager during the German occupation of the Netherlands, 1940-45)
©2008 Hansje de Zwaan Johnson
(Winter 1943. During the German occupation)
"Where in the name of Holy J. did you put that lining, woman?" Dr. Groen yelled at his wife.
"The lining of my box. Didnt you clean it?"
"Oh, that thing. The stupid box for the back of your bike?" she said with a smirk. "Why dont you clean that yourself? Im sick and tired of the mess."
"I thought you loved Sam as much as I do. Its the least you can do for him. You dont even walk him before I come home."
"Listen, Groen." (She always addressed her husband by his last name.) "You know as well as I that its dangerous to take the dog out before dark. Im not a risk-taker like you."
"Come on, Emma, whats eating you now?" he said, as he buckled the belt of his raincoat; then pecked her cheek. He rolled his bike from behind the door of his waiting room into the front hall. Sam ran from the kitchen, barking and wagging his curly tail, hoping he could come along. The doctor patted him and yelled, "Emma, come get him. I cant get out the door this way!"
"No wonder you cant with that crazy thing on your luggage carrier. Its almost as wide as the door opening. You couldve made it a bit narrower," she chided, as she held the dog back by his collar.
"Gripe, gripe," he muttered. He called over his shoulder, "By the way, any patients who show this morning, tell them from now on Im only here Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Other times they can find me at the hospital."
Outside, he rolled his bike across the sidewalk and pedaled to St. Mercy Hospital.
"There he goes with his contraption again," his neighbor commented. She was mighty curious about what Dr. Groen was up to. She and some other neighbors watched, and talked about him a great deal. Mevrouw Smit especially would wonder and gossip about the doctors goings-on.
"Have you noticed," she asked her husband, "that the doctor doesnt take that box with him each day? I wonder whats in it. What do you think, Jan?"
Jan, turning the pages of his book, mumbled,
"Perhaps he buys something on the black market and uses that box to hide it in. As if nobody would notice."
This wasnt the only strange thing about the doctor. Mrs. Groen told her husband that the neighbors were talking about them. As a matter of fact, the next-door neighbor once asked her why they didnt put Sam to sleep like they had done with their pet.
She had asked him if they hadnt loved their dog.
"What did he answer?" the doctor wondered.
"He said that these are not the times to get sentimental about dogs or cats. He added that we are the only ones on the block who apparently still can feed their dog."
"Then what did you say?"
"I told him that we love our dog as if he were our child and we wouldnt dream of having him killed."
"Good for you, dear. They have no right to poke their noses into our business anyway. Just ignore their gossip."
Meanwhile, all the neighbors were thinking how strange it was that this dog seemed so healthy. They were jealous.
Sam was a large, black, thick-furred chow. The neighbors were also a bit afraid when he barked at them, showing his purple tongue. Dr. Groen had sensed this, and when he walked the dog at night, he always muzzled him.
The gossiper didnt know that the doctor and his wife, Emma, had found Sam on the beach 12 years ago, a neglected, hungry puppy.
About a year before, German Headquarters had ordered everyone who had a dog Sams size or larger to deliver them to the animal shelter. Rumor had it that those dogs were to be used on the Belgian battlefields. There they would be let loose to trip land mines. Many people didnt take their dogs, but they didnt have much for them to eat. When they let them roam they were picked off the street by soldiers, caught, and secretly eaten. Therefore there werent many dogs to be seen. But every evening, there was the doctor walking his damned dog.
"That animal looks healthier than any of us," Mevrouw Smit commented.
Her friend Mevrouw Beeska said, "Look that shiny coat," although they could hardly see that in the dark. "The Groens must be hoarding dog food or something. Besides, they dont look too thin themselves. Wonder what theyre hiding in their cellar. Isnt it a shame? Youd think a doctor would have more humane feelings and share his food with others."
Pedaling along, Doc was pleased that, at last, hed cut down his practice to a few afternoons. He was deep in thought, frequently causing near accidents of which he was totally unaware.
He thought, "I told Emma last year, although she didnt believe me, that Id limit my practice to no more than a hundred patients. Ive yet to see an M.D. with a larger number of clients doing a good job. They end up becoming pill pushers. Besides, the hospital badly needs me in the delivery room. Why in heavens name are people stupid enough to conceive more children? Its beyond me. The mothers hardly have enough to eat, and if they cant nurse, with the decreasing rationing of milk , oh well, it doesnt help to worry about it."
Arriving at the hospital, he parked his bike, untied his box, and carried it to the entrance. There Sister Amelda, smiling and bobbing up and down, opened the door for him and carried the box off.
"Oh, Dr. Groen," she piped, "youre just in time. Were having a breech delivery with an un-cooperative mother, and Dr. Jansen is treating an accident case."
He trotted after her as fast as his bowed legs could carry him.
It had been a complicated case all right, but with the sisters patience and his expertise, a healthy baby was brought into the world. After this he did rounds, treated patients, and consulted with the medical staff about a variety of problems.
Around 5 oclock it was getting dark and the doctor hurried down the hall on his way out.
"Wait, wait, Doctor. You almost forgot this," Sister Lucretia called, running behind him.
Turning around, he almost bumped into his box, which she was hugging with both arms.
"Its a good-sized one this time!" she exclaimed. Taking it from her he grinned broadly.
"Thanks, Sister. You deserve a little corner of heaven for this!" She laughed, her bonnets wimpels sailing as she ran off.
Arriving home, he put his bike away and, after unstrapping the box, he carried it to the kitchen where Emma put the kettle on for tea.
"You better also put the large one on, dear," he suggested. "Ive got a big one this time."
Sam was barking and jumping against him. He helped Emma fill the big kettle and put it on the stove."
Emma watched him slide the contents of the box into the kettle, and quickly put the lid on.
While things were simmering they ate a meager dinner in the dining room. After clearing the table, they played a few card games.
Sam loudly sniffed, trotted around the table, and whined as he tried to enter the kitchen by scratching at the door. He was berated several times, but wouldnt stop.
At last the grandfather clock chimed eight and the great moment had arrived. They went to the kitchen where each donned a butchers apron. They then ladled broth from the kettle into a big pot. Emma occasionally averted her head and pinched her nostrils as she watched her husband take two large forks, and lift the boiled blob onto the cutting board on the counter. The kitchen filled with billows of strong-smelling steam. Now he sharpened a butchers knife. Emma admonished, "Be careful, Groen. Its still scalding hot." He started to carve.
"Give me Sams bowl, Emma," he commanded. As she did so he put two hot slices into it. Sam almost became hysterical, begging, barking and waving his tail.
After cooling, the bowl was put before Sam, who gobbled and slurped it all down, almost choking in the process.
Observing their pet, Emma and Groen put their arms around each others waists.
"Now what would we have for Sam to eat if you didnt bring home those afterbirths from the hospital?"
"Yep. Well feed the dog as long as women are delivering babies!" He laughed.
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