Lieske Hiddink, the youngest daughter of Rev. Hiddink, entered the beautiful town hall of the Dutch city of Enkhuizen that morning at the stroke of nine. She saw that there was already a long queue of girls of her own age at counter with the superscription “staffing.” It was a warm summer day and most of them were dressed in airy frocks.
Lieske politely asked them, “So, the applications are being taken?”
One of the girls only nodded yes and continued reading a popular weekly. Lieske looked around. Over the years she had passed this 17th century building designed by the architect Vennecool almost every day without having a reason to enter it.
The hall in which she stood was well-illuminated, so that tourists coming to see the work of historic master builders would have no trouble seeing how carefully and solidly it had been built. In the center of the hall stood a long oak bench. A thin elderly lady sat there, embroidering. At the entrance a porter stood looking outside.
Suddenly a gentleman looking very proper in a dark blue suit appeared, stopped, and looked at her with keen interest and asked, “Do you happen to be here in response to the Social Welfare advertisement in the newspaper last night?”
“Yes, indeed, sir,” answered Lieske in surprise.
He laughed and said, “Come right this way, ma’am.”
At a quick pace he walked straight in front of her, ascended two flights of stairs, walked through a glass door, and into a big room. In the middle of the room stood a large desk. In front of the desk stood a small wooden table with two easy chairs, all covered in dark green velours. The sun was shining through the leaded windows onto a large desk that held a computer. A young man sat behind the desk.
Her host pointed at the chairs and said: “Take a seat. Don’t you know that I am the burgomaster? I saw you growing up, more or less, because I see you every Lord’s Day in church. I have been reading in the church-weekly about your activities as a youth leader.”
Lieske snickered and said with a sigh, “I did not know that anyone noticed me.” She was embarrassed and it seemed to amuse him.
“Yes,” he said. “My name is Tjeerd Sikkema and I am an organist. From the organ above the pulpit I see many faces coming and going every Sunday. I notice whole families. I often find it fascinating, Miss Hiddink.”
“Oh, please, say Lieske,” she said. She noticed a large, framed photograph on the wall, showing Mr. Sikkema with his wife and three grownup children. “What position do you have available?”
“Well, Lieske, when I wrote down the words of that advertisement I had a girl exactly like you in mind. You see, we have some official social workers, but not someone who is used to talking with younger people about their problems, their wishes, and their dreams. I think in every town or village you have the risk that these people become only numbers on papers or in computers, paid for by faceless taxpayers. We must have contact with everybody in the community. You are young, and perhaps there will be situations that you can even refer to the Gospel, the Lord Jesus. Well, your father can say that better than I, but you know what I mean; it will not officially be part of your job.
You get the addresses of all the people who receive social welfare, with some particulars. Some of them will be difficult to handle. Be careful if you discover drug users; better to leave them to others, before they bring you in danger. Unmarried mothers are mainly cases for the special medical caregivers, but you notice perhaps things they have been hiding from us. There may be elderly neglected people, who feel ashamed to bring forward the whole truth about themselves, their children and grandchildren. Some give a roof over the heads of runaway youth who are sought by the police. But your task in the first place is to always lend a helping hand, in the love of Christ. See that the people trust you; some young people are sinking away in the mud; you will probably be shocked sometimes. There will always be wild geese and obstinate donkeys among them. So, it will not always make you happy or give you satisfaction, but you serve an important part of the community. Clear enough?”
Lieske stroke her chin and said, “Sir, I hesitate. I will perhaps often meet people who I normally would avoid. I can also not predict whether I’ll succeed. If I accept and try it, I am sure my father will not be happy with it, and Mother will have a sleepless night when I tell her what you have said. However, at the end of the day, I will try.”
The burgomaster ran his fingers through his gray hair.
He gave her two checkbooks and said, “Here, if you see that the people you speak with need extra support, give it without formalities. I trust you. I have heard much about you from your father. If you like, start tomorrow. Leave the rest to me.”
Lieske was speechless. This was all very different from what she had expected. She realized that a good reputation was important when you were looking for a job.
* * *
The first address she had to go to was to Rens Heukels’ home. He has a black rowboat with a deckhouse on it, situated somewhere at the quay, said the message of the paper she had received. But what did Rens look like? And his boat, would it still be at the same spot, and where was that? Lieske wanted to ask her father about this, but he had left the house already. He had gone to visit a seriously wounded member of the church at the hospital. Mother’s guess was that the boat probably would be near the old houses with the added porches. She had often seen small boats there in the water behind them. The name Rens Heukels however she had never heard before.
Because the weather was beautiful, Lieske was not wearing a jacket. She had left her bag in her room. She had an envelope with some documents in her left hand. She felt light-spirited and excited about her first day at work being able to stand on her own feet, no rules to follow, set at liberty to her own responsibility. She could not imagine that it would be too hard. But she had yet to find her first customer.
It was not busy in the streets. There were women cleaning windows, a man painting his front door, a shop-on-wheels selling cakes and rusks, and a postman delivering letters and packages.
But the old houses were not difficult to find. Most of them were three-story. They all had red tiles of hard baked clay, well protected against stormy weather.
The first one did not have the usual gate of wrought iron. She saw a small grassy path along a branch-canal next to the house, with a wooden edge against a facing of piles standing in the clear water. Curious, Lieske walked over the path to the back of the house. The only two windows on the side of the house were high above her head, so that she could not look inside. The wall seemed recently cleaned with a sand-blast as to preserve it for years to come.
She found four very small rowboats, each one with only a couple of seats and a set of oars on the bottom.
She went two steps down and began to search the whole area alongside the water more carefully; it looked like a very big square pond, but it was obviously connected with the water of the IJsselmeer (formerly Zuyder Zee).
She passed by a young woman, who was busy hanging out the washing on a clothesline. A small dog stood there wagging his tail. “Excuse me, madam, could you tell me perhaps where I can find Rens Heukels somewhere in the neighborhood?” asked Lieske.
“Yes, there to the left of the creek you will find a kind of miniature houseboat. Rens Heukels built it himself. He is a painter by trade. Once I remember he sat here a couple of days with an umbrella above his head, painting a portrait of the houses beyond the water. It was a piece of art. My husband wanted to buy it from him, but he said it was too fresh and it needed some alterations,” she told her.
“Thank you very much, madam,” said Lieske.
It took her a quarter of an hour to reach the creek. The creek, in fact, was not much more than an inlet, with a small wobbly pier. Next to the pier was a neat polished copper plate with the initials “R. H.” and an antique door bell. Lieske pulled the rope of beads connected with it and she heard a lovely sound vibrating over the water.
Immediately a head with blond curly hair appeared in a gap of canvas which seemed to be the door of the artist’s house.
“Hello, come in,” said a jolly voice. “But be careful, or else you could break your neck.”
The boat was much bigger than Lieske had expected. The area in which Rens Heukels lived and worked was roomy and rather high, with one real port-hole at the front side. The boat was also securely moored, so that it did not move when Lieske went on board and down the stairs.
She found herself surrounded by a whole collection of paintings, hanging on cords in two rows, in a variety of sizes. In the middle a rather big canvas stood on an easel; it showed a worshipful elderly man, with one hand on an old Bible.
“This is a copy of an ancient picture of John Calvin the reformer. I have taken the liberty to put him on another background, using a good photograph of the pulpit in his church in Geneva. It is almost like he is moving his lips, don’t you think so? The light is supposed to come mainly from the windows in the round ceiling above him at midday. Do you see that?”
He carefully cleaned a brush and looked at her, not asking who she was, because his thoughts were absorbed by his painting.
“Yes,” said Lieske. “It is like he is standing here in front of you. It is masterly… oh, and all those other paintings here. Your work should be known worldwide,” she faltered.
Rens looked at her with a happy smile and said, “Sorry, I have only a stool available. Please sit…. Oh, yes, I should ask you who you are. Excuse me…. If you want a cup of tea, there is a tin with tea and a kettle… The shadow here at the foot is a bit too dark,” he murmured, looking again at the painting, mixing a bit of paint on his palette.
Lieske felt motherly and grinned. She found an old biscuit tin with three tea bags and told Rens, “I am Lieske Hiddink. I am coming from the town hall, to see whether you are all right. If you need something that social welfare has not provided, just tell me. For example, if you need to have a bigger place where you can work, or organize an exhibition, we can provide it. Do you need a new blanket, or fruit or anything? Do you ever go shopping?”
“Yes, but only if I have to, to get this or that. During the summer I leave the boat at some Saturday afternoons to give painting lessons to schoolchildren, but when the weather is bad I can’t do that. That is annoying. Some of these children really have talent…. I am not sure if you would agree, because there are modern ideas, but I am just old-fashioned. You have noticed that already, of course. You don’t think I am crazy?” Rens sighed.
Lieske protested, defending his work.
“Society needs old-fashioned people, Rens. I don’t like today’s trend at all. In the art world some products are disgusting. There are few people with good taste, because they are not educated. They stupidly follow the common herd in arts and sciences. They are really afraid of words that are conservative and old-fashioned. I am glad you are not like them, Rens. Now, I wonder, will it be healthy for you to live on this rather small boat in the long run? When it is autumn there will often be fog, in winter it will be cold, and there will be rain, hail, snow, frost…. I guess, when everything is all right, it will be charming and romantic by candlelight, but…” Lieske considered.
He rocked with laughter and said, “You are a wonderful girl, a rare bird, unspoiled and honest. I like that, Lieske Hiddink. I understand your good intentions, but please don’t rob me of my dreams. Say I am an idiot, if you like. I could sell some of my paintings, though they are like children to me, my family.
But would that help me that much, if I threw them out? The city council would perhaps take my money away. You can tell them that I don’t use alcohol and that I don’t smoke. I have no radio, no television, and no newspaper. I don’t care. When I become an old man they perhaps want to put me in an old people’s home to die.” He again cleaned a brush.
“Don’t be afraid of me,” pleaded Lieske. “I will never do anything that will hamper or hinder you. This is only a conversation. Perhaps I can discover some possibilities you have not yet thought of, if you allow me to come here again. Is that all right?”
It made him stare.
“You are welcome,” he said. “If everybody was like you… I no longer go to church, because people move away from me—perhaps because I have untidy clothes. You know, I have to mend my clothes by hand. I am not a good hand at that… Well, I should not complain. Do you meet many silly men like me?”
Lieske protested again. “You are not silly at all. By the way, this is my first day, and my first job. Perhaps I do everything wrong.”
She put two tea bags into two mugs of earthenware and poured some boiling water on them. She heard sparrows kicking up a row on the roof. “I will do for you what I can,” she said in a decided tone and put the mugs next to Rens on the floor.
He looked at her with some kind of quiet amazement.
They drank the tea and talked more about some of the paintings, before Lieske said, “I have to do more today. Until next time, God bless you.”
He thanked her for taking the trouble to pay him a visit.
* * *
Opposite the 15th century Gomarus Church Lieske went to a charming old-fashioned pet shop. She was welcomed by a beautiful white cockatoo who called, “Good afternoon!”
At the back of the shop she saw a small old lady and a handsome young man very busy mixing several grains with bits of dry-pressed green food.
Lieske knew they were Mrs. Vlasakker and her son Bas.
“Sorry, we are making fresh mash for rabbits and guinea-pigs,” said Bas. “Give me a minute. I am coming.”
Lieske smiled and looked interested, asking, “Do you need a helping hand?”
“No, thank you,” said Bas. “Though, if someone comes in who is in a hurry, please, hold him or her in talk.”
He shook out a gunny sack, and raised large clouds of dust.
“Sorry, Miss,” said Bas. “I didn’t know this one was that bad.” Behind him Mrs. Vlasakker had started filling bags with the mixture, and coughed. Lieske looked at a big aquarium with tropical fishes. A black rabbit sniffed at her feet. Two hamsters squeaked to attract her attention. There were tame mice in a glass house, climbing on a small ladder, stretching out their little necks to get a good view of her. In an imitation tree there were budgies, turtledoves, fantails, canaries, finches and silvereyes. A squirrel jumped on her right shoulder. In the shop window some turtles walked around.
Bas came towards her and asked what he could do for her.
They shook hands and Lieske told him that she came from the town hall. “I come to see how things are going with you and the shop. Can you manage or are there special problems?”
Bas laughed and said, “Mum and I thought that nobody cared about us. They send some money to keep us alive. We hang on and keep going, although sometimes we are advised to shut down the business. My dad would not have done that. We love these animals! Believe me, sometimes I am sorry that I have to sell a particular animal. I must be sure that it goes to a good home, where he or she will not be dumped or forgotten, not given enough food or water, no sunshine or too much. I always give instructions on what to do to keep the animal healthy. Perhaps it is silly, but do you understand what I mean?”
Bas made a helpless gesture. He had a fresh face and looked intelligent. He took to Lieske at once. She regretted that he was too lean, and wiry.
“Yes,” she said, “I think I feel like you do about these animals. The only reason why I do not dare to have one at home is the knowledge that after some years these poor creatures will probably die. Then you are so attached to them, it breaks your heart, you know.”
“Exactly… We could go and sit in the living room, but the shop is still open and I know some customers will come in yet to pick up food they ordered last week.”
Lieske noticed that he was nervous and was not finishing his sentences. She asked him, “Do you ever have time for relaxation? Business comes first, but don’t you have leisure interests, things you like to do in your spare time?”
“Yes, if I have some spare minutes. Perhaps these animals are my work and my hobby at the same time, but I love to play piano and organ. We don’t have the money to waste on a teacher, let alone on attending the conservatory. I have played the organ in church for special occasions.” Disconsolate he shrugged his shoulders.
Lieske found it heart-breaking to see him like that.
She said, “Could you play something for me on the grand piano, if we leave the door to the shop open? Bas, you have made me curious. Let me hear a few minutes of your talent, will you?”
He jumped to the door and bowed for her, “Come in, my lady. Do you want Händel, or Schubert, or what is your pleasure? I have some favorites, but there are a lot of melodies in my head.”
“Whatever you choose will be all right with me. I hope you don’t find me a nuisance,” Lieske said.
He rushed to the piano seat and started to play immediately. Lieske stood there and listened fascinated by the wealth of sounds, which came in waves over her. It was like listening to a CD of professional classical music.
On the wall behind his back she saw the framed portraits of the composers Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759), Wolfgang Amadeaus Mozart (1756-1791), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Above them was a painting of Bas’ father, captain Nico Vlasakker, who was lost with his ship several years ago somewhere near Greenland. Perhaps that was the reason why, after playing pieces by Händel and Schubert he suddenly played and sang with a beautiful baritone: “Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last, Till safe in glory my anchor is cast; Through endless ages, ever to be, Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee.”
Lieske took a seat near a window and it seemed that he forgot her presence. Customers came into the shop and were helped by his mother. Some of them stood listening, framed in the doorway.
He played and sang: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”
Lieske gave serious consideration to the idea that a solution should be found. She must get Bas to a conservatory. He played with much nuance, gliding from loud to soft and back again with ease. Perhaps he could also conduct an orchestra or a choir one day.
If the Lord wanted this, everything was possible. She could imagine him performing on a stage with a large audience listening to him.
Although Bas had worn out clothes, he acted very refined. He was very dignified, quiet, contented, despite the disappointments in his life.
The room was gloomy; not enough daylight coming in. It seemed Bas did not notice that, at least not when he made music.
Lieske wondered if something could be done for Bas. Help for his mother had to be provided when he was absent from the shop. She must not be left in the lurch while Bas was studying full time.
She had to explain this whole case to the burgomaster. She had to be well prepared with detailed information even though she had not spoken with Bas and his mother. She must talk to their church, some experts in the field of commerce and finance, and a conservatory. The rabbit came out of the shop and found Lieske again. He nestled his head against her feet and yawned.
The squirrel followed and again jumped on her right shoulder. Perhaps they wanted to “adopt” her as part of the family. But Bas continued playing.
* * *
Lieske passed by one of the old gateways, which had been part of the fortification of the city of Enkhuizen since the 14th century. It was restored carefully and had a roof of gray schist. How many battles had been fought here, defending the city against many enemies? It was once an important port for trading with other cities and countries.
She branched off to the right and went to an old manorhouse, located at the corner by the Zuyder Zee Museum.
On the panel next to the door, a number of small doorplates were visible, with a doorbell beside each.
In the distance Lieske saw the flagged masts of numerous sailboats at the aquatics center.
She could have gone home now, but this address was close by. She looked at the worn steps and pushed the bell of Number 151A.
A young boy opened the door and asked if she had come to speak with his father. After she answered in the affirmative, he said with a polite smile, “Come in, lady.”
He led the way, taking steps down to a basement. Here a girl of a couple years older than the boy looked on. Lieske shook hands with her and said, “I guess you are Christiane, and he is your brother Sjors.”
The children were amazed and Lieske quickly explained that she came from the town hall only to ask if all was well. She showed them her identity card.
After this they walked into the living room, which had half windows in the front and full windows in the back. The doors were flung wide open. This house was built against a dyke.
The children’s father welcomed Lieske, while Christiane introduced her. He sat at a special chair with a footrest.
“Good afternoon, Engineer Van Veen,” said Lieske. “I see, you are making progress,” pointing at his right foot, still in a plaster bandage.
“Yes, indeed,” he answered. “A month ago half of my body was bandaged and I depended on the help of a nurse. Take a seat here next to the yellow roses.” (There were many of them in the garden.)
“Well, I should make preparations for our meal tonight, but we’ll just have a couple of cans of food Christiane can open for us. Everybody has been very kind to us. I was just playing a kind of Bible quartet game with the children. I had never played it before and I found it quite interesting. The children are better at it than I, because I remember some words only in French. I lived in France for many years with my wife…but you know about that.”
“Yes,” said Lieske. “If I may ask, are all the formalities done and settled with the company from whom you had hired the plane?”
He shook his head and sighed.
“Partly. The insurance company has a fight on its hands. There are differences of opinion among the experts. until it is over in court, they send me a weekly amount for support. I thought it was all very simple, but they fall over words and sentences about precautions, regulations, weather reports, etc.”
“Do you feel O.K., physically?”
“Well, not completely of course. My back gives me some trouble. Now and then I feel pain in my joints and ligaments; nasty shooting pain, but I will overcome it. The Lord does not give us more than we can carry. He is our refuge and our strength.”
Lieske observed that Mr. van Veen looked very pale. She asked, “Is there something special you need under the circumstances? Is there something that you normally would not get from Social Welfare?”
He seemed to hesitate, looking at his children. “I am thankful for what you have done for us. We can manage. In fact, as it is now, the three of us are happy together. Remember, as a pilot I have worked several years for missionaries. Often my family did not see me for a number of weeks. I was often in danger. I learned to handle emergencies and once was stranded in a broken down airplane. I had a lot of trouble in Somaliland and Cameroon, was shot at by communists above Angola, and by Moslems above Sudan. We have missed each other so often when we could not communicate with each other. Now we are making up for lost time. Can you imagine? I could not be at two places at the same time. The missionaries counted on me for repairing bridges, building or restoring schools and churches and laying pipes for water. Christianity does not stop at the last page of the Bible for us. Well, I presume you are a Christian, aren’t you?”
“Indeed, yes. I admire the courage you had to do all that dangerous work.”
“Well, good Christian people help us. But they cannot replace my wife of course. Every Friday a lady from a fellowship of the church comes here to vacuum, clean and do the laundry. On Saturday two girls come to help Christiane put clean sheets on the beds. On Monday the woman next door takes the children with her to do the shopping.
The accident was an awful experience. Before the crash, we had viewed all the dykes, sluices, floodgates, docks and canals of the IJsselmeer-works, the old windmills and the Frisian Islands; beautiful views from the air. Suddenly I was surrounded by thick fog; I wondered where it came from. I tried to land quickly. I tried three times, but I seemed to have touched something with my left wing. I lost control in a few seconds. Thank God the children survived.”
William van Veen showed her the framed photograph on the small bookcase and he said, “Look, here we are all four still together half a year ago.” Lieske saw tears in his eyes, and the children hugged him.
Lieske said, “My father is Reverend Hiddink. He will be interested to hear from you about your work in Africa.”
He nodded a bit absent-mindedly and assured her that he would keep this in mind for the future. “We are still busy becoming acclimated to Enkhuizen. There are certain experiences to be digested. In the evenings I sometimes fall asleep in my chair. I do not want to annoy you.”
“Not at all,” replied Lieske. “But it is time for me to go home. Perhaps I may come and see you again another time.”
He gave a broad grin. “Of course, but I guess there are people who need your help more than I do. I don’t want to hold you in talk.”
Sjors took her left hand and asked, “Won’t you come once to see my electric train?”
Lieske promised him to do that next time.
While she approached the front door, she saw this framed text hanging on the wall (Romans 10:9):
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
That night she wrote a long report about her first day with Social Welfare and her visits. She showed it to her father, asking for his opinion, and he was content with it.