In the Netherlands, my Dad’s name was Hans and mine was Hansje (little Hans). When we emigrated to Canada my Dad changed his name to John and mine to Jack. The Dutch Santa Claus is called Sinterklaas or St. Nicholaas, and his December 5th birthday is celebrated with parties and gift giving. The first 30 chapters of the autobiography I’m writing cover my twelve years of childhood and are in the form of children’s stories about Hansje. Here is one such story just in time for Sinterklaas this Saturday:
The Truck of Terror
Poor Hansje was down on his knees and elbows, his hands clasped in prayer, his eyes tightly shut and his lips were whispering, “Help me. Please help me. Help me.” The frozen steel floor of the army truck sucked the warmth from his knees and forearms. His seven-year-old body shivered as much from cold as from fear.
Hansje was not alone, the truck was packed with several dozen other children about his own age. But while he was crying and praying desperately, they were happy, excited, laughing, talking and singing. Why was Hansje the only one who was terrified, down on the floor, praying anxiously for help—help that didn’t come. What was happening?
Hansje’s Mama had told him many, many times, “Don’t ever get into a car or on a truck that is driven by someone you don’t know.” But this time, his Mama was the very person who insisted that he climb on that truck. Hansje had shouted, “No, no! I don’t want to go!”
But she sternly said, “Don’t be so silly, Hansje.” And when a big soldier picked him up and lifted him onto the back of the truck, she had even smiled at the soldier.
Hansje couldn’t understand it. He was so confused. He kept praying, “Help me. Help me.” But instead of help, a soldier slammed the end gate shut, the diesel motor rumbled and roared into life, and with a jerk and a tooting of the horn, they were traveling down the street, out of his neighbourhood, and away from Hansje’s home—no help, no hope.
After a while the truck stopped. Hansje stood up and jumped down to the ground with the other children. He looked around, there were other army trucks and lots more children jumping out. He saw the building beyond the trucks, and suddenly a wave of relief flooded over him. It was the KRO radio station studio. He had been there before. It was only a few blocks from his neighbourhood. He wiped away his tears. He knew where he was. He was safe.
The Sinterklaas Party
He followed the crowd of excited children into the building and sat with hundreds of others in the huge auditorium, looking down on the brightly lit stage.
A man walked to the microphone on the stage and said, “Today is December the 5th, the first Sinterklaas day since the end of the war. Sinterklaas is on his way. He will soon be with us. Let’s sing to welcome him!”
Hansje loudly sang the Dutch Santa Claus songs along with all the other kids, all his fears forgotten.
Zie, ginds komt de stoomboot uit Spanje weer aan.
Hij brengt on St. Nicholaas, ik zie hem al staan.
“Look, there is the steamship coming from Spain,
It brings us St Nicholas, I can see him standing there.”
After a few more Sinterklaas songs, the great white-bearded saint strode onto the stage to much applause and shouting by Hansje and the other kids. He wore his bishop’s red and gold robes, a tall, red mitre hat with a gold cross on his head, and held a golden crosier staff in hand. His black servant, Zwarte Piet followed him.
After more singing, every child received a bag of candy and a small present. What a party! And then, it was all over. Hansje was tired but happy.
But as the kids crowded around the trucks, Hansje’s fears crowded his mind. What if he got on the wrong truck? What if they made him get out at the wrong place? How would he ever get home?
No more trucks, Hansje thought. He sidled quietly to the edge of the crowd, crossed the dark sidewalk, then darted across the main road, and jogged towards his own neighbourhood. After several blocks he saw the corner to his own street. A few minutes later he was home. Safe at home, and with candy!
A Lesson in Trust
That night Hansje added a line to his bedtime prayer, “And thank You for keeping me safe on that truck. Help me to remember that You are always with me. Amen.”