Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Tails From Life

Merry Christmas from the Farm.

A Christmas in the Netherlands

After the presents are opened, the cornucopia of foods eaten and you’re letting it all settle, let me tell you about a Christmas in another time. I’m going to take you back to a time when so many didn’t have the plethora of foods spread out in a feast that makes tables groan and bellies do the same. This is the story of one Christmas during the Second World War.
It was several years into the war, and my father as a teenager, lived in occupied Holland. To say the least, times were hard, especially for those who lived in the cities. Out in the countryside, there was at least the opportunity to grow a bit of a garden, and folk helped each other out. In the city, there was very little opportunity to produce food of any kind. On top of that, whether living in the city or country, any food had to be hidden, squirreled away from the occupying forces. Anything found by the occupying German forces was taken if found, leaving the family who needed it, without. They were hard times, yet people were resilient and found ways to survive.
My father raised a few rabbits. They were hidden behind his family’s city home, well away from prying eyes. Christmas came around, and not only had they not been discovered, but he was able to trade the extra rabbits for things his family needed. It wasn’t a time to be greedy. He kept just one rabbit, for their Christmas meal. Christmas morning, a neighbour from a few houses down the way, came to the door. He’d heard that a few rabbits had been raised. Was it at all possible to get one for their Christmas meal? Of course, there weren’t any left. My teenage father felt badly for the man, but there was nothing he could do. He was sorry, but no rabbits were left. Then the neighbour asked if he was to bring something, would my future dad dispatch and clean it, prepare it to be cooked? Still feeling sorry for the family, my dad agreed. After all, it was hard times, and though people were starving and doing without the basics of life, it somehow, some way, made life more bearable if a good meal could be had, on such a special day. Sure, he could do that for him. He didn’t expect them to come back anyway. After all, rabbits didn’t just pop out of hats, food of any kind was scarce to nonexistent.
To his surprise, a few hours later, there was a knock on the door. There was the neighbour, potato sack in his hand, moving potato sack, in his hand. Truly taken aback that the man had been successful in finding a rabbit for his Christmas dinner, about to reach for the bag, my father swiftly drew his hand back. From the bag, came a very distinct sound … an unhappy growl and meow.
“That’s not a rabbit,” dad said the obvious with something akin to horror. The idea of dispatching a cat, didn’t sit well at all, “that’s a cat.”
“You said if we brought something, you’d see to it for us,” the man carefully reminded, “you said you would.”
“But,” his eyes glued to the potato bag, future father wasn’t at all keen on the idea. Still, a promise was a promise, and since the war, not only were people often going hungry, many starved to death. Trying to rationalize it, he felt sorry for the cat, yet felt obligated and bound to honour his promise as well. This was probably the only good meal this family would have for a long time. He had to say yes. With a huge sigh, he held out his hand for the bag, then hesitated. “Who does this cat belong to? You didn’t take someone’s cat, did you?”
“It’s a wild one,” the man quickly assured, pushing the bag at future father’s hand, “not anyone’s cat at all.”
Taking the bag of angry cat, my father took it to the shed in the back yard, every step filling him with dread at the task ahead. Hanging the bag on the wall, he tried not to think about what was inside, but of course couldn’t. The plaintive sounds from within, were far too troubling. He simply didn’t want to, yet he’d given his word, and completely understood the circumstances that led his neighbour to such drastic measures. All the man wanted for his family was, a good Christmas. Something to take away the horrors, of living in a war zone.
All through the telling of the story, I can remember being caught by the many changing expressions on my father’s face as he told the story. The grimaces, the shudders, the expressions of distaste all added to the telling of it. The very idea of my father killing a cat was appalling, and I dreaded what he would say next. Still, I had to know. I had to hear how the story ended.
Well, as it turned out, he was so bothered by the idea of killing and dressing a cat that he decided to put it off. Leaving the cat, he went to the house to gather some courage. Sitting at the table, having a cup of tea with his mother, then another and another while the aroma of their Christmas meal cooked and filled the kitchen with delicious warmth, he finally knew, he couldn’t put it off any longer. He had to do, what he’d said he would. There was a cat to deal with. The neighbour would be back soon, expecting a dressed carcass he intended to pass off to his family as rabbit.
Full of dread as I listened to dad’s story, I watched his face and all the expressions running across his weathered face. I fully expected the worst. After all, I’d heard from both of my parents about how hard life was during the war, and directly after it as well. Desperate times called for desperate measures, but a cat? The idea was so awful. It was even more awful and unbelievable as I watched him stroke Tinker, our cat. I couldn’t imagine him doing anything like that to little Tinker. I didn’t want to imagine it. Hanging on his every word, I saw his forehead scrunch up as he continued. The end was coming, so to speak. Dad slowly walked back to the shed, determined to go through with what he had to do. Opening the door, he was startled by a flash of fur tearing by his legs. The bag was torn open, the cat now gone. Just like that, the problem he’d faced was quite literally gone.
Sitting back in his chair, dad grinned from ear to ear, “and that was the end of that. I didn’t want to do it anyway, so that was good.”
“What about the people … the neighbours?” I asked, for as much as I wanted the cat to be spared, I also felt bad for them. “What did you tell them?”
“The truth,” he shrugged, “the cat got loose, and that was that. My mother gave them a bit of our food, some potatoes, some other things, a bit of rabbit. They still had supper. It was okay,” he added with a visible shudder, “to tell the truth, I couldn’t kill a cat, I just couldn’t.”

  1. Enjoyed them all!

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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