Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Morning Thanks--an old photograph

Now this is funny.  These four Dutch Calvinists (circa 1940) pose joyfully at Schveningen, the Netherlands, a huge and much beloved beach resort--think Miami or Malibu. It's obviously posed, and likely the work of some seaside vendor with a boxy camera.  Almost assuredly, they had it taken to remember all the fun. You know--"and here we are on the beach with Tante Rinska and Tante Jo."

On the beach. They're on the beach. I suppose we might be grateful they left their swim suits at home.

Still, what a shot. The funereal character of their garb suggests, religiously, they might be of the Black Stocking persuasion, a Dutch relative of 17th century New England Puritans; but chances are, what they pulled from the closet that morning, in anticipation of all that surf and sand, wasn't much different from what other aging Dutch Calvinist women wore on their special days. Pastels would have been as shocking as spandex.

I'm not just taking a cheap shot at my heritage. There is more to the story.  Two of the old women posing in this vacation memory have names, the two in the middle--they're Jans and Diena. 

During the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands, a preacher in Zeist was looking frantically for anyone who would dare to hide Jews.  One of his parishoners suggested Jans and Diena, his aunts, who had a flat on Emmastraat.  The preacher was hesitant. "It's a ton of dangerous work for a couple of 80-year-old women," he told his parishoner.  "You sure they're they up to it?"

The nephew agreed, but said that at least this Jewish man would have a place.  It was either that or Hitler's demonic plans.

So they stopped by at Jans and Diena's with a student, a young man in his early 20s, because Jans and Diena indicated that their keeping him hidden was simply the right thing to do.  "Of course," Diena said, and I'm quoting now, "what time is he coming? Jans, spread up the extra bed."

The Jewish student, whose mother and brothers had already been shipped away to extermination camps, asked them where he could hide his ID, something he needed but had to be impossible for the Nazis to find.  Tante Diena took care of that.  She lifted her billowing black skirt and deposited it somewhere in the darkness beneath.

The Jewish boy gasped.  "What if they find it?" he said.

"Nobody touches the skirt of an old woman," she said, eyes a'twinkle.

"But they'll kill you," the student said.

"Then I'll meet my maker just a little sooner than I thought," she told him.

Look at the picture. The mere thought of those old women at the beach in those dresses is just a hoot. 

But there's more to the story, and when there is, we're in the neighborhood of the astonishing width and breadth of the human character and, most assuredly, the image of God.

This morning, I'm thankful for Jans and Diena.  I'm not at all sure how they're dressed, but I'm guessing they are pleasurably at home in a modest flat somewhere in neighborhood of their Maker.
I found the story in When A Neighbor Came Calling:  Personal Accounts of the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands, 1940-1945.  Jordan Station, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 1985. 

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