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Western Walkabout: The Pig’s Teeth

Richard Harris tells of an old lady who has a rich storehouse of memories of wartime in Holland.

I play bridge with an interesting old lady, who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year. She’s a sharp mind if a little forgetful sometimes.

Her husband died years ago, her only son is autistic, and her daughter, a single mum, juggles a career in real estate with caring for two teenage boys at college.

The old lady grew up in Amsterdam and vividly remembers the clack of German boots when the invasion force moved in.

Food was scarce. They had a tiny wood stove for heating and cooking, and all the children’s toy wooden blocks were soon burned as fuel. People used to go out at night and hack pieces off street trees, or steal the wooden blocks between the tramlines.

One day, her father brought home a huge pig’s head.

“What am I supposed to do with that?” her mother asked him.

“Cook it,” he said.

“It’s too big for my biggest pot.”

The father went to get an axe.

“Wait,” demanded the mother. She went into the bathroom, retrieved an old tooth brush, and cleaned the pig’s teeth.

They were the cleanest pig’s teeth in Amsterdam that night before the father split the head into pot-size pieces. It took several days to complete the cooking of the trophy on the little stove.

My friend asked her father if she could go with him to help in the Resistance Movement.

“No,” he said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because you can’t keep your mouth shut,” he said.

Later, he relented and gave her a little job putting donations into envelopes for the wives and children of men at sea serving with the free Dutch warships.

You’d be amazed at some of the stories old ladies carry round in their heads. A polite interest is the only key you need to access these treasure troves.

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To read more of Richard’s enriching stories and articles please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/western_walkabout/

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