Editor's note: This is the third of six winners in The Deseret News' annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best." See the first winner here, the second winner here the fourth winner here, the fifth winner here and the sixth winner here.
As I sit in my comfortable warm, well furnished home here in Provo, and glaze at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, my mind drifts back to Christmases of the past. One I remember most vividly of my childhood was the year 1944. I was 11 years old.
The Second World War was at its peak. I was living in the little town of Medemblik in the north of Holland at the home of my father's sister Tante Jans Koenradt and her husband Matteo Koenradt.
The Germans had confiscated all the food in our country. The weather was cold. The stores were all empty; there was no transportation, no gasoline, no electricity, no trade or goods of any kind. Anything that could be used to burn for heat was used by the people, such as a fence, a shed, and some resorted to the burning of their own furniture to try and stay warm.
Once a day we were allowed to go to the German food line and receive three scoops of food for the family, which at that time was just my mother, my brother, who was three and a half years older, and me.
We were not sure of what the food consisted of. Some said it was ground tulip bulbs mixed with potatoes and onions and perhaps some sugar beets. Whatever it was, we were very grateful for it. One scoop for each of us — no more, no less. We had no candy, meat, cheese or any of the marvelous things that we here in America take for granted and have access to everyday.
For growing young boys, the two things most on our minds were food and how we could keep warm. My brother and I slept with our mother so that we could utilize our body heat to keep warm enough to sleep during the cold icy nights. Before bed each night, our mother would wrap our feet in burlap bags that she had previously washed so that they were soft. The nights were cold and long.
By morning we were very hungry, and we would arise early to check the shorelines of the Zuider Zee for any fragments of driftwood or anything that might have drifted on shore during the night. We were not alone in our hunt. The search for anything of use was very competitive. We wore the burlap bags still on our feet from the night before inside our wooden shoes. If we were lucky, we would hurry home with the wood, being careful, ducking through alleys and taking little short cuts known only to my brother and me. There were always a few boys bigger than us waiting to take away from us our little pile of driftwood or whatever else we may have found.
Some days on the way home we would stop by our friend the shoemaker. Sometimes he would trade us a little sack of wood chips from the shoes he carved for one larger piece of driftwood. These little shavings would enable us to start our fire easier. Nothing went to waste. On these days we felt very fortunate because there were many days that we had no fire at all.
My Uncle Koneradt worked for the Department of Agriculture and would oversee the crops that were raised for the Germans, such as flax, sugar beets, potatoes or onions. Because of his job, he seemed to have privileges and things that no one else had. It was talked about throughout the little village that he collaborated with the Germans. He was very selfish with his goods and shared with no one. One of his privileges was that he was allowed to keep chickens in a chicken house near his home from which he could gather fresh eggs. He was one of the few people in Medemblik to have this privilege. Needless to say, he was not a popular man and considered by some to be a traitor.
One morning, a few days before Christmas, we stopped by the shoemaker's place. As we visited with him and shared with each other our feelings of hunger, he approached us with a plan. My brother Keesje and I were impressed. We were raised in a very religious home and always were taught to be honest. We had pure hearts and the plan the Shoemaker told us about we would never have thought of on our own.
He wanted us to steal one of our uncle's chickens and bring it to him. This was to he done in secret; we were not even to tell our mom. He told us if we would do this, he would have his wife cook the chicken and keep half for his family and the other half he would bring to us for Christmas dinner.
My brother and I pondered this in our minds; our mother always knew where we were and what we were doing. However, the Sunday before, the priest had told the congregation that at this time it was not necessarily a sin to steal. As we thought of this, it seemed one way we could give our mother a Christmas gift. There had been no presents on December 5, the usual day of St. Nikolas in Holland.
We pondered and discussed just how we could do this so no one would know. We decided to do it when it was dark and everyone was asleep, even the chickens. One evening we waited till everything was quiet and dark. My brother was to wait by the gate and open it for me when I came with the chicken. I crept into the chicken house and grabbed a chicken and as I did so the chicken squawked and awakened all the other chickens. I saw a flashlight turn on in my uncle's room. My heart was pounding hard. I ran to the gate, but it was locked. I had to hand the chicken over the fence and then jump over myself. Time was short.
We ran around the block holding the chicken by his neck. I have often wondered if I choked it or scared it to death. It was pretty limp as I handed it to Keejse. I knocked on the shoemaker's bedroom window to tell him we decided to take him up on the plan. He smiled and let us in.
He took the chicken but decided we couldn't possibly go home yet as my knees were covered with chicken manure and I smelled like the chicken house. The shoemaker's wife spent some time on my clothes and did her best to clean me up. We arrived quietly back to the house before daylight. No one seemed to suspect Keejse and me of the adventure we experienced the night before.
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About 9 a.m. on Christmas morning there was a knock on the door downstairs. My aunt answered the door, and there on the doorstep was the shoemaker holding a plate with half a chicken, potatoes and carrots. He told my aunt he had something for Mrs. Jacobs and her children upstairs. My aunt said, "take it on up." As my brother and I looked out over the banister, we saw my uncle look up and raise his head almost as if it clicked in his mind as to what was going on, but he didn't say a word. This is a Christmas I will never forget. We ate the chicken, and for several days after, my mother cooked the bones until there was nothing left.