Basic life needs are foundational to a happy life
Basic life needs freed Sophie from grappling with the incomprehensible events of Alida’s life. Delighting in the morning sunshine, she cycled to the farmer’s market for a week’s supply of fish, cheese, and vegetables to top up Bea’s garden supply.
‘Heb je een beetje stinkende kaas, alstublieft?’ Sophie had asked whether there was any strong-flavoured cheese after waiting her turn at the van where people were busy tasting cheese samples. ‘Do you have some Limburg Stinkende kaas, alstublieft?’ emphasising that she particularly wanted the ‘smelly’ cheese.
‘Ja natuurlijk, would you like to try a piece?’ The mature buxom woman behind the counter offered Sophie a sample and selected a lump of pale cheese in one hand, with a knife poised in the other.
Sophie smiled, saying, ‘Ja, Dank je wel,’ as she took the slither from the woman’s fingers. ‘Mmm, lekker!’ She nodded as she licked her fingers clean.
‘Where do you come from?’ the cheese-vendor asked.
‘Western Australia. But I’ve stayed with my aunt in Belgium for holidays over the last four years.’
‘Nu, jouw Nederlands is goed.’ The cheese-seller’s complimenting Sophie on her use of the Dutch language, reassured her that she had mastered her market shopping Dutch conversation standard.
‘Bedankt, maag ik zo grote en stukje hebben. Sophie spoke in Dutch but thought in English: May I have a piece this large? She drew the size she wanted over the block of cheese with her hand.
‘Wil je een andere proberen?’ the cheese vendor asked. ‘Would you like to try another piece?’
Sophie thought it would be great to have something really old, and quickly replied: ‘Ja graag, iets heel ouds. ’ Sophie loved tasty old cheese.
The cheese-vendor sliced from three different blocks while saying what region of Holland they were from. Sophie chose two.‘Would you like me to cut this one the same size as the Limburgse Stinkende Kaas?’ the woman asked, knife poised.
‘About half the size for each, please. My aunt loves her cheese as much as I do, but unfortunately I shouldn’t really eat cheese following complications from surgery. She loves to have a plate with various small pieces which she calls “TV stukjes.”’ Each piece of cheese was wrapped in waxed paper and placed in a plastic bag that depicted women in traditional Dutch costumes wrapping cheese rounds.‘Your plastic bags are so artistic I won’t use my recycling bags. I keep re-using the previous year’s bags when I travel. They are such great souvenirs.’ Sophie smiled as she paid.
‘You’re welcome. Tot ziens,’ the lady sang.
‘Bedankt. Prettige dag.’ Sophie stashed the package in her Esky Cooler Bag. She felt sad on realising that Alida would have missed the delightful experience of simple shopping at the open-air markets where helpful stall vendors offered every food imaginable, sold home-made craft-work and undertook watch repairs. There were even fabrics for clothes, curtains and coverings for furniture, Sophie thought as she weaved through the crowd to the fresh fish van beside where her bicycle was secured in the shade, already laden with fruit and vegetables. Her musings were suddenly interrupted. There’s my favourite boy, she thought. I’ve forgotten his name, damn!
The young man’s face lit up as Sophie smiled from the second row of the crowd. ‘Hey, the Australian lady with the glass jars is back!’
‘Yes, another year has flown by.’ Sophie laughed as she stepped forward and got out two large wide-mouthed jars from plastic bags that her aunt had saved for re-use.
‘Hey, Pete, your friend is back!’ The boss elbowed the young lad.
The boy muttered something which Sophie couldn’t hear and smiled. ‘What can I get you today?’
Sophie pointed to foot-long fillets of Atlantic salmon. ‘Two of those each, cut into three equal pieces alstublieft.’ Her eyes smiled her ‘please’ as she spoke, ‘and the same for this one. Is it an oily, tasty fish?’
‘Certainly is.’ With a magician’s flourish, the boy chopped up two pieces of each kind of fish and slapped them into the stainless-steel dish on the scales, using the thin plastic bag that Sophie had given him. He’s really putting on a showman’s performance, which makes shopping so much more exciting and fun, Sophie thought as her heart reflected the light-hearted energy of vendors and customers alike. These guys would have brightened Alida’s mood even if Opa had made her sad.
‘That’s a total of forty Euros; is that OK?’ Pete asked.
Sophie beamed as she pulled a fifty Euro note out of her purse. ‘It’s cheap compared to prices in Australia. It’s a treat for my aunt who doesn’t spend money on anything other than the basic life needs.’
Pete sliced and stuffed each piece into the jars whilst inquiring, ‘So what’s the weather like in Australia?’
‘Cold and wet. That’s why I’m here in my other home,’ Sophie laughed.
‘What brings you here to stay so long?’
‘My amazing aunt is 93 years-old and I enjoy staying with her for as long as I can. It’s my annual holiday; what more could I want? I have such interesting experiences: here at the market, and in good weather I see castles and all kinds of historic places, even Roman churches and walls from 1100.’
‘Yes, there’s so many tourists here; especially over the summer.’
‘Fortunately, I know my way around like a local, because my aunt and cousins love to explore the forests, labyrinths and anything of interest. My aunt has walking contour maps, so thirty, even ten years ago, I would cycle or push the bike through the forests and old villages, sometimes up to thirty kilometres away.’ Sophie threw her hands up. ‘But now I can do no more than twenty kilometres total, and I spend more time writing my book about my Oma and all the beautiful things that she missed out on enjoying.’
‘How many years have you been coming to our market?’
‘This is the ninth year. The first time was thirty-one years ago. Please can you first put the jars in this old bag. I like to keep and re-use your lovely bags.’
Pete laughed as she paid him, ‘Wow, that’s twelve years before I was born.’
‘Thanks for reminding me how old I am!’ Sophie giggled.
Pete placed the jars in the old plastic bag, then put it all in another large plastic bag depicting traditionally dressed fishermen painted in the Dutch colours of blue and red on white. ‘Ja, tot volgende keer!’ he waved with a broad grin.
‘Yeah, see you next time.’ Sophie agreed as she placed the Esky bag with ice in it in her backpack and secured it on to the bike rack. She cycled home in the sunshine which had now warmed up to thirty degrees.
Bea started a little as Sophie waved her arm and quietly began speaking as she joined her aunt in the lounge room. ‘Have you already had lunch?’
‘Oh, yes I was hungry after my work in the garden. Sorry, I didn’t know what time you’d be back.’
‘That’s fine, as I’m now feeling inspired to write another chapter about the life that my poor oma Alida missed. I had such an uplifting and entertaining experience at the market. There are so many friendly characters and customs that have been preserved for a very long time. I remember they were the same when I first came in 1985.’ Sophie perched on the arm of the tan lounge and passed a waxed paper package to Bea. ‘I brought your favourite treat.’
‘Aaah! Hartelijk bedankt. I sometimes took delicious TV snacks from the market to your oma.’ Bea nodded slowly. ‘But usually it was she who bought little snacks from the vending machine in the guest room of the institution if some of my children were with me.’
‘How was she with your children?’ Sophie asked.
‘Well of course there was not much for children to do there. Alida had been in the institution for over twenty years before my children and I came into her life, so she no longer knew what to do with kids.
‘Yes, after just a week in institutional care for Dad, and now Mum with dementia, any possibility of them having anything to talk about was destroyed.’ Sophie had had nearly five years’ experience of caring for her parents when she took them out of the nursing home on Saturday afternoons.
Bea said softly, ‘My children knew Alida was their oma, but they only ever saw her in the institution with all the old people. So to them she was just an old lady who didn’t have much energy.’