November 01, 2017
by Louise Lawrence-Israëls
I was about 14 years old, and my mom still made all my clothes. The war had been over for 11 years, but the stores still did not have a good selection, and money was very tight. I was not upset because Mom always asked what I wanted. She designed and made the clothes; they were always pretty and made me happy. Mom found remnant pieces of good fabric in nice colors. I loved the color blue.
Shoes were a very different story. We all had one pair of shoes, which were very sturdy with rubber soles and laces. We were lucky in that as soon as the shoes became too small, we did get new ones—the same kind, tough, but never hand-me-downs.
Shoes were that important to my parents. If you could afford only one pair, it had to be a pair that you could walk in for a long distance and that would last for a long time. In the back of their minds was always the idea that we might have to leave in a hurry. They were always thinking what the best way would be to keep their children safe.
How I hated my sturdy shoes. I always looked at my friend’s shoes which were so pretty, and I compared them with my clunky shoes.
We used to have six weeks of summer vacation from school, and when I was 14, I was ready to look for a summer job. At that time, we still had a lot of health sanitaria for people with tuberculosis but also for people with polio, especially children. I always knew that I wanted to work in health care, and I was lucky to find a job as an aide in a children’s rehabilitation center.
Every morning, I left my house at five-thirty for the half-hour bicycle ride. My work started at six in the morning, six days a week. Because it was only a summer job for me, I had Sundays off. The day started with washing and dressing the children, who were four to 14 years old. Then came the tedious job of putting on their braces, made of leather and steel and laces. The laces had to be tightened just right or the brace would hurt and cause blisters or open the skin. After that, the children went for breakfast—sometimes we had to help them with that—and then they went for therapy. Some of the regular help were not always patient, and the children were happy to see me.
While the children were in physiotherapy, we had to clean the wards. Everything had to be wiped down, every day, with a disinfecting soap and water. By the second day of cleaning, my hands were bleeding. We had no rubber gloves.
After lunch, the children took a nap, then came tea time—tea with one biscuit for each child. That was followed by my favorite time, when we were allowed to take the children for a walk, with their walkers or wheelchairs, and sometimes we wheeled their beds outside. We read them stories or just talked.
After the time spent outside, everything started all over again in reverse. They had dinner, then the taking off of the braces, then undressing the children and putting on their pajamas, then putting them back to bed.
I used to get home about seven o’clock every night, very tired. Mom had dinner ready for me, and I used to fall into bed not long after.
After four weeks of hard work, I made about 15 guilders that first year. What I made was mine to do with what I wanted, and I bought my first pair of fancy shoes. They were dark blue and had a tiny heel.
I worked for three summers at the rehabilitation hospital and even got promoted, and they doubled my salary. I bought a pair of fancy shoes every summer and saved the rest of the money in the bank. The work inspired me; I became a physiotherapist and decided to specialize in children with cerebral palsy; among them were also polio patients.
I learned from my mom and dad how important it is to have a pair of shoes that you can walk in. Today, those are sneakers, which you can now get in such beautiful colors.
You never know when you’ll have to leave a country in a hurry...
©2017, Louise Lawrence-Israëls. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.View All Blog Posts