The lost Train Ticket

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While most of the world is now in panic about obesity, many years ago the reverse was at play. Many victims of the last WW2 were underweight. Especially children. It was a battle then to put weight on.

“Gerard is too skinny, Mrs Oosterman, you must send him away. There is a family in South Belgium who have volunteered to try and feed-up the chronically undernourished,” doctor advised. “They are well off with plenty of food. “Gerard must put on weight. He is malnourished”. The years of potato peelings soup and limp water porridge wasn’t enough.

I can’t remember this precise conversation. It must have been something like that though. My mother often told me that the doctor was scared I would not survive. It was after 1945 with the war over. By the end of the war there were tens of thousands of children whose level of malnourishment was so severe, a national programme was set up to help those unable to regain normal weight and health. I and my brother Frank were both considered in the category of needing fattening up.

I remember my mother putting me on the train and she also impressed on me not to lose my ticket which she told me many times, “it is in your top jacket’s pocket.” She showed me. I was put in a train cabin which was one in a series of cabins with a corridor running alongside them. She asked the adult passengers to make sure I would get off at the destined station and also showed them where my ticket was to show the conductor and the border control. ( I was travelling on my own to another country) My mother had three other children to look after and perhaps no money for her own ticket. My father was working in another city. Anyway, I travelled on my own.

My memories are scant except for this dreaded nightmare of my life. When the conductor came along, my ticket was gone. I searched all my pockets. The passengers searched my pockets. The conductor searched as well. No ticket. It was gone. I cried, sobbed was lost myself. I had lost my ticket, my life. No mother around. I still have that fear of loss. I had lost my ticket. I must have been put off the train at the right station in Belgium. The Belgian French speaking people would have picked me up. I can’t remember.

The memories of my stay in the southern part of Belgium are rather scarce. I loved the mussels. I still see a huge saucepan filled with steaming pink-orange coloured mussels. It is the only food I remember from that time in Belgium. The other lovely memory was of a crepe paper fan that was attached between two flat sticks. When you held the sticks a little apart and waved it down quickly, a most amazing patterned and colourful world would open up. If you closed the two sticks together again, the paper pattern would fold back. It was my first introduction to pure magic. I spend days with this fan in a large garden… I could not understand French nor their Flemish-Dutch. The garden had apple trees. I ate real apples. I was inconsolable when this paper fan of magic finally broke. A second loss, and no mother.

The mussels greatly made up for that loss. The family also gave me a bike to ride on. They must have taught me. I can’t remember. But the proof is in that picture. It was a large house and my room was upstairs. I can see my bed which was left of the door.

The French speaking Belgian family wrote my parents updates over the few months that I stayed with them. I was doing well and had gained 300 grams after the first three weeks, they wrote to my mother. “Gerard is very brave,” they wrote. I still have that card. It was also when I learned to speak French which my parents could not understand on my return.

I am now a good 78 kilos and never go without my ticket.

When I see a film I clutch the ticket in my hands during the entire performance. I keep checking where my passport is and get quite annoyed when I lose something. H. has a hard job keeping me calm and not panic. I am not sure if it is related. Odd, how such an event could possibly keep one from being a bit more normal. I don’t easily give up fretting when something is temporarily missing. H. keeps saying it is NOT lost. She says don’t FEED your anxiety. The Allen key or ‘special’ bit of written note, your glasses will turn up. Don’t worry so much, she says with so much care and love.

Yes, true, but I lost my ticket. It was so long ago.

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16 Responses to “The lost Train Ticket”

  1. berlioz1935 Says:

    Gerard thanks for the story. I understand the lot, because I was a war child too. The hunger was prevalent too, unless one had relations on the land. But we cut ourselves off from the land generations ago. We went foraging on the land and tried to barter with the farmers for some food. I had never any luck. Ones they offered me a plate of soup. How welcome that was at -20 degrees. The actual weight loss did not bother us, we had just lost a war. Survival was the key to everything. Once on the train, which was packed so that nobody could move. We were standing like sardines. and I had to go to the toilet for a pee. No one was was budging an inch to let me through. I had to let it go and experienced the only rush of warmth that day. By the end of the train journey my trousers were frozen stiff. Nobody asked anybody for a ticket.

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    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I am sure those times will remain as bad they were in our memories for ever. Hopefully the world will also remember and not do it again.
      Last week there was a video of a 15y old girl without a ticket being hurled head first onto a concrete floor by an inspector.
      It had happened a year or so before. Despite an investigation, the inspector was cleared and that the force used against the girl was reasonable.

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  2. Andrew Says:

    I suspect I have never been malnourished. Mal many things but not nourished. I have however lost things. I don’t have a birth certificate for example. I have a photocopy of it. The original was put ‘somewhere safe’. I applied for a replacement and I have received it. But I have no idea where it is now. Absolutely no idea. Except that it is in a safe place. I have my grandfather’s birth certificate. And his death certificate. But neither of my own. I think the train tickets ought to have been tied to you by string, Gerard. You might have lost the string but I doubt it. The world would be better off with more string. I don’t like this idea of E tickets and now even worse, e boarding passes. What happens if I delete them by mistake? You can’t delete string. Now pardon me, I really must try and find my birth certificate. I’ve been looking for over 20 years.

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  3. gerard oosterman Says:

    I had a Pierre Cardin pyjama bought some years ago. It has disappeared. Who on earth would have taken my pyjamas? Was it a dinner guest who snooped around the house, opened my drawer and then secreted my pyjama into the sleeves of his/her jacket or skirt, underpants?
    It has been one of my most perplexing missing items during my entire life.
    I would give up Andrew on any birth certificates. Pinch yourself and I am sure you will notice you were born.

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    • berlioz1935 Says:

      What you have experienced with your pyjama is happening here too. But we have a perfectly “sane” explanation for this. We don’t want to blame or accuse anybody so we decided we have a “Black Hole” in our house. which swallows up anything; sometimes permanently. Sometimes it spits it out and the item in question is at the very spot were we left it and were we looked too.

      I have a Pierre Cardin shirt and if there is a ghost who loves Pierre Cardin stuff I can expect him soon.

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  4. auntyuta Says:

    How’s your French these days, Gerard?

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    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Hello Uta. My French is pretty rusty. No practise or very little. Years ago while on holiday in France, it wasn’t too bad. I had about 4 years at high school in Holland before coming here. Your German is very good.

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  5. auntyuta Says:

    I am totally out of practise too, as far as French is concerned. I had about 4 years at high school too. I’ve been in Paris twice, but only for brief periods. I love the sound of this language!🙂
    German is still my first language for I speak it every day with Peter.
    With some subjects I tend to lean more towards English, though. Peter always says that he is glad that he is bi-lingual. He usually follows currant affairs in English as well as in German. We watch the German news on Deutsche Welle nearly every day. The news are on at 10,30 every morning on SBS. We always try to be home to watch these news.

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  6. solidgoldcreativity Says:

    Oh, what a nightmare! Just the kind of thing I used to dream about when I was younger, like I would arrive at school and find somehow I’d lost my bag on the way. I think these anxieties are universal. But to actually experience it! I feel for you.

    In the five years I’ve been attending courses at Landmark Education I’ve heard thousands of people talk about this type of incident, usually taking place between the ages of 3 and 10 in which something gets decided that endures for life. Sometimes, the incident is tiny and it was only the child who noticed, others are larger, like seeing a father pack his bag. What gets decided at these points is nothing less than how the world will henceforth occur to the child/adult.

    I saw the footage of the girl at Flinders Street Station being rammed into the floor. Could not believe my eyes nor the verdict.

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  7. Patti Kuche Says:

    Sometimes, in fact often, so long ago is not that long ago at all . . . what a time for you as such a little tot. How many times do you hear “how resilient children are” yet those needles in the haystack of childhood are never that lost. I went grocery shopping tonight with Mr Kuche (doesn’t happen often) but he let me know there was no way he was going to eat the cabbage I put in the shopping trolley – too many bad cabbage meals as a child!

    A lovely read Gerard and well done to you and the wonderful H!

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  8. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Gerald, a great story and I offer much sympathy about the lost ticket trauma. I am sure your anxiety over lost items is related: at the time your greatest fear (losing the ticket) actually happened and then was trumped by the absence of your back stop (your mother). Like so much in life, we cope quite well if the slings and arrows arrive singly, but if they come in battalions they leave a very lasting mark. Just say Hi when the anxiety appears, it’s sort of an old friend, and you have ways of coping now. I still don’t know what happened to the full set of oil paints and kit entrusted to me…

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  9. Lottie Nevin Says:

    I’ve never suffered from malnutrition, in fact the reverse – in animal terms I’m what’s known as a ‘good doer’ but your story is a sobering reminder to us all (well certainly those born after the war years) of the hardships that so many people had to endure.

    My mother thought nothing of parcelling me off on trains alone at a tiny age. She’d tie one of those brown parcel labels onto my coat with the address to which I was going and pop me on a train – I must have managed to hold onto my ticket as I don’t remember the anxiety of losing it but I did suffer terrible anxiety about not being met at the other end by whichever relative I was off to stay with. Things are so different now, children are hardly let out of sight and mobile phones are the new umbilical chords. Something terrible did once happen on a train journey for me but I won’t write about it here.

    I’m very glad you gained weight, thrived and lived to tell your tales. Your life story is an inspiration to us all, Gerard and thank you for sharing it with us.

    P.s For some reason WP never notifies me when you kindly write a reply to my comments – I just went back a few posts and saw that you had left a comment after mine so I’m sorry that I haven’t answered your questions. Living in Andalucia is everything we hoped it would be and more! I’m longing to write about it but everyday something crops up and I need peace and quiet to collect my thoughts and find somewhere to start. Colin Snout was thrilled that you mentioned him – he loves the idea of decorating his Yule Logs, but I don’t!😀

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