The Cube of Sugar. (Het suikerklontje)


We went to see ‘The Book Thief’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although, the ‘enjoyed’ wasn’t perhaps the best choice of verbs. It’s very difficult to be confronted by war times washing over from the comfort of cinema seat and talk about ‘enjoy.’ I suppose ‘impressed’ or ‘stimulated’ ‘engaged’ might be better.

The cinema was packed mainly by young people. There was a constant chattering and laughter going on before the movie started, almost like a party. Lately the movies we have seen had a much older audience. They were quietly contemplating their deep thoughts and many also, just like us, concentrating silently on licking their choc-top ice creams. The only sound would be of the unwrapping the plastic bags surrounding the ice cream.

The problem with aging is how to get through the hard deep frozen chocolate crust to get to the vanilla softness underneath. My mouth certainly doesn’t allow anymore for the total circumference of the choc-top ice cream to fit inside to allow a good firm bite, neither do my teeth. I have to either try and break through the hard chocolate crust by biting at the edges, or allow the chocolate to thaw out a bit first. A younger person would have no problem with that. This much I could tell from the exuberance of the young audience at ‘The Book Thief’ breaking through their choc-tops within seconds.

The movie brought back some well buried memories in the graveyard of my early childhood which involved a sugar cube as well. In the movie the young German girl lost her younger brother and mother. She is taken in by foster parents whom, like so many, struggled with the pre-war period. Money and food & Fuel were scarce. As this young girl enters the house a sugar cube is offered as a gesture of welcome but as the girl is too frightened and shy to start talking, the cube is only given on the condition she calls her new parents ‘Pappa and Mamma’.

Around 1946/47 I was not just sent to Southern Belgium to fatten up, also on two occasions to “kinder Kolonies’ or children colonies that were set up to bring many Dutch kids back to health. While the Belgian experience was loving and caring, those children colonies were a bit cruel. Salty bean soup and only be allowed to sleep on one side are just a few that clog up my return to post war times. I did not like that. Worst was my mother visiting and then leaving me behind. That agony hurt like a splinter left un-pulled.

One day, as were all taken for a walk, singing an anti war and anti Germany song we were asked by our nurse to try and climb a ‘safe’ sand dune. Most dunes still had barbed wire and other war ornamentations cluttering around the environment. Bombs could still be lying around. Times were still anxious even though the war was over!

The first on top would get a sugar cube. A sugar cube was then a delight that many children would still have to wait for. Most food was still scarce and only available by producing a valid food voucher. I remember thinking I would win and get that sugar cube. As the whole horde started to ascent the dune, I went as if possessed. (I was the boy from the 1959 Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum)

At each step the sand would give way and I would slide down half of what I had conquered in the previous step. But nothing would stop me getting to the top first and that promised sugar cube. The sand dune must have been much higher then, as in the reality of it all now, but…I did get there first. I had used the straw stumps to haul me up, something I remember the others had not thought of.

As the days went by a deep disappointment took hold of me. I wasn’t given the sugar cube. The salty bean soup wasn’t my only heartache. The hard world of adults and the uncaring nurses, (probably as starved as we were) but… they were our carers. I was totally devastated without my mum and without the promised reward I had so hard climbed for.

After some time I decided to front the nurse and ask for my sweet delight. She promised but did not give it. I finally spied her coming from a room where she slept. I ,after waiting for a few more days, entered her room and asked for my sugar cube. It was then that she took one out of a bowl and gave it to me.

No sweet has ever tasted as sweet ever since.(not even a choc-top.)

Tags: , , ,

24 Responses to “The Cube of Sugar. (Het suikerklontje)”

  1. Elisabeth Says:

    There is nothing sweeter than a hard won promise fulfilled, and nothing worse than betrayal when the promise goes unrecognised. Poignant stuff, Gerard.


  2. Andrew Says:

    Poignant is a good word. I remember reading Blechtrommel many years ago. It was the best Grass book I think. I was fortunate that I did not go through the war but my parents were still talking about rationing even when I was young. Dreadful times. I’m glad you got your sugar cube, Gerard.


  3. Lottie Nevin Says:

    I’m glad you got your sugar cube too as I was going to go over to Holland and punch that nurse on the nose if she hadn’t given it to you. My goodness you had a tough childhood, Gerard. This post really makes me realise how fortunate I was to have been born in the 60’s and not before. If it’s any consolation, Irish also has problems with his teeth – chocolate-top Ice creams might well be a crunch too far. He needs to see a dentist, and pronto!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I hope Irish will get his teeth looked at. I believe Spanish dentists get to practise on bulls first at the university. When they have perfected this, the bulls are let into the ring or onto the streets. After that the dentists get to practise on people. After that the people are let loose into a good paella.
      Hope this helps Irish. 😉
      The sugar lump denier would now be in her mid eighties. Be gentle on her Lottie. Just a kick in the groin.


  4. auntyuta Says:

    When Peter read the ‘Book Thief’, he went on about it how well it was written and that I should read it too, I resisted. Did not want two read any more war stories! But now that I saw the movie, I am very willing to read the book too. The characters in this story to me seem quite believable. I could feel with them, how difficult life was for them under Nazi rule. Papa (Geoffrey Rush) was amazing, and all the other actors were very good too. I reckon this was a drama very much worth seeing! I think it’s remarkable that younger people are interested in this movie too.

    By the way, we prefer these days to eat the occasional choc-top ice-cream in the privacy of our home where it is easier to overcome difficulty with dentures and or teeth. And it is cheaper too!

    Sorry about the meanness of that nurse! Just as well that in the end she gave in thanks to your perseverance. What on earth made her behave this way that you had to keep on reminding her what she was owing you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I think she might have had problems on her own. I always hoped she did not deliberately deny the sugar lump. There were many kinder kolonies about. I hated both of the ones I went to.
      Mainly the food. Lumpy water porridge which you had to eat. If not, you were put separately and all the kids would jeer you till you had eaten it. Not being with my parents, especially my mother was terrible.


      • auntyuta Says:

        I think this is a very bad thing, kids beings ‘forced’ to eat things they don’t like. There must have been an awful food shortages, kids being so terribly undernourished, for them to resort to such measures.
        In 1944 Peter had to stay away from his mother for one whole year when Berlin was under constant bomb attacks. He spent this year in a children’s home in Silsia. His two sisters were evacuated somewhere else and returned to Berlin much later than Peter, whereas Peter was sent back to Berlin when the Russians approached Silesia in January 1945.


      • gerard oosterman Says:

        There are now many web-sites were ex-clients/patients of those child- colonies tell their tales. Many loved it, especially those that went there in the fifties and sixties. Many also tell similar tales of forced eating and terrible food. Many could not get away quick enough.
        Mind you, I don’t know in Germany but many families in Holland had a rule. “till you have eaten what was put on your plate, you are not leaving the table”.
        Now many families rarely eat at a table, just sit chewing in front of the telly, often without any conversation. Uneaten food gets chucked out.


  5. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Felt very sad for you reading this. I was born post war and did not know real deprivation, but aged 8 I was sent to school in Belgium (while my parents were stationed in Germany) to a convent. I found being among uncaring adults, full of false promises, very distressing.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Dear oh dear. I feel for children in the care of indifferent adults. That effects one deeply, often life-long. My mother who lost both parents to Spanish flu when still a young child was brought up by nuns in Amsterdam. The institute was even called Virgin’s house (Maagden huis)
      She too had tales of cruelty but she became a very loving and caring mother.


  6. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    And thank you for the utterly beautiful music.


  7. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Tough and very rough childhood that lingers until you leave this earth. The nurse was a sadist and used bait and switch. So cruel.


  8. berlioz1935 Says:

    The sweet moments of life, we experience during bitter times of life stick like a sugar coat in our memory.

    Adults in those times had it hard too. When they made a promise they probably thought children would forget or won’t dare to challenge.

    Yes, the music was divine. Thank you.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, I think you hit it on the nail. The nurse might well have had a rotten time. Her house bombed or father/mother killed, who knows?
      I did win the race to the top of the dune. That was nice too.


  9. ThePoliticalVagina Says:

    Very poignant Gerard, you are such a good writer.
    I don’t think she withheld it on maliciously either (well I hope she didn’t). If you were an adult in charge of and responsible for quite a few skinny home missing children, you might employ some sneaky tricks to motivate them also. It just showed your pluck though to not just accept that you weren’t going to have it. Sugar would have been quite a treat in those times. She mightn’t have been real keen to share such a luxury after she’d accomplished her mission. Or she may have had more on her mind than sugar lumps? The music totally fitted the story 🙂


  10. Patti Kuche Says:

    Oh you poor babies . . . I sometimes think of adults as being overgrown kids, still getting their own back for crimes in the sandpit while there are others with bigger hearts and arms to comfort.


  11. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    What sad but wonderful nostalgia Gerard as I pictured that small boy struggling up the dune, and in the end, receiving nothing. You paint a grand picture.

    I was recently told about “The Book Thief”. It will be in my near future.


  12. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    The Book Thief is being mailed to me as we “speak”! So far 4 readers have recommended it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: