Thursday, January 25, 2024

Crossing the Threshold


Crossing the Threshold
The parsonage in a Dutch village, 1929

Our arrival at the parsonage of the church to which my new husband Kees had been called was far from the elegant and graceful occasion we had envisioned as newlyweds. A hat played a role in the drama. Not my beautiful gray hat, which I had bought a few weeks before our wedding, the first hat I had ever bought, and which I thought made me look like a proper minister’s wife. No, it was my husband Kees’s top hat.

We had tried to sneak away after the ceremony, pretending we were just going for a stroll. Kees—the darling—hated making a fuss. Also, once we were on our way, he did not want anyone to know we were newlyweds, but the shiny new top hat box gave us away. It was like wearing a sign that said: These People Are On Their Honeymoon! We thought we had sent it along with all our earthly possessions to our new home, but, somehow, we had forgotten.

We had kept our destination a secret from everyone at home, but after several days we sent a message from our hotel to let them know we were alive and well. A day later, upon returning from a lovely walk, we found the front desk clerk anxiously waiting for us with a message for me: “You have received two calls from home, and they want you to call back right away. It sounded urgent.”

We ran to the phone, wondering what could be wrong. Was it Mother? Father? An accident? No, it was Piet, my brother.

“So, little sister,” barked the indignant voice on the other end. “Would you please return my top hat, which that husband of yours has run off with?” “Whoa!” I said in innocence. “Yes, whoa! Instead of his hat, he took mine, which, at considerable cost, I had rented for your wedding. They are charging me more every day! Kees will have to pay for that! Send it back immediately. Kees’s is already on its way to you.” We couriered Piet’s to his address, but he sent Kees’s to us at our hotel!  

We didn’t think that Kees should wear a top hat with his khakis. So, we had to lug it around with us for most of a week while we continued our trip, until we arrived at the parsonage. The bus dropped us off with our bags and boxes at the gate to the house. Daylight was quickly fading. And, of all things, the gate was locked! At least, we could not open it.

“The porch light isn’t on,” Kees said, puzzled. “Everything looks closed. Mr. Boomsma, the church custodian, said he would be waiting for us, and that his wife would serve us tea and cookies.” He trailed off, wondering what was going on.

“Oh, Kees,” I said, thrilled. “This is much more fun! We have the place to ourselves! And did you know that . . . a bride can’t touch the threshold the first time she enters her house? Her husband has to carry her over it! This is so romantic!” “You could just step over it,” Kees said sensibly. “Besides, how are we going to get into the house with this gate locked?” There we were, with two large suitcases, a violin case, and a top hat box. “You stay here,” Kees said. “I’ll get the key from Mr. Boomsma. He lives beside the church. Or maybe we should. . .? It’s not too high, and no one’s watching.” So instead of being swept into her house by the strong arms of her husband, the fragile bride had to help haul two heavy suitcases over a fence. And when the proud groom, with a careless gesture, tossed the hat box onto the walkway, the lid came off, and the shiny top hat rolled down a grassy slope towards a water-filled ditch.

Kees dove after it as if he were saving a precious child from drowning. He snatched it just before it sank into the green slime. And I—well, I couldn’t help myself. I collapsed, laughing so hard I thought my sides would split. 

We dragged everything to the back door, which, to our surprise, was unlocked. We couldn’t find the light switch, so we groped our way through the dark house, which smelled of new paint, new curtains, and mold. But it was our own house, and when I shone Kees’s flashlight I joyfully recognized all the nice things we had bought or received as gifts, which we had arranged to be shipped to our new home. “Oh, look,” I exclaimed when I found my kitchen, “now I can make tea for us in our own home. . . .”

“How did the pastor and his wife get in?” said a gruff voice. I looked up and saw Mr. Boomsma, huge and imposing, standing in the doorway.

We found the light switch and turned it on. Mr. Boomsma came into the kitchen. He said he had not received Kees’s postcard with our arrival time.

“How did you know we were here?” Kees asked, puzzled.

Mr. Boomsma gestured with his thumb over his shoulder to the silent road behind him. “The neighbour lady from across the road. She saw you two climbing over the fence and came to tell me you were here.”

That night, I learned that “don’t worry! no one will see you” is not a phrase known in this village. Behind every closed curtain, eyes are watching the parsonage and its residents.


From Fransje en haar dominee (Fransje and her pastor), 1953, by Margaretha Elisabeth Gilhuis-Smitskamp (1908-2008). The book is made up of 25 short stories about life in the village pasonage in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Mrs. Gilhuis-Smitskamp was a pastor’s wife, and writes from that perspective. Tr. George van Popta, 2024.