Wendy C Kasten
31 Bowling Green Lane
Belfast, Maine 04915
From Now On
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
April 6, 1923
I run as fast as I can, my rucksack bouncing on my shoulder, cousin Hero just ahead of me. I jump over wandering pigeons, cross the road, leap over horse poo, and head up the walkway along the canal. Hero turns first onto the ancient stone bridge and stops at the crest. I come in second. We are huffing.
“We made it just in time,” Hero begins.
“There,” I say, pointing to the barge. Our favorite barge. The one with the friendly man, and the beautiful, fluffy dog. The man at the back works the long pole. The man at the front works the net, scooping up garbage in the water. They come closer, and we both wave like crazy.
The man with the net stops and tips his cap to us. The dog smiles and barks to us.
“Look how beautiful that dog is,” I say to my cousin.
“You and your dogs,” Hero shakes his head.
We are still catching our breath, leaning on the old bricks when this boy we know from school named Jorge gets to the top of the bridge. He’s with an older boy we don’t know.
“Hendrik, what’s your family going to do if the carpenters strike?” Jorge seems upset.
I have never seen Jorge so upset and serious. What’s going on? I look at Hero who shrugs his shoulders, because we don’t know what he’s talking about. Just then the older boy pulls Jorge along, and we go back to enjoying the barge, which is passing under the bridge and out of sight.
Hero and I part ways when we get close to our houses. I scale up the worn wooden stairs, stopping at the first landing. Nothing in the world can take away my good feelings today. Not even Pappa in one of his bad moods. The door to my Oma’s flat stands open.
“My little Henkie, come in.” My grandmother breaks into a big smile just for me. She is stirring potatoes on the burner as I step inside the door.
“How is my Henkie?” Oma wipes her hands on her apron, opening her arms wide.
“Very good, Oma.” All of me sinks into her arms, her softness surrounds me.
“How was school today?” She backs up enough to look at me, pushes my dark hair off my forehead.
“Great. Oma, I wrote a poem! It mentions you! Mr. Swart really liked it. He read it in front of the whole class! Everyone in the class said it was really good.”
“My clever boy.” Oma plants a kiss on my forehead. “Maybe we are going to have a poet in the family, yah?” With my coat sleeve, I wipe away the wetness, still smiling. “Ach, are you getting too old for kisses from your Oma? Is this because you are almost ten?” Oma laughs. “Tell me more about this poem, Henkie!”
Quickly, I take my school rucksack from my shoulder and dig it out. “Here it is,” uncurling the slightly bent piece of paper.
I carefully put back the book my teacher loaned me –his very own copy of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. I stand up tall and ready.
“Spring, by Hendrik Van Veen.” I take a deep breath, looking over at my Oma, who waits patiently.
“Spring is coming, yes it will,
Tulips bud on Oma’s sill.
Sun is warming, days get long,
Soon birds will sing their welcome song.”
“Wonderful, my Henkie.” Oma claps. “You are a clever boy.” She looks at me, her hand on her chest. “Now, you best be getting upstairs. Your mamma is waiting for you. Your sisters are already home.”
“Yes, Oma. They passed me when Hero and I stopped on the bridge.”
Oma holds out a plate. She knows these butter and almond cookies are my favorite.
“Take one,” she warns holding up one finger. Snatching it, I shove it all it in my mouth, pick up my rucksack, and begin to take the stairs up to our attic flat two at a time, hoping Oma is not looking.
“Be careful on those stairs!” she yells after me. “Someone could get killed on those stairs!”
Stepping into our attic flat, I stand on tip toes to hang up my woolen coat and cap on the second peg by the door. Not the first peg. Pappa’s coat goes there. He gets mad if anyone else uses it.
“Ah, Henkie, you are finally home,” Mamma says while one hand holds our big pot steady on the alcohol burner. The pot has been filled with water. Kale, potatoes, and even metwurst are next to the pot. My favorite dinner! It’s been weeks since we had my favorite dinner!
“Mamma, I wrote a poem today!”
“Wonderful, Henkie. Maybe you can read it to us after dinner.”
“I already read it to Oma.” I pause. “She said that maybe I am going to be a poet someday.” Mamma turns away from the pot and looks at me, putting down the towel.
“You are good with the words, Henkie.” She turns and adds potatoes to the pot. Then the leaves of kale, a few at a time. “But remember Pappa expects you to be a carpenter, just like him. Boys always do the same trade as their fathers. You know this. You can still write poems for enjoyment, though.” Mamma adds the ring of metwurst on top of the kale, pushes it all down with a wooden spoon, and puts the lid on the pot.
My bubble bursts a little, because I want to write.
Still, the wonderful feeling of reading my poem in class today stays with me. I walk over and put my rucksack on my cot in the alcove. My sisters’ beds are here, too.
But, this will change when we get our new place. We are all so excited about getting our new flat.
Looking out our only windows, I see Pappa walking up the street. It’s way too early for Pappa to be getting home. He and another man stand there with his heavy toolbox, each one holding a handle on the side. They wait to cross the street until a horse and cart pass by.
“Why is Pappa coming home early?” I say to anyone who might be listening. I think back to what happened while Hero and I were watching the barge. What was Jorge talking about? Something about a strike. Maybe I should have asked him what he meant. Something doesn’t feel right.
“Why is Pappa getting home so early?” No one answers.
The clock strikes one ding dong for 5:30. Betsie goes to the tea table in the corner. She pulls down one of the glass doors and gets out five teacups.
“Mamma, are we getting our new flat soon?” Betsie asks while she is arranging cups at each person’s place. She is now as tall as Mamma.
“Yah, I think so,” Mamma looks over and smiles. “Pappa says we are high on the waiting list. Not much longer now.” Steam rises in Mamma’s face while picks up the lid, stirring our dinner.
“I’m tired of living in an attic,” Betsie chimes in and sighs her impatience.
Any flat will be bigger than this place!” Mamma chuckles. The plodding of Pappa’s footsteps move slowly up the last set of stairs, one at a time. I hear the thud of the heavy toolbox on each step as he makes progress.
Pappa inches in, straining to manage the end handles on the wide and tall wooden box. When he plunks it on the floor, dishes on the table rattle. He’s breathing hard. He hangs up his jacket and cap and pushes his hair away from his face. Pappa is only a little taller than Mamma. His work clothes are not dirty as usual.
Chrissie comes skipping out from behind the curtains and runs into Pappa’s arms. Pappa pats her on the head, smiling.
“Pappa, you’re home!” Chrissie squeals, prancing around our little flat, holding the bow in her hair.
Chrissie is Pappa’s favorite.
“I have news.” Pappa stands there, still huffing. No one pays attention.
Pappa clears his throat a little and begins again, a bit louder this time. “I have something very important to tell all of you. Everyone, listen!”
We all stop what we’re doing and look at Pappa, Mamma’s face concerned.
Probably Pappa is going to tell us about our new apartment. I hope to find out where it is. I hope it isn’t far from here. By the time I have my birthday in August, we will be living in a proper flat.
Pappa clears his throat. Suspense hangs in the air.
“We are going to be moving before too long.”
My stomach jumps with butterflies. Maybe we will have different rooms, and more than two little windows. My head swims. Pappa does not continue at first. Everyone keeps looking at him, waiting for him to continue.
“We are all moving to America.” Pappa grins widely.
Everyone is quiet. “What?” Mamma is not smiling.
“We are moving to America.” Pappa says a little louder than before, still grinning.
“Oh, my goodness! We are going to America!” Betsie starts screeching. “I heard the streets are paved with gold!”
“And I heard there are Indians on pinto ponies riding on the streets,” Chrissie adds with a sigh, placing her hand on her chest. Then she screeches, too, and both my sisters start jumping up and down, like crazy girls, singing “We are going to America, we are going to America!”
Mamma stares at Pappa, her mouth open.
“Hendrik, we should talk about this.” Pappa’s name is Hendrik, too. Mamma puts down the spoon. “Betsie, come over here and watch this pot.” Betsie obeys. Mamma walks to the private place behind the drapes where Mamma and Pappa sleep. Pappa follows her. He closes the drapes, as much as anyone can.
My, Oh my. Did we all hear wrong? There must be some mistake. We live in Amsterdam. This is our home, the city that I love. I plan to live here my whole life.
“We are moving to America,” Betsie says again, almost to herself, with a satisfied smile.
I feel like a horse just kicked me in my gut. I can barely breathe. My legs feel all tingly like at any moment, they will collapse.
The three of us stay quiet so we can hear, as close to the curtains as we dare.
“Yes, I decided.” Pappa’s voice is easy to hear. But with Mamma’s voice, she’s whispering, and we can’t hear much. The word money leaks out.
“Don’t worry about the money! The union is taking care of the money! They are helping with all the arrangements.” My sisters and I stand frozen to the floor.
Mamma is talking again. But we cannot hear what she says.
“This is my decision.” Pappa barks. A pause. “…leaving as soon as the arrangements are made. By the end of the month, I think.”
More whispered words.
“Betsie, have Chrissie and Henkie sit down to supper.” Mamma calls from behind the curtain. Betsie herds us to the table. Chrissie and I as the youngest in the family, always share a bench on one side. Betsie sits in a chair on her side. We hear more hushed words.
The drapes rip aside. Pappa storms out, yelling words we have often heard but are not allowed to say. He grabs his cap and jacket from the peg, stomps out, and slams the door. The cups on the saucers rattle.
“Is everything all right? I heard such noise!” Oma huffs a little.
Mamma gets up from her chair and goes to the door. She motions to Oma to step out into the hallway and they close the door behind them.
“I’m excited,” Chrissie says to Betsie and me, still prancing about. “This will be such fun.”
“I think once we get used to the idea, we’ll all think it’s very good.” Betsie adds, a little more quietly, and looking over at me.
“How can you say that?” I sit in disbelief.
“America is supposed to be wonderful. Lots of people have moved there. Even Oom Neal and Tante Belia,” Betsie tries to convince me.
“Yah, I think this is wonderful,” Chrissie adds, between sips. My tea sits in my cup. Mamma serves dinner, putting some of the boerenkool in each dish. Oh, The smell of potatoes and metwurst!
In front of me is my favorite dinner. The storm in my stomach will not let in any food. I push my plate aside and hide my face in my arms on the table. Mamma reaches over and rubs my back a little.
“My Henkie. You don’t like big changes, I know.” Mamma starts. After her fist bite, she adds, “But we will have to get used to it.”
dinner is over. Mamma and Betsie start to clean up. Mamma has forgotten all
about my poem.
I love the personality of Henkie.
Beta reader reviews: Henry From Now on
“I like how there are many details.
I liked a lot of stuff. I liked the whole book – I read it in two days! It was so good that I had to keep reading it.
Thank you for letting me read this book. It is a great book for my age group, and when it comes out, I definitely want to recommend it to my classmates and my teachers.
Casey (age 9)”
“This is MIck (age 14). I have a couple of things to say about your book. It was well written and to me it was very emotional and to some kids, this book might bring back bad memories if what Henry went through with his dad happened to them at one point in their life.”
Happy to report that I finished reading Henry From Now On, and I was captivated the whole way through by the intricacies of the relationship you developed from the family’s troubled leave-taking to the final moment when Henkie arrives at the NY farm and the care of a loving family….”I love that boy. More like the writer drew me into Henkie’s character and invited me to partake of his struggles, frustrations, dreams, and first glimmerings of the fulfilled older guy he will become. There’s a richness in Henkie’s character. Broad strokes of feelings and concern bring him to life.
You sustained the entire immigrant experience with the kind of authenticity that derives from empathy. These people meet the adjustments migrants must navigate in order to survive. I felt so deeply for their disorientation, language barriers, the prejudices heaped upon them…”
Anthony Manna, Author/Educator