The Gift of a Book and a Childhood Memory

Before the widespread use of internet and social networking, I had tried several times to locate a book that made a huge impression upon me when I was only eight or nine years of age. A little over a decade ago I even got in touch with the school district, but they could not recall such a book, despite being dead certain about its title.

I do not know what happened to my original copy of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten,” a book with a story which fuelled a young boy’s imagination with adventure and a taste for foreign shores, a story that also reflected the very essence and existence for the child’s hometown.

Hamburg, Germany, a port city where ships depart and arrive from all points of the map since the founding of the city, is where he grew up, watching ships navigate the river, Elbe and into the heart of the city.

The premise of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten,” is about a group of boys who find an abandoned lifeboat, fix it up, turning into a sail boat and go explore the rivers coast line and the open sea.

It was also a time when theaters featured movies not only about cowboys and Indians and the Wild American West, but also about the high seas and the dangers of pirates and their reign of terror in the Caribbean Seas. 

As the years passed, turning into more than five decades, the love of the story about Hans and his comrades did not fade from memory, to be forgotten, rather strengthened and after watching a foreign motion picture that was filmed in Hamburg, the search was back on.

The scene did not even last a full half minute, showing a girl exiting a large red brick building with a number of other students at the end of the school day, only to sit down at the last step, waiting for her mother. As the camera pulled back to show more of the yard, it revealed the name of the school, a major clue and after a quick Internet search it confirmed being the very school I attended.

That very evening I posted on my FaceBook page not only pictures of the school and its name, but also my quest for a particular school book, whose story was fresh as the first day I had read it. While it may seem childish wanting to locate a copy of one’s schoolbook, it is no different then the yearning of going back home where one grew up.

That very evening, Edith Meier, a friend who I have never met in person and only engaged in casual conversation since we befriended, messengered me, sharing the good news that a copy of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten” was found on a German website and that she had purchased the book and was making it a present to me.

I found myself speechless at her kind generosity and for not only bringing to an end my quest but for providing me with the very means to turn back the hands of the clock and try to relive a young boy’s dreams with ever word I read and with every page that I turn. 

We are sentimental beings, clinging to items other find insignificant or even  useless, only because it has a special personal meaning for us. I have not much from my childhood then these few school books, which I hope one of my children will hold on to after my passing, telling the story of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten” to their children and what this book had meant to me as a boy. Sharing with new generation the excitement of adventure and the desire to explore the unknown, paving out a path of ones own.

Apart from the many paintings I created, the books I illustrated or designed as a graphic designer and photographer, the paint boxes and brushes, there are also the few German school books, an atlas, and of course Edit’s gift of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten” that will be part of the treasures that just may inspire another young impressionable person.

In your case it might be a fountain pen, which guided the ink over many a pages of a journal or drafted a book. The item that is revered can even be a box of tools that build a chicken coop; a musical instrument, even sheets of music of an original score a family member wrote that are the bases of the telling of a story and keeping alive the memory of that person. And while through it’s retelling over the years the story takes on a different direction from when it was first told, it is not the story but the words themselves and the magic they hold that is important in passing along a memory.

All photographs taken with an iPhone 4S by
©2014 Egmont van Dyck - All Rights Reserved

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