There was a time long ago, when electricity was a thing of the past. When children went to school with horse and wagon, or walking. When the streets were covered with dirt and machinery didn’t rule our lives. It was a charming time filled with hard working people, with fear of the supernatural and with homemade meals cooked by the mother who stayed by the hot stove all day while her man was working to put that same food on the table. It was an alien time that most of us can’t image yet it existed not that long ago.
Just before the great technological boom of the 20th century the world was a lot slower, people a lot humbler and our cities a lot simpler. The tale I want to tell you happened in a city like that back in 1916. It was a big basic school. Big for that time of course it was a boarding school. The students would sleep there and go to school. Most were children of alone parents who couldn’t care for them or didn’t have the money. Back in those days the church demanded there was a child. A priest would come by the house every few years and check if a child was born. Women didn’t have any rights so they were forced to do as the church or their husbands told them to do. The priest would knock on the door and when he was in would walk around the house with a stern face. The judgment was dripping from his eyes when he layed them on the female asking why she hasn’t given her husband a child yet. The reason that they were too poor to feed the already existing 4 wasn’t good enough and they were told to make a 5th. Those families were often very poor and the children had to be send to schools like those.
The school had a large sleeping area in the above right wing. The below floor was a dining room and kitchen. The entire wing was children who lived there. The left wing was the school itself with classrooms and below the doctor’s office and library. It was a protestant school so a place was also set aside for prayer, bible studies were included in the daily lessons, children would learn the bible and be tested upon it. Every day before meals and before bed time a prayer would be said in groups with the teachers leading it. Each class consisted of approximately 20 to 30 children.
Life for a child there wasn’t easy and they spend their most important years there, some left when they were as old as 18. Never getting to know family or their parents, the school was their home. They had so much feelings attached to this place because of both happiness and suffering that after they passed years in the future their spirit came back to roam the building because it was the only home it knew. Feelings are the key to attachment and that can very easy be directed to objects and buildings as well as to people. When you are sentimentally so attached to this school even in a negative way you come back to it.
The school was filled with loneliness and sorrow, with tears still hiding behind the eyes of children who never knew home. When walking down those corridors one could almost feel them breath on your skin. The energy was cutting the air and the past would transcend into the present reminding us that it still exists even though we might not admit it so. It is still alive in memories and pictures of family and in the school itself. Standing there like a monument of a different humanity.
It is quite peculiar to think about it, because it feels like a different world and different humanity yet it is our grandfathers and grandmothers. Their way of live didn’t include running to work every day because they already worked all day, their days were a lot longer and work a lot harder. They didn’t have the luxury of cars, washing machines, phones and electricity. The work was long and hard, the winters very cold but the hearts open and warm.
One of the teachers in that school was called Els van Hoeven. She thought 3rd grade students all of her life. She was one of those who stayed to live in the dorm so she could take care f the children. She truly loved them since she couldn’t have any on her own. She used to be married but her husband passed away from illness and she was left alone. They tried to have a child before he passed but she failed. With the church’s influence she started to believe to be cursed by the devil so she can’t have any children. To cleanse her soul, she gave her life to those who weren’t her own. She thought, bathe and gave love to hundreds of children who lived in that school. On the middle part of the school just at the top of a stone stairway she hung a big photograph of the class. Those were very expensive back in the day so having one this size would have cost a lot of money. Now every time someone walks pass this image they stop and stare without even knowing why. The love she felt is still in that photograph.
Many years later in our time the school was still active and still a basic school but also used for many children activities like theater classes. Els is said to have been seen walking the halls or standing in front of the photograph of her students.