When you fall in love, I think it’s common to yearn for your partner to deeply know and love the places that formed you. We want to transcend our separate pasts and have our loved ones understand implicitly the magic in our holy places. I felt that when I begged my college boyfriend to make a trip to Baltimore, when I convinced my New York friend crew to come to a country music festival with me, when I hosted my bachelorette weekend at my grandparents’ home in Rehoboth Delaware, and when I recently brought Victor to Tripp Lake Camp.
Reeuwijk is Victor’s happy place, so here is my attempt to pay it adequate homage, as I have grown to love it too:
Victor came to his family’s tiny plaashuis (lake cottage) each summer for two weeks. The town of Reeuwijk where the house sits is actually an interconnected grid of lakes. The area’s dijks (land strips–each no wider than one car’s width) form the boundaries of each lake. These strips of land are dotted with houses that are mostly obscured by overgrown reeds.
Victor’s grandfather, Frank Veldhuijzen van Zanten, was a well-respected doctor in Gouda (the city of cheese-mongering fame). Frank poured his heart into building and maintaining Reeuwijk, and since all distances in this country are shrunk down to miniature, his weekend cottage was only a 25 minute bike ride from his home.
And boy does Reeuwijk take maintenance! Its roof needs rethatching every few years, the grasses grow uncontrollably, and the land literally sinks into the lake! When you arrive, you are instantly at work: donning thick socks and klompen (Dutch clogs that are the only appropriate footwear for the peety yard), vacuuming the spiders who have overtaken the walls in your absence, beating out the dust from the blankets and pillows, “rolling” the yard that has become lumpy (I’ve never quite understood this chore…), and preparing the boats with gas, knots, and a good scrub down. Every time the family gathers in Reeuwijk there is a grand discussion of some vitally needed renovation: Should we re-do the windows so it is less drafty? Should we replace the fireplace? Does the kitchen need more shelving? Because Frank’s children (and their spouses and families) all share ownership of the house now, each decision requires democratic input from many stakeholders.
And when I say it needs maintenance, do not think that this is some grand luxury estate. It is TINY. I have to duck in the sloped corners of the bedrooms upstairs. There is no dishwasher; there is no wifi or TV. The kitchen reminds me of an airplane because each magical compartment holds just enough to feed the family. One bathroom suffices for 7 people staying there, and the schuur (shed) out back somehow holds a grill, bikes, 2 sailboats, a surfboard, every tool you could need, and a deconstructed tent for the rare occasion in Holland when the day gets too sunny. Dated knickknacks like sailing trophies from the 60s and books from the 80s freeze the house in the late 20th century.
While the house may not look like much and it does require some work, as soon as Frank set up his house in Reeuwijk, the family knew it was special. Weeping willows droop peacefully over the water, hydrangea petals flutter and reeds sway freely in the wind. Geese and swans squawk to mark their territory. While humans squeeze along the tiny roads that bridge through the water, it does feel that nature still runs the show in Reeuwijk.
The community in Reeuwijk is delightfully homogenous in its interests and rhythms, and there is a predictable comfort to each day. Everyone bikes. Everyone has a tiny motorboat (no brand names, no big engines, no wakes) which they use to putz around the lakes. Everyone swims in the plaas. Everyone cooks at home. Sailors make the most of even the faintest wind. At the corner of our road, Opa Antonio has run an Italian ice cart for 30 years. Antonio has put several children through college on his earnings from the cart, and biking by on a summer afternoon, it’s no surprise why! People boat over and dock themselves by his bridge, and bikers crowd around, pausing their routes for a bolletje (scoop) or two. My favorite part is that his biggest market isn’t small children or families, but retirees. He has a huge following of shameless gray haired, ice cream lovers!
There is truly nowhere like Reeuwijk. There is nothing like the gratitude the Dutch feel for a warm day and a swim in the lake after a year of fog and rain. There is no freedom like biking along a dijk with miles of water on either side of you.
I can honestly say that I’ve added a new happy place to my memories: Rocking on the back porch; watching the sun set over the plaas; listening to the silence that is only punctuated by the occasional wisp of wind or errant squawk from a goose; enjoying a bowl of vanilla vla (custard) with tart red berries; feeling the satisfaction that we’ve done our duty to maintain this special place.