I was skipping through the fields. I smelled one of Mama’s tulips and sighed. It smelled just as I expected a sunrise would, if it had a smell. Suddenly, a boat appeared. I happily stepped into it. Suddenly the boat began to fill with water. I looked around. Water surrounded me! It was everywhere. I . . . I . . .
I sat up quickly. I was in bed. It had been just a dream. I hadn’t had many dreams like this before. Here in the Netherlands, not many people feared the water because of the dikes, which held it back. But something wasn’t right.
Just then my feet splashed in ankle-deep water. It churned and swirled around my legs. Startled, I looked down. Water filled my bed. The floor was no longer visible. Water was everywhere, inching higher and higher.
I rubbed my eyes. Was I dreaming? The water couldn’t have made it over the dikes. It wasn’t possible! Was it? The icy water chilled my feet to the bone. I shrieked.
My little brother Theodore, whom I call Teddy, sat up groggily. “What is it, Sieke? Am I late for chores?” he asked sleepily. His always-curious eyes looked up into mine. Teddy was nine that year. He was my only sibling.
“Come on, Teddy” I ordered, “upstairs, now!”
“But Sieke,” he began, and then he saw the murky water, creeping slowly upward. I grabbed his hand, and we rushed up the stairs. We nearly crashed into Papa, who was on his way down.
He looked behind us at the rushing water and said, “Go upstairs and wait with your mater.” Teddy and I swiftly obeyed. We climbed the stairs and ran into the welcome arms of our mother.
Mama squeezed us tight. “We know all about it,” she told us when we tried to explain. “As soon as your papa woke up and saw it he headed straight for you.” I began to sob.
“We’ll be all right,” she kept repeating, “we’ll be all right.” There was no fear in her soothing voice, though I think she was trying to convince herself as much as us.
I looked up at Mama, her golden hair swept up in two yellow braids, and her warm blue eyes anxious. As I said earlier, I was twelve, and people were constantly telling me that I looked like my mater. I wanted to be as brave as my mama, sitting there, comforting us. Her fear just barely showed in her bright blue eyes.
Suddenly Papa burst through the door. “Up . . . on . . . the roof . . .” he panted. The water crept up the stairs behind him, like a robber coming to take all we had.
Herding us out of her lap, Mama flung the window open. Papa rushed over and lifted me up. “Grab hold of the roof, Sieke, and pull yourself up,” he instructed. So much was happening, and it was all happening so fast. Terrified, I squeezed my eyes shut and clung to the top of the roof, only halfway out the window.
“Pull up, Sieke,” ordered Papa.
“I can’t,” I sobbed. Mama looked at me with pleading eyes. Taking a deep breath, I heaved myself up on the roof. Shivering, I sat there, waiting for the rest of them.
Next came Teddy, then Mama, and last Papa. We all sat on the roof, clinging to each other, watching the deadly water rise toward us every second. We waited for what seemed like an eternity before the boats arrived.
Teddy saw them first. It was maybe midday. The sun was blazing, set high in the sky. Half of me wanted to jump in the cool water. I was staring at it, when all of a sudden Teddy cried, “Boats! Look everyone, boats!” He ran and gave me a big hug. A dozen or so boats were floating past us, filled with people.
“Hello,” called a tall man from one of the boats, “would you like a ride?” Teddy jumped into a boat joyfully. I turned my back to them. What if one of the boats sprung a leak or . . .
“It’s much safer here than there on your roof, missy,” said a voice from behind me. I whirled around. It was the tall man. My family had already disappeared in the people. The man somehow reminded me of Papa. Maybe it was his yellow beard, or his kind eyes. Smiling, I stepped into the boat and we floated away.
I was nervous. It wasn’t the boat; I had been on boats before. It was that water, that terrifying water. We floated by a bloated cow, and I felt sick.
“Mater?” I said, looking around for my mother. There was no answer. “Mater!” I called, frightened. “Pater? Teddy?” I looked around desperately, realizing that my family was not in the boat that I was! I thought back. Many of the boats had separated back by our house. Who knew how far away they were now?
I sat down, distressed. I was alone. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up. It was the tall man. “You’ll find them,” he said. I looked down at his feet. He was wearing klompen, wooden shoes. I wondered if he lived near us.
“I’m Mr. Van Roekel,” he introduced himself.
“My name is Sieke,” I replied.
“Sieke,” he repeated and smiled. I smiled back.
Just then another boat came our way. A man yelled, “Van Roekel! We need some help over here! We have a family with six kids, nearly in over their heads.” Mr. Van Roekel jumped into the boat. I barely had time to shout a goodbye. I never saw him again.
Later, another boat came by. I saw a few men talking to each other. One of them nodded his head. A few of his passengers climbed into our boat. Some in our boat moved to theirs.
Suddenly a sopping little girl clutching a care-worn doll was thrust into my open arms. Startled, I nearly dropped her. She looked at me through tears, or maybe just water. I couldn’t tell the difference.
She noticed me looking at her doll. “I got her from Sinter-Klass,” she said, squeezing her doll lovingly. “Mater told me not to go in after her, but I did. Then the water tried to get me,” she said solemnly.
I didn’t laugh at this little girl’s idea of the water. The water was a monster. It wanted to take everything away from me.
A little sobbing voice interrupted my thoughts. “Mater, I want my mater.” I looked down at the little girl.
“Can you tell me about your mater?” I asked the girl softly.
She looked up at me. She began to tell me about her mother, and was soon chattering on about her whole family. “And I’m the youngest,” she finished. “Oh, and my name is Elise. What’s yours?” she added as an afterthought.
“My name?” I asked.
“Sieke,” I replied.
“You remind me of my favoritest sister, Gertie. Well, she’s my only sister, but . . .” she trailed off and yawned.
I realized that it was getting dark. I looked down at Elise. Slowly, as she drifted off to sleep in my lap, I thought of my family. It had felt good to talk to and comfort someone. I looked up at the stars, like holes in the immense blanket of sky, and, hard as I tried not to, I fell into a dreamless sleep.
I woke in the morning to a peaceful sunny sky. Elise still lay in my lap, sleeping. Something seemed out of place. It was peaceful, still as a cat, curling up for a nap. Then suddenly I realized that the water had stopped rushing.
Excitedly I looked down at the calm water. My movement woke Elise. Soon we were shouting and hugging each other. We woke the others in the boat, and soon everyone was celebrating.
By late that afternoon, the water was just in small puddles. We got out of the boat, thankful to be walking on the soft squishy earth. Some people had wooden klompen; others found them and put them on. I just went barefoot, letting the mud squish between my toes. I carried Elise on my back.
Though Elise and I had known each other for just that one terrible night, we had become very close. Though as we ran through the muddy streets together, I remembered how Teddy and I loved to walk through the mud. I thought of Mama and Papa. I was sure Elise missed her family too.
Soon we were walking from boat to boat, searching. We saw no familiar faces. Feeling more dejected each time, we began to slow down.
“Oh!” cried Elise suddenly, as we walked down a muddy street, “I dropped my dolly.” I tiredly gave her permission to go get her dolly, which she had dropped back at the end of the road.
As her tiny feet pattered away through muddy puddles, a girl, who looked just about my age, with eyes red from crying, walked over. “Have you met a little girl named Elise?” she asked. She began to describe my Elise, the Elise that I had spent the endless night with.
“Is your name . . . Gertie?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper. The answer to my question came from behind me.
“Gertie!” shrieked a little voice. Elise flung her arms around her sister. Tears were pouring down Gertie’s face.
“Elise,” she sobbed, “Elise, I’m never letting go of you again.” Elise laid her head on Gertie’s shoulder. As Gertie led me to the rest of her family, sobbing all the way, I watched Elise. Her eyes were beginning to close. Her hair framed her face like a little halo. But the thing that most caught my attention was the smile on her face. Her face positively glowed.
I was so happy for Elise, and for Gertie, but I ached for my family. I longed for familiar, loving faces. I walked slowly after Gertie and Elise.
“Mater, Pater, and the boys are just around this next corner,” Gertie told me. I turned and saw a family just as Elise had described: four tall boys and a man, all with deep brown eyes, and a woman who looked much like Elise and Gertie.
“Mater!” yelled Elise, “Mater!” She dove into her mother’s arms.
“Elise,” sobbed her mother, “Elise, my baby” Elise told her about the night we had spent together. “You saved my baby” she looked up at me, “dank u, thank you.”
I smiled shyly. I was just happy to see Elise with her family again. Suddenly, from behind me burst out, “Sieke!”
I whirled around. My mama was rushing toward me. I didn’t dare believe it. Mama, if it truly was her, hugged me tight. “Mama!” I screamed, “Mama! It really is you!”
Suddenly Papa and Teddy were around me too. It was a blur of joy and love, happiness and sadness. It was as if someone had poured all of our feelings out into a bottle, and shook them all up. My head fell against my mama’s chest, and I hugged her, feeling that I would never let go.
Later that night, our families chatted around the fire like old friends. I thought of no place I would rather be than here, among family and friends. Thinking of all my jumbled emotions, I fell into sleep.
When I woke, Elise’s family was gathering up the little they had left, and putting it in a wagon that I assumed they must have found. Papa and Elise’s father were shaking hands. I walked over to Elise, who was in her mother’s arms.
“We have to go, Sieke,” she whispered to me.
“I know” I whispered back.
“Goodbye,” she said, tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks.
“No,” I replied, “not goodbye.” I was tired of saying goodbye. I took her small hand in mine and gazed into her eyes, the color of the sea. “God bless you, until we meet again.” As her mother walked away, she waved at me and smiled. Until we meet again, I thought, until we meet again . . .