This week we paid a visit to Mevrouw T’s grandparents, who for over forty years have been lying side by side in a churchyard in the northern village of Roswinkel.
Everyone loves a good cemetery, and the example in this unprepossessing Dutch village of less than 1000 residents kept us happy for quite some time.
The graveyard stands a little way apart from the simple church, surrounded by a hedge and lined by oak trees, still leafless in the early spring, their twisted branches silhouetted against the leaden sky.
As far as we know, nobody famous has ever been buried in Roswinkel; the same names crop up over and over on the headstones – Kuipers, Luttjemans, Boesink, Santing and Pagters. The Christian names recur too – Jantien, Hendrik, Hans, Albert, Grietje.
There are no grand family crypts, no flamboyant angel statues, not even photographs of the departed.
Drenthe farmers never went in for show. Life up north was hard, simple and practical. What in English is called ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is described in Dutch as ‘sticking one’s head above the maize field.’
Drenthe is the Netherlands’ most sparsely populated province. In the summer it’s popular with local Dutch holiday-makers who come to ride their bikes around its thousands of kilometres of cycleways, but for the most part, life appears little changed from the way generations of Roswinkelers would have known it.
Thomas Gray’s lines came to mind:
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.