Homecoming – Heimwee, Comfort Food, Comfort People


The Taste of War: World War Two and the

Battle for Food by Lizzie Collingham

“How can one imagine not being hungry?”  Primo Levi asks in his account of his experiences at Auschwitz. The camp “is hunger: we ourselves are hunger, living hunger”. According to Lizzie Collingham’s ambitious new book, the whole second world war was hunger.


“Is there more?”

Papa at each and every meal for a long, long time


Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) liberation did not occur until 8/17/45

Courtesy of The Netherlands National Archives

My favorite definition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is: PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.*

This is a gentle, yet firm way of saying:

  • PTSD does not occur except in the face of the traumatic, the abnormal, in situations such as:

Domestic violence
Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
Upheavals and moves

  • People with PTSD symptoms are not mentally ill, rather each person suffers from severe anxiety characterized by reliving the original trauma in the form of hyper-vigilance, tension, anxiety and memories.
  • Psychotherapists, such as myself know that the physiological changes wrought by frequent trauma can be the most difficult to recover from.
  • Research shows that traumatized children have life-long CNS (central nervous system) changes due to repeated exposure to trauma in early childhood
  • Research shows that traumatized adults (after combat, being civilians in a war zone) show physiological effects, related to long term impact on their CNS, for decades

PTSD hyper-vigilance could very well be defined as being determined, on a cellular, central nervous system level to never be hungry again. To never” be hungry” for safety, for food, for shelter, for love. To never be hungry for all that was lost. So PTSD after war is about  hyper-vigilance to not be without food again, to not be in danger again, to not lose love again, to not lose loved ones again.

PTSD recovery could very well be called Homecoming. First, home is destroyed (literally or figuratively)  by trauma, and healing is coming home to safety again. Then, a sense of renewed Homecoming occurs after the rubble of the old home is sorted through, and a new home is found.  Tragically, massive numbers of people have experienced trauma related to starvation. As the quote and book title above indicates, this was especially true during World War II.

What can be the trauma for the second generation after war? For me it wasn’t war, combat, assault or domestic violence.

We. Moved. Too. Much.Dutch Flag

I was in the first generation born  of World War II survivor parents, who made a decision which was painful to all of us — Mama, Papa, myself, my younger sister. We would move away from my grandparents (Beppe and Pake) to build a better life with more opportunity in America. The traumatic changes of war, and the changed world after, with housing shortages and economic troubles changed Mama and Papa‘s psyches. My parents were prepared to immigrate, to continue to change.  They were attempting to replace traumatic changes with meaningful change — to immigrate. This meant that the day would come, that I would never stay on Beppe and Pake’s farm again.

This is what life was like before we left. I had already moved so often, that I was (happily) sent to live with Beppe and Pake so I could have some sameness before we moved again.I had months with Beppe and Pake while we were waiting to leave.

Sameness gifted me daily during that time. Daily I rushed to school, rushed home, and pulled on my coveralls (see the post on this site Coveralls:Reflecting Love).

Food was love, sameness was love, the farm house was love. Most of all, Beppe and Pake were love.

Every evening Pake and I walked in, from the  barn attached to the house, as warm air hit our brittle-cold ears and hands. We peeled off coveralls in the beikeuken (by – kitchen/mud room). This is when Beppe and Pake made the daily discovery that I never actually changed out of my school clothes. Precious time wasted away if I took school clothes off, instead every day I put coveralls on.

This is what we ate in a decade and a half after the end of World War II.  I am only beginning to get an inkling what this kind of abundance of food, the beginning to not have hypervigilance about food meant to my elder, especially to my father who had wasted away to “nothing” in Jappen kampen Japanese concentration camps … warm soup, potatoes, vegetables, gehakt, and salad dressed with a simple sauce.

courtesy of mrooijer.web-log.nl

Dutch Meal

Who are your comfort people? Mine were Beppe and Pake.

What are your comfort foods? For me, its simple nourishment, with plenty. With the kind of plenty meant by Papa when he would always ask, “Is there more?”

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