Ans Kleine Staarman-Braun is just like de Volkskrant 100 years. How does this retired druggist and mother of six sons look back on the century behind her, and how does she live now?
‘Good morning Mother, today is Tuesday, September 20. Be with Piet at 10 o’clock for a visit to the Leeflandgoed farm. This afternoon at 2:30 an interview with de Volkskrant. Frans and Carla are there. It will be slightly cloudy and a maximum of 17 degrees.’
This text appears in large letters on a screen in the living room of 100-year-old Ans Kleine Staarman-Braun. Through an app, her eldest son Frans or his wife Carla give the centenarian an up-to-date overview every day of what is on her program and what the weather will be like. A useful tool because her short-term memory is failing. The mother of six sons, who worked in her own business until her 60s, can’t stop talking about her past.
You still go out regularly, I understand.
‘I still sing in two choirs, one in Nuenen and one in Helmond. My neighbor Piet has such a two-person car, do you know that? In it he takes me to singing twice a week. We also sometimes ride on bicycle paths through nature. Last summer we went on vacation together. We had booked a hotel in Oldenzaal and drove around a lot with a bus and visited nice shops. I didn’t know the Achterhoek was so beautiful, with all those avenues and gardens. There is no need to travel all the way to Spain or Italy.
‘I’m always looking for entertainment. When I do something, I feel like I still belong. In the morning I always take a walk with Martien, my other neighbour. You have to keep walking when you get old, otherwise you won’t be able to do it later. The two men often visit me in the evening, then we drink coffee, with a biscuit and watch television together. Every Thursday evening I play the card game Rikken, with a cup of hot chocolate on the side. If I don’t show up, they’ll come get me. And I’m in the chat club with all eighty-somethings, there we chat about the past and give each other tips on what you can still do. We cheer each other up. And that’s how I keep things going. If you don’t do anything, every day is the same.’
What does singing mean to you?
‘A lot. If I’m down in the dumps and I start singing, it’s over. It makes me happy and makes me feel good again. Other thoughts come to my mind, such as: what are you whining about? Look at what’s happening in the rest of the world; we live here in the promised land. You have fine sons and daughters-in-law, they are your comrades.’
She gets up to get a folder out of the cupboard and leafs through the repertoire of her choirs: from the Brabant national anthem to yesterday by The Beatles, and classic works like Magnificat.
What are you sometimes down about?
‘I often think: I would like euthanasia. Especially when I wake up in the morning. My muscles are then stiff and hurt, all you old junk, you can’t fix them anymore. But at the same time I am ashamed of the thought that it may be over. I’m thankful that I can walk well and am still sane, well, partially, haha. You have to avoid complaining, then you will feel every pain, you will see everything black and you will become an old tut. That is also why I go for a walk every day, otherwise I will wither.’
What period in your life do you think about most often?
‘I went to a boarding school for a few years, in a monastery with the order of the Ursulines in Bergen, North Holland. There I did the first two classes of secondary school. There I received a strict Christian upbringing. We got up at 7:15 am. After washing and dressing we had to go to mass every morning, then meditate, then we had breakfast and then off to school. After two years my mother said: come home, soon you will become a nun, that is not the intention. My mother was open-minded, and not so ecclesiastical. I finished secondary school in Leiden.’
How did those years under the strict regime of the nuns affect you?
‘It has made me more serious, taking things seriously that you would otherwise skip. During the sermon at every mass you were impressed with their truths, that it was not good for example if you did not take communion once. I still go to church every Saturday and Sunday. I would never have done that if I hadn’t been to the monastery. It was there that I was pumped that you should devote some of your time to church. I’ll do that then.’
What did your parents do for a living?
‘They both had their own shop in Noordwijk aan Zee, next to each other. My father owned a drugstore and my mother a drapery shop. My sister helped my mother in the business and I helped my father. We lived above the drugstore, near the sea, opposite the Palace Hotel, which is still there. We often walked from home to the sea in bathing suits with a bathrobe over it, going for a swim. During the war, German soldiers moved into the hotel. There were also boys who were against Hitler, they openly said so. Because there was a lot of shouting at the Germans, they laid mines in the street to keep people at a distance. Then we couldn’t leave the house anymore and we moved to Hoogeveen. There we were assigned a Jewish house that was empty.’
Did it feel good to live in that house?
‘A Jewish butcher had lived there who had been taken away with his family. Behind the house was a slaughterhouse. Frans went into hiding there later in the war, whom I married a few years later. We were looked at with the neck in Hoogeveen, because we came from Holland. I was able to work at the distribution office and started saving distribution vouchers. I gave it to a lady in the office who helped Jews in hiding. “Oh, so you’re on the right side,” she said.
Did you, like many women in those days, have to stop working after getting married?
‘After our first son was born, I thought: great, not to work for a while. Walking with the stroller, showing off our beautiful baby. But work is a sacred necessity for me. I’m not used to holding out my hand and I knew nothing about the household. Since my mother also worked and we had domestic help, I had learned nothing about cooking, washing and cleaning.
‘My husband made caps and trousers, but lost his business because the tax authorities said he still had a lot of money to pay. Nothing was right, but soon the bailiff was on the doorstep to seize our house and our belongings. I said, ‘Don’t touch my things, we are not married in community of property.’ The man was perplexed, he had never experienced that before. I would have liked to have married in community of property, but my father said: ‘None of it, because if the marriage goes wrong, the man has everything and the woman nothing.’ If I hadn’t listened to him, we would have been on the street with the children the day the bailiff came.
‘I didn’t want to go to social services. Because I had completed the vocational training for druggist and had a middle class diploma, I had the papers to start my own business. So I started a drugstore in our house. Once it was running, I said to my husband: now you must also look for a job. I heard from an acquaintance that a representative had left the firm of Ten Herkel, so I called and said that my husband was looking for work. “I can’t do that at all,” said Frans. “You’re not 30 yet, you still have a lot to learn,” I replied. He went and was hired. He cycled to farms to sell drugstore items. He turned out to be a first-class salesman and got compliments from the boss, and a company car, a Volkswagen Beetle. We were also allowed to use it privately as a family, we could declare the petrol costs. We now had six sons, so we all crammed into the car and made trips and went on holiday to Germany and France.’
A shop and six sons, how did you keep the boys in line?
‘I’ve never had a problem with that. I like harmony and togetherness and there was. That went without saying. I used my common sense, gave my children space, kept it light and wasn’t strict. If you’re strict, they’ll play pranks. You can never get to your children’s minds, so you have to let them. And who says that as a mother or father you are always right? We’ve never had dramas. When the boys were restless, I gave each of them their own puzzle and had them put it together on the windowsill: whoever finishes first, and off they go. Puzzle calms. I still do it when I’m alone. The harmony of the past is still there, there is never any quarrel in the family. I’ve had a good life, with perhaps more luck than wisdom.’
Ans Kleine Staarman-Braun
born: June 23, 1922 in Noordwijk aan Zee
lives: independently, in Nuenen
family: six sons (one deceased), twelve grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren
widow since: 2000