Saturday I got a letter from my dear Dutch friend, Anne. Her beloved husband Peter had died.
Years ago, when I lived in Holland, Anne was my (then) husband's secretary. I knew Anne during that time, but it wasn't until we moved back to CT and the vivacious Anne and her sweet husband, Peter, came to visit that we really bonded. They stayed for several weeks and we became great friends, the three of us. We laughed, told our stories and laughed more. We pronounced each other our Dutch sibling. I speak English and a smattering of phrases from other languages, but Peter and Anne were fluent in several languages. One of us would get stuck on a word and out would come the Dutch dictionary, then the Italian, then the German. We wanted to be sure we would remember the word, so we would use it as much as possible. By the end of their stay, our sentences would be an interesting mix of several languages understandable only to the three of us.
Peter who was at least 25 years older than both Anne and I, was very handsome, quiet and gentle with a sweet smile and had to be coaxed to tell us his stories. Here is how he told me his life story...
During WWII, when the Germans entered Holland, Peter was a teenager. One day, on his way home from school, the Germans plucked him off of a street in Amsterdam and sent him to a work camp in Alsace. There he lived for several years with a French family, sleeping in an outbuilding at night and working all his waking hours for the Germans doing hard labor. Peter, a Christian, had little food, inadequate clothing and no contact with his family. He said he could not complain because the Jews had much less than he did.
Near the end of the war, the Americans liberated the work camp and Peter was free to return home. Peter had no way to get home and feared that he would not make it in the frail condition he was in. He offered his services as a translator to the American army. When they discovered that he was proficient in several languages, they took him on. He stayed with the Army for quite awhile and eventually they sent him to Paris to work at the Army headquarters there. He was part of an office that published a pamphlet for the GIs who were on leave in the City. The pamphlet outlined where they could and could not go and where to eat, etc. This was good training for Peter. He later went to work for the Michelin Guides as a restaurant critic. Many years later, he met Anne in one of the Michelin offices where they both worked.
I loved hearing Peter's stories of his anonymous visits to the restaurants and how he would rate them. Michelin's rating guide is "very good", "worth a detour" and the highest "worth the journey".
Over the years, I visited Peter and Anne at their home in the Netherlands several times and they visited me in CT as often. Anne is a wonderful letter writer combining stories of their days, always something educational, something sweet and usually a photograph. The letter always had interesting postage stamps chosen carefully just for me. It has always been easy to stay in touch with them.
Whenever we were together, we would naturally eat out at least a few times. I would encourage Peter to verbally rate the eateries, much to Anne's chagrin. He would point out things I never would have noticed, but soon realized how even the smallest little thing can have a big effect on the whole dining experience. Of course that is true of everything in life.
The thing I remember best of Peter is how much he loved Anne. I always used to think to myself, that he would be lost without her. But now it is Anne who is alone with her memories of the wonderful life together she and Peter shared. Anne says that marriage to Peter was "worth the journey"