The day of a cheese deliverer starts early in the Netherlands. At 5 a.m., on a quiet July morning twelve years ago, I was in the car, en route to a factory just outside the city of Utrecht, my mom’s cousin Jaap humming in the driver’s seat next to me. We popped into the factory upon arrival – Jaap grinning at my incredulous face as we passed shelf upon shelf of bright yellow cheeses, each shelf seeming to reach to the heavens. If Jacob’s ladder is anything other than an actual ladder, it might be a shelf in a cheese factory.
We traded the car for a delivery truck, loading it with much smaller rolling shelves, each holding their own wheels and half-wheels of cheese.
And then we drove. From the province of Utrecht to Flevoland, to Friesland, to Groningen, to Drenthe, to Overijssel, to Gelderland, and back to Utrecht. In nine little towns Jaap took the truck down roads that were really much too narrow for such a truck and pulled up next to the local kaas winkel. At each store we unloaded some cheese, and then, job done, popped into the back of the shop for a cup of coffee with the owner.
Dutch coffee, of course, isn’t like Canadian or American coffee. These were no light roast, watered-down, gas-station variety cups of coffee. These were basically espressos, shot-glasses of caffeine. And we had one at every store.
All nine of them.
While we drove, Jaap and I mostly listened to the radio. He spoke very little English. I spoke very little Dutch. We each had a few words – he knew “cloud” and “sheep.” I knew “hagelslag” and “doek.” We made up for everything else by speaking our own language slowly and loudly, and gesturing a lot. Jaap got really excited anytime we saw sheep.
There are a lot of sheep in Holland.
By the end of the day I was a hot jittery mess. I needed a washroom pretty desperately. Jaap kept pointing at clouds. My hands were shaking from the caffeine. We had driven through seven of the twelve provinces.
After thirteen hours in the cheese truck, I was quite glad to sit in a quiet room by myself for a while.
It’s a day I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
And it’s these things I’ve mentioned – the comic, slightly overwhelming parts of the day – that I remember when I tell this story.
But I recently flipped through some pictures of this day in the cheese truck. Which reminded me of some other things that happened.
I was reminded that Jaap had called his favourite store owners the day before so they were waiting for me with little souvenirs of the town we were in.
And Jaap had arranged his schedule so we would have time to stop at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek between the final deliveries.
And he took a detour on our way south so I could take a selfie in Germany.
And he was so eager to take pictures of me “driving” the truck, wheeling cheese over cobblestones, and working the truck lift.
Jaap went out of his way to make sure this was a day I would never forget.
I love to tell the story of the day in the cheese truck. It’s an interesting anecdote of a strange day doing some very Dutch things, and it usually results in a good laugh.
But it amazes me, looking back on it now, how much of the story I’ve leave out in the telling, how much I didn’t remember. And how, as I look back, this isn’t really a story about a crazy experience I had with cheese, clouds, and caffeine.
This is a story about hospitality. A hospitality I didn’t fully appreciate at the time.
Hindsight is 20/20. We know this. It’s often much easier to look back at something and see it for what it was than to appreciate that thing in the moment.
But hindsight often has to be helped. Because we don’t always remember rightly. I didn’t forget this day, but I remembered it for the wrong reasons. I needed my pictures and journal entries from that day to put the experience into perspective. To show me what was really happening, beyond the coffee, beyond the clouds, beyond the cheese.
It makes sense to me that the Bible is chock full of history recitations. If ever there was a people who weren’t going to remember rightly, it was the Israelites. So much easier to remember the hunger, the dust, and the exhaustion of the desert than the fact that God had swallowed up a whole army in a sea in order to get them into that desert.
It’s one of my favourite things about Scripture, in fact. These long retellings of old stories, of miracles, of the people’s faithlessness and God’s faithfulness, all the times God stepped into the people’s midst and said, “Remember! Remember who you are. Remember who I am.”
It’s a way of not giving up on people, this call to remember. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to change how I remember – and tell – the story, so it’s a little more faithful to the gift that it was.