Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Job Smeets

A further instalment of eccentric family revelations from the Dutch design star

Job Smeets

April 14 2011
Job Smeets

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

People say that copper wire was invented by Dutchmen fighting over a penny. I would be the last person to rub salt in the wound, but maybe Belgians bring the morning paper with them on the drive to work so that they can tear around the corners. At least, I recently saw a Flemish driver ripping up a newspaper the day Belgium broke Iraq’s world record for the longest period without a government. Maybe that’s the cure for Europe fatigue: the potholes in Belgian roads…

My mother was hardest hit, mentally speaking, by Grandpa’s bankruptcies. In Westmalle they used to call him “the plague of the purse”, and even the local priest wouldn’t lend him a penny.

In Sint-Katelijne-Waver, the magistrate hissed, “Your story’s almost good enough to convince your own mother,” and that tough old geezer walked out of the worn courtroom, nose in the air, with yet another bankruptcy to his name.

The caretaker at Antwerp’s grand Palace of Justice on Frankrijklei named the bottom-most step of the large stone staircase after my grandfather, in honour of his especially dramatic fall one wintry day back in 1952. He called it: “Jacob Den Drucker’s legal misstep”.

My mother is not really a baby boomer, since she was born during the war. Her mother, my grandmother, was a hard-working housewife with six children. In 1941, Den Drucker started up a little distillery to supply the German occupying forces with the so-called Smeets Jenever for which the city of Hasselt is famous – though Grandpa made it in Waterloo.

Few remaining jugs of the forbidden elixir have been preserved and recently, to celebrate my birthday, me and my mates Francis, Nico and Alain each swallowed a thimbleful of venom. It roused our spirits and heated the blood – just like being strangled to death. We felt as if hundreds of tiny worms in SS uniforms were crawling out of our ears.

“This Den Drukker plonk is the devil’s brew,” Nico cried, spitting and hurling his shot glass across the room.

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