Joseph Koot was born on a Gouda cheese farm in the Netherlands as the youngest of a dozen children. When he was five years old, the family immigrated to rural Southwestern Ontario.
He and his wife Joanne live in Dorchester Cape, New Brunswick where they raised five children. He was employed as a nurse manager at Dorchester Penitentiary and, following retirement, started his writing career.
Joseph has self-published two books. “Looking for Bill, Finding Myself” is his childhood memoir. “Europe, One Step at a Time” recounts his hike of 6,000 kilometres from Portugal to Estonia after retirement.
His stories draw the reader into the path of Joseph’s life, as a youngster on the farm and as an adult on an endless trail.
Story and Excerpts for the South Branch Scribbler
My retirement opened up to me the world of writing. While I worked as nurse manager in the prison system, we raised five children in the rural area of Dorchester Cape, New Brunswick, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. When I retired, I was free to pursue other interests while Joanne continued her work as a teacher.
My childhood had been eventful enough to become a narrative, and out of a six-year struggle at my computer came “Looking for Bill, Finding Myself.” This childhood memoir is the story of my birth in the Netherlands as the youngest of a dozen children. It recounts our immigration by ship as well as farm life in Canada. I describe details of our family life, the complex relationship with my brother Bill and his death under a tractor when we were alone in a back field of our farm.
During the period following retirement, I took six trips to Europe in fulfilment of a dream. I had imagined hiking its entire length and started in southwest Portugal. Daily challenges and delights took me the 6,000 kilometres to Estonia and the Baltic Coast. This journey is the subject of my second book “Europe, One Step at a Time.” Woven into this tale are my need to deal with anxieties such as crossing high bridges, misgivings about my Catholic faith as portrayed in Europe’s churches and facing the setbacks of childhood through this journey.
The writing and walking have helped me resolve old issues. My youthful distractions at the kitchen table turned into the discipline of reaching goals. Awkwardness in schoolyard sports was replaced with the athletic success of my trek across Europe. Mediocre marks in English composition were left behind as I wrote and self-published the two books.
I have developed a motivational speech that includes pictures of my childhood, photos of my hike and an account of my life’s challenges. It has been well received as people are fascinated with the tale of my walk across Europe. I can be reached at email@example.com to give this presentation to groups and to help people deal with their own doubts.
Now I am tackling a book about my life’s struggles with the Catholic faith. So the writing continues while I enjoy the peace of retirement.
This is an excerpt from “Looking for Bill, Finding Myself,” which reflects my fear of heights on our Ontario farm:
Bill and I gave Dad a task that was anything but pleasant. It came out of our using the hay lifting mechanism in the barn as a plaything. Bill had taken his cue from the boasting of the Johnson sons. As previous occupants of the farm, they had lifted each other into the mow in their younger days. Or so they said. One of them clung to the rope attached to the lifting apparatus while others pulled the cable to take the person a breath-taking 40 feet up to the barn roof. There the mechanism’s clutch engaged, and its rollers brought the person across to one end of the barn to let go and fall into the pile of hay. This made sense to Bill: “I’m stronger and you’re lighter. You hang on to the rope, and I’ll pull the cable.”
About 12 feet off the ground during the practice run, I lost my hold, my nerve or both. I fell to the barn floor with right hand outstretched and pain shooting through my fingers and up my arm. Here was a lesson that I could not be assured of Bill’s loyalty: he wasn’t looking out for my best interests. Dr. Thomson diagnosed a sprained wrist, and I was to keep it tightly bandaged.
When I had released my grip on the rope to come crashing to the ground, Bill had continued pulling the cable. The letting go on my part and the yanking on his part had sent the steel gadget up toward the barn roof. We assumed another tug of the cable, sending this apparatus upward, would cause the clutch to engage when it reached the horizontal track far overhead. Then the mechanism would roll toward the end of the mow where we could somehow reach it from the top of the pile of hay and find a way to pull it back down. This assumption was wrong. Without the added weight of a load of hay, it reached the centre of the barn roof – 40 feet up and well out of reach – and refused to budge.
Reluctantly, we told Dad. He decided the only way to get the mechanism back down involved a climb up toward it. We watched in silent terror as our father climbed the ladder to the haymow with a garden rake in his right hand. Then he made his way up to the next rafter and on to the highest beam in the barn. His deliberate steps took him to the halfway point on that timber with nothing as support should he lose his balance.
Standing perfectly still on this one-foot-wide girder and with the outstretched arms of an acrobat, Dad reached to grab the offending mechanism with the teeth of the rake. My breath stuck in my throat; I dared not flinch. With his outstretched arm and the rake handle forming one continuous limb, Dad was barely able to reach the device and to give it a gentle pull. It responded and moved a few inches in his direction. With a second smooth pull, the apparatus rolled along its track above the mow. The problem was solved, and Dad cautiously climbed back down. This man, with his feet always firmly on the ground, surprised us that day. We couldn’t have anticipated this daredevil performance. Bill and I swore never to put our father in such danger again.
This is an excerpt from “Europe, One Step at a Time,” which confirms my fear of heights as I cross the Netherlands:
Having used a ferry to cross the Lek, I’ve bent the rule of always walking the distance. Now in Gorinchem I have a choice of a long four-lane bridge up in the air over the river or a friendly little ferry to the other side. I catch the ferry, but my host’s words, “Take the ferry: that’s a lot easier,” haunt me. Since my start in southwest Portugal, I have not chosen the easy route. Why start now? By its very nature, my hike has been tough, and there would be no end to the process of making this journey easier. Avoiding an unending, terrifying bridge would be the first step to the crumbling of this venture. I need to stay committed to the toughness of the process: I need to take the ferry back and walk that bridge.
Stepping off the ferry a second time and now back on the north shore, I make my way through two kilometres of streets toward the highway traffic starting its ascent onto the bridge above me only to find I cannot enter the pedestrian walkway from that point. This is the four-lane expressway entrance, and a high fence stops me from even considering this approach. Instead, I have to return to a point near the ferry crossing and take a bicycle path around to the bridge as a pedestrian. Before arriving at a scary bridge, I have told myself out loud, “Cross that bridge when you come to it,” but this time it’s as though I’ll never reach it.
Finally, two hours after starting out this morning, I come face to face with my fear of high bridges as I start across. Through an expansion joint in the walkway, I glimpse the ground far below and wonder if my next step will land or whether I’ll be hurtling through the air. The next step holds, and I try to ignore my wobbly knees as I repeat aloud the chorus of “You’ve Got to Walk that Lonesome Valley.” On the way across, I meet other pedestrians and children on bicycles, and I think, “Crossing in a car is safe, but don’t those others know they’re exposed to danger?” A young cyclist turns to look at his friend behind him, and I want to scream, but I keep trudging.
Eventually the water far below becomes land far below that begins to slope toward me as I’m being deposited back onto level ground. I have mixed feelings: “I made it!” and “When will I have to endure this torture again?” I turn off the highway onto a narrow road, leaving traffic fumes for country air, and I’m rewarded with a delicious cup of coffee on the patio of a farm café. I’ve survived once again.
Where to Buy My Books
My two books, “Looking for Bill, Finding Myself” and “Europe, One Step at a Time” are distributed by Tidewater Books. This is the independent bookstore in Sackville, New Brunswick owned by Ellen Pickle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and has been helpful in sending my books across Canada and overseas.
Thank you Joseph for sharing on the Scribbler. Happy writing during your retirement years.
Hey there readers, don't forget to drop by next week when the Scribbler features guest author Warren Redman, aka Zev Bagel.
Zev is President of the Writer's Federation of New Brunswick. He is a published author and will be sharing an excerpt from his latest novel - Bernie Waxman & the Whistling Kettle