THE MEATY VEGAN RUNS
Adri has died. Since the early nineties he’d been my grandmother’s partner (or, as we used to call him, “granny’s boyfriend”) until she passed away in 2010. And now Adri’s gone, too, at the age of 92. The funeral will be held on Monday. On Sunday I travel to Texel.
My mom has made me and my dad a dish of stir-fried vegetables, black beans and pre-baked tofu. She’s not exactly familiar with vegan cooking - or cooking in general - so I’m a bit surprised about this full meal. Usually she just cooks potatoes, veg and meat and, on my plate, leaves out the meat.
And the potatoes, since those were baked in dairy butter.
And desert, because I don’t even eat whipped cream? But it’s organic! Well, the strawberries that serve as bedding for the whipped cream are.
While my dad shoves his food around on the plate, we reminisce about Adri. My mom’s relieved he died peacefully in his own bed, instead of in some bizarre accident. It wouldn’t be his first. When you hear the anecdotes about Adri’s many misfortunes, you can’t help but wonder how he ever made it to 92; the mill being his most memorable feat.
Somewhere in 2004, at the age of 73, he climbed the windmill in his little fisherman’s village to take pictures of that day’s visitors. He stepped over the security line to get a better angle and got hit by one of the rotating wings. He was catapulted onto the concrete 7 metres (23 feet) below and kind of broke every bone in his body except his skull, which was what saved him in the end. He was in the hospital and care facilities for 4 months, but they already suspected he’d be okay when he woke up in the ICU and almost immediately demanded a salted herring and a glass of Fanta.
Of course, after that, our family wouldn’t let any opportunity go by without telling my grandmother that her boyfriend seemed off, like he had “been through the mill". (It’s better in Dutch: it translates into someone “being hit by the mill” [klap van de molen gehad] and it means he’s cuckoo.) My grandmother grew a bit tired of it. We didn’t.
“Did you manage to get the boat-start?” my mother wants to know.
I recently told my parents about my plan to run the Texel half-marathon. The race has two starting points, with the most popular being right on the ferry, so your race begins as soon as the boat has docked.
“No, I got the island-start,” I say. It’s the second-best one, that begins at the ferry’s parking lot. I’ve purposely chosen that one, since the boat-start would mean I’d have to catch the ferry off of the island, only to return on the same ferry to start the race. It would mean a whole hour of being alone with my howling anxiety. No thanks.
“What a shame!” my mother cries out. “The boat-start is the best. The atmosphere on deck is amazing!” She’s never been to a sporting event in her life – aside from the ones she was made to attend as a parent – and the only time I’ve ever heard her mention the half-marathon was when she and my dad were complaining about a flock of sinewy people running over the island, blocking traffic. With their skinny little asses. And their stupid little hats. I’m not sure where she got this specific piece of inside information. I tell her I don’t mind about not having a boat-start.
“You should ask Martin,” she continues.
Martin is Adri’s son-in-law. “Why Martin?”
“He’s the event organizer, so he should be able to get you on the boat,” my mother says. “Ask him this Monday.”
“I’m happy with my island-start,” I say, but my mom’s already busy finishing my dad’s plate while he clears the table.
I didn’t know Martin was responsible for the Texel half-marathon. I knew he was a runner, he’d told me some stuff about his ultra-marathons during the occasional family dinner back in the day when I lived on pancakes and bags of chips and regarded dancing into the wee hours as exercise. I’d secretly categorized him as ‘crazy running guy’ and had left it at that. We didn’t see each other much after my grandma died, and now I feel bad for not showing a real interest in him telling me about his passion, only because I myself couldn’t care less for sports.
The funeral is held in the tiny Seaman’s Church where Adri used to be verger. In the middle of winter he, already suffering blurred vision, would cycle the icy roads at 5 am, to light the heaters so the people coming later on didn't have to feel cold. When he had lost ninety percent of his eyesight it really got too dangerous to let him participate in traffic and handle anything that required a flame. But Adri wouldn’t have none of that resigning nonsense, his best friend tells those present in church. They eventually had to fire him.
My mother nudges me as we’re drinking coffee in the auditorium. “There’s Martin,” she whispers. “Go ask him for that boat-start.”
“Mom!” I say. “Jesus Christ.”
“Lan-guage,” she says, sincerely angry.
I head over to Adri’s family to pay them my condolences and sit down next to Martin. We talk a bit about how we’ve been and what we’ve been up to.
“I didn’t know you were one of the organizers of the Texel half-marathon,” I say.
“Ah, well I used to be, but not anymore,” Martin laughs. “So I can’t help you with that boat-start.”
“I didn’t come here to… Wait. What?”
Martin nods at my mom. “She asked me earlier.”
“That’s not why I came here,” I say. “Jesus fucking Christ.”
“Now He won’t help you with that, either,” Martin says.
Someone else comes up to him to shake his hand. The auditorium slowly clears. From the hallway comes the sound of tinkling coat hangers. A woman in a black apron puts an empty glass over the coffee tab. My father quickly gets another piece of cake. From the other side of the room, my mother catches my eye and mouths ‘boat-start?’; eagerly gesticulating with her eyebrows.
“Walking is more fun with a dog,” my mother says as we exit the car. “I used to walk regularly with my friend Josy and her dog, but now that her dog’s dead walking hasn’t been the same.” She’s parked right at the edge of the forest, from where a path will lead us through the dunes and onto the beach. It’s cold, with grey skies and a misty air that pinches my lungs as I breathe in. My mother will walk Iggy as I’m going for a run. We’ve agreed to call each other when one of us gets bored, tired or hungry.
I take a little detour on another, partially marram grass-covered path that meanders through the dunes. The straw cushions the impact of my feet hitting the ground, but it also slows me down a bit. Running takes a whole different effort and I almost immediately start to feel my thighs. “This is what it feels like to trail run!”, I think. “I might someday recount this day as the start of my trail running career.”
I have yet to hit 15k on paved road but sure. I’ll grant myself this one.
Near the beach my path crosses my mom’s, and as soon as Iggy sees me he starts to run. He’s the laziest dog I know [more on that later] and I expect him to give up in a couple of seconds and finally respond to my mother’s call, but he keeps at it. I turn around and run back to my mom, but as soon as I take off, Iggy takes off with me. Again, I bring him back to my mom who now puts him on the leash. “This is no fun!” she says. “Walking here on my own after all. That’s not what I came for.”
After 8k I made a loop and I’m near the car again. I decide to call it a day.
“Already?” my mom says on the phone.
“I’ve done 8k!" I say. “On a trail!”
“Oh well, Iggy’s done too,” she says. “How about we grab some fries on our way home?”
That always sounds good.
“We should either go home and get your father, or don’t tell him.”
“I’ll call him and ask,” I say.
“If you call him he’ll say he wants to come too,” my mother says. “He would never decline fries.”
We pick up my father at home and drive back to the forest, where the nice cafeteria is. My dad wants to know why my face is still purple. I try to explain how I did a very challenging trail run.
“Well, as long as you think it’s healthy,” he says.
In the watery cold air of the forest we eat our fries. The area is quiet and almost deserted. Only a few tourists drive by, slowly, with a procession-like deliberateness, glancing at us from their cars. We stoically look back.
“How many kilometres did you run for?” my dad asks.
“And a half-marathon is?”
“Ah. Almost there,” he says in all earnestness.