Herman

Back in the really old days, when I was still working for the National Aviation Museum Aviodome at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport (and later on when the museum moved to Lelystad Airport and became a theme park, called Aviodrome), everyone there had several additional jobs in that institute. One of my many jobs there, besides being the house artist, writer, researcher and cleaning boy, was being a tour guide. I’ve done dozens of those. As this one.

The year was 2000. A week day afternoon in the very quiet Fall season. The Aviodome was open, but there were no visitors at all. I was cleaning the floor, planes and showcases when I was requested at the front desk. After reporting there, I discovered a medic, leaning against the desk, chatting with cashier Marijke Klein-Nulend. This medic informed me that he and his co-worker had driven their ambulance up here, containing a patient.

That patient’s name was Herman. I never got his last name. Herman was in his late 20’s and suffered from Stage 4 terminal cancer to the liver. No further treatments possible, he was in that ambulance on his way home to pass away. The medics realised that these would be Herman’s last glimpses of the outside world before leaving it. So, beyond their call of duty, they asked “What is the last thing you want to see? We will take you there, and you take all the time you need.” Herman answered “The Aviodome, because I’m crazy about airplanes.”

At the front desk, Marijke asked me if I was up for giving a grand tour. Without hesitation, and without conferring with my manager, I said “Sure!” The medic went out and later on the three of them came in again, the two medics, and Herman on his rolling stretcher, infusions hanging about and tubes coming out of this very sick human being. Herman was all smiles, he was glowing with joy. I could see that he once must have been a big two-by-four bloke. We chatted a bit at the front desk and then the four of us started making our way into the museum.

Now, normally on a guided tour, I’m used to being the one who is doing all the talking. In this case, it was more like Herman and me chatting about on aviation subjects along the way and the exhibited planes, exchanging info, and both acting as tour guides for the two medics. Not only I but Herman too was a specialist here. Hell, he knew more about the Fokker history than I did. I recognised myself when I was listening to him narrating. Same knowledge, same passion, same fire. We were both the ‘wannabee pilots’, educating those two medics.

Time came to wrap it up after an hour and a half. They had to go, because that ambulance may be called upon. We made our way to the front desk again, chatted some more, and then I went outside, gave Herman and the medics one final hand shake and waved them off. I went inside, in dire need of being alone and let it all sink in. I hid inside the film projector room and called home on my old Nokia cell phone. That was the moment I totally broke down in tears. I was devastated, empty. Emotional overload. No one else there ever knew. I’ve done hundreds of tours, but this was the hardest one.

So, I’ve lost family, friends and co-workers to the same cause of death. Herman however, was a huge loss to me. And I didn’t even know him. It was as if I had lost a brother. A brother in arms, a fellow plane nut. The realisation that so much life, strength, knowledge and passion would be no more in a few weeks, as I was notified later. Vanished forever. Herman may have left this Earth, but he never left me. I will carry him with me for the rest of my life.

Here’s to you, my brother Herman, R.I.P…

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Peter van Stigt

Peter van Stigt

Dutch, military aviation artist, civilian, not a pilot but a city bus driver, independent thinker, but most of all: human being.