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Art and Culture

Likely Stories: On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

A couple of years ago, I read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 and ¼ Years old.  I have recently retired, so I decided to explore the sequel, On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen.  It proved to be funny, with a measure of pathos.

The story begins on “Wednesday, December 31, 2014.  […] I shall do my best, but there is to be no whining if the diary I am starting tomorrow does not make it all the way through to the end of the year.  A one-in-five chance” (1).  Fortunately, he makes it.

Hendrik loves playing practical jokes – especially on the residents who lack the sense of humor Hendrik possesses.  The story continues, “Thursday, January 1, 2015.  [His friend] Evert used to be partial to planting his New Year’s firecrackers in dog doo.  He’s only sorry that the bangers were much smaller back then than they are now. // ‘It’s only that I risk blowing myself up, wheelchair and all, otherwise I’d love to set off a few crackers in the hall.’  That was his contribution to the pyrotechnics debate that was going on for days” (1).

Hendrik organized his “Old But Not Dead Club,” which provides him with many opportunities to raise a ruckus at the expense of some of the more delicate residents.  “The conflict […] is careful and subtle, with the occasional small victory for one, and then the other.  Open warfare would do none of us any good.  The stakes are too high. // ‘Thank you so much, Mr. Groen.  You have found something again that will be of use to us, no doubt?’”  He enjoys teasing the director.  Hendrik notes, “In our care home you are not allowed to keep an insect hotel or your balcony. […] // The home’s rulebook had all kinds of restrictions against pets, but the sheltering of insects hadn’t yet been considered.  It required a separate ban, and, lo, last week said ban appeared on the noticeboard. Bregman had to put her hotel up for sale, and Stelwagen [the director] promptly bought it from her, in order to nip any eventual unrest in the bud.  Billed to her expense account, naturally.  We also learned that there’s to be only one bird feeder per balcony. ‘On account of the bird droppings’” (35).

Hendrik best friend, Evert, fell ill and his days were numbered.  He did his best to help his friend get around.  When he passed, Hendrik wrote, “I hit rock bottom, but I am over it now.  I am on my way back and enjoying life again with perhaps three-quarters gusto.  My mood is a B average, and sometimes even a B+.  […]  At midnight we’ll hug one another awkwardly and a bit tipsy, but mostly affectionately. // A new year—how you get through it is up to you, Groen: life doesn’t come with training wheels.  Get this show on the road.  And keep looking on the Brightside” (441).

All in all an interesting romp through the lives of some seniors in a care home.  Hendrik Groen’s On the Bright Side, is lots of fun in their golden years.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!