‘The full story behind Woonlandschap de Leyhoeve.’
The story behind De Leyhoeve is special and personal. The infinite passion, determination and the vision that emerged from it has found like-minded people; has brought people together; has joined hands and pushed the boundaries that were in need of pushing. It is time for a new impetus, a new way of looking at hospitality and care, a new interpretation of ‘Growing old together in comfort’.
Anyone that has wandered westward along the Moerse Pad path next to the Wilhelminakanaal canal will eventually end up in Dongen. As a teenager, Toon enjoyed cycling on the dike of the canal. He cycled a few kilometres from Tilburg Oud-Noord to the west, almost reaching the canal harbour at Dongen. He could see the world pass by from the dike in the shape of barges that cut through the water on their way to the harbour in Tilburg. In the summer he swam there with his friends, bobbing up and down in the wake of the barges. Some of the skippers shouted angrily at them, “Be careful, idiots! This could cost you your life!” But the boys only laughed – boys will be boys. Everything else was unimportant, including girls. But for Toon, that would change soon.
The first time Toon saw Heleen, he was on his way home. Late, he was hurrying along when she suddenly appeared, like a ghost out of nothing. Was he dreaming? Was someone playing a trick on him? An invisible force had turned his head. If he had not turned, he would never have seen her. You rarely saw people on the other side of the canal. Perhaps a fisherman on the dock, but a girl as pretty as this one, never. He started at her unexpected presence. Him, a 15 year old lad, eye to eye with the prettiest girl he had ever seen. He wanted to wave at her but as quickly as she had appeared, she disappeared.
The next Saturday she was there again. She had leaned her bicycle against a tree next to the path to Dongen and was looking into the distance. Toon stood on the other side, nervously. He had of course hoped that she would be there again, but when he saw her cycling towards him, his heart beat in his throat and sweat poured down his back. His stomach felt as if fingers were poking and tickling it. It was the second time that he saw her and the only thing he could think of doing was wave. The third Saturday he said “My name is Toon” and asked her her name. The fourth Saturday he wanted to know where she lived. And the fifth Saturday he brought something for her.
“Wait!” he called from the other side. “Don’t go, I have something for you. Wait, I’m coming over!” He cycled a kilometre to the east towards the drawbridge at Kraaiven, crossed the canal and cycled the same distance back towards the west. To his great relief he saw that she had waited for him. She held the bicycle in her hand. Toon was panting.
“Next time I’ll swim,” he said.
“I must go now,” Heleen answered. “Dinner is ready.”
“Here,” he said. “This is for you. It’s the prettiest stone I have.”
The girl put the stone in her trouser pocket and giggled, as only teenage girls can giggle and Toon melted. This continued week after week. Saturday after Saturday they both made their way to that one spot on the dike.
“The view here is so beautiful,” she said. The green countryside of Brabant opened up on the other side. They sat on the racks of their bicycles, elbows leaning on the saddle.
“But it’s not complete,” answered Toon. “I will have a surprise for you next week,” he continued mysteriously. He had been working secretly on his surprise for a while. He first made a sketch, then he bought the right wood and sawed it into planks. He had his father, a builder, make concrete blocks for him. His father asked him if he were still sane. My little Toon is in love, he thought, you can’t do anything about that. Toon borrowed the baker’s cargo bike and brought the concrete blocks to the dike of the canal. He did the same with the planks which bore down into his boyish shoulders. Two wooden legs stuck out of the concrete. He dug two holes in the dike and eased the concrete blocks carefully into the holes. He then attached the planks firmly to the legs. Then he carved the letters H&T into the bench. He surrounded the letters with a heart, to make it clear forever how it was between them. If you want to do something, you should just do it, he thought and straightened his arms in pride.
“You can look now,” he whispered the next Saturday. “I made it for you.”
The years passed. Toon and Heleen got married, promising to stay together forever, in good times and bad, till death did them part. He built them a house and worked hard in his construction company. Heleen took care of the children and the house. Year in year out they went back to that one spot on the dike. First just the two of them and later with their children. The company expanded. Toon and Heleen grew older, the children left home. Life continued as always.
Toon would never forget the Tuesday that they got the bad news. Heleen had been poorly for a while, but her condition was still unclear. The doctor had warned them that it would be a difficult, sometimes unbearable, journey and he could give them no guarantees. Two people who had always cared for each other were suddenly pushed to their limits by the lottery of life. No matter how hard they tried, Heleen could not stay at home any more. That was their new reality. These two people, who had never been apart, were wrenched apart, not knowing how long for and whether they would ever be together again. Toon, pragmatic as he was, felt completely powerless. Every time he walked through the corridors of the nursing home that smelt of detergents and iodine, his frustration surfaced. His mind was racing. This was not what he had promised her. This was not what they had agreed. This was undignified. The fake living room, with its fake open fire, in the fake home with its easy to clean vinyl floor. This is where they sat, with many others in the same position. He sensed their disappointment and anger. And he saw how powerlessness held them too in its firm grip.
He wanted to go back to the bench, to the place that he had almost forgotten in the storm of the last months. He wanted to go back to the very beginning, where he would find everything that was now being shaken deeply anchored in his memory. The bench was in disrepair. It was almost covered in moss and its colour was almost gone. Deep cracks showed the weathering of years. The bench, that he had made all those years ago with such passion, was threatening to fall apart. And so he bought new planks, a pot of paint and some sanding paper and restored the bench. He could do no more, but what he did meant a lot.
He carefully took his seat on the bench, placed his arm where Heleen would normally sit and looked at the other side. The view had changed. A new town , De Reeshof, had been built there. For a while Toon was that 15 year old boy again. He saw two bicycles leaning against a tree. He felt her head on his shoulder and his arm around her. He tasted her lips and heard her voice. This should not have happened, he thought. Maybe he was unable to give Heleen what she deserved, but he could make sure that others who needed it could have a respectful place where they could get care. A home for as long as they wanted where they would be received hospitably and with warmth. For rich and poor, young and old. A residential community with 200 homes and everything that a village would have. He saw it in front of him. A modern, well-equipped residence, built according to people’s needs instead of in line with cold budgets. That should be possible, shouldn’t it? In his business he knew so many people and companies that could help him. People who he knew would help. “Leyhoeve,” he whispered to himself. Toon stood up, put his hands in his pockets and turned his collar up. There was work to be done!