Meet the cheapest man of the 20th century
In 1976, Henri Mastboom buys a new car: an Opel Kadett. And for the next 20 years, the protective plastic will be left over the seats. A spot can be depreciating, so he prefers to drive his car seated on crackling plastic. 20 years after his death, Henri’s blue Opel is still in his shed at the Dorpsstraat in Oud Gastel. Looking showroom-worthy.
An eccentric behind shutters
There are many stories about Henri Mastboom in Halderberge. Especially about the eccentric he eventually became. The man who stepped out in his father’s pre-World War II clothes. As if he just came off the set of an old movie.
He was once destined to become the mayor of Oud Gastel, like his father and grandfather before him. But this never happens. Class society is crumbling and someone else is chosen for the office. Henri locks himself in behind the shutters of his parental home. Wooden shutters. Painted green, as they’ve always been.
If it were up to Henri, he would take everything with him to the afterlife. But since that’s not possible he chooses the next best thing. He leaves all his possessions to a foundation, aimed to honour the past. His parental home is now a museum.
The Mastboom family had status, with important management jobs, land, shares (including shares in the successful Gastel beet root factory) and prestige. There was money in abundance, but the family never spent much money. Mother Marie makes the calf long shirts from her dowry last a lifetime, making countless repairs. Father Mastboom’s stinginess is notorious. It’s partly due to this reputation that the office of mayor slips through his fingers.
Henri follows the economical approach of his parents. After their deaths, he saves everything. Not even a button that falls off is thrown away. He scribbles the word ‘useless’ on food stamps from the war. You can still see them at Masboomhuis, where they’re displayed in the front room; in a typical cupboard where you store things that don’t really belong anywhere. Henri has a lot of such cupboards.
Allottees have to wait
In his adult life, Henri likes to keep everything as it was: a society where everyone has his or her place. In Oud Gastel, the Mastboom family is on the very top and everyone else is dangling underneath.
He treats his allottees as inferior to him. When they come to pay their rent, they often have to wait for hours on a wooden bench in the hall. And Henri expects them to live a sober life. When he announces he will come to check on his fields, people hide all modern possessions like radios and TVs. They wouldn’t want to give Henri the idea that they can spend money on anything but bare necessities. When he does notice anything like that the rent goes up, because “Otherwise the money will just go down the drain”.
No one knew Henri
Henri’s life could’ve been so different. After the death of his parents he inherited a fortune. And he had a monthly income. Though it can be disappointing to miss out on the office of mayor when you’ve been prepared for it since you were young.
But missing out on a future set in stone can also be liberating. There are so many other things to do besides ruling over Oud Gastel. But Henri is not interested. And he doesn’t make any other plans. It appears to be a major burn-out.
How Henri felt? No one can really tell. There was no one who was really close to him. He had people who took care of him, some even for a longer period of time. You might even meet them, when visiting Mastboomhuis. They will give you a tour and tell stories – with a remarkable kind of affection – about this eccentric man. But to Henri, they always were just employees.
For his parents?
Henri definitely wasn’t a dumb guy. He had a Master’s degree in Law. And he had seen quite a bit of the world, especially for someone in that era. Why wasn’t he capable of altering his plans for the future? And why did he hold on to his parents’ ideas until his death?
What would you do with 20 million Euros? That’s about the amount of money Henri Mastboom held onto. Not once does he make a donation to charity. He never lends money to anyone. He protects the fortune as if his parents could come back to go on with their lives again at any moment.
No social butterfly
As a young boy, Henri comes across a nest of young kittens. He pets them, picks one up. His parents agree to let him have the kitten, it can come and live in Mastboomhuis when it’s old enough. Henri takes a piece of paper and calculates the costs of having a pet. Seeing just the amount of money it would cost to feed the cat is enough for him to decide to not take the kitten in.
And Henri never marries. Of the Mastboom family in Oud Gastel only property survives. And that property tells the story of the family in general and an eccentric in particular. Henri never let anyone get to him. And with the Mastboomhuis, he shares the story his life with us posthumously.