May 11 - 18, 2015 / Laren, Gelderland, the Netherlands
We arrived in the Netherlands on Mother's Day -- à propos given that we were going to meet my Mom near her hometown.
Before we set off on this trip last August, I had found an Air BnB rental for a large farmhouse in Laren, Gelderland -- just 4 kilometres from my Mom’s old house in Harfsen. After a bit of lobbying, my parents agreed that we would book the house for a week and invite my brother and sister’s to join us if they could.
The four of us then went on our way, visiting Turkey, Tanzania, Spain, Morocco and the United Kingdom in turn, but we were always looking forward to seeing everyone here in May.
But in typical Hodgson family planning mode, it all came together in a last-minute flurry of detailed planning, independent re-planning, a bit of miscommunication, and a glass of something soothing once we finally converged at the farmhouse.
The house, fortunately, turned out to be perfect for our group of 7 adults and 4 kids. It had:
- 6 bedrooms (including a woodshed for my brother to saw logs in),
- 4 bathrooms;
- a fully-equipped kitchen,
- a couple of sitting areas with quirky antiques and large (very clean!) windows,
- a huge garden and yard to play in -- even with a trampoline
- friendly horses next door and a community pool down the street
- bikes, bocci balls and other toys in the shed
- groceries, a bakery and three restaurants just down the road in town;
- bike paths everywhere we wanted to go;
- clean, dry and WIFI!
Although the house was a bit far from the main tourist sites in Amsterdam, some of our group managed to see quite a bit of my mother's neighbourhood by bike, train and car, including:
- the Kröller-Müller Museum near Arnheim;
- the Oasis of Matisse exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, followed by a gallery-crawl through the streets and canals of Amsterdam with Suzette and Brent;
- the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, where Canadian soldiers were buried;
- the Kastle Verwolde near Laren;
- the Nederlands Open Lucht Museum, which involved biking up the only mountain in all of les Pays Bas;
- the Palais Het Loo (Royal Palace) in Apeldoorn, where my sister, Kim, baptized herself in the royal fountains...
It was also fantastic for the kids to have some cousin time to hang out and do cartwheels with Paige and Jackson. Paige also made great progress on her bicycle riding; no doubt because cycling is in the air here.
My brother, Brent, did a thorough job of photographing every square metre of the places that he saw; I'll ask to post some of his pictures another time. But for now, here are a few of mine from that week. (Please click on them to see them in a larger" light-box" format).
A Welcoming Home
A highlight of our week was cycling down tree-shaded lanes to the my mother’s old farmhouse. There, we had a lovely afternoon koffie kletz with the current owners, who offered to show me the bedroom where my Mom was born. Despite my Canadian curiosity, I politely declined.
My mother grew up there during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. This was the house where my grandparents sheltered the Krukzeiners, a family of four Jewish refugees who hid under the chicken coop during the last winter of the war (November 1944 to May 1945). This would have been extremely dangerous for everyone involved; had the Germans found out, they may well have shot everyone on the spot. As a result, not even the neighbours were told in case they were Nazi collaborators.
For his bravery, my Opa, Frederick Kabbes, was later given the "Righteous Among Nations Award", and I understand that there is a tree planted in his honour in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Goed gedaan , meneer.
Off To Canada
My mother’s family would later billet Canadian soldiers after the Liberation of the Netherlands, and my mother cites this experience as influencing their later decision to emigrate to Canada in 1953.
As new immigrants, my mother, then just 14, and her sister started cleaning houses to help pay for the family farm. A few years later, she took a job at a local bank in Arthur, Ontario where she interpreted for all of the incoming Dutch farmers who wanted bank loans. It was there that she met my father.*
My mother was the only one in her family who had "married a Canadian”, and she later left the Dutch Reformed vlok to become an Anglican. And because my father didn't speak Dutch, and because she felt that her Low Dutch dialect wouldn't be much use to us in the modern-day Netherlands, she never taught us how to speak it.
And If You Ain't Dutch...
So in the end, my knowledge of my Dutch heritage consisted of New Year's Day olibalen, monthly visits to my Opa on the farm near Arthur, and listening to my uncles’ annual Christmas argument about the finer points of Calvinist theology and social democracy (in Dutch, of course).
And while I've had a bit of refresher course in Dutch-Canadian / Reformed culture these past 20 years with Trish, I'm a bit of slow learner. Until today, my sole phrase in Dutch is "Een kopje koffie met melk en suiker". Not a bad one to know, of course, but only useful three times a day.
Coming here to the Netherlands, however, I find it odd that everyone speaks Dutch to me. Apparently I look like a local. But of course, having only one not-so-useful-phrase in that language, I then have to admit that, “I'm afraid that I don’t speak Dutch.”
They then respond in perfect English, “Oh, sorry! So what part of America are you from?”
My search for my motherland continues. Maybe we should go to Portugal....I hear that my Godmother owns property in the Azores.....
* I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the first time that my Dad met my mother's family! I can imagine this shy Canadian sitting in a smoke-filled room with heavy-rugged tables and dark Rembrandt curtains while they talked about him in Dutch. It's a testament to his bravery that he didn't run away!