Do you know what it is for you (or your family) to leave your home country, to be between shores and oceans?
Nederland The Netherlands was home for my mother, myself, and my younger sister Anna Mechtelina.
Indie, The Dutch East Indies, Indonesia, was home for my father.
For me, finding home became a journey, not a place.
I remember bedtime with Beppe (grandmother) in the farm house, looking through my attic bedroom op zolder at the end of a long summer day. In northern latitudes, children go to bed while it is yet light. The walls in my room, which once was Mammie’s, were golden pink from the setting sun melting on the wall.
I kneeled on the bed, my face pressed against the chill of the window. One night, across the canal, a long column of children marched and sang. As if they and I were geese flying in formation, I longed to fly with them, to join their bird-cries singing, to find my place and fly.
“Liefje go to sleep now.” Beppe came to kiss me goodnight one more time.
“The children, where are they going?” I asked.
“They are on a trek with their teachers. This is part of their school to go on a long walk and go as far as twenty kilometers. For every twenty kilometers they get a prize. Your Mammie used to do it.”
“I will go too when I’m big.”
“Soon you will,” she said, as if I would never go away, as if I would be around year after year to join other children. We read our night time prayer together, framed like a poem on the wall, and I scooted under sheets and a heavy wool blanket. I closed my eyes for fake sleep, because Beppe always turned to me as she closed the door.
Once the door clicked, I rose and balanced on my knees again. By turning my head and resting my forehead against the window I could see the end of the procession of children. The brown path and silver canal blended into two ribbons which merged in the distance. Wide awake, I wished I could ask Beppe about the canal I had never crossed.
I wanted her to tell me that next year, when I was seven, I would venture across the canal. I wondered how to be there. It seemed a big kids’ mystery — going on an excursion, at bedtime on a big-sky golden evening, when little children, like me, were going to bed. I yearned to be there, on their outing. This feeling somehow mixed in perfectly with the desire to remain exactly where I was, under the sheet and weighty blanket.
Within months, before I turned7, we were in America. Within years Beppe and Pake (my Dutch-Frisian grandparents) left the farm, it could no longer be my home.
Epilogue circa 1980’s, For reasons, I will reflect on in blog posts, I have not been able to put my feet on this boerderij farm home-soil of mine again. The same was true of my father, and his home island of Billeton in the Dutch East Indies.
In the 1980’s, in my twenties, I visited the Netherlands, and drove with family on antiek weggetjes (old country roads) right to the farm house we had left behind. That is, almost right to the farm house we had left behind. I was on the reverse, the wrong side of the canal, the place that had drawn my six year old gaze from the attic window. We decided not to drive the kilometers necessary for me to touch Pake en Beppe’s old farm house. Why didn’t I push for one more exploration? I held hands with Pake, Oom Roelof, Mammie, I took a photo. Here’s the whole story — Heimwee, all I wanted was to stand next to that house.
A longing – sometimes melancholic, sometimes painful – for the security of something familiar, a universal longing for something that is not there.
It can happen to anyone. Migrants who leave their home countries. Children who are away from home for the first time. Elderly people for whom changes sometimes go too quickly. (Every land and language has a word for it.) ….Many people who don’t speak any Portuguese at all still know the word ‘saudade’ – the feeling of nostalgic longing for something, or someone, that may never come back.
Check future blog posting to read more Epilogue experiences for myself and my father on touching “home.” If you too have heimwee, saudade, homesickness, please read and respond.
If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage, you come from generations of country men and women who once traveled all over the world. The Netherlands (mistakenly called Holland by some*) once had more colonies than Great Britain, and once had the most powerful seafaring armada in the world.
*Holland is just one province in the Netherlands
If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage, you come from a country of liberal people who have given sanctuary to everyone: ranging from the pilgrims who were the first (non-native peoples) to settle in America, and to those needing sanctuary today.
If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage, you are aware of certain ironies in what the world thinks of us “Dutchies.” Herein, I try to correct some of the Dutchism myths, while still including my own lengthy list at the end of this page about what us Dutch folks think of ourselves.
If you are of Dutch heritage, or interested in Dutch heritage You are unabashedly a Go Dutch! person. You might actually agree with, my slightly outrageous, opinion as follows:
I think that Dutch people are still so well represented in accomplishments, education, athletic feats, healthy attitudes, debates and offering sanctuary to others, because the whole Dutch legacy ended up concentrated in a small country the size of America’s Rhode Island. Just think — stubborn Dutch character, remarkable Dutch engineering feats, Dutch ingenuity, Dutch love of nature, Dutch healthy eating, Dutch joy in athleticism, Dutch liberal attitude, Dutch practicality, Dutch moral foundation, all concentrated in one small beautiful country.
The Dutch list… If you are Dutch-American, Dutch-Canadian, etc., you relate to the following list. This has been flying around the internet for awhile. I amended or added, so a bunch of items are mine. Be sure to notice how many have to do with food. That’s why I start list with the comparison between Dutch people and hobbits. The lists I worked off are to be found here and here.
You Know You’re Dutch When…
I’ll start with my top two favorites, please contact me with your favorites…
Okay, you are impressed, but not of Dutch heritage? No worries, you can be honorary Dutch, watch for blog pages on this in the future!