Saturday, 22 July 2017

Watching the World Go By

On July 2 we moved into our “bedroom by the sea” at a campsite just 20 minutes north of town. We’ve been coming here for 6 years. It’s a very small campground, only 4 sites, located at the edge of the sea on a working farm. There’s no pool, no boats or jet-skis for rent, and no sandy beach. The wind off the ocean is often chilly, and the wi-fi connection can be iffy. No TV, and as for tourist attractions – well, been there, done that, since we live in the area all year long. 

So what’s the point? Why not stay home? It’s a question we’ve often been asked.

We tell them, "We’re watching the world go by."

Literally. This week, a big white cruise ship loomed on the horizon. It was called The World.

Wikipedia describes it this way: “The World is the largest privately owned residential yacht. The residents, from about 45 countries, live on board as the ship travels, staying in most ports several days. A few residents live on board full-time while most visit periodically throughout the year....It has 165 residences (106 apartments, 19 studio apartments, and 40 studios), all owned by the ship's residents. Average occupancy is 150–200 residents and guests.”  There are restaurants, shops, a gym, a pool, a deli, and a putting green on board, and a staff of 280 employees caters to your every need. Itineraries are set by the residents. In 2012, The World sailed through the North West Passage, and other ports of call have included a deserted island in the Maldives, prime scuba diving sites, and a remote tribal area in New Guinea. A short video on another site has voice-overs of residents extolling the virtues of life aboard The World. It  offers a macro experience: seeing and experiencing  as much of the world as you can. You need to have a macro wallet to do this, of course.

We don’t have a macro wallet, nor a desire to see as much of the world as we can in the days that we have left here. We’re watching the world go by in a very micro way.

When you sit in the same spot day after day, year after year, in all kinds of weather, morning, noon and nighttime, it’s amazing what you can see, and what you notice.

This little place of ours becomes a microcosm of the world, a small world that contains all the elements of a much bigger world, if only you have eyes and ears to see it, and take the time to experience it. Staying in one place and getting to know it well helps you feel the deep connections that exist between all things.

The wind, the waves, the sunshine and rainshadows, the rocks, sand, islands and mountains – these are the elements of which the whole world is made.

The animals and birds live out their lives within view, ignoring us for the most part as they scamper about, or caw, or splash. We call the seal who patrols the beach at sunset "The Coast Guard". The heron appears often, amazing us with his watchful patience.

One day we saw an eagle doing the breaststroke: he'd dived down to catch a fish in his talons, but it was too heavy for him to lift, so he swam to shore using his wings as arms. They are living their lives as ordained since their creation, and this is no show for the tourists. This is the real thing.

And the people! Yes, we do have neighbours, and believe me, when you live out in the open, there are many kinds of behaviour you are forced to observe.  Too often, we recognize our own foibles reflected in the lives around us. But fortunately, also, our strengths. The family beside us who we feel may be treating their children rather harshly are the same people who rescued our tent when it was caught by a wind gust and blew into the ocean when we weren't home. Isn’t that just like life? The good, the bad, and the ugly, all mixed up.

We take deep breaths, and decide that all those busy-making things back home, while necessary, don’t have to occupy our minds and hearts 100% of the time. There’s a whole big world out there that we could be visiting, and there’s a time for that, but vacations don’t always have to be about far away travel. We need  times to sit and reflect, to talk about this and that, to play, to sleep in, to visit, read and write, and to invite friends and family to come and sit and  watch with us ... as the world goes by.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Next Chapter

Last week I shared my dad’s story of how and why our family immigrated to Canada. Many of you shared how much you enjoyed what he’d written and were wondering if there was more. Well, yes, there is. Today would have been mom and dad’s 70th anniversary, and so to honour them one more time, here’s what happened next...

Mom was pregnant when they arrived in Canada. The baby was due in April. I cannot imagine how anxious she must have been as she approached her due date. She would be giving birth in a hospital  which in her experience was where you went when you were sick. And she’d not had much time to pick up any language skills.

When we were younger, mom made the story of my sister Sue’s birth into a funny story, but I don’t think it was funny at the time. Here’s how she told it: “When I got to the hospital and was on the delivery table I saw that they were going to give me a needle, and I was really worried. I thought something was going wrong. I didn’t know that women in Canada usually got an anaesthetic when they had a baby, and were not awake for the birth. When they brought her to me the next morning, I was woozy and sick from the anaesthetic, and I was sure there was something wrong with the baby because her face was all squished up from the hard delivery. When dad finally came to see me and the baby that evening, I told him, “Don’t be shocked, I think there’s something wrong with the child, she doesn’t look good to me.” He immediately went to the nursery to look at the baby through the nursery window, and came back quickly. “I don’t know who’s got something wrong with her, you or the baby. The baby looks fine to me, she is beautiful.”

When dad told the story years later in his biography, he gave the story a completely different slant. While I’m glad my mom had the pluck to turn an emotional and difficult time into something good, I love dad’s version too.

The first major event in 1950 was the birth of our daughter Susan (Sieuwke) on Thursday, April 13, in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, shortly after midnight. Mr. And Mrs. Merritt had taken Mom there on the morning of the 12th. I was waiting anxiously all day for more news about mom, but I heard nothing at all. When I used Mr. Merritt’s phone to contact  the hospital at bedtime (we couldn’t afford to have our own phone yet), the reply was very short: no change. The next day, when we hadn’t heard anything yet by 11 a.m., Froukje [our Dutch neighbour lady who was taking care of me, and whose husband also worked for the Merritts] used the farmer’s phone again to call the doctor’s office. The girl answering the phone told her that the baby had been born the night before, but she didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl, and the doctor was still asleep, so we should call again in the afternoon. At my request, the farmer did so. That’s how, more than 12 hours after the fact, I finally received news of Sue’s birth.

Of course, then I longed to see mom and our brand new daughter, but the hospital was 35 kilometers away, so I needed a car, which we didn’t have yet. But Jop Swieringa, working on a neighbouring farm, had just bought a 1930 Chevy, a 20 year old car but still good enough to help out for the time being. I don’t think he had yet gotten his driver’s license, but I had my chauffeur’s license – I needed it for the occasional use of Mr. Merritt’s pick-up truck for work purposes. I asked him, “Hey Jop, what about going together to the hospital tonight in your car to see my wife at the hospital?” His reply was, “Well, just take my car and go by yourself.” It wasn’t hard to take that offer.

And it was such a great relief to be together again for a while. For mom it had been an especially difficult 36 hours. Not only was the long delivery very hard on her, but also in all those hours there wasn’t anyone around on whose shoulders she could cry out. Without such support, the whole process had been so much harder. And her knowledge of the English medical language and terms was still very limited, and therefore she didn’t always understand why she would get injections, and what they would do for her. But, when we were together, that was all a thing of the past, and we could be very thankful for a new gift of life, and that everything looked well.

On Sunday, mom and the brand new baby came home again. The boss and his wife went with me to pick her up in their brand new 1950 car. It happened that Father and Mother Hofstra were celebrating their 25th anniversary with a party the day the telegram arrived, so they could share the happy news with the guests. And since my parents were there as well, guests could also congratulate them, especially my mother, after whom our new daughter was named: Sieuwke, which fairly soon became Susan. The anniversary was the first event we had had to miss as a result of our immigration, but mom’s brother thought that we had received a very nice consolation prize, our Susan.

You can talk about romance and roses when it comes to love, but I think this is a pretty good love story, too. Mom and Dad lived to celebrate their 56th anniversary.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Looking back...Canada 1949

I’ve been digging into my dad’s biography as I add pages to my memoir.  It was very meaningful to me, in this week leading up to Canada Day, to read through the pages that led to the decision of my parents to immigrate. They were living on Dad's parents' farm in a closely knit community. Dad was hoping eventually to have a farm of his own. In the meantime, he was working as a hired hand at a neighbour's farm.

 And yet, Mom, 31 and pregnant, dad, 32, and I (15 months) boarded the SS Veendam, crowded with immigrants, in September 1949. We left Rotterdam and sailed into a new life. " nightfall the Dutch coastline disappeared. With it a very important chapter of our life, the years living in the country we were born in, had ended. And a future, to a great extent still unknown to us, was laying ahead. But we trusted that in this future, God's grace would remain with us," Dad wrote.

Holland-America Line's SS Veendam was originally built as a cruise ship, and could hold about 600 passengers.  

It was not an easy trip for mom, who was bedridden with seasickness and morning sickness. Dad took care of me and I apparently enjoyed the fun and games.

This morning, Canada 150 Day, I turned the page of Dad's biography, and found the story of their first few months in Canada. Dad would have been 100 years old this year, but I can hear his voice loud and clear in this chapter. So I’ve given today’s CrowDayOne  post to my dad, Foppe Arends (Paul) de Jong. With very few exceptions, I did not edit anything, so you will occasionally hear his accent and Dutchisms. That’s my dad you’re hearing. I hope you enjoy the insights and descriptions as much as I did. Happy birthday Canada: I'm so glad mom and dad took the risk and brought us here.

Canada: The Second Chapter of Our Life Story
Why do people actually immigrate? Many reasons may be given, but the main reasons why post-war immigrants came to Canada [from Holland] was: more space, more opportunities, and less rules and regulations than in our over crowded homeland. They were good reasons, but nevertheless, immigration was a decision that had to be taken very seriously. For we immigrants left so much behind: dear relatives, familiar surroundings, so many friends and acquaintances of long standing. Whereas the land we were traveling to was virtually unknown to us where they spoke a language unfamiliar to the majority of us. All we knew for sure was that it had more and better opportunities for us and our offspring. But farther on, we would have to wait and see!

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, 1949 we arrived in the New York harbour. From there on the hardest part of our journey began; to travel [by train] through New York City and New York State and at Buffalo cross the border into Canada, all with a minimal knowledge of English and hardly any experience to converse in it. Add to this that we had studied UK English with different expressions and pronunciations then used over here! Quite confusing, man! But oh well, we lived through it. And arrived safely the next morning in St. Catherines at the parsonage from Rev. Persenaire, where waited us a hearty welcome. Rev. Persenaire was a first cousin of our brother in law Nick Willemse, who had brought us in contact with them. We stayed there for two weeks, in which I was working at a [gardening] nursery. Then we moved to the farm of Mr. Leslie Merritt in Smithville. Where in the meantime our furniture arrived. We could take very little money (just $275) with us to Canada [by Dutch government law] but all our furniture, clothes and household items. They had to be cleared however for duty-free import at the customs over here which meant: I had to make a trip by bus to Hamilton. When buying the ticket, I was asked, “Single or return?” What could that mean? But quick thinking helped me out; return must mean the same as the French word “retour” which was much used in Holland. The necessity to communicate was at the same time a strong encouragement to use our very limited knowledge of English to the fullest. And at the same time increased our knowledge of it in an amazing fast way!

The old farmhouse near Smithville Ontario where we lived for 3 years when we first arrived in Canada.
Mr. Merritt, our farmer, was a descendant of the United Empire Loyalists, who, after the United States had become independent from the British Empire in the 1780s, moved northward to Ontario and settled in the surroundings of the Niagara Peninsula, beginning a new life over there. Mr. Merritt owned and operated a 216 acre farm. On his farm he had a small dairy, in which his milk was pasteurized and bottled to be peddled out in Smithville and surroundings. He had also a dealership of the DeLaval milking machines. He had two Dutch immigrants working for him; their families living in an old farmer’s house, big enough to divide it in two apartments. [Our family lived in one of those apartments.] Our wages were: free home, free milk, free wood for fuel, and $20 weekly, in due time raising to $25 and $30. Though it doesn’t sound like much compared with today’s wages, we nevertheless were well off, compared by the then-going rate. And were able to save some so we were able to buy a washing machine, a radio, and last but not at all the least, a car! Later on the boss also hired a single man, who too was a Dutch immigrant! So then he had a whole farm staff of Dutchies! It gives a good indication, how great the need of farm workers was in those post war years and why the immigrant farm workers were so welcome in the farmer’s circles.

We also had a good relationship with the farmer and his wife, in spite of language difficulties in the beginning. But that problem got solved very soon. And a great help for us was also the fact that so many Dutch immigrants arrived here in those days. Right away after their arrival, they sought and found contact with each other and in that way helping each other to get acquainted with our new country, its customs and their way of life in general, which in so many ways differed from the customs and rules from our old country. And in emergencies such as sickness, unemployment etc. everyone chipped in to help. We were all short of cash, since due to post-war restrictions the amount of money we were allowed to take along was minimal. Besides that, many of us had to borrow money to immigrate, a loan that had to be paid back in dollars. Which was for us all an additional disadvantage. And could we do without a car, when living on a farm way out in the country?! We also needed appliances because of the different voltages and frequency of hydro over here. Plenty of problems, man! But one good thing we had in common: we all had gone through 5 years of war with untold problems, many of them so much more serious as than the one’s we right now were confronted with. So why not take up this challenge just as well! Old, rundown cars, but still usable, could be bought for prices within reach. Salvation Army stores helped us on clothes for bargain prices. Auction sales became the sources for many so much needed household items. And if we were short of storage space in our houses, orange boxes could be got for nothing from the grocery stores. From which we, with some curtains and wallpaper, made closets, shelves and bookcases. In that way we together succeeded!

And what is even more important, it drew us, while being together in the same boat, very close together. One’s problem was everybody’s problem. And we helped each other to solve them, just as if we were one big family.

Besides that, the Christian Reformed Church has been a tremendous help in those days. And not only for its members; many others have been directly or indirectly helped by it too. The ministers sent by Synod as home missionaries to Canada to care for the spiritual needs of those immigrants, helped them also in many other ways. Since they all could speak Dutch as well as English, they time and time again acted as interpreters. And since they were well acquainted with customs and traditions over here, they could give valid advice to them in so many important matters. And then there were the field men, appointed by the church to find employment for the many boatloads of immigrants arriving here and give them advice, helping them through those first days over here when for some people everything seemed to get haywire.

The Sunday church services became right from the beginning the highlights of the week; spiritual as well as social. The participants, using all kinds of transportation (mainly old cars, some still using their Dutch bikes they’d taken along) coming together in some rented hall or else in an immigrant’s living room, to worship (for the time being, still in the Dutch language). And, though those immigrants were coming quite often from four or five different denominations in Holland, they started over here from the very beginning worshiping together, also in partaking of the sacraments and growing together as a strong spiritual unit, which soon would become a new congregation in a denomination also new to them all, but still caring for and meeting their spiritual needs.

And as I mentioned already, socially they lived as one big family, helping each other whenever they could. Something of the Jerusalem church after Pentecost was really reflecting in their way of life. In such a a family of faith we arrived here in the month of October 1949. Which made for us the period of adjustment so much easier. And when the year 1949 drew to an end, we celebrated the season’s highlights of Christmas and New Years with the members of our new family.