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.