Gerarda Francisca Maria van der Meer-Cook-Tynan
I was born on November 26, 1910 and the name given to me was Gerarda Francisca Maria. I had a five year old brother Juul and we lived in Watergraafsmeer, Schoollaan. This area was eventually annexed to the city of Amsterdam. my father's name was Rein van der Meer and my mother's name was Johanna Heus. I had three more brothers: Steef, born in 1913, Willy, born in 1916 and Frans, the youngest, born in 1922.
I have wonderful memories about my growing-up years. My parents met each other at the wedding of my father's sister Afra to my mother's brother Jan. There is a postcard sent by my father to my mother sometime around 1904, before they were married.
My parents, with only a grammar school education, were both avid readers. My father had a good, steady job with the Amsterdam Gas Company. My father was, as long as I can remember, president of the Catholic Labor Movement. He was always aware when families in our area were in need and he would go to the city hall authorities to plead for help. My mother was for quite while active in church organizations and was president of the Catholic Women's Group. My parents both felt the importance of their children having an education.
I can't remember too much of the first four or five years of my life. In 1914, World War I broke out. In 1915 or 1916 our family moved to Duivendrecht, a suburb of Amsterdam. My father rented a piece of ground there to raise potatoes and vegetables for the family. We moved into a big house in town. Willy and Frans were born in Duivendrecht.
My brother Juul, the oldest one, would go to the library regularly and, as soon as I started school, I read his books too. That is how I got to know Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, etc, translated into Dutch of course. And, that was way before I got to learn the English Language.
During World War I, the food was scarce and terrible. I guess that at that time they did not know too much about preserving food. So, the products of my father's vegetable garden were helpful. During the war I was small and fragile so the doctor prescribed coupons for me for white bread, butter, milk, etc (at that time considered wholesome, rich, the best). I remember eating my delicacies while my brothers were standing around me, hoping for me to leave something for them.
The large house we had moved into was only temporary. After the war, we were going to buy our own home. In this first house in Duivendrecht, soon my ailing grandparents moved in, plus a great uncle, Kees, and Mother's sister, Grad. I remember that my grandfather, Steven, used to have his own business in Ouderkerk on the Amstel River, going to Amsterdam. He made and sold turf, transported by boat. In those times, turf was used in stoves etc. instead of coal. When he retired, a son-in-law took over the business. That was uncle Jan, married to my mother's sister, Pia. They, the old people, moved to another small town, Ilpendam. Eventually, they moved in with us.Great uncle Kees, who was mostly in bed, might have had some lung condition. I remember hearing him cough all the time. Tante Grad died of the Spanish Flu, which killed so many people during and after World War I. These four people all died at the end of the War. I don't remember much about it except the many relatives who came for the funerals. They were all buried in Ouderkerk, which was pretty close to Duivendrecht, Polderland, also my mother's birthplace.
This big place where we lived was across the street from our church, St. Urbanus. I made my first communion there and when there were processions, I walked along with the little brides, all dressed in white. A lady friend of my mother from Amsterdam used to doll me up and curl my hair for those occasions. Her name was "Mevrouw" Borgonie. I remember her so well because I knew that she had no children and was pretty lonesome; her husband being a seafaring man, was always on long trips. I was impressed when I heard how he always looked after his crew when they stopped at those ports all over the world, so they would behave and not get into trouble.
Soon, like my brother Juul, I started school. In 1918 or 1919, Steef started kindergarten. As his older sister, I was responsible for getting him home after school. Several years after the war was over, we moved into our own home. Han Blom became my best girlfriend. We shared everything: our goodies, the snacks we got at home, our secrets!
Our house was part of a complex: the corner house! It was located on the busy traffic road between Utrecht and Amsterdam. At that time, early 1920's, we had the indoor plumbing but no water yet. The falling rain was collected in a big container. But very soon, the connections were made. No "flushing" toilet yet, but that came soon too. Then, in time, the electricity and gas were in use.
When this house was being built, my parents wanted me to put in the first stone. On a square piece of cement, close to the front door, was some information, like the date and my name. In 1973, when I was visiting in Holland, I stayed with my girlfriend Han in Duivendrecht and made a picture of that stone. The picture is in the old family album.
Our house mad three bedrooms plus a storage room. Being the only girl, I had my own room. My brothers had to share a room. We had a large backyard with flower gardens. In our backyard were all kinds of animals, like cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits and birds. I remember this big rabbit following my mother all over the place. Our cat even walked every morning with my mother to church, when she went for daily mass. This new house was about two blocks away from the church. We were a big happy family.
At the far end of the backyard was a little stream with a plank over it which led to fields with grazing cows. one time my little brother Willy, about five or six years old, fell in the water. I could just grab his shirt and keep his head above the water, yelling like crazy, till my dad came running and took over.
Our house was not big! There was no central heat. Nor was there a bathroom. But we had our regular cleanups in a big tub with the water heated for it. In the living room was a "hearth," a fancy kind of stove, that kept part of the house warm with coal or turf. At that time, it was the custom to have bedrooms supplied with a wash-set, a big bowl with a pitcher with water for early morning washups. Basements were mostly unknown in Holland. We had cellars; at least some houses had them. Radio and television were not invented yet. There were also no freezers or refrigerators. At that time gas and electricity became slowly available. I am talking about the 1910's and early 1920's again. I remember the view from the window of my room: as far as I could see, there were grass fields with grazing cows. In later years, when my father went with early retirement, he bought a car and built a garage next to the house. His car was a "Willy Overland."
I don't remember too much about my brother Juul. He was five years older than I was and when I started school, he was already one of the big kids.
When Steef was 5 years old and in kindergarten, the nuns made quite a fuss about him. With his blond curls and beautiful face, he looked like an angel. he was also very smart, so they taught him Latin and made him an altar boy, probably the youngest altar boy ever. Waiting for him in the room, to take him home after school, soon I learned some Latin myself too the Mass Latin used at that time.
Willy was a happy, sunny child. He became an altar boy in the convent of the Sisters of St. Clare. he was born in Duivendrecht in 1916 and was killed by a car in front of our house in 1927. He was 11 years old. What happened is that little brother Frans, who was five years old at the time, ran into the street to catch his hoop. When Willy, seeing the danger, ran after him and pulled him safely away from a speeding car. He was instantly killed himself. It was the most terrible thing that happened in our family. I was away at college and my father's friend, Mr. Primus, went to Amsterdam to bring me home.
Frans, born in 1922, was everyone's darling, as cute as his brother Steef, with dark blond curly hair. He went through grammar school as an average student. His great interest was cars, already when he was very young.
While I was still a schoolgirl in Duivendrecht, I had a crush on Anton Blom, Han's older brother. He was at a seminary to study for the priesthood. I remember, later when I was a teenager, we got together to exchange our school experiences. At one time he told me that he loved me. I was thrilled, but put it quickly out of my mind because I could not compete with God.
When Juul had finished school he did not want to go on to high school. So, he found himself a job as an office boy. He must have been thirteen or fourteen years old. My parents' advice was to take evening courses, which he did. Slowly he got promoted and in his early twenties, he had an important position in the Volks Bank in Utrecht. Later he got his own insurance business. He married Truus Worbel in Duivendrecht and moved to Utrecht. He had six children. Four of them died after the Second World War: Rene, Kees, Robbie and Teresa. they died of diphtheria in 1946. Rene was seventeen years old. Kees was thirteen. Teresa was six and Robbie was two. Because of the war (World War II) which ended in 1945, there was an enormous shortage of practically everything and the diphtheria serum was not available. It was very tragic!
Juul and I were not very close. The difference in age might have been part of the cause. With Steef and Frans I had a good relationship all the rest of our lives. By the time we were going to the US, Juul and I were not on "speaking terms." It was Kees who made the peace between us; and so, Juul was present at my mother's place for the farewell party.
While living in Chicago, later, Kees continued to build up the relationship by collecting and sending Juul foreign stamps, which were Juul's particular hobby during the last years of his life. Truus told us later how much this was appreciated by Juul. When Juul's health started failing, his boys, Willy and Jelle, took over the insurance business. Juul died in 1969 and Truus followed several years later.
In 1970, while Kees and I were in Holland and visiting Truus, we discovered also the great collection of books Juul left behind. Truus gave me a book to take home, to remember Juul by. At that time we also got to see the two boys: Jelle and Willy. For several years, there was some correspondence with these two nephews. But slowly the contact between us stopped.
Steef was thinking about becoming a priest. So he went, after grammar school, to a seminary in Suesterberg. Soon he found out that the priesthood was not for him. So he left and started at St. Ignatius Gymnasium in Amsterdam. The gymnasium was a six year special high school which was a preparation for the university. After graduating, he went to study Law. He met Annie Sjamaar and eventually they got married.
When Steef was through with his studies and had become an acknowledged lawyer, he was offered an assignment for three years in the Dutch colony of Curacao in the West Indies, the Antilles. At that time, September 1936, I had just met Kees. I was very happy that Kees and Steef got to know and like each other before Steef would have to leave. The labor situation in Curacao was bad, about a hundred years behind the times. That is what Steef was being sent for: to straighten things out and to work for the rights of the poor people there.
Annie and Steef already had marriage problems during the first year there. They patched it up though and stayed together for several years afterwards. Steef slowly built up his own law practice with the idea of staying there in Curacao when the three year assignment had passed. They had three children: Lous, Wybe and Saskia. Eventually, the children moved to Holland to go to school. Then Annie left also to be with the children. She settled down in Vegt on the river where she and Steef owned a home. Steef, being alone, got to know Betty, Annie's niece, who was a nurse in the hospital there. Annie and Steef divorced and he married Betty. Steef was happy with her. They came to visit me here in McHenry several times. I liked Betty very much.
Steef died of cancer in 1985. In 1987 Betty came and spent several weeks with me. I never knew Annie's and Steef's children. But, Steef had a daughter, also in Curacao; Ineke. Betty, after Steef had died, remarried in August 1993. And, when sending me the wedding pictures, Betty wrote me about Ineke. I was thrilled about it. She was on one of the pictures: blond like Steef. She wrote me and we started a correspondence. She would be 32 years old, married and her first baby, Justin, is only a few months old.
Frans was born in 1922. After grammar school, he went to trade school and became a qualified auto mechanic. When he was finished with school, he bought his own garage and auto workshop and did very well. He got married to Riek in the 1950's, when we were already in the U.S. They had two children: Jolanda and Hans. Frans died in 1975 of cancer. In 1983 Riek came to Mchenry to spend some time with me. Riek, her children and grandchildren live close together in DeBilt.
About myself. After grammar school I wanted to become a teacher. In Amsterdam there was located in the inner city a great complex of buildings: the motherhouse of the nuns, one high school, two grammar schools, a home for abused and neglected girls, a "kweekschool" (teachers college) and an "internaat" (boarding house) for students. Our kweekschool and internaat were on the beautiful Lauriergracht (gracht means canal). I made several good friends there. With some of them I still have a regular contact now, in 1994. And that is how I know that now all those buildings are closed; some of them broken down and others made into apartments. In 1973, when I was in Holland for a few weeks, they had a reunion in Amsterdam for my class and that is when several old friendships were renewed.
After graduation, my first job was with some special education kids: small groups. I remember that it was not so easy. One day a little boy, Sammy (I even remember his name) asked me how old I was. I said, without stopping to think, "I am sixty-six." The next morning Sammy's father brought him to school. He said to me: "I wanted to see what this sixty-six year old teacher looked like." About a year later I started teaching in Bovenkerk. For several years I lived in Bovenkerk, rooming together with a colleague girlfriend. I taught there for about eight years.
After the first four years, I went to live at home again. My roommate at that time, Cor Schrama was her name, entered a convent. I would use my bike for transportation, which was at that time in Holland a normal way of moving around. It took me about an hour. With bad weather, my father would take me, or get me, putting my bicycle on a luggage bar on the back of the car.
I liked to teach. Being with children, seeing their minds develop and grow, is very interesting. It was a fulfilling kind of life. I know I was good at it. I did not mind spending some extra time after school with slow learners. This school was a boys and girls school with male and female teachers. At one time I had several big boys in my third grade class. On the school curriculum we had handwritten "Sewing, Knitting, etc" for the girls. During these lessons the boys would all go to the male teachers. We, the women, would get the girls, to teach "Handwerken." One time, lining up the boys to take them to Mr. Wassenburg, I heard some of the guys talking about pestering Mr. Wassenburg. I stopped the whole troop and said "Oh no, you won't! Just dare to do that." Well, I found out that they behaved.
In later years, after being married and substituting now and then, I was assigned to a class that had some difficult students according to the principal. She wanted to warn me! My answer was: "In the first place, I like children, and then, I am not afraid of them either." She said: "You'll make it; you have the right attitude." And, believe me, I had no problem with that class. It was not unusual to have sometimes fifty or more kids in your class, or two different grades together. It was not easy, but it did not bother me.
In Bovenkerk, I had the habit of using the last half hour of the school week to read to the kids. I remember how Pinocchio (so popular now in the Walt Disney movie) was already in the 1930's a very popular book. It happened that at the end of the school year some of my future pupils asked me if I would read Pinocchio to them too.
Then, of course, there came a time that, when thinking about the future, I wanted to get married and have a family. In 1936 I met Kees. It took us two years before we could get married - those were recession years. There did not seem to be too much future for us. Kees, who had come back from a seminary a year or so before I met him, found a job in a store in Amsterdam. He found it not easy to adjust to this different kind of life. So, when I first met Kees, he worked at that delicatessen store: Franken Fingerhoed. As I said, there was no future in that job.
My brother Juul had the right connections and with his help Kees went into training programs for management in the cooperative movement. In those years, you could not even be a storekeeper without a diploma. At the end of the study he got a position as assistant manager at Fibeco, in Utrecht, to supervise about forty stores located all over the country. Utrecht was where Fibeco had its office.
While in my twenties, I learned how to sew my own clothes. I bought my own sewing machine and had it delivered to my address in Bovenkerk. My landlady told everybody, "Juffrouw van der Meer sits there at her sewing machine all the time, making herself new clothes." Well, when the time came, I made my own wedding gown and also the dress for my mother that she was to wear on my wedding day.
On December 28, 1938 Kees and I got married in Duivendrecht and moved to Zuilen by Utrecht. When Juul, Frans, Kees and I all lived in the Utrecht area, my parents sold the house in Duivendrecht and bought a place in DeBilt, also close to Utrecht. So, we lived all pretty close to each other, the van der Meers I mean. Brother Steef was already living in Curacao at that time.
I want to go back in my memories again to the time I grew up. My parents were both gentle and loving people. My father had also a great sense of humor. Being the only girl, I felt very close to my father. He was so special. I remember that after my father's early retirement, my parents used the car to travel through Europe a lot. Sometimes I went along. Before they had the car they would go places, not too far away, together on a "tandem." I also remember how they liked to go to a theater in Amsterdam. Again, sometimes I would join them. During school vacations, Steef and I used to go on bicycle trips, trying out on each other the languages we were learning in school. One summer Steef had studied Esperanto, an artificial language that slowly lost its popularity since it became more and more clear that English was becoming the world language.
I don't remember too many details about my life in Duivendrecht. I liked school and always had friends. Sister Loyola was my favorite teacher and she had a lot to do with me wanting to be a teacher too. When I was little, I used to play with dolls. My father, one time, made me a beautiful doll bed. I treasured that very much; and, when I got married, I took it with me, to save it for the time when I would have my own little girl. A sad thing happened though. At the end of the war (1940-1945) we had left our home in Zuilen temporarily and stayed in Kees' hometown, Kockengen, for safety and food. Our neighbors in Zuilen told us when we got back that a bombed-out family lived in our house for a while. There was no coal; so, to get some heat in the house, they burned up some furniture, including the doll bed made by my father.
I want to mention still how much fun we had in our family. I remember one St. Nicholas night. That was always celebrated on December fifth. Besides giving each other presents, we also made teasing rhymes and surprise packages for each other. That particular year my mother had complained much about the groceries delivery man. That gave me an idea. I must have been up in my teens at that time. We did our wrapping in different rooms. My mother, after I asked her, told everyone to stay out of the living room. I collected all the packages and formed them on a chair into something like a person, clothed and all: my mother's new delivery boy. I will never forget this moment, when my father saw this artificial man sitting on that chair. He touched an arm and the whole thing started wiggling. How he laughed, my father. He could not stop and he kept touching that arm. It was hilarious.
Soon after Kees and I were married, World War II broke out: 1940-45. our children were born during that time: John in 1940 and Mary in 1942. The fact that Kees was in the food business was very helpful during those years of food shortages, particularly during the first years when the trains were still running and Kees could travel. My father died in 1943 of cancer. He was sixty-four years old at the time.
As I mentioned before, Kees and I and the kids went to Kockengen and lived there during the last year of the war. My mother, living alone then in her own home, had my brother Frans and his wife Riek move in with her. It was very difficult, especially for young people, at that time, to find a place to live. So this solved a problem. After the war, Kees got to be general manager in s'Hertogenbosch, in the south of Holland. We moved out there and lived for a year on Acasiasingel on the river "Aa." I should mention that there was a possibility to find a place to live if you could offer a place to live by exchanging apartments or houses. Well, soon a nice, roomy place on the Van Heurnstratt, where the business was located, was made available to us.
After the war, many businesses were in very bad shape; so was the Cooperative in Den Bosch. Kees worked very hard. Besides managing the grocery stores, bakery, etc, he also had his evenings filled with speaking engagements to promote the co-op idea. He was very good in that. He got the stores in good shape. To save him an office girl, I helped out with doing his paper work for a while. There came a point that he was so overworked that he lost his love for his job. His brothers John and Henry in the U.S encouraged him to come to Chicago where they were pretty well established.
In 1952 we came to Chicago and John and Henry got us quickly settled. For one year we lived in St. Ignatius parish. In 1953 we moved to 1426 Granville Avenue. Twice my mother came to visit us. The first time was in 1953. She even helped us move to Granville Ave. That time she stayed with us for about a year. Then, in 1956, she came again and stayed for one year and three months. She loved the American way of life and, in the first place, she got to know and love Kees. She died in 1956, at the age of seventy-seven. A few months before, I had gone to Holland to see her, knowing she was not well. When I went back to Chicago that time, I knew I would not see her anymore.
Kees had taken a job as church janitor when we came to Chicago. He liked it. Working with his hands has always been a hobby with him. Now he could do this all the time. He loved to fix things, and other fellows were willing to do most of the cleaning. I remember how the nuns in the convent used to call him at the strangest times for little jobs, like changing a light bulb or whatever. And, he was always willing in his good-natured fashion to go out there for whatever had to be done.
We lived on Granville Avenue for about eighteen years. John and Mary went through grammar school, high school, and college. They got married and started their own families. Our life together was a good life. We used to go on vacations together when Mary and John were still young. We travelled all over the country. We camped out. I had a bed in the car because of my fear of "ongedierte." Later, when Mary and John were in their late teens, they had summer jobs and Kees and I would go out, just the two of us. And, oh, the many beautiful places in this country we have seen; the wonderful memories I have.
I want to mention again, if you want to know more about our family life, try to get hold (or get a copy) of "Our Letters" and the Presentations for John and Mary: "This is Your Life," which were written and given to them on their fiftieth birthdays. You will read and understand how special Kees was and what a good life we had together.
At retirement age we bought this place here in McHenry, fixed it up and moved in. That was 1971. Kees did not enjoy it very long. In March 1972 he died from a sudden heart attack. It was devastating. But now, so many years later, I thank God still for the many years of happiness I shared with Kees.
In 1975 I married Dale Tynan who died in 1980 of cancer.
I am doing it alone. Janus, my cat, is my faithful companion. For 23 years now, 1994, I have lived in this beautiful place on the lake. And, God willing, I will keep going for a long time.
Her mother was Gerritje Houweling and her father's name was Stephen Heus. There is not much that I remember about them. They must have been born in the 1840's or 1850's. they both died in Duivendrecht around 1917-18. I wrote about their birthplace in Ouderkerk and the work my grandfather was doing.
My mother, Johanna Heus, 1882-1959, had five sisters and three brothers: Dora, Grad, Pia, Mie, Geert, Jan, Roel and Reier. There was Dora who was born in 1890 and died in 1902. She was twelve years old at that time and the youngest in the Heus family. Grad (Gerarda) died in Duivendrecht around 1918. I have no other details. She died of the Spanish Flu.
Pia was married to Jan Wesseling. She died sometime during the 1930's. Pia had twelve children and after the youngest baby was born she died. Cor, her oldest girl was capable to take over the care of the children. I remember only a few of them, my cousins! There was a girl, also named Gerarda. When we were teenagers, I had a crush on her boyfriend, Wim Uitermark. The guy died young of TB. My mother had a close relationship with Pia's orphaned children. I remember that Cor got eventually married to Hein van Loenen, the owner of a cafe-restaurant on the Amstel. Soon Jan Wesseling got married again to Tonia. What I remember is that she was very well liked by the whole family and was almost like a sister to my mother. She still had a baby girl, to be named Pia.
Sister Geert (Gertrude) lived in Purmerend and was married to a house painter, Joe Limburg. I don't remember much about them at all. They had four or five children and one girl was named Gerda (Gerarda). She was the cousin that came to stay with us the day before I got married, to help me the next morning to get dressed and be prettied up.
Then there was Mie, pronounced "Mee" (short for Marie). She was married to Jan Michel, a travelling salesman. They lived in Amsterdam and she and my mother were very close. They even looked alike. Mie's children were: Andre, At, Gerard, Step and Nel. And, what a coincidence, they had four boys and one girl - just like in our family! At was about my age, Andre was as old as my brother Juul. We used to visit each other, back and forth a lot. Gerard, when he was young, lost an eye caused by playing with toy guns or whatever. He got an artificial eye put in and it looked pretty normal. With cousin Nel, I palled around now and then. I remember us going to a retreat together one time; that was after we were grown up. Gerard and his wife Agnes came to the U.S. and settled down in Michigan by Hudson. We had quite a bit of contact with each other. And, I got to see the brothers Step and At again when they came visiting. The Michels are all gone now. Gerard's widow lives still in Michigan and we have some telephone contact now and then.
The brothers, Jan, Roel, and Reier, my mother had hardly any contact with at all. So there is nothing I can say about them. Reier's son, Rein, lives in Canada by Niagara Falls. After a bit of contact, the relationship has come to a standstill, or rather a stop.
His father was Jelle Rouke van der Meer (1849- 1908) and his mother was Francisca Haarsma (1853-1931). The family lived in Friesland, an eastern provence of the Netherlands (Holland). The Friesian people were known to be hardworking, steadfast and a bit stubborn sometimes. The dialect spoken there is almost a language by itself. I never understood Friesian. I would now and then recognize a word or so. There are many other dialects in other parts of the country; there is Limburgs, Brabants, Zeeuws, etc.
If any of you readers would be interested in knowing more about the history of the Netherlands and the enormous struggles against the water through the centuries (the land is below sea level), I have an interesting book in my possession worth reading. The title is "Holland," by E. de Amicis, published in 1880.
The children of Jelle Rouke and Francisca were: Rein (my father), Frans, Wybe, Bert, Hendrina, Afra, and Tecla. My grandfather, Jelle Rouke van der Meer, died in 1908. I never knew him. I was told that he transported freight by boat over the Friesian lakes. He drowned on one of the lakes during a heavy storm. The van der Meer family used to live in the town of Woudsend. The children, except Hendrina, when grown up, left Friesland to establish themselves in the so-called more civilized parts of Holland.
Rein, my father, went to Amsterdam and soon got employed by the Amsterdam Gas Company, where he worked until retirement. He met and married Jo Heus (my mother). They had five children.
Frans went to the city of Nymegan and became eventually the director of a dairy factory in Cuyk aan the Maas, where he settled down, got married and had a large family. We (our family) had very little contact with them.
Wybe was adventurous and emigrated to the U.S. I presume that he got some schooling, because he became an architect. He was connected with the diocese of Rockford and built schools and churches. He married a Dutch girl, Engelien, and lived for several years in an apartment in the bishop's mansion. He had three children: Johanna, Josie and Wybe. Later, he lived in Aurora, Illinois.
Bert, the youngest son, was eleven years old when his father died. He was the only one still living with his mother. Several years ago, I found out that my father, Rein, the oldest one, at that time contacted the brothers and sisters, suggesting that together they should pay for an education for Bert so that eventually he could take care of their mother, Francisca. This is how I found out. My cousin, Edna, came visiting one time and brought some Dutch papers. I looked at all those papers on the living room table and said: "Wait a while, that is my father's handwriting"! Yes, I picked up that letter; it was true! That was the letter my father had sent to Edna's mother. My father had died in 1943 and this letter was written in 1908, the year his father died. It was the request for financial help for Bert. So, with everyone's help, Bert came to Amsterdam, got the necessary schooling and lived with our family for a while. He was eleven or twelve years old at that time. He finished high school and college. After graduation, he started teaching in Amsterdam. He got an apartment and his mother, Francisca, left Friesland and came to live with him.
Frans had a sick wife with several young children. The oldest, Nel, was about my age. At one time, Frans wanted to take his sick wife to Lourdes for two weeks and he asked his brother Rein to come to Cuyk for these two weeks to supervise the factory and also the children. He suggested that I should come along as company for his oldest daughter. We must have been teenagers at that time. It was quite a vacation! We found out that the children did not have such a pleasant life. They could never bring any of their friends home. They always had to eat in the kitchen. There was a company limousine with a chauffeur. In no time my father organized trips with picnics and other fun things. The chauffeur was delighted about it and said to my father, "I'll always be willing to go anywhere when you want me to! It's about time for the kids to have some fun now and then." After this we did not have much contact with the Frans van der Meer family. We heard that Frans' wife died a few years after she had been to Lourdes.
When Nel was a few years older, some rumors reached us about her eloping with one of the factory workers and getting out of the country. I could well understand that Nel, being a van der Meer, was getting fed up with the limitations of independence and freedom. Her father was furious. The next thing we heard was that Nel and her friend got married, came back to Holland and settled in Geleen (S. Limburg). Nel's husband started his own business, something like international transportation, which was doing very well.
I know nothing about the rest of the family. There was no contact at all.
My brother Steef, when in Holland in the 1980's, met with Nel. He wrote me that she was very depressed ever since her husband died. Steef asked me to write; maybe I could cheer her up. So, for a while there was a correspondence between us. Then she got cancer and died!
There is very little about Wybe that I know. He was born in 1887 and died in 1948. He was married to Engelien, a sister of Frans' wife Jo. I heard from cousin Edna that Wybe was a warm, caring person. Besides being an architect, he also composed music now and then. When he died in 1948, his body was transported to Friesland (St. Nicolaasga). He was buried at the cemetery by his father, Jelle Rouke. I have a picture of these two graves with my brother Steef standing next to them. In 1953, when my mother was with us in Chicago, the two of us met with Engelien one day when she stopped in Chicago at the train station on her way to New York. I have never met Wybe's children. As far as I know, they live somewhere in the South.
Bert was only thirteen years older than I was. After his teaching years in Amsterdam, he got a position as con-rector (assistant director) of a Lyceum in Hilversum. A lyceum was one of the different kinds of high school in the old times in Holland. So then Bert and his mother moved to the beautiful town of Hilversum. We were very close and came together lots of times, sharing celebrations of birthdays and other occasions. We, the youngsters, made many bicycle trips to Hilversum. My grandmother, Francisca Haarsma, died in 19?1. Then Bert was alone. I remember that he made a trip to the U.S. to visit Wybe and Tecla. Wybe lived at that time in Rockford. When Bert came home, he told us about the parties given for him and how he was so popular with the unmarried ladies. It scared him a little. Finally, he met the girl of his dreams and was going to get married to Ine van Lunen. We were very happy for him. They got married and had their children. There is Lize, Wybe, Ineke and Frances.
Frances and her husband had three boys. When they lived in the US, we had some contact. They looked us up in Chicago. Frances visited me here in McHenry. They are back in Holland and we have a slight contact still by correspondence. Ine, Bert's widow, came to see us once in Chicago with her daughter Ineke. Bert died in 1968. He had Parkinson's Disease for several years.
Let me now tell you about my father's sisters.
Afra, when she left Friesland, went to Amsterdam where she met Jan Heus, my mother's brother, and married him. They had several children. But, since we had no contact with them at all, I don't know any names. I do remember that there was a Frans who became a priest. And we heard that my grandmother Francisca used her Friesian golden earcap and had it melted down and made into a golden Mass Chalice for Frans Heus.
Hendrina was my father's favorite sister. She was the sweetest, most lovable woman in the world. She married Johannes van Ham and they had five children: Johannes, Kees, Francisca, Tina and Julia. They lived far away from us, but we used to go and visit each other regularly.
I remember the times during the 1920's the best. The Zuider Zee was still in existence. We took a boat from Amsterdam to cross the Zuider Zee. The name of the harbor in Amsterdam was Het Ei, meaning "the egg." One time, while crossing the water, there was a bad storm and I was seasick. It was the only time this happened to me. Then they planned to pump out the Zuider Zee. Before they started this, a close-up dike (the Afsluit Dijk) was built to separate the Zuider Zee from the North Sea and the Wadden Islands. I remember the first time we went in my father's Willy Overland over the Afsluit Dijk to Friesland. It must have been in the early 1930's. This driveway-dike was built from the northern part of the province of N. Holland (Den Oever) to Harlingen in Friesland. During the following years several parts of the Zuider Zee were pumped and dried out into "Polders." Great pieces of fertile ground came into existence and eventually, slowly, farms were built there. What was left over from the Zuider Zee was a lake named "IJselmeer." This Dutch project was world news and we had many foreign engineers come and have a look at it.
Now something about the Van Ham family. Father Johannes was a good natured, pleasant man. My cousin Johannes I don't remember at all. I had a crush on my cousin Kees who was just a little older than I was. Julia spent some time with us during school vacation times. Francisca was a teacher. Tina, for a long time, had an open knee wound that would not heal. I remember her sitting in the sun for long periods of time. Though it took very long, she did get well. I always admired the beautiful tan color of her skin. Well, after our parents were gone and we young people got involved in our own families, we lost contact.
Tecla was my father's youngest sister. She was about eighteen years old when she followed her brother Wybe to the U.S.and settled down. She married Bernard Untied and they had six children: Marie, Frances, Jerome, Thomas, Edna and Patricia. Bernard died when the children were still pretty young. I remember how the family in Holland was a bit concerned about Tecla. It seems that her brother Wybe was very helpful.
Their daughter Edna, via cousin Frances in Holland, got my address and telephone number. She contacted me. That was quite a few years ago. And we get together now and then. She sometimes brings old pictures and Dutch letters etc. And we enjoy talking about family matters. Her daughter Lynn lives close by here in McHenry. And so, Edna can sometimes combine two visits!
My mother, Johanna Heus, when she was with us in Chicago in 1953, went with me to Oak Park to see Tecla. It seems that Tecla in the summer used to go to her farm in Pennsylvania. When my mother was with us again in 1956, we could not get hold of her. We lost contact. From Edna I heard that Tecla sometimes went to see her granddaughter in McHenry. And that was when I already lived here; and I never knew! She was up in her nineties and stayed with Edna the last part of her life.
end, part 1
[Ger died on October 2, 1996, at the age of 85]