“So Grandma,” I said one day as she was showing me how to make her favorite lemon pie (complete with lard pie crust), “How is it that you met Grandpa, since you grew up in Iowa?”
Grandma blushed and smiled, thinking of the day she met Henry Balkema.
My Grandpa. To me, he was a legend in his own time. Henry Balkema was strong as an ox with twinkling, crinkled eyes and a jolly laugh who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was the son of Dutch immigrants and the third born of ten children. He worked for his dad, starting out as a pooper scooper for the horses at age five. Later on, he drove trucks to haul celery and flowers from Kalamazoo to Chicago.
Grandpa loved horses, and if he had lived in the west, I’m certain he would have been a cowboy. I’ve been told that as a young man he rode two horses bareback through Upjohn Park one day. However, the day we were making pie, he was hauling gravel in the dump truck from his gravel pit.
“When I was 17,” Grandma said, “Mom decided I should visit my dad and siblings in Michigan. It was quite a trip for me. I had never been so far away from home alone. I took the train from Iowa, through Chicago and then up to Kalamazoo. Other than the visit from my dad, Anne and John, when I was thirteen, I had never seen them. ”
“Weren’t you nervous?” I asked.
“Oh yes, I sure was, but my brother John picked me up at the train. You know, your Uncle John?”
I nodded. Yes, I knew great Uncle John VanDyk. He lived down the road from us a mile or two.
“John had a good sense of humor. He picked me up from the train station and I quickly felt at ease with him. On the way to my dad’s house, he stopped at the gas station. I didn’t know it at the time, but your Grandpa was also at the gas station. That was the first time Henry saw me. He didn’t introduce himself, but told me later he was instantly smitten.” Grandma smiled and wiped her hands on her blue and white checkered apron. “Boy, was he smitten.”
“So when did you meet him?” I asked. Grandma put that pie crust together so quickly, I pretty much missed what she did. Maybe I would catch it next time.
“The next day, John drove me around Kalamazoo for a tour. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had often told the Balkemas he had a pretty blonde-haired sister in Iowa. My dad lived on Walter street, and the Balkema family was their neighbor around the corner a couple of blocks from them on Vine Street. They were good friends, and John worked for them too.”
Grandma put the pie crust in the oven and started separating eggs for the pie as she continued her story.
“John and I walked into Balkema’s house and he started to introduce me to some of the girls. At that moment, your Grandpa came down the steps, and you’ll never guess what he did next!”
Grandma took out her glass lemon squeezer and went to work getting juice out of the lemon, leaving me in suspense a few moments. She looked up at me with laughing eyes, knowing I was waiting impatiently.
“He came straight down the steps, gave me a hug and kiss and said ‘Josephine, I’m going to marry you!’
“What?” I said, shocked. “What did you say to him?”
“I don’t think I said anything,” she shook her head, “I really had no choice in the matter.”
That was the beginning of their courtship.
Grandma started up the stove to cook the lemon filling. “Our first date was the Root Beer Stand. You know the one on Cork Street? ”
I nodded. I had been there several times with Grandpa and Grandma.
“When I went back home to Iowa, Henry started writing me big letters. I found out later he showed all the lettters to his mother first, and they were pretty much alike.”
“What did they say, Grandma?” I watched as she whisked the filling on the stove. “Well, that is, if you don’t mind telling me?”
“You know, Grandpa only went to second grade, and he didn’t write very well. Most of his letters wrote the same scrawling lines over and over;” Grandma paused from stirring and smiled to think of it. They said, ‘I love you! I love you! I love you!'”
Josephine’s Lemon Pie Recipe
2 egg yolks (Use the whites for meringue)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 T. butter
1 T. cornstarch (heaping)
Juice and rind of one lemon.
Cook together till thickened. Pour into baked pie crust. Use egg whites to make meringue. Cool in refrigerator.
*Note to those of you who arrived from following my weight loss journey: Of course I won’t make or eat this recipe these days. I can’t have the sugar. But I posted it fo family and those who might like to have it. It’s straight from Grandma’s recipe book.
As always, your comments are welcomed and appreciated. If you know remember additional details or suggestions about these stories, I would love to hear them.
More Josephine Stories
Birth Family of Josephine (Pictures and Documents)
The Faith of Eda Stek (a story about Josephine’s aunt)