Missing Sara

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, and that which we take the least care of all to acquire. -Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Sara was a friend. Not just to me, but to many others. I’ve wanted to write about her for a long time, but the memories were bittersweet. I struggled to gather the words.

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Karen and Sara

Our story of friendship begins over 100 years ago with a brother and sister named Fred and Henrietta, the children of Dutch immigrants. Fred and Henrietta grew up, found spouses, married, lived a few houses apart, and both had families of their own. Fred took over his dad’s dairy farm. In 1947, Fred’s wife gave birth to a boy, Marvin. Henrietta gave birth to a son, David.

Marvin and David weren’t just cousins who happened to be neighbors. They became best friends. They went to the same church, the same Sunday school, and the same elementary and high schools. They played baseball at the farm and went to 4H Tractor Club. On Sunday afternoons they took walks, wandering around the Twin Lakes area.

Marvin and David grew up and each was married in 1970. Both became fathers for the first time in 1971 and they both had baby girls. That was Sara and me.

I suppose Sara and I played together since we were old enough to toddle around. Our parents often got together on weekends and for Bible study. Every year we attended New Year’s Eve service at church and then spent the evening talking, eating and playing games with our siblings until the exciting countdown to midnight. The next morning we would be at church, starting the New Year in God’s house.

Just like our dads, we attended the same church and Sunday school. We were in the same classes and grades all through our years at North Christian grade school. We played long days together in the summer, wandering all around the farm by Twin Lakes and often had sleepovers.  There were hours in her room with her amazing Barbie townhouse, complete with elevator. We dug up dusty dry calf bones behind the farm and pretended we had found an ancient dinosaur land.

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Riding bikes in 1982

John Deere mountain was what we named our special spot. We perched ourselves in the tall grass on a small hill above the farm. We hid there, talking and laughing as only two little girls can do. At my folk’s house we mixed up crazy concoctions in the kitchen and played with the cassette tape recorder for hours, creating silly radio programs and listening to them while we giggled late into the night.

Starting in second grade we took piano lessons together with Mrs. Grit.  Our moms took turns carpooling. The day that the tornado hit Kalamazoo in 1980, we were at Mrs. Grit’s house for our weekly lesson. We stopped at my aunt’s house to shelter in her cellar because my mom spotted the tornado over Westwood as she was driving us home. When Mrs. Grit moved to Costa Rica with her family to be missionaries, we switched to Mrs. Manni. We took turns  sitting at the dining room table and doing homework while the other had her lesson.

In high school, my cousin drove us to school every day for a couple of semesters. We sometimes carpooled to basketball games, cheering for our Kalamazoo Christian Comets.  We had several friends in common. After  graduating in 1989, Sara stayed at home with her folks and went to college. I moved in with my grandparents and went to work at a doctor’s office. We soon started getting together with friends every Sunday night after church. These were some of the happiest days I remember. Sara started dating Steve, the good-looking fellow who showed up in our Sunday school class in 6th grade. Many of us girls swooned over him, but it was Sara who won his heart.

I went away to college for one year. When I returned  home to Kalamazoo, Sara and I rented an apartment together. It was her first place away from her parents. We had great fun furnishing and decorating our little place. She would come home from her job at the flower shop and have Adventures in Odyssey on her car radio. I would have the radio on in the apartment and we would finish listening together. I can’t say how many nights were spent staying up late, talking and giggling.  There were serious conversations too, about our faith and relationships. It is almost crazy to admit, but at age 19, we joined with a group of friends for our first and only ballet class.  It was so fun(ny)! We loved having friends over and started a Bible study, too.

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Sara talking on the phone and washing dishes in our apartment, 1992

 

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A personal note from Sara.  The front of the card was inscribed with a verse:  “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11

One fine summer day, we were feeling a little tired and dull. We jumped into our friend  Jeff’s red Chevy Lumina  and he drove  a group of us to Lake Michigan. At the state park entrance booth, Sara pretended to give an order for McDonald’s, as if we were at the drive-thru. Because of that, we could not stop laughing. The guys gave up on us and walked down to the beach, but we remained in the back seat, rolling around, laughing and crying for at least ten more minutes. Then we laughed our way down to the beach; into the sun and waves and joy of a carefree day.

Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected. –Charles Lamb

On a warm August night in 1992, I had the honor of playing the piano for Sara and Steve’s wedding. Going though my old piano books, I found songs I heard her play while sitting at the dining room table doing homework at Mrs. Manni’s house. I found Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and hymns from Sunday School. All my heart went into that prelude. Our friend Rhonda and her dad sang a duet and I played the piano for that too. Imagine my surprise when I walked out of the church, and there was our first piano teacher, Mrs. Grit!

Sara started teaching school and settled into married life. I married a couple of years later, and moved out of state. Sara and I wrote letters and talked on the phone at first, but gradually we became busy and didn’t keep up. Sara and Steve eventually had six children and started homeschooling. Despite living out of state, I could count on seeing Sara and our group of friends every New Year’s Eve or 4th of July whenever I was in Kalamazoo.  It was always easy to get together on these occasions and catch up on our lives.  Eventually I moved back and we continued our tradition of gathering with our friends twice a year.

Nearly every time a year turned over, Sara and I were together.

These days our parents still get together. They go out to eat. Once a month they still have Bible study with their group of friends. You will always find them celebrating New Year’s Eve at one or the other’s home.

John Deere Mountain is gone now, excavated flat to the ground.

Sara is gone too. She left us suddenly one day seven years ago. She fed her family supper, went to lay down for a rest, and quietly slipped away to heaven. We later learned she had a rare heart condition.

For a long time my heart went flat too. Flat with missing, flat with grief. Flat with fear of loving and losing. It is taking a long time to heal and maybe it never will.

I have had losses. I’ve lost babies. I’ve lost my uncle. I’ve lost young friends and old friends and great aunts and uncles and grandparents. Truthfully, I don’t cry about them anymore, but sometimes I still cry about Sara.  I miss laughing together. Really, I just miss her.

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Sara and Karen on John Deere Mountain, drawn by Esther Kamps.*

Sara had a way of spending time, listening and being present with people. You can see by her notes that she was also an encourager. People were drawn to her, but she never wanted to draw attention to herself. She was living her dream of family, children and homeschooling. God only knows why her time was up, but it was. Sara trusted God with all her heart. I trust Him too, but  I admit it took  time to trust again after she was gone. I have faith in God that I will see her again and  someday all the sorrow of missing her will be gone forever.

 

We call that person who has lost his father, an orphan; and a widower that man who has lost his wife. But that man who has known the immense unhappiness of losing a friend, by what name do we call him? Here every language is silent and holds its peace in impotence. -Joseph Roux

For More Information

News article about Sara from The Kalamazoo Gazette

An online memorial (note this was created by someone named Karen, but not myself)

Update on the family  – God is amazing!

Plainwell couple celebrates new love, new life and 9 children (P.S.  Make that 11 blessings.)

*Some years ago I wrote down memories of Sara from childhood to give to Sara’s children, similar to what I’ve shared here. Mrs. Kamps  sketched this lovely picture for me to include with the stories.

You comments are always welcome and appreciated. If you knew Sara and have a memory you’d like to share, you are welcome to add those in the comments too.  I’m sure family and friends would enjoy reading them. Note: I  moderate comments to prevent spam, so they will appear after I’ve approved them.

Josephine and Henry

“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.

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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. ”

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Josephine with her parents, Dick and Jennie VanSant in 1940.

“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!'”

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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

Josephine’s Birth

School Days 

The Surprise Visit

Birth Family of Josephine (Pictures and Documents)

The Faith of Eda Stek (a story about Josephine’s aunt)

Josephine’s Birth Family: Pictures and Documents

These are a couple of pages from the passports of two of my great-grandparents, who immigrated to the United States from Holland in February, 1921.

This is Meindert Van Dyk’s passport page. It includes pictures & descriptions of his three children, Anna, Sydney & John.   My grandmother, Josephine (their full sibling) was born in the United States three years later on April 30, 1924.

Meindert Van Dyk passport  issued in February, 1921

This is a page from the passport of Anna Runia, wife of Meindert Van Dyk and mother of the children.

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In 1924, Anna Runia gave birth to the couple’s 4th child.  She was my grandmother, Josephine.  But sadly, Anna died a few days later from complications of childbirth. You can read much more about that here.

Anna Runia's head stone

Anna Runia’s head stone located in Sully Cemetary, Lynn Grove township, Jasper County, Iowa.

John and Sydney Van Dyk, with their father Meindert. (Josephine's brothers and dad)

An undated photo of brothers John and Sydney Van Dyk, with their father Meindert. (Josephine’s brothers and father.)

If I recall correctly, Grandma (Josephine) told me that this picture was taken at the Christian Psychiatric Hospital in Cutlerville, Michigan where Sydney resided.  Sydney had cerebral palsey and passed away in 1950 at the age of 33.

Sydney Van Dyk

Below is a picture of Anna Runia’s brother and sister who visited her in Kalamazoo.  I believe this picture was taken in 1972.

L to R:  Uncle Tunis Runia, his wife Nellie, Aunt Dirke & Uncle Sebring.   Tunis and Dirke were brother and sister to Anna Runia.

L to R: Uncle Tunis Runia, his wife Nellie, Aunt Dirke & Uncle Sebring. Tunis and Dirke were brother and sister to Anna Runia.

I hope to add more pictures here in the future.

Your comments are always welcomed and appreciated.  

Josephine’s Childhood – The Surprise Visit

October, 1998. I was living in a cabin near the base of Mt. Yonah in North Georgia. Grandma Balkema and I kept in close contact with letters and phone calls. One day Grandma called to say she would like to fly down from Michigan for a visit. I was over-the-moon happy.   A few weeks later, I picked her up at the Atlanta airport, and we drove 100 miles up to the cabin in Sautee Nacoochee for her 5-day stay.

A view of Mount Yonah, Sautee-Nacoochee, Georgia Photo By Tclo8899 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0

We had some great plans.  I couldn’t wait to take her to the nearby Alpine-like town of Helen, and show her Nora Mill Granary and Betty’s Country Store. Another highlight would be driving up to Hogg Pen Gap in the mountains at night, sitting on a blanket and looking for falling stars, one of our favorite things to do together.

That evening  it was a little chilly, and after giving Grandma a little tour of the cabin, we decided to start a fire in the fireplace.  I bounded out the front of the cabin to get some wood.

And twisted my ankle.

It was painful.  After awkwardly crawling my way back into the house, Grandma helped me prop the foot up and brought a pack of ice.  Then she cooked the supper that I had planned to cook for her, and we waited for my husband to get home. We took another long drive back towards Atlanta to an urgent care.   Thankfully, x-rays showed it wasn’t broken, but it was a severe sprain which required pain meds, ice and elevation. I was terribly disappointed that I couldn’t take Grandma out on all the outings we had planned.

That week she did most of the cooking, washed dishes, and even did a load or two of laundry. Near the end of our visit, we finally did a little sight-seeing, but she had to drive us around. She knew by then that life had many surprises, and she had learned to roll with them.  It ended up being a good time to talk together and hear stories from her childhood:


“The summer I was thirteen my world turned upside down, ” Grandma said.

“One day we heard a car come up the driveway. Being an only child on a farm in Oskaloosa, Iowa, visitors were certainly cause for excitement.”

She continued, “I ran to answer the door.  Standing on the porch was a tall young man, about 18, and a young woman who appeared to be in her early twenties. I could also see behind them another man, waiting in a car.”

The young man looked at me directly and said, ‘Hi Josephine!’

I was dumbfounded.  How did this stranger know my name? 

He continued, ‘We are your brother and sister!’

Josephine, age 12 or 13

“I started trembling all over,” Grandma said, with a little quaver in her voice. ” I had no idea what to do.  I left them standing at the door and went running up to my room.”

“Didn’t you know they were coming,” I asked, “didn’t they send a letter?”

“No.”  Grandma shook her head. “We had no idea they were planning to visit.  Usually I received a letter from them once a year, on my birthday.  Meanwhile, my mom heard the small commotion and came to the door.   She was also surprised, but quickly gained her composure, and invited all of them into the living room.”

“Grandma, you must have been so shocked!”   I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have a brother and sister show up that you had never met.

“I was terrified.” Grandma said. “I believed they were coming to take me away from my mom and dad and would make me go to Michigan with them. I laid on my bed with my face in the pillow and just bawled.”

After inviting them in, my mom came upstairs and sat next to me on the bed. ‘What’s the matter?  Why are you crying so?’ she asked me.

‘I’m afraid they are going to take me away from you.’ I sobbed in her arms.

‘I promise you.  They are not going to take you away.  They only want to see you.’  She pulled up my chin to look in her eyes. ‘You will always be my girl, and you’re not going anywhere.’

It took me several minutes to compose myself, but eventually I walked downstairs to meet my dad, sister Anne, and brother John. It was the first time I met them since I was a baby. It was a little awkward at first, but eventually I felt more comfortable with them.

“How long did they stay?” I asked.

“Just for the day.  They took me for a ride in their car and out for a picnic.”

Grandma’s eyes twinkled. “I remember my brother John.  He was quite a jokester.  He made me laugh….

“But I’ll admit it.  I felt relieved when they left in their car and returned home to Kalamazoo!”

(R to L) Josephine, John and Anna VanDyk. We believe that this photo was taken perhaps years later, when Josephine went to visit her dad and siblings in Kalamazoo.

(R to L) Josephine, John and Anna VanDyk. We believe that this photo was taken approx. four years later, when Josephine went to visit her dad and siblings in Kalamazoo.


Grandma and I still had a good visit, with plenty of time to talk. If Grandma was disappointed, she didn’t show it.  She was only concerned that my ankle was mending. One evening while I watched from the nearby couch, Grandma showed me how to make fried apples.

Josephine's Fried Apples

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 20-30mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Josephine’s Fried Apples

1 stick salted butter

3 or 4 apples, sliced (leave peels on)

cinnamon

honey or sugar, to sweeten (optional)

Melt butter in frying pan on medium heat.  Add apples, generously sprinkle with cinnamon and saute until soft.  Serve plain or with a scoop of ice cream.


Your comments are always welcome and appreciated!

Previous posts about Josephine Balkema:

Josephine’s Birth

New! Documents and photos related to Josephine’s birth family

Josephine’s Childhood:  School Days

A story about Josephine’s Aunt, Eda Stek

A favorite memory of visiting with Grandma & Grandpa Balkema

A recipe for Olie Koeken

Why I’m a Big Fan of Opposite-Sex, Christian, Monogamous Marriage

I know that my husband has never slept with another woman.  I was his first and only sexual partner and sex between us began on the day of our wedding.  He even went so far as to reserve our first kiss for marriage. The fact that my husband reserved the most intimate, passionate part of his being for me, provides a sense of trust and comfort for me that he will continue to do so.  He showed respect for me while we were dating, and he continues to respect and cherish me.

First Kiss!  Pure Bliss!

First Kiss! Pure Bliss!

Sacrificial

Christian marriage is understood to be a sacrifice, based on the sacrifice that Jesus made for his bride,the church.¹   I admire the tradition of Orthodox Christian wedding ceremonies when the man and woman wear martyr crowns as a symbol of the self-sacrifice required in marriage.  It is simply putting your spouse above your own needs/desires/interests.

My husband would probably enjoy using all of his spare time to play golf, softball or bowling.  Instead he chooses to spend his time (when not working) with his family.  We certainly take breaks and pursue individual interests, but with the view that it is a time for refreshment, and beneficial to the family as a whole.

Community

Another blessing of being in a Christian marriage means that we live in Christian community.  We worship in our local church as a family. Our pastor encourages Christian marriage and family life. We have fellowship with other believers in all stages of life, single and married.  There are always friends who we can talk to and share struggles with when we are having a difficult time.

Health

There are many health benefits in traditional marriage. My husband has been a tremendous support to me as I have gone through miscarriage,  weight struggles, and grief from losing loved ones. I have supported him as well “in sickness and in health”, through unemployment, job changes and the many difficulties of life.

Fruitfulness

God told the original opposite-sex couple, Adam & Eve, to “Be fruitful and multiply.”²  One obvious way that the marriage is fruitful is when children are born, fostered and/or adopted into the home. This doesn’t mean that having children is the only way to be fruitful.  Christian marriage provides unique avenues for fruitful service and living that serves God and others in the home, church and community.

Statistically, traditional marriage is the most stable environment for children.  Scripture itself promises blessings when we follow God’s instructions for marriage and family life.³

My grandparents, Fred & Ada Vlietstra celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

My grandparents, Fred & Ada Vlietstra celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

I am a grateful recipient of these blessings:

  • My grandparents on both sides were faithful, committed Christian spouses who celebrated over fifty years of marriage.
  • My own parents have been happily married and faithful to one another for over forty-five years.
  • None of my aunts & uncles have divorced. The ones who are married remain with their original spouses.
  • Most of my cousins are also in Christian marriages with very few divorces among them. (I am one of the few who is divorced.  I wrote about that here.)

More posts about my family history here.

No Shame

There is no shame in maintaining an opposite-sex, Christian, monogamous marriage.  I feel shame and regret about many things in my life.  I have struggled with temptations,difficulties, short-comings and sins.  I believe that God not only forgives me, but uses even my sins to draw me closer to Himself.

All that being said, sexual abstinence apart from marriage is  a specific area where I don’t have regrets.  I credit my parent’s teaching in this area. Saying  a firm “no” to sexual temptation (as a teenager, single, dating, engaged and divorced woman) has produced fruitfulness and blessing and joy throughout my life.   Note: I am only speaking from my own experience.  I am not condemning others. I  never claim to be 100% perfect in this area or any other. My favorite book on this subject is Passion & Purity by Elisabeth Elliot.

Deeply Fulfilling

Because of all these reasons, I heartily recommend Christian, opposite-sex, monogamous marriage.  It is deeply fulfilling to have a passionate lover and friend so opposite from myself.  These differences add conflict (yes, it’s hard…very difficult at times!), but there is the opportunity over time to  learn skills for communication and ultimately, a stronger marriage. In my own experience, this type of marriage  brings tremendous comfort, security, and true romance. Couples that I know personally in these types of marriages have a peace, joy and contentment in the long term that I do not see often in society at large.

It takes a man and woman, both living for God and for one another for it to happen.  It’s crucial to marry an opposite-sex spouse who shares your faith and values.  In that, I am amazingly blessed and I would encourage anyone who desires this type of marriage to pray for that blessing and  pursue it with all of their heart.  If you know my story, you know it did not simply happen for me in the timing and way that I hoped.  But God’s timing is always perfect.

Russian style wedding crowns, 19th century

Russian style wedding crowns, 19th century “Ventsy brachnye” by Shakko – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

¹Ephesians 5:23-29

²Genesis 1:28

³Deuteronomy 4:39-40

Your comments are welcome and appreciated

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Josephine’s Childhood – School Days

On a fine Saturday morning, Grandma and I were sitting on her back porch.  We just finished walking around the house to look at the seedlings she planted every year, and were now enjoying her favorite summer drink:  Country Time lemonade with ice and fresh orange slices.

Grandma leaned back in her chair and crossed her feet at her ankles.  She sighed a contented sigh.  She was so glad to see the sunshine after a long winter.

“I’ll never forget that time my mother told me to come straight home from school,” she started.

“Is this the one where you were playing in the creek?”  I settled down in the chair next to her.

“Yes.  Let’s see.  I was probably about your age.  In those days we didn’t have busses to take us to school.  We had to walk.”

“How far?”  I asked.

“It was almost two miles.  Some days, if there was bad weather, Daddy would pick me up with the horse and buggy.  But on nice days, we walked. My favorite thing to do was to stop by the creek and splash in the water on the way home, but my parents didn’t want me going to the creek by myself.”

“Did you wear a swim suit?”  I asked, munching one of her homemade butterscotch cookies.

“We wore dresses every day.  We just took off our shoes and socks and went wading.”

She continued, “One day my mother told me to come straight home from school and that I shouldn’t play in the water.  Well, I forgot.  It was a hot day.  The water looked so good, and I decided to do a bit of wading.  Before I knew it, an hour had gone by.  I suddenly remembered what my mom said and ran all the way home.”

“Did you get a spanking?” I asked.

“No.  Worse than that.  We were having company that night!”  Grandma’s eyes got big. “You remember,” she said, “I was an only child.  These were my cousins, and they had three little girls that I could play with.”

“Oh Grandma!  She didn’t let you play with them?”

Grandma sadly shook her head. “That night, because I disobeyed, mom said I had to stay in my room.  I wasn’t allowed to play with my cousins. I remember the girls coming into my room. ‘Josephine, can we play with your doll?'”


Josephine was a quintessential Grandma.  She could make clothes and hand-sewed beautiful quilts.  She loved to crochet, and made the best lemon meringue pies from scratch.  There was nothing that would soothe her soul more than sitting at the piano and playing beloved hymns.  But she had spunk, too. On the 4th of July, she lit firecrackers in her back yard—bright and early in the morning!  Grandpa always saw to it that there was a nice Oldsmobile for her to drive. She was known to “put the pedal to the metal.” Occasionally she would do a burn out on a gravel driveway, just to impress the grandchildren, rocks and dust flying everywhere!

One thing Grandma did best was to tell stories of her childhood in Iowa from the 1920’s and 30’s.

*Background

To read the story of Josephine’s birth, go HERE.

Though Josephine was the only child of Dick and Jennie VanSant, and dearly treasured by the parents who raised her, she was not spoiled and was expected to obey. Josephine had a couple of nicknames.  One was “Joejie” and the other was “snow ball”.  It might be easy to guess why she was called snowball from looking at her pictures.  She had white blonde hair.  In fact, some of her hair remained blonde her entire life.

Josephine's childhood - Blueandgreentogether.com

Josephine and the parents who raised her, Dick & Jennie VanSant

Josephine grew up in a 6-room farm house in Oskaloosa, Iowa that had no electric, phone or indoor plumbing.  The house was heated with a cook stove  and a coal heater in the living room. She had chores to do, such as sweeping the floor and drying the dishes.

At West Center school, her favorite subjects were spelling, phonics, reading and geography.  She disliked arithmetic, history and English.  On her very first report card from Miss Miller, she was said to be “inclined to mischievousness”

There were many lessons in obedience and memories from childhood that Josephine carried with her into adulthood.  These were stories she told over and over.


On a summer day in mid-August, Grandma took me to the mall in Battle Creek, Michigan.  I was excited because she was planning to buy me some new clothes for school, which was starting in a couple of weeks.

“Can I put the seat back?”  Push button electric seats were novelty to me, and the buttons on the side panel were a great temptation.

“Just a little bit,” she winked at me.  Grandma and I were taking the back roads.  She liked to go through Galesburg and Augusta. We also liked to see the flags as we drove past the entrance to Fort Custer.

“I love your new car Grandma.” The plush burgundy seats felt luxurious.

“I think our old one was still in good shape, but Grandpa always wants to buy a new one as soon as they roll over to 100,000 miles.” She adjusted the mirror and turned on the cassette player so we could listen to instrumental hymns in the background. “Cars sure have changed alot. In fact, when I was very little, we owned a Model T.  But my folks saved up their money, and we were one of the first people in Oskaloosa to own a 1929 Whippet.”

Photo Credit: Don O'Brien CC by 2.0 via Flickr

Photo Credit: Don O’Brien CC by 2.0 via Flickr

“The day came for Daddy to go to town to pick up our new car.  I was so excited!  I went to school and told all the kids–”

My daddy’s buying a car today and he’s going to pick me up from school!

She continued, “That day dragged on.  All I could think about was the Whippet. Finally, school let out and I went outside, eager for my first glimpse of our new car, and most of all, hoping all the kids would see me riding in it.”

“Grandma, it sounds like you were bragging.”

“Yes Karen,  I was bragging.  You know they say ‘pride goeth before a fall’?  Well I had a big fall.”

“What happened!?”  I had heard this story many times before, but everytime she told I would hold my breath as if hearing it for the first time.

“That day it rained,” she said with a long face, glancing over at me. “Sure enough, daddy came to pick me up—driving Barney, the old horse.”

“Oh Grandma!”  I said, realizing her humiliation, “Why didn’t he drive the new car?”

“Because all we had were dirt roads. He didn’t want to get stuck in the mud with our new car.”

Josephine with her favorite cat, Weenie

Josephine with her favorite cat, Weenie

*Special thanks to Aunt Esther Uramkin, who loaned me a little booklet that grandma filled out for her.  That is where I gathered many of the background facts for this post.

Related Links:

The Story of Josephine’s Birth

The Faith of Eda Stek  (Eda was Josephine’s aunt, the sister of Jennie VanSant.)

A blog post I wrote about Oskaloosa, Iowa 

Another blog post of memories about my grandparents

Things I’ve Learned in 2014

1.  Manufactured outrage and the news.  I was taken aback this summer when a fellow Word Weaver blogger used the term “manufactured outrage” and said she wasn’t “taking the bait” anymore.  I was allowing the news stories to take away my peace. Dwelling on them tainted my thoughts with fears and negativity.

Bowe Bergdahl

The Bowe Bergdahl story was a turning point.  Bowe is a beloved son and brother who was raised by a conservative Christian family.  The family attended a church in a denomination that I once attended.  I was baffled at the feeds I was seeing from conservative outlets and the accusations against his parents.  I came across this post which describes in better words how I was looking at the story and processing it.  Seeing the memes and headlines caused me to step back from all the news, the outrage, and the craziness. I won’t “fall for the bait” with the big headlines. I feel more compassion, realizing a situation is usually more complex than anyone can realize from one news story or Facebook page blurb.  (Not that I blindly trusted everything prior to this!)  While still interested in politics and current events, I’m holding the news at arms-length and feeling more peaceful inside; less stirred up.

2.  Consistent homeschooling produces results.  When I didn’t think there was any progress, it was still happening.  My seven year old suddenly took off with reading!  We had serious concerns about learning disorders  when he was reading backwards, mixing up words and switching letters around.  We kept at our phonics workbooks day after day, week after week (seemingly mundane at times), and all of a sudden—it clicked! He apparently reached a developmental milestone and there was rapid change. Now he is reading beyond where we were with our phonics lessons.  I’m amazed how far both children have come in a year, and it gives courage and incentive to stay the course.

3. Life is precious and there is a time for mourning.  We were shocked/delighted to find out we were expecting a baby in February. There were several weeks of hopeful anticipation, followed by a concerning ultrasound, followed by a confirming ultrasound that our baby was gone.  My heart has been grieving that baby all year.  The grief has finally eased up since getting past our “should have been” due date in late October.  That baby was real, that baby was wanted, and that baby was not insignificant in the kingdom of God.  That was the lesson learned.  There isn’t a shortcut for grieving.  Heaven will be all the sweeter to meet my little ones.

4.  In researching family history,  I learned of my rich Christian heritage.  My great-grandparents were common, every day people. They were poor immigrants who were rich in faith. They came to America in hopes of a better life.

On both sides of my family, great-grandparents, grandparents and parents prayed for their offspring to believe in God, to have faith in His Son. God has heard their prayers and answered them by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is my most important inheritance (not based on relationship with my relatives, but because it is now my own through the grace of Christ).  My prayer is that my children will also have this faith.

Deuteronomy 7:9 (ESV)

Four generations – 2007

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome in the comments section below!

Cooking with my Grandmas: Olie Koeken

Olie Koeken (oil cakes) are a traditional Dutch treat similar to a doughnut, and usually served on New Year’s Day. Grandma Vlietstra often made them on New Year’s Day, but Grandma Balkema would make them in the fall when we would go to her house for trick-or-treating.  I also remember them being made at the high school  for the annual fall sale, the mouth-watering scent of olie koeken wafting through the hallways. They go perfect with a cup of coffee.

Comparing the recipes of both grandmas, I found they were quite similar.  This recipe is adjusted to be a combination of the two.  Specific instructions were added as well.

Olie Koeken

  • Servings: 2-3 dozen
  • Time: 2 hrs
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1  3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 quart oil for frying
  • white or powdered sugar for rolling

Heat oil in saucepan to 375 degrees (or use your deep fryer). Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add buttermilk and eggs and mix well.  Dough will be very thick and sticky. Fold in raisins.  Drop into the fully heated oil using two tablespoons, taking care not to over-crowd the pan.  Cook until golden brown, usually 7-8 minutes.   Roll in sugar or powdered sugar and serve. Makes 2-3 dozen.

eet smakelijk!

Pan-a-cakes with Grandma Vlietstra

It’s Saturday morning. You wake up at 3:30 am in the middle of a hard Michigan winter.  You put on your mud boots, work pants and stiff flannel shirt, jump into your truck, and head out to the barn.  You set up the parlor for the day’s milking, and then walk up the snow-covered hill in the dark to fetch the cows.  It’s freezing cold, but you feel sheltered in the cow barn with the heat-radiating Holsteins.  After herding them down the alley  to the holding pen, you and your cousin methodically milk two hundred cows; one-by-one, over and over, opening and closing the gate, hooking up the hissing, sucking vacuuming machines to their udders, steaming in the morning cold.  While the machines whistle and click in unison, you warm your hands on the milk jar.

By eight o’clock when the rest of the world is waking up, the cows are milked and you’ve been on your feet for several hours. Working quickly, you chase the last few cows back to the barn. Then you scrape the parlor and hose it down.

Shall we go down to Grandma’s?

You nod and gratefully walk out the door and trek down to the farm house. You jog part of the way because your feet are freezing in your barn boots. You see light coming through mud room window.  Your stomach starts to growl.

You walk in the mud room and through the small window you see her bustling around the table.  There she is, your short, sturdy grandma with her white hair.  The smell of bacon warms you to your toes.

Oh!  You’re here!  Come on in…..

She smiles and waves you to come into the kitchen and ushers you to an empty spot at the table, where a few other cousins and farm workers are already eating. She loads the pancakes onto the platter in the middle of the table and pours you a fresh cup of milk.

Come on, take another pan-a-cake!  You must be hungry from working.

She has a way of bustling, almost jogging through the kitchen. Back and forth between the table, the griddle and the sink.  At eighty-five, Grandma is full of pep and happy to see you.

A favorite hymn of Ada Vlietstra

Words from a favorite hymn of Ada Vlietstra


The following are excerpts of an interview with Ada Vlietstra that I wrote for a college class in 2004.  At the time, she was 85 years old.  

My grandmother, Ada Vlietstra was born in Kalamazoo, MI in 1919 to Dutch immigrants  Hendrik and Rikste (Engberts) Doorlag.  Her parents came to America through Ellis Island and Hendrik worked at the paper mill to earn money so that he could bring his parents to America as well.

As the second born of thirteen children and oldest daughter, Ada was expected to help her mother starting at a young age.  She helped with whatever chores she could handle and watched the younger children.  In those days they did not have kindergarten, so Ada started first grade at the age of 4.  She walked one mile to attend William Street Christian School.  When they were learning the alphabet, the teacher would write the letters with a piece of chalk on the top of their desks.  Then they would use dried corn and put it on the lines to help them learn each letter.

Ada graduated from 8th grade at age 13, and then took two years of high school.  At that time, the high school only went up to grade 10. If she wanted to finish her high school diploma, she would have to commute to a high school in Grand Rapids.  Just a few of her classmates did that.  At the age of 15, when she finished her schooling, her parents told her that she should get a job.  They did not have a phone in her house, and in those days people did not create resumes.  When she applied for a job at the Grace Corset Company, she had the company call her aunt and uncle’s home, who in turn told her parents. She was allowed to keep her wages for her own use. Her mother had twins during these years and she had a great deal of responsibility to care for younger siblings when she wasn’t working.

One Sunday afternoon, Ada and her cousin were walking home toward Paterson street, when a man named Fred pulled over and offered to give them a ride in his car.  (He later teased Grandma that she was hitchhiking, but apparently they agreed to ride with him after he introduced himself.) Ada, age 23, married Fred in 1942.  He was eleven years her senior. Ada said that in those days there would be a “shivaree” where they would try to take the bride away from the groom on the wedding night.

It was war time (World War II) when she was in her early twenties and there were many activities related to that.  She says they would have parades on Armistice Day and that people were more patriotic.  There were many jobs related to making parts of airplanes.  Fred did not go to war because the government felt it was more important for him to continue farming.

Her husband was dairy farming with his dad, and she moved into his family home on Ravine Road, which included Fred’s dad and sister. Fred’s mother had died at a young age. Ada remembers when she first moved into the house, it was a sometimes difficult to get along with her sister-in-law because she had run the home until Ada moved in.  That lasted for several months, but then her sister-in-law moved in with another sibling until she married. During those days Ada would have to wash the equipment/dishes for the milking barns and alternated doing this with another sister-in-law next door.  Ada did a great deal of canning and preparing food to last through the winter. They did not have any indoor plumbing in the house the first few years.

Ada and Fred became parents to six children.  While raising her own family, she also provided meals for her father-in-law, who lived in the same home with Ada and her husband until he died in 1960.

Ada Vlietstra serving cake at her weekly Sunday afternoon tea time.

Ada Vlietstra serving cake at her weekly Sunday afternoon tea time.

 

Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Ada where she shared more about her childhood and her life as a farmer’s wife.  I will also include favorite memories of my kind, hard-working and hospitable grandma, who lived to be 92 years old. 

Further information:

Thanks to my cousin, Sara VanDyk and my brother, Fred Vlietstra for helping me with details of the pancake story. I also added a few details from viewing a DVD interview of my grandparents by my aunt, Lois Ailes. 

 

Your comments are always welcome.

Josephine’s Birth

“I see death standing at the door, but God will take care of the baby.”

These were the last words Anna Runia Van Dyk spoke to her husband, Meindert.

Anna and Meindert were Dutch immigrants.  The couple arrived in the United States in 1921 on the ship Rotterdam along with their three young children in hopes of opportunity and freedom.  Sidney, the 3 year old middle son had cerebral palsy. They carried him off the ship onto Ellis Island covered in a blanket, hoping that no one would look at him too closely.  John and Anna feared that he would not be allowed into the United States.  They were relieved when he made it through immigration without being noticed.

The family settled in Sully, Iowa so they could live near Anna’s twin sister.  A few years later, Anna was expecting their fourth child, but there were complications.  Anna had toxemia of pregnancy.  Baby Josephine was delivered on April 30, 1924 weighing less than five pounds.  Sadly, Anna died on her 35th birthday, two days after giving birth.   Meindert was left alone with a premature baby in the hospital, children at home and a job working on a farm.

Twin sister, Josie and Anna Runia.  This picture was taken in the Netherlands before they came to the United States of America.

Twin sisters, Josie and Anna Runia. This picture was taken in the Netherlands before they came to the United States of America.

Meanwhile,  Dick and Jennie VanSant had been married for ten years and were managing their farm in Oskaloosa, a couple of hours away.  They had prayed for  years that God would bless them with children of their own, but now they were in their thirties and hope was fading.  They heard through their church about a tiny baby who would require careful attention.

Dick and Jennie hurried to make preparations. When they arrived at the hospital the doctor warned them not to get too attached, because the baby was very small.  There were not intensive care units for premature babies in 1924.  Her survival was uncertain.

Jennie took Josephine in her arms, the smallest baby she had ever seen.  The doctor’s advice (not to get attached) was ignored. Josephine was dearly treasured by Dick and Jennie.  She was so tiny that she could not suck from a bottle.  For weeks Jennie fed her cow’s milk from a glass dropper, every hour around the clock.  A month after her birth, she weighed just over five pounds.

God took care of the baby, just as Anna Runia Van Dyk said He would.  Josephine survived.

The Birth of Josephine blueandgreentogether.com

Josephine being held by Dick VanSant.

Within a couple of years, Meindert was making plans to remarry, but this also meant he would be moving hundreds of miles away to Kalamazoo, Michigan.  He had a difficult time leaving Josephine behind.  Before he left, there were two things he wanted to tell the VanSants:

  • You may keep Josephine and raise her as you see fit, but you may not adopt her.  Her last name will still be Van Dyk
  • I promise I will never take her away from you.

Josephine was my grandmother.  She lived to the age of 82, having been married fifty-nine years with five children, nineteen grandchildren, and  (at that time) thirty great-grandchildren.

Josephine and Karen in 2005.

 

For more pictures and information on Josephine’s birth family, go here.

Further genealogical information and related links:

  1. Toxemia of pregnancy is now called pre-eclampsia.
  2. Anna Runia VanDyk death record information.  The record says she died at Mercy Hospital, but family members were told by Josephine that she was born at the hospital in Oskaloosa.
  3. Josie Vander Weerdt (twin sister of Anna Runia VanDyk) death record information.  She lived to be 90 years old.  That’s how I realized Anna must have died on her own birthday and what age she was. Anna’s death record only gives an (incorrect) estimated birth year.
  4. Sidney VanDyk, the brother of Josephine who had cerebral palsy resided at the Christian Psychiatric Hospital in Cutlerville, Michigan (now called Pine Rest) after Meindert moved to Michigan to remarry.  He died in 1950 at the age of 33.
  5. The ministers that may have been involved in placing Josephine with the VanSants would have been Rev. Ralph Bolt of Sully Christian Reformed Church and  Rev. Charles Spoelhof of First Christian Reformed Church based on where their charges in 1924. Source:  Christian Reformed Church Ministers Database
  6. The Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Passenger Search  provided information about the ship and year that Meindert VanDyk arrived in the United States.
  7. Josephine Balkema’s obituary.
  8. Previously on this blog I wrote about Edith Stek.  She was the sister of Jennie (VanSant) Sjaardema.
  9. Also wrote a little story about Henry and Josephine here.
  10. A blog post about my many unique connections to Oskaloosa, Iowa over the years.

Stay tuned!  In the future I hope to share more stories about my grandma’s remarkable life, including how she reacted when her dad, Meindert came to visit her when she was a young girl and how she met my grandpa.

Special thanks to Josephine’s daughters (Mary, Esther and Joanne) and Jean VanDyk (daughter-in-law of Meindert), who helped with several details of this story.