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. ”

Josephineparents

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)

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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.

Anna Runia007

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
  • 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