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

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.

 

The Faith of Eda Stek

Back then, they called her a mongoloid.  This is now considered a derogatory term, but Eda Stek was born in 1903, one of eleven children.  Her parents were John and Henrietta (De Wild) Stek.  She was a considered a special member of the family, having what we would now call Down’s Syndrome.

Eda was short, sturdy and round.  She always wore a dress (with corset) and sturdy black old lady shoes.  She didn’t speak very clearly but her family could understand her.  It took longer than others, but she learned to write.  She would write Bible verses or short, simple letters.  When Eda’s mother was on her death bed, she made her other children promise to take care of their sister, and they kept their promise.   In those days, the only alternative would have been a poorhouse.

Eda Stek

Eda Stek

When she stayed with her sister Nellie, she always had  her own room in the large farmhouse.  Eda was given the room above the stove, to help keep her warm.  The many children in that family had to share rooms, but Eda had her own spot.  She could be heard at night calling out for another sister, Marie who was a favorite of Eda.  But when she was at Marie’s, she would call out for Nellie.

Eda was terrified of storms.  Sometimes her nephews would tease her about that.

Mainly, Eda helped.  She fed chickens and helped her sister Nellie with  many household chores to her ability.

A great-niece recalled how much Eda loved children.  One day when her great-nieces arrived for a visit, Eda (by then in her fifties) was waiting.  She was so excited to see them, that she jumped up and down, cheering “Goody! Goody! Goody!”.  She filled her scrap books with magazine and calender pictures of children, animals and nature, and she would give the scrapbooks as gifts.

A scrapbook for Mary and Joanne, made by Eda.

A scrapbook for Mary and Joanne, made by Eda.

  

A page from Eda's scrapbook

A page from Eda’s scrapbook

Eda moved around frequently. Census records show that in 1930 she was living with her sister, Jennie and in 1940, she was staying with her brother, William and his family.  She might spend a couple of years with one family, and perhaps 6 months with another, but her siblings kept their promise.

Eda Stek (far right) with family.

Eda Stek (far right) with family.

 

When asked what she remembered about Eda, an  acquaintance from  church remarked,

I remember her most for her child-like faith.

A page from Eda's scrapbook.

A page from Eda’s scrapbook.

All these family stories tell us a little bit about Eda.  But there is one  special story my grandma told me about her when I was seven years old.  I have never forgotten it.   This story has encouraged my faith in God, and my hope of heaven for many, many years.

For the last five years of her life, Eda resided in  the Pleasant  Park Nursing Home of Oskaloosa, Iowa.  She became increasingly unresponsive.  A minister who visited Eda  before she passed away told me that he read the Bible and prayed for her, but she did not respond.

On December 20, 1979,  after weeks of being bed-ridden and not speaking, Eda miraculously sat up in her bed.  Looking up, seeing something nobody else in the room could see, she exclaimed with delight,

MAMA!  PAPA!  Pretty Pretty Pretty!  

Eda sunk back into her pillow and died.

Child-like faith

Child-like faith

Special thanks to Rev. Carl Klompien, Mrs. Delmar VanKooten, Mr. Leo Nikkel, Mary Vlietstra, Joanne Vlietstra, Esther Uramkin, April Hoeksema and Ava Davidson (Pella Chronicle).

******************

This is a post that was published previously, but I did a little editing.  Of all the posts I have written  I would say this is my favorite.  I really enjoyed researching and talking to people who had met  Eda.  Before this post, the only thing I knew about Eda was the story of her passing.  She was my great-grandmother’s sister.

The faith of Eda Stek

Back then, they called her a mongoloid.  This is now considered a derogatory term, but it was the norm when Eda was a child growing up in Iowa.  Eda Stek  was one of eleven children, born in 1903.  Her parents were John and Henrietta (De Wild) Stek.  She was a considered a special member of the family, having what  we would now call Down’s Syndrome.

Eda Stek

Eda was short, sturdy and round.  She always wore a dress (with corset) and sturdy black old lady shoes.  She didn’t speak very clearly but her family could understand her.  It took Eda a long time, but she learned to write.  She would write Bible verses or short, simple letters.  When Eda’s mother was on her death bed, she made her other children promise to take care of their sister, and they kept their promise.   In those days, the only alternative for Eda in Iowa would have been a poorhouse.

When she stayed with her sister Nellie’s family, she  had her own room in the large farmhouse full of children.  Eda was given the room above the stove to help keep her warm.  She could be heard at night calling out for another sister, Marie who was a favorite of Eda.  But when she was at Marie’s, she would call out for Nellie.

Eda was terrified of storms.  Sometimes her nephews would tease her about that.

Mainly, Eda helped.  She fed chickens and helped her sister Nellie with  many household chores to her ability.

A great-niece recalled how much Eda loved children.  One day when her great-nieces arrived for a visit, Eda (by then in her fifties) was waiting.  She was so excited to see them, that she jumped up and down, cheering “Goody! Goody! Goody!”.  She filled her scrap books with magazine and calender pictures of children, animals and nature, and she would give the scrapbooks as gifts.

A scrapbook for Mary and Joanne, made by Eda.

A scrapbook for Mary and Joanne, made by Eda.

  

A page from Eda's scrapbook

A page from Eda’s scrapbook

Eda moved around frequently. Census records show that in 1930 she was living with her sister, Jennie and in 1940, she was staying with her brother, William and his family.  She might spend a couple of years with one family, and perhaps 6 months with another, but her siblings kept their promise to their mother, and Eda was spared having to live her life in a poorhouse.

When asked what she remembered about Eda, an  acquaintance from  church remarked,

I remember her most for her child-like faith.

A page from Eda's scrapbook.

A page from Eda’s scrapbook.

All these family stories tell us a little bit about Eda.  But there is one  special story my grandma told me about her when I was seven years old.  I have never forgotten it.   This story has encouraged my faith in God, and my hope of heaven for many, many years.

For the last five years of her life, Eda resided in  the Pleasant  Park Nursing Home of Oskaloosa, Iowa.  She became more and more unresponsive.  A minister who visited Eda  before she passed away told me that he read the Bible and prayed for her, but she did not respond very well.  Eda’s days were drawing to a close.

On December 20, 1979,  after weeks of being bed-ridden and not speaking, Eda suddenly, amazingly sat up in her bed.  Looking up, seeing something nobody else in the room could see, she exclaimed with delight, loudly and clearly,

MAMA!  PAPA!  Pretty Pretty Pretty!  

Eda sunk back into her pillow and died, moments later.

Child-like faith

Child-like faith

Special thanks to Rev. Carl Klompien, Mrs. Delmar VanKooten, Mr. Leo Nikkel, Mary Vlietstra, Joanne Vlietstra, Esther Uramkin, April Hoeksema and Ava Davidson (Pella Chronicle).

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