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)

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

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

Oskaloosa, Iowa

When I was  young, Grandma would tell me stories about growing up in the 1930’s on a farm in the small town of Oskaloosa, Iowa.  I was included in a few of the 450-mile trips with Grandma to visit her mother and other relatives in nearby Pella.  At least once, I saw the actual farm and cornfields where Grandma was raised. Since becoming an adult, I haven’t visited Oskaloosa, but have been amazed at all the little connections I have had with that town over the years.

At age 18 and newly graduated from high school, I left home for the first time and went to live and work at a Christian campground for the summer, eighty miles from home. I was assigned to a trailer with two other young women.  One of them was from Oskaloosa.  My Grandma came to visit one day,  met my roommate, and they enjoyed a conversation about people and places they knew in common.

When I married my first husband five years later and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, I randomly stopped at a Supercuts in a strip shopping center in Woodstock.  Talking to the hair stylist, it became apparent that we were both “Yankees”. When I asked her where she was from, she replied,

“You’ve probably never heard of it.  I’m from Oskaloosa, Iowa.”

A few years later, I found myself living still further away in Shreveport Louisiana.  We purchased a home and it was quite a change to live in the heat of Louisiana after growing up in the Midwest.  One day I decided to take a little walk and stopped on a corner a few hundred feet away from my house to cross the street.  There was a bright red fire hydrant, and I glanced at it. The words Oskaloosa, Iowa were imprinted  in metal on fire hydrant.   When Grandma visited me in Louisiana, I was able to show her the fire hydrant from her home town.

Years later, my grandmother passed away.  Having moved once again, ninety miles from where I grew up, I took my children to visit our  local  library branch for the first time.  While the children were listening to  story time, I was browsing.  The very first book I picked up was a large children’s picture book which caught my eye.  I opened up to a random page near the middle, and the first line was “We moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa.”   (The title of the book was  The Huckabuck Family)
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Finally, this fall I attended my first writer’s conference.  I scheduled a short visit with an editor, and we discussed an idea for a book proposal.  Can you guess where she had once lived?

When Grandma told me her Oskaloosa stories, I think she was a little bit homesick. I think she missed her mother. Every time I have had an Oskaloosa connection, it came at a time when I was feeling a little homesick too.  I don’t think these things are coincidence.  I think they are little gifts, blessings from God that have brought me comfort when I was far away from home and missing loved ones.  They remind me of my grandma’s faith that brought her through many years of longing for home.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… (Ephesians 2:19 ESV)