Monday, April 20, 2009


My maternal grandmother, Kaatje, was born on December 12th, 1895, in the village of Wemeldinge in the province of Zeeland in southern Holland. In this photograph, she is on the right, not wearing the national costume.

The circumstances of her birth, had a profound impact on her identity. Her mother, Adriana, known to her family as "Ajône,"(the Zeeuwse form of the name,) became pregnant as the result of an assault, only confided years later, to her granddaughter, Adrie; and then as a secret.

We can hardly imagine, over one hundred years later, just how much hardship fell upon Ajône with the birth of her baby girl. Kaatje was born into a conservative society in which women were naive when it came to sexuality and pregnancy. Judgement fell upon the woman who was pregnant without marriage and the child came into the world with a stigma that would follow her into adulthood.

Ajône would never have another child and named her daughter, Kaatje, the Dutch form of the name Katherine. I wonder, did she choose the name because of its meaning? Of all the names to choose, this one held special meaning for the child: Pure. One hundred and three years after Kaatje's birth, Ajône's great, great, great grandaughter; one of my granddaughters; would also be named Katherine.

Kaatje grew up working very hard. The Dutch are known for their diligence and industriousness, but Kaatje learned earlier than most what it meant to work, and even on the Sabbath, she worked; at knitting black socks.
Ajône, our Opoe, worked hard too, taking in washing for other people, to support herself and her daughter. Later in life she owned a barge named Lena, on which she would deliver cargo and by then she had married a widower named Piet van der Werff, a kind man who loved her and treated Kaatje with much love and affection.

Amazingly, hardship did not embitter Kaatje. I remember her laughing about the adventures she had with her childhood friend, Pietje De Mul, with whom she would collect sheep manure for their flourishing house plants that were the envy of others. She loved all animals, especially cats, and laughter came readily to her. Her heart was always for the underdog in any situation. She was tenderhearted, generous, loving, kind and always she was busy making something, either sewing, crocheting or knitting.

Incredibly, in the late 1980's, I met a Dutch lady living in Newmarket, Ontario, and through polite conversation, I discovered that she was Pietje de Mul's daughter. And on top of that, Pietje was living with her in Newmarket. She would have been in her nineties by then. How I regret not asking to meet her.

Kaatje married Jan Schipper (son of Cornelia Kole and Dingenis Schipper and one of nine children.) Jan came from a well off family and they were not very approving initially, of his choice, but when they married, she was already carrying his child. This is their wedding picture, for which I thank my cousin, Deborah Martinez in Switzerland!

Tante Corry, their first child, was born in 1919 and then Tante Adrie, Deborah's mother, in 1921. Uncle Dick came next. He was born on September 25 1925 and Pieternella, my mum, on December 15th of 1926.
Oma told Mum that she had not planned to have any more children after Uncle Dick, and Mum used to think, "How awful. She wouldn't have had me then!"
A childless friend of Oma's, Tante Marie, as well as the doctor who delivered Mum, wanted to adopt her, but Oma could not think of parting with one of her children.

She would have four more children: twins, Kaatje (Kitty) and Jan, born in 1928 and later, Alijda and Dirk.

In this photo, Mum is sitting on the table, with Tante Adrie on her left, Tante Corry on her right, and Uncle Dick on the far right. Mum was always rather quiet, but Tante Corry was used to taking charge of the younger children, and Tante Adrie would always say exactly what was on her mind.

There was not much money because Opa couldn't work much. After the 1914-18 war, both he and Oma had been very ill with the Spanish flu and he developed very bad asthma.

He had always wanted a bakery and Opoe helped set him up in business, but working with flour was the worst thing possible for his asthma. The business did not go well as Opa;s heart ruled his head. He gave bread to people who couldn't afford to pay, and he lost money through loaning it without any written agreement. He didn't believe in insurance, and finally, when they had a fire in the bakery, it ruined them.

When Opoe came to visit though, it was always a feast. She would come with a big bag, and the children knew that it held treats. They would stand around her like vultures, waiting to see what she had brought for them.

Mum is very like Oma in personality and she adored her mother. When she began to learn about Jesus Christ, and how he would come back some day, she always thought that it was her mother who was Jesus, in disguise, because she was so perfect.

Years later I would think something very similar of her!


Angcat said...

I'm still enjoying your stories Belinda.
It's amazing how paths cross and that you were able to meet Pietje de Mul's daughter.
And I'm glad your Mum was born. Had she not been, our lives and all of Christian Horizons would not have been the same.

Looking forward to next Monday.

Belinda said...

Thanks Ang. Knowing that people want to read these stories it the impetus behind writing them.

And yes, any one of us would be missed if we weren't here, wouldn't we? We were all meant to be!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Again I'm fascinated by the history of your family and the journeys that they all took. These are some very strong women who survived very difficult circumstances. A proud heritage indeed. I too await the next installment.

Susan said...

Told ya. :)