OPA (pronounced OPAH)AND OPOE (pronounced OPOOH)
My paternal grandfather, opa, was a child born out of wedlock in 1891, son of Trijntje Waninge. I don’t know who his natural father was. What I do know is a little bit of his history.
He was named Jan. His mother was a poor servant who, as a single parent, was very lucky to be employed, as a live in maid, by a wealthy landowner, Jan Loof. Jan Loof fell in love with her and eventually they married. He and Trijntje had one son. He brought opa up as his own. Opa had a pretty privileged upbringing. He went to school, then higher education and had the option to attend university, which he declined. Then his mother died. I seem to remember, from stories, in childbirth.
Several years after her death, after Jan Loof re-married and had more children with his new wife, opa got a maidservant pregnant. Her name was Harmina Bosch. I know nothing about her ancestors. Opa was given a wristwatch (??), thrown out of the house, never to return and he married the maid Harmina, my opoe.
They were poverty stricken and lived in a mud hut, on the heath in Drente, built by him. They had seven children. Trijntje, Teunis, Anna, Roelie, Jantje, Eize and Lammie. Their eldest daughter, Trijntje, died aged 35 or 36, I don’t know from what or when. I do know she had children, though I never met them.
Opa became a shepherd and life became a bit more bearable. They moved into a small two-bedroom house, which was attached to the job. The girls all shared one bedroom and double straw beds. The boys slept in the loft. There were no plates. Everyone ate out of one pot from the middle of the table.
The toilet was a wooden shed in the garden and when the hole filled up, another hole was dug, the toilet moved on top of the hole and a rhubarb plant planted where the old toilet used to stand. A pump outside gave them fresh water. Life was tough with very little money. Clothes were hand-me-downs. They wore wooden clogs. All the children left school at nine to help earning money.
The family kept chickens and they grew their own vegetables and potatoes. To ensure the family would have meat throughout the year, they bought a piglet every spring. It was opoe’s job to care for its welfare. She always became very attached to it and it to her. Then, in the autumn, she had to entice it to the slaughter shed for the bloodletting. She would go for a very long walk so as not to hear the pig’s screams. Once, I was told, after the bloodletting, when boiling water was thrown over the pig to de-hair it, to her horror, the pig was not quite dead yet.
Later they moved to Emmeloord in the newly laid dry North Eastern Polder. He was employed there at a weighing bridge, weighing the few cars and lorries to see if the new roads would hold them. Life became a lot easier also with the new minimum wage firmly in place. They had electricity, and an indoor toilet. Most children had left home by now and they could afford shoes and new clothing, plates and crockery.
They were a devoted couple. They were also one of the first ones who enjoyed the newly installed state pensions and later moved to one of the also new fangled state retirement homes.
They absolutely loved the new invention of television and their favorite program was a story called ‘The Fabeltjes Krant’, made for children, depicting life of animals living in the forest. All the characters were cut out of paper with the wise owl, playing the lead part, reading from the newspaper (The Fabeltjes Krant) all the happenings of that day in the forest. Opa died after a short illness in his early seventies. Opoe was devastated and kept saying she wanted to be with him wherever he was. She missed him very much. She died of a heart attack a couple of years later, in 1973. The wristwatch, with its strange inscription, was given to my father.
PAKE (pronounced phakeh)AND BEPPE (pronounced Beapeh)
This family, my maternal grandparents, has a completely different history. They were born in the 1880s. Pake’s name was Geert de Heij. Beppe’s name was Geertje Scholten. They were born and bred in Friesland and spoke the language fluently, better than Dutch.
The reason I know so little of this family is my father, the all time boss. His family came first and foremost. They also lived closer by. Friesland, at the time with so few cars owners, was like another country, far, far away. The language was also a barrier for him because, whenever they would visit her family, they would speak in their own language. This irritated my father tremendously. Visits to my mother’s family were far and few between.
I know they had numerous offspring; one of their children was, of course, my mother, Gerritje, named after pake’s brother Gerrit. Her youngest sister, Ida whom she was very close to and whom was my favorite aunt I knew well. Griet was another sister I met once and Jurjen, her eldest brother whom I met also. There was also an older sister Geertje and three brothers Herman, Hilbert and Gerrit whom I have never met. I know no other siblings by name.
All their children also had very little education, needing to bring in the money. They knew how to read, write and the basic mathematics and that was enough. My mother would have loved to stay on at school and when she couldn’t, would have liked to go into service as a maid but was forced to work in a milk factory because the money was much better. She loathed the job but had no choice in the matter.
I don’t think pake and beppe were a happy couple. They had several children in the beginning of the twentieth century, then nearly ten years nothing and then more in the early twenties.
Pake liked his drink far too much. When the wages came in at the end of the week, he would spend half the money for drinks in his local to beppe’s fury. Sometimes she would try and ambush pake when he left work with money in a paper bag, but he often spotted her and used a different exit after which beppe would search for him to no avail. He wasn’t stupid and used a different café to have a drink after making his escape. Money therefore was often short even though he had a very good and well-paid job as a furniture maker.
Later he started his own furniture making business at home and he was the first one in the family to be able to buy his own house for the princely sum of 100 guilders. An absolute fortune in those days when the weekly wage was a daalder (1 guilder 50 cent). He later bought the attached house next door too.
Beppe was the most untidy and uncaring mother in the world. The house was always dirty and in a mess. Washing and washing-up would pile up, the ironing never done. Her daughters usually would do the cooking, cleaning and shopping. Beppe would hardly be at home at all. She had many friends she rather spend her time with than be with her family. Even when grandchildren came along she had very little time for them also.
Most of Beppe’s daughters, including my mother, therefore became the most tidy and house-proud people you would ever meet. Griet was de only exception I know. She was exactly like her mother, to my mother’s despair. Beppe died of tuberculosis before I was born when she was sixty.
Jurjen, the eldest son, and his wife Berendje moved in with pake to take care of him and to try and curb (unsuccessfully) his drinking. Their only child, a daughter, Bea and her family, moved into the attached house pake also owned.
Pake died in his sleep in May 1967 in the early hours of my parents’ silver wedding day. He was in his eighties. None of her family came to the toned down celebration, which was very sad for her and also for me. I never got to know more about her brothers and sisters.
The only sister of my mother who visited frequently was Ida and her husband, Cor Polak. My father got on very well with Cor and Ida. They would all always converse in Dutch.
After pake died, Jurjen and Berendje stayed in the house as sitting tenants. The two houses, over time, became one. My mother always regretted not to have disputed the right to a share of the houses.