Question: Is it possible that a 91-year-old woman, a widowed great-great grandma can be included on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Netherlands?
Violet Roetcisoender, “Grandma Violet” to myneighbors at Cavendish, was invited to accompany daughter, Darlyn Lanier and her family Roger, Kadence and Cre’Elle, and grandson, Tyson Larson, on a long-planned and sudden-happening tour to Northeastern Holland and a visit with cousins of Bill Roetcisoender.
Bill Roetcisoender’s parents came from Warffum, The Netherlands when his mother was 17 and his father, 27. Older members of the Roetcisoender family had preceded them in a migration to the Snohomish/Monroe area of Washington State, USA several years before: Garm Danhof and Reinald Roetcisoender.
The trip was made by ship and neither Anna (father) nor Magdalena ever saw their Dutch family again. They never revisited Holland! They are gone now, and Bill passed away 13 years ago.
Koert and Altje Snitje, cousins of Bill, have visited America a number of times. Snitje is Magdalena’s maiden name. Koert was an engineer in charge of transportation in the Groenigen Province of the Northwest Netherlands for 40 years, in charge of highways, roads and bridges there.
Koert lives in Warffum in a family home which belonged to his grandparents, a large red brick home with red tile roofs. Very Dutch, we found! We had often been invited to visit them!
I accepted Darlyn’s invitation to accompany the Laniers and Tyson, as a lovely “gift of the Lord”.
Darlyn found tickets direct at half price, from Seatac to Amsterdam to visit their warm and generous kin who had prepared for a week of hosting six people. A second week was planned north of Amsterdam to become “tourists”. So we were off to a friendly, comfortable, and fantastic adventure, so delightful and heartwarming, May 27 through June 9, 2018.
Koert Jr. had helped Koert and Altje prepare themselves for hosting SIX folks, and a wonderful time ensued. Roger was the designated driver for a big van rented purposely to accommodate all of us on our excursions to get acquainted with a European country.
Pictures and descriptions of the Dutch and Holland are very true, from the reclamations of land and hydraulic engineering fame, to the tulip fields, the Holstein-Friesian cattle and the windmills, now replaced by hundreds of new electric energy “windmills”.
Our first impression, which pictures cannot show, was the absolute flatness and the bigness of The Netherlands. And it all is so green, so clean, and so colorfully bricked and flowered.
Every home, seemingly, has a flower garden yard (few lawns are seen except in parks), and yards are hedged by tidy trimmed plantings. There is no plastic or garbage by the roads, and also no graveled roads.
From three-lane highways out of Amsterdam, all along many large canals, which flow out of Amsterdam in a wheel-like pattern, to the narrow bricked or cobbled roads which turn in surprising fashion into the countryside, there are hundreds of bicycles which “have the right-of-way”. Young and old in Holland ride bicycles everywhere, and the towns have parking lots “for bikes” in all of them.
Alarmingly, to us, there are dozens of big semi-trucks on all the roads, narrow or wide, and it is a driver’s lot to get out of their way and not hit a bicycle while you are doing so. Fun! Roger said, “It is white-knuckle driving”. Interesting, and very readable, are all the license plates on Dutch vehicles. They are 20 or so inches wide in bright yellow with big black lettering and on every vehicle-very. Easy for anyone to read accurately!
The Snitjers were very prepared for us. Koert, Jr. joined us every day also, and we were given a tour of our “home” which featured a flower-garden front, a west-side fish pond with goldfish and a foot bridge to “the back” and a huge garden area.
Half of the garden was Altje’s and full of perennials, roses, and trellised vines, bordered and criss-crossed by brick walkways. In the center was a picnic area and in the back a garden house replete with sofa, desk and library. An outdoor clothes line was along the garden area and used often, although Holland is a “wet” country.
Koert’s one-fourth of the garden contained large raised plots of potatoes, kale, spinach, beans, and carrots. The other section was a secure high fence with 18 hens in it and a nice chicken coop, very handy with a feed room and egg nests. Beyond the garden and the usual hedges was a grassy field with 15 or so sheep in it.
After a delicious soup and sandwich supper, we trekked through the town of Warffum, past the bakery, the school, the Mennonite church, and to a museum. My grandchildren have always said, “Families who have Grandma along, always visit the museums” and it is a wonderful way to get acquainted with any place.
Koert, Jr. we discovered, is a splendid tour planner, and also is a trained musician. He wanted piano lessons as a boy and took them seriously until he was 26 years old. He plays for the church and for parties and get-togethers and does the pipe organ and piano, rendering the classics as well as Mozart himself. He is a musician that really “gets into his music” and it is thrilling to hear him.
Our first day included a walking stint to a near museum which is typical of every town. American as well. In it we were impressed by heavy wooden doorways, cupboards, floors and decorative panels, displays of old recovered spoons, knitting needles, spinning wheels, washer, ironer, and restaurant equipment; relics of days gone by. There were heavy urns, kraut cutters, and crocks, old tools, unique beds built two high into the walls, exquisite lace curtains and lots of windows in high ceilinged walls.
Koert and Altje’s youngest daughter, Liddeke was on a pilgrimage bicycle trip to Italy, and they have daughters, both grown up. Her husband, Lambert, however, was very gracious to give us an idea of a dairy farmer’s day on their dairy farm.
The 70 Holstein cows pasture on verdant fields, and are milked in a large barn. Lambert has modern equipment with a milking stall that has automatic grain feeders and a robot milking machine. The robot not only washed the udders, but clamps the milkers on them as well. He was the first farmer in his country to have a robot machine. The milk then goes into a giant steel refrigerated bat for pick by a dairy processor.
Lambert’s farm was typical of other dairy farms which are numerous on the northern Netherlands. A large brick home with the brick barn attached, lots of feed inside the barn or stacked outside and covered, manure piled to use on the fields, and several other sheds for farm equipment.
Dairying is not the only farm operation. We saw wheat, hay or silage, kale, sugar beet, green house, and vegetable farms as well. All of us got a quick little tour to the North Sea which was misted and foggy, so we scheduled a trip later. We got a good first night’s rest in comfy beds covered in sheets and bed sacks-duvets.
Each day was planned with a breakfast of assorted breads from the bakery (rye, wheat, raisin buns), a tray of jellies and apple butter, fresh boiled eggs, oranges and apples. It was plenteous and filling, and then we were off to the day’s activities.
Each day we went to a different town, and a different activity, with a stop in one of the restaurants or shops for lunch, learning new flavors and specialties, and loving the new words. We could all fit in our van and we had some very needed guides along the way.
Our efforts to speak the Dutch words were almost always pretty hilarious. And returning to a delicious supper, invariably preplanned, and an evening of sharing treasures and albums of family, and history. So precious. By the way, Altje showed us her bobbin lace, which she learned from her mother. It is almost a lost art now.
The Netherlands has an incredible number of rows of deciduous trees along the highways and most of the roads, deliberately planting maples, cottonwoods, alders, locusts and others in profusion. The Hollanders use the fallen leaves to build up the soil, all the country being below sea level. Some of the trees are pruned to having a ball on the top and growing large trunks, the wood which was formerly used for wooden shoes. The shoes no longer are common except for gardening and working with their animals.
Our next North sea event was on a wide highway which is atop a tall dike, with the river-wide canal along one side. Fishing boats and numerous small islands kept us entranced. The noon day was clear and warm, and we all dipped our hands in the Sea which was surprisingly warm. Many times the sides of the dikes are grazed by flocks of sheep, usually white and in good shape.
There were a number of tourists, and Cre’Elle was “hit on” by a cyclist. She had a lot of chaperons at her side, however. Besides which she couldn’t speak the language! Altje kept him in check!
Our warm-hearted hosts kept us loved and happy by taking us to several famous places in their North East Netherlands over our week. We visited a mustard factory, which still uses an old windmill for power. Black, yellow and white mustard is ground here, cured and sent all over the world, the “black” only grown in Holland. The mustard is ground very fine, put in large square vats, flavored with vinegar, salt and spices and left to cure for six weeks.
Hollanders are very hard working, and have some of the best engineers in the world. It is an old civilization, and we went to an impressive military base, Bourtange, built in the late 1790’s and used through the 1800’s. The entire installation was in the form of a great 6-sided star. If you can picture a huge green field surrounded by a star shaped waterway, then a park-like lawn, also cut by steep banks with six sides, another waterway, and, finally, the base itself located inside the extravagant 6-sided star area. The grounds had been tamped by many boots, the buildings all repaired and kept in top-notch condition, and bricked, of course. The barrack, the training rooms, the supplies and “mess hall”, and samples of the armor were all displayed in a fascinating bulwark within the usual museum. One of the highlights there was a rifle it took two people to maneuver and shoot.
On the way home we went to a large old estate formerly owned by a physician. Koert’s youngest son Jaap and his wife Hariette, who were leaving in a couple of days for New York, gave us a tour. The house is in the process of becoming a Bed and Breakfast. It has tall windows with low and wide window sills, high ceilings and great beams of dark wood, beautiful chandeliers, and polished planked wood floors.
Jaap and Hariette have repapered with period wall paper in lovely old designs, and bought heavy new draperies to complement these. The two Koerts have been helping with all the sanding and painting, but “not the wallpaper hanging”. The kitchen is very large and has been modernized to accommodate a B and B.
We had a fairly long day when we went to Groenigen where Koert had worked in the office of Netherland transportation. Koert explained that their counties are called “Provinces” and important men always try for the various official posts.
As far as elections for a prime minister, Holland has a Queen, so many people file for the job, and all are voted on. Seldom does anyone with much authority get elected, however. It is pretty hard to be an “important face” in elections. Instead of one or two “parties”, there are up to 30 different groups vying for positions.
Each town was a separate entity, but all had some things in common. All had a bricked, or cobbled town square in the middle, dominated by eating places, clothing shops, medical offices, and two churches, at least: a Protestant and a Catholic. These were huge edifices, very noticeable with five or six stories, outside stairways and tall/wide windows.
Pipe organs had to be hoisted through those huge windows to the second or third story as the stairways were steep and narrow. These “cathedrals” were full of art, many of the old masters, and had many treasures, replicas of old sailing vessels, clocks and other museum artifacts. Great columns were always decorated with art and intricate designs.
Everywhere we went there was color, artsy stuff or flowers and shrubs. There are many harbor towns, full of fishing boats, excursion boats, and shipping craft. All are busy and industrious, all have fish stalls, stores and food shops. There are places to get a drink or to buy mementoes, trinkets, or art ware.
Europe has “castles”, unknown in the US. They are great stone edifices which simply must be explored. We went to one that is surrounded by an intricate maze with lovely hedges and huge formal flower gardens, and proudly bordered with some large old maples, thick trunked and very tall.
Koert used to climb them as a boy, played in the mazes and gardens, and ran on the brick and cobbled walkways, clopping across the bridges over the ever-present canals.
Menkema Castle was everything I ever hoped a castle would be. Built originally in the 14th century, the original building was rectangular, defensible, behind a large moat and bridged. History lists Cland van Menkema, later Alberda van Menkema, and Gerard can Menkema as living there.
Each raised their families there and the walls are replete with many portraits of a young couple and their two daughters in beautiful period clothing, pictured forever in grand carved frames. After a grand tour, it is easy to picture the family actually living there.
Visitors enter by a wide hall that runs the length of the building. The front room with its great fireplace and carved oak mantelpiece, typical of the fireplaces in almost every room, capture a person with the opulence in every furnishing. But then, how else would you heat a big old stone castle?
Silk damask covers the wall, a “Deventer” carpet with the Menkema coat of arms covers the floor; a typically large and heavy China cabinet has porcelain dishes, and a number of tall vases show up well.
Twelve heavily carved chairs set along the side of the room and portraits and ancient art show on all the walls.
The room was later used for a lying-in room when the wife was having her babies, at home, in a bed swathed in heavy draperies and a woven cradle nearby.
The next room was the music room with a cabinet organ, and a person could picture the family singing and relaxing there, or the younger daughters getting their formal music lessons.
Large and small chests were everywhere, places to store clothing, bedding, boots and shoes, etc. in all those large rooms. The kitchen was fully equipped to make meals for the family, and for many formal occasions, containing large pots and pans, and all the paraphernalia needed to cook. Food was stored in the basement down a stairway from the kitchen and a wine cellar took up much of the area.
Another stairway led up to the family bedrooms on the second floor, then a steeper stairs led to the servants quarters where the beds were built into the walls and the rooms were much smaller.
Across the hall was a dining room with the long sideboard, the fireplace, and the table with a centuries old dinner service. Next to it the gentlemen’s room, an interesting room that held various collections of rocks, seashells, fossils, coins and medals. Numbers of cabinets, the fireplace, a writing desk, and a built in sideboard, several chairs, and the imposing chandelier were common to each room.
All of the rooms were large and lavish. And, oh, the heavy woods used in the window casings, the doors, the furnishings! Very imposing. Very much what a person expected to see in a CASTLE.
Our week was winding down and I have given you only an overview of our family activities. The pleasant kinship, warmth and sharing continued through the week and a couple of things happened to teach us even more.
A fish peddler comes to Warffum every Friday, selling fresh fried or baked fish portions and a salt-herring delicacy. The fresh fish was delicious and we were almost gluttons for it, but the herring was an unusual taste to us. We didn’t half appreciate it. We did learn that fish portions are sold this way in most of the Holland towns.
On our last Sunday we went with the Snitjers to their worship service in a Mennonite church. Their pastor is called a “Dominic” and in this case was ready to accommodate the American visitors with the bulletin printed in English, with as much of the Scripture and testimonies as possible interpreted for us. Koert, Jr. played the pipe organ and later played for the hymns, which, by the way, were the old and familiar hymns common to us.
A lovely version of one of the Psalms was also given to each of us, and it was a friendly time, followed by a coffee/sandwich hour. Many of the congregation can understand English and we learned even more about the country which was our ancestral home.
A note here: one of the tables in the front of the church had an old Bible, printed in the 1700’s, available to anyone wishing to look through it, complete with many pictures and references, unselfishly meant to be used to learn Scripture extremely well. It was not kept under glass and away from modern hands.
Our last meal before the breakfast of our departure was Chinese food in a ritzy restaurant, ornate and colorful in Warffum. What a smorgasbord of meats, vegetables, pasta, fish, and rice, and oranges or apples at will. In spite of this bounty a strawberry shortcake desert slathered in whipped cream was also served. We guests were able to host this dinner, but it didn’t come close to repaying all of the love and hospitality shown to us all week. Truly we are blessed!
So with one week ending of our stay in the Netherlands, we hugged our kin and boarded the big black van to go to Amsterdam and our next vacation week, which, admittedly was very “touristy”. Thank goodness, Koert and Altje had been able to give us some real pointers which might be said to, “Forget Amsterdam and go see these other places, all famous for something!”
We stayed at the Resort De Rijp for the next four nights taking in the surrounding towns of Alkmaar, Hoorne, Edam, and Volendam. We spent several hours in Alkmaar taking in a cheese museum and several shops.
Our final day was spent in Haarlem visiting the Grote Kerk (Great Church). It was amazing. The floor was made of great slabs of what appeared to be rectangles of black marble. And they were actually crypts in which 1500 deceased people had been entombed. Each was decorated carefully, inscribed with the given name, date of birth and death, and installed. If the person had been wealthy the black finish was very polished, but poor folks had a duller finish.
This church had, in its time, been both Catholic and Protestant and is still being used. It was rather a neat idea to think that you might have had your own kin in the crypts where they would always be in a holy place. The front of the church was chaired for the choir and various large types of worship.
They were partitioned off with walls and some with heavy wooden doors. One room had a place where a worshipper could light a candle for Mary and meditate in silence. Another frontal room contained a meeting room for what we would call “the Board” or “The Assistant Pastors”.
In the central area were good-sized loges for more wealthy patrons. They were walled semi-privately with wonderful old wood. The members ascended on steps and seated themselves on velvet covered benches. These loges faced the high pulpit. On it was an open Bible threatened, spiritually, by that ever-present “old Dragon” in the form of two snakes. A very vivid presentation of man’s “Fall”.
Tremendously interesting was the “Dog Whipper’s” station along one of the walls. Apparently, it is common for families to bring their pet dogs with them to services. If a dog barked or bit anyone, the dog was caught by the Dog Whipper and tied to one of the iron rings in the wall, and whipped thoroughly. I don’t know if the dog learned his lesson and behaved after that or quit going to church.
(Note: I am so pleased and grateful that I got to go with the Laniers and Tyson to the Netherlands. By taking a wheelchair along I was able to participate in all of this adventure and seeing cousins made it very personal, and very helpful.