Monday, October 29, 2012

On the Beach

I spent several days with the Bouws at the Little House.  Every morning Kees left on his bicycle to go to work in Rotterdam, and Riet and I went shopping.  Since the Little House had no refrigerator, she shopped for food every day. 

London had been extremely hot that summer, but at the beach in The Netherlands the air was crisp and cool.  I wore a sweater as we walked along the street past similar tiny cottages, where elderly Dutchmen called out “Da” (Good Day).  That was one Dutch word that I could pronounce, so I returned their greetings.. 

Riet explained in broken English, with gestures, that all the people who came to this little “resort” were old, as young people preferred to vacation in warmer climates.  Every year Margaret and her family rented a “caravan” and went camping on a beach in Spain.

In one of the little shops Riet and I bought needlework kits to make pictures of birds.  On rainy afternoons we stayed inside the Little House, talking little as we worked tiny cross stitches into the linen, she with red thread, me with blue.  I still have my blue bird in its little oval frame on the wall beside the mirror in my bathroom in Garland, Texas, a daily reminder of those pleasant afternoons.

After supper on my final evening, Riet and I climbed through the dunes behind the Little House.  We emerged on a wide, sandy beach facing the cold, gray North Sea.   Riet and I sat on the sand.  The air was cool, but I was comfortable in a light sweater.  I took off my shoes and wiggled my toes in the sand.  That too was cool. 

I looked out at the sea.  In the gray light of evening, the water was calm, low waves lapping a slow rhythm against the shore. 

Riet pointed to a ship moving slowly across the horizon.  She said, “The ferry to England.”  In the quiet of that calm evening, it seemed strange that less than a mile away was one of the busiest ports in Europe.

The first time I came to Rotterdam, Riet was shy about trying to speak English.  She asked Margaret to translate for her.  I tried to learn a few Dutch phrases but never got my throat and tongue around any word except “Da”.   By the time we sat in the sand, Riet had become comfortable with me, and we had a long, woman-to-woman talk.  I felt more at ease with this Dutch woman than with many of my talkative American friends.

She asked about Wally.  I told her I was devastated when I found it necessary to divorce him.  My children loved their father; I never told them how he hit and kicked me. 

She talked about her son, Tony.  The baby for whom Mother sent clothes had grown into an adult drug addict.  He married “a nice girl”, and Riet was sad when the young woman divorced her son.  Then he died of an overdose.

Somehow talking about our sorrows, with few words and broken English, was comforting to both of us.

As the light faded and the sea turned from gray to black, I thought: Not everyone can escape to a place where it is always hot and sunny.  We have to make the best of wherever we are.  If it rains, stay indoors and make a pretty picture.  When it clears, go to the beach.  The sand may be cold on the feet, but it is still fun to wiggle your toes in it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Little House

Before I went to Europe, Kees wrote that he and Marie had received an inheritance and bought a “little house” at the Hoek of Holland.   The first time I visited, at their fourth floor apartment in Rotterdam, Marie – on Riet, as Kees called her – told me how tired she was of climbing stairs and how much she loved summers when they went to stay in the Little House. 

While Mother, David, and I were visiting, the Bouws urged me to come back later that summer.  After Mother and David returned to the States, I spent three weeks in London taking a course in script writing.  Then, once again, I took the overnight ferry from Harwich.

Travelers traditionally cross the Channel from England to the Continent on the ferry at the Channel’s narrowest point from Dover to Calais, France.  But to go to Northern Europe, ferries leave from Harwich and cross the North Sea.  I’ve shipped out from Harwich to Belgium and Hamburg, Germany, as well as to Rotterdam.  Only once did I come back through Calais.  As we approached the English coast, I finally saw that there really are white cliffs at Dover.  .  

Kees was on the pier when I stepped off the ship at the harbor in Rotterdam.  He gave me a big Dutch smile and picked up my suitcase.  “Now we walk to the Little House.”

The Hoek of Holland is a long strip of land, shaped like a pirate’s hook, which stretches out into the North Sea to protect the port of Rotterdam.  It is The Netherlands’ busiest port, but I don’t remember going through much industrial area before we were walking along a sandy road beside the dunes.  

With his long legs, Kees could have quickly outpaced me, but as I remember it was a leisurely stroll.  I did not tire as we walked – not far, perhaps half a mile – to a village on edge of a resort community of tiny cabins lined up close together, each with a tiny scrap of a front yard enclosed in low, improvised fences.  It was like being in Madurodam again, only there were big Dutchmen saying “Da” (“Good Day”) to greet us as we walked along the street. . 

Riet met us at the door of what was indeed a Little House.  The entire structure was no more than 16 feet square.  Kees had me pause to admire his “garden”, a tiny plot in which he lovingly cared for each little marigold and petunia. 

Inside, the “big” room, 12 x 16, had in one corner a sink and a hot plate to serve as the kitchen. Along the opposite wall were two 4 x 6 “sleeping rooms” and a closet for the toilet.  Because of the tiny space, doors opened outward into the big room.  My “room” had a twin-sized mattress with just room beside it for a small stool holding a bedside lamp.  My suitcase sat outside the door, as there was no space for it inside the bedroom.  I wondered how Kees and Riet, both big people, managed to squeeze into their equally small room to sleep. 

On Sunday, Riet’s relatives came for a picnic – aunts. uncles, cousins, and a niece named Annaliese – all big, robust Dutchmen.  All crowded into the Little House.  Somehow there was room for everyone, laughing, talking, and drinking beer.

When I think of today’s young people who believe they can’t be happy unless they have a 3,0000 foot house with five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a media room, and a three-car garage, when I think of them, then I remember the Little House.  How much space does a family really need to have a happy life?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sightseeing in The Hague

Michelin Guides list “attractions” with stars, three stars for “must see” with one star indicating a place to see if you have nothing better to do.  Actually, there are no “must see” places.  Various people enjoy different things.  Some tourists spend all their time shopping.  That’s okay, if that is what gives them the most pleasure.  

I admire great art and go to museums as often as I can.  On my first trip to The Netherlands, Kees and I went to Amsterdam to see two of the World’s most famous art museums.  At the Rijks Museum we saw paintings by Rembrandt.  At the Van Gogh Museum Kees bought a poster of colorful boats pulled up on a beach.  It was not a typical Van Gogh, but it was his choice.  His wife Riet was thrilled when he showed it to her.

Going to museums is not what typical tourists do.  And not where the Dutch go on their holidays.  During Mother’s visit, we went to The Hague to see three of Kees’s favorite places. . 

The city is the seat of the Dutch Parliament and the home of Queen Beatrix.  The Hague is also the site of the Peace Palace, where the International Court of Justice tries war criminals for “crimes against humanity.”  We did not see any of those important buildings.  Instead, Mother was thrilled when Kees took us to the Queen’s Rose Garden, where Mother enjoyed the color and aroma of thousands of blossoms. 

David’s treat was Madurodam.  This is a mini-city with hundreds of Dutch buildings rebuilt in miniature exactly to scale.  It was great fun watching tiny cars and trains running about between churches and landmark buildings, old and modern.  In Dallas every year people go to North Park Mall to see a model train exhibit.  Everything is big in Texas, but Madurodam was ten times as big and elaborate than the Dallas train set.  .

Kees also insisted that we see what he called “the Moog Panorama.”  The Dutch language is extremely difficult for English-speakers to pronounce.  According to Wikilinks, “The Panorama Maesdag” was by Henrdrik William Maesdag.  “Maesdag” must sound like “Moog” to American ears.  In the movie “Lust for Life” Kirk Douglas played Vincente Van Gogh who, as a young man went to The Hague to study painting under his “Uncle Moog”. 

We paid our fees at the ticket booth and walked down a dark hallway and out onto what felt like a wooden pier, where we were surrounded by a beach scene.   The painting was over 42 feet high and completely encircled us.  It was as if we stepped back 150 years with women and children in 19th Century dress standing and sitting in the sands as they enjoyed a sunny day at the seaside.  

In his day Hendrik Maesdag was “one of the most famous painters of The Hague School.”  He painted the panorama in 1881, when his nephew was discovering the color and light of French Provence.  Now tourists flock to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and only the Dutch go to Maesdag’s panorama.

People decorate their homes with pretty pictures.  My daughter-in-law fills her walls with works by Thomas Kincaid.  I go to museums to see great art.  Rembrandt’s self-portraits are superb, but I do not want that sad face in my bedroom.  

After being pushed and shoved by the mobs in the Van Gogh Museum, I thoroughly enjoyed a quiet hour surrounded by the tranquil beauty of Uncle Maesdag’s Panorama.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Windmills on My Mind

When I took Mother to The Netherlands to visit the Bouw Family,  Kees insisted we go to Kinderdijk, a village a few miles east of Rotterdam. 

Before I went to The Netherlands the first time, I imagined a land dotted with windmills.  On my first trip with David, we drove south from Rotterdam to Oud Beyerland and, on another day, went 90 miles north to Amsterdam and did not see a single windmill.  I began to think that windmills as a symbol of Holland were as scarce as eagles in America.

At Kinderdijk we saw windmills - and how!

Kinderdijk means “children’s dyke.”  Before I saw it, I imagined a place where the Dutch boy stuck his finger in the dyke to keep the sea from flowing through.  That story is impossible.  A dyke is a big earth barrier, high enough that the sea laps a few feet below on one side while farmland stretches away many feet below on the other side.  On top the dyke was so wide it had a paved road with grass verges.  Margaret’s husband, Joop, drove us on a road on top of a dyke as we approached Kinderdijk. 

There we saw an amazing sight: 19 windmills all in a row.   Yes, amazing!

Uncle Dick had a windmill on his ranch in West Texas.  A tall structure, made of metal pipes like the Eiffel Tower, it clanked constantly as it turned in the wind, pumping up water from deep underground to provide water for his cattle, and for us.

The Dutch windmills are different.  They look like the pictures I saw in National Geographic, only bigger.  Kees had an uncle and aunt, now deceased, who lived in a windmill.  The windmills at Kinderdijk were erected in the 1500s and did not make a convenient home, but it was considered a privilege to be in charge of a windmill. 

Another thing I learned: the Dutch did not build windmills on their inland farms.  Rain brought plenty of water for their livestock.  Dutch windmills are on canals near the sea.  They pump excess rain water off the land and pour it back into the sea.  Just the reverse of what Texas windmills do.

This was another day of getting rid of preconceived ideas.  “Things are not always what we think they are.”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My Mother Goes to Europe

At the end of World War II, Europeans suffered severe shortages of everything.  When our cousin Mabel asked me to write to Billy’s pen pal in Holland, my mother also got involved.  She sent instant coffee to Kees and Marie and clothes for their baby.   

Many years later, the year my father died, David and I went to Texas for Christmas with my Mother.  Standing in Mother’s kitchen, I put my arm around her and said, “David is graduating from high school in May.   I plan to sell my house and go to Europe.  Would you like to go with me?”

“No,” she said firmly, “I don’t want to go to Europe.”  She thought for a minute, then added, “I would go to England.”

In May we flew off on schedule.  At Gatwick Airport I took the wheel of little red rental car with David beside me holding a big book of detailed maps and serving as navigator.  With Mother in the back seat, we took off for a month of driving around England, Scotland, and Wales, staying in farm houses and seeing country houses, castles, and cathedrals. 

As we drove down between hedges on a narrow country lane, I said, “Mother, it is too bad you didn’t want to go to Europe.”

My Mother said, “I didn’t want to go where they don’t speak English.”  

I should have suspected that.  When Mother came to visit us in Pennsylvania, I took her to Bucks County to look for records of her Quaker ancestors.  On Sunday I urged her to go with me to a Quaker Meeting.   She refused. 

I was disappointed.  Mother was a Baptist, accustomed to loud hymn singing and long-winded preachers, very different from the way her Quaker ancestors worshiped.  Quakers do not sing hymns or listen to long sermons.  They sit quietly and wait for the “inner light”.  Someone may stand up and make a brief statement.     

Over brunch, when it was too late to attend the services, Mother confessed, “I didn’t think I could keep my head bowed that long.”

“Mother!” I said, exasperated, “Quakers are quiet during their meetings, but they don’t bow their heads.”

In England I was annoyed.  I said, “Mother!  Most Europeans speak English.”

Mother said plaintively, “I would have liked to meet those people in Holland.”

My Mother was afraid to step out of her familiar “comfort zone”.  Not me.  I am always ready for a new adventure.

In the middle of our trip around Great Britain, I drove to Harwich.  We parked the rental car in the lot at the port and took the night ferry across the North Sea.  Mother and I slept in narrow berths in a tiny cabin shared with two other women.  David was down the passageway with other men. 

We spent a weekend in Rotterdam with the Bouw-Noest family.  Thus my Mother made her one and only visit to Europe.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Master Race

After years of hiding in rooms secreted behind the bookcase, the Frank family was betrayed to the Germans and sent to death camps.  Anne and her sister died of starvation and typhoid.  Of nine people who hid in the house on the canal, only Anne’s father survived to find and publish her diary. 

I came down from the hiding place and went into the adjoining building.  This museum tells the story, not just about the Franks, but of the entire German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.  The Nazis were relentless in rounding up Jews and sending them to death camps.  The war was nearing its end when the Frank family and their companions were discovered.  If only Anne had lived a few months longer, she could have been saved to become as old as I am.

“If only” . . . .  one of the saddest phrases in the English language.

In the Anne Frank Museum I stood beside a big, middle-aged man.  Both of us had tears running down our faces.

Hitler told the Germans they were a super race.  The Jews were vermin who deserved to die.  The Nazis tried to exterminate them all, young men, old men, women, and children. 

On later trips to Europe I visited Holocaust memorials in Prague and Budapest.  In an old synagogue in Prague I read on wall after wall names with birth and death dates of thousands of individual Czech Jews killed by the Nazis. 

The Budapest memorial is a  weeping willow tree; made of shining metal, every leaf carrying the name of one of the 600,000 Hungarian Jews killed in Auschwitz.  This beautiful and touching memorial was a gift from the actor Tony Curtis, whose Jewish grandparents came from Hungary.

Over 6,000,000 died in the Holocaust.  Anne Frank has become a symbol for all of them.

Yet Iran’s Ahmadinejad dares to say it never happened!

Some people are unable to accept the truth.  They are frightened by people who are different in color, religion, or political persuasion.   When will we learn that no group is superior to another? 

I am prejudiced against prejudiced people.  Al called a sweet old lady a “Nigger”  I stood up and told him I found both his language and attitude offensive.  He said, “I have a right to my opinion.” .  

No, Al, this is not a matter of opinion.  It is a question of right and wrong. 

It is my opinion that Al what Southerners call “White Trash”.  I will not call him that.  To do so would be impolite.  I do not want to disparage another person, even if he is a misguided, ignorant louse like Al.  But sometimes I feel compelled to stand up and say, “You are wrong.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Anne Frank House

On my first trip to Amsterdam, Kees and I did not have time to visit the Anne Frank house.  Five years later, I returned alone.  As I rode the train into the city, I knew what I wanted to do.  Besides return visits to the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums, I wanted to see the house where the Frank family hid during World War II. .

First, after I stepped down from the train, I went to the tourist bureau in the station and booked a room.  The  hotel was the same vintage as the one where David and I stayed in Paris: an old building in a row of equally old buildings, probably built in the 18th Century.  

My room was on the second floor.  In Paris David and I climbed a narrow, winding stairway.  In Amsterdam the stairs went straight up, the narrowest, steepest steps I ever saw.  Each tread seemed to be nine inches high and only six inches deep.

I unpacked and then, using Dutch coins I’d exchanged dollars for at the train station, I boarded a trolley.  Just before a bridge over a canal, the driver, who spoke excellent English, told me it was time to get off.  I stepped down, and there she was: a little statue of Anne, looking more like a Degas ballerina than a Dutch teenager, with her birth and death dates: 1929-1945.

I was stunned.  I also was born in 1929.  Somehow I never realized Anne and I were the same age.  I’ve had this incredible life – not always easy but always interesting and definitely long.  I am now 83; she died before she had a chance to live.

I walked along the sidewalk with a row of typical old Amsterdam townhouses facing the canal.
There was no street, just a sidewalk without a railing between the houses and the waters of the canal.  In mid-block two adjoining houses bore signs identifying the Anne Frank House and Museum. 

I’d read Anne’s diary, seen the movie, and my daughter played Anne’s sister in a high school production of the play.  Yet I never understood the typography of the house. 

I climbed another of those long, narrow, steep stairways. (Are they typical of Amsterdam?)  I walked along the second floor hallway to where the bookcase stood ajar.  Yes, there really was a bookcase hiding a low doorway.  I slipped around the bookcase and onto a kind of bridge to an entirely separate building. 

The hideaway consisted of several small rooms on two floors connected by a small interior stairway.  Here is where during World War II the Frank family and other Jews hid from the Nazis for several years before being betrayed and taken to death camps. 

There were windows, but I can’t remember what they looked out on.  Evidently the Franks felt secure enough not to fear being seen from the building behind. 

All the furniture was gone.  In Anne’s room I saw the tattered and faded newspaper photos pasted on the wall.  That’s where Anne became real to me.  She was the one who cut out and fastened to the wall the picture of two little girls, the English princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret.  They were about the same ages as Anne and her sister.  Margaret lived to middle-age and died years ago, a fat and largely forgotten princess.  Elizabeth still reigns as the gray-haired Queen of England.  On Anne’s wall they remained forever children.

Just as Anne remains forever a young teenager, a symbol of man’s cruelty to man.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Van Gogh

At the Rijks Museum, Kees and I went straight through the building, gallery after gallery, from front to back.  At the back door we walked down the steps and there it was!  To the right, almost in the shadow of the big Rijks Museum, was the modern building housing the Van Gogh Museum.  

In his lifetime Vincente Van Gogh sold only one painting.  His family inherited a vast store of masterpieces.  They sold off many, which are scattered in museums throughout the World.  Even Dallas has one.  Finally they gave what was left to their country.  Every year thousands make pilgrimages to Amsterdam just to see the Van Gogh Museum.

Frankly, I was disappointed.  I had seen a wonderful special exhibit of Van Gogh paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts and a similar show somewhere else.  The collection in the Amsterdam Museum seemed to display mostly small, second tier paintings.

The exception was the big “Hay Wagon in Wheat Fields.”   When I was in college, I spent many hours between classes in a little lounge in the Fine Arts building which had a full-size reproduction of this painting.  I marveled a the range of colors.  It was a thrill to see the “real thing”, a masterpieces. 

Several years later I returned to Amsterdam and repeated my visit to the two museums.  I enjoy going to the same museum time after time, going to see favorite paintings – such as Van Gogh’s Wheat Fields -- just the way I visit old friends. 

When I worked in Chicago, I went to the Art Institute during my lunch hour to listen to gallery talks and to visit the beautiful Monets.  My spirits lifted by the sunny landscapes.  Among my favorites was a row of poplars against a bright blue sky.  .

In Philadelphia I went to the art museum every week to visit the Tyson Collection, a room of wonderful Impressionist paintings, including a Cezanne landscape and one of Van Gogh “Sun Flowers”.  Charles Tyson was president of the company Wally worked for.  I wondered, “How could his family give away these beautiful paintings?”  Then I went to Princeton see paintings loaned to the university by alumni for a special exhibit.  There was a magnificent Cezanne view of Mt. Victoire which the Tyson family had not given to Philadelphia but kept for themselves.  How nice it must be to be rich! 

When I went to Amsterdam again, I went through the Riks Museum, front to back.  Once more I walked out the back door. I stopped short and said, “Whoa!” 

I remembered coming out of the Rijks and walking directly into the front door of the Van Gogh.  While I was away, the Van Gogh Museum had rotated on its axis 180 degrees.  The back of the museum faced the Riks, and I had to walk around the building to get to the entry.

Of course that building had not changed.  My memory was wrong. 

I write about this trip as I remember things.  Is it factual?  I hope so.  But this is just a silly book about a woman and a boy on a journey of discovery.  It does not matter if I can’t remember exactly whether we went to Amsterdam on a Saturday or Sunday.

But there are times when it is important for memory to be exact.  Everyone’s mind is stuffed with memories.  Details become distorted .  Honest men have stood up in court and sworn on the Bible that they remember the face of the man who shot So-and-So.  Their memories played tricks on them, and innocent men were executed. .  .    

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An English Princess and Rembrandt

Amsterdam was a two-hour drive from Oud Beyerland, but the Opal chugged along steadily, and Kees was pleasant company.  Our time was limited.  We went to two museums, the Rijks and the new Van Gogh.  After that I was too tired to do anything else but drive back to Margaret’s house and collapse.

The Rijks Museum, “the museum of the Netherlands”, with a magnificent collection of Dutch paintings, is housed in a monumental, neo-classical structure, like the Metropolitan in New York and the Art Institute in Chicago, typical of art museums built in the 19th Century. 

Tourists who are in a hurry can follow little signs with arrows directing them to “The Night Watch”, Rembrandt’s most famous painting.  In Paris similar arrows show tourists in the Louvre the direct route past all the other great works of art to the Mona Lisa. 

At the Rijks Museum, Kees and I took our time, pausing to look at all the paintings.  I remember a full-length portrait of the delicate young English princess who was mother to William of Orange, who became King William IV of England.  History books seldom point out that William and Mary were cousins.  She was the elder daughter of England’s King James II.  William was the closest male heir to the crown.  That’s why the English, who refused Mary Tudor’s request to give her husband Philip of Spain the title of King of England, welcomed the Dutchman and made William and Mary joint rulers.  After Mary’s death, he ruled alone, and no one protested.

To me his mother’s picture portrayed a young woman who was shy and sad.  As a teenager she was shipped off across the North Sea to marry this Dutchman, whom she did not know and who was rumored to prefer boys to girls.  However, pictures, even photographs, can be deceiving.  I hesitate to read too much into them.  Maybe the English princess and her Dutch husband had a happy marriage that produced this only son who was destined to be King. 

Deep in the museum, besides the “Night Watch”, was an entire room of Rembrandts.  Some superb portraits, but also a full-length painting of a beef carcase, correct in every detail of blood and guts.  I thought, “Ugh!”  

Just because it was painted by Rembrandt did not make it a fine painting.  I hated the ugly bloody thing.  Even the great Rembrandt could make a mistake.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Of Tulips and Cowboy Boots

Before going to Europe, I read so many books and articles about Europe that they would have made a stack as high as the First National Bank, the tallest building in Fort Worth.  Then I went to Rotterdam and some of my ideas about Europeans turned topsy-turvy.

I thought the country’s name was Holland, with fields of tulips and little blonde, blue-eyed girls wearing white caps with turned-up corners, a blue dress with a white apron, and wooden shores.  As a child I had a little ceramic figurine that looked like that.  They told me it was a typical little Dutch girl.

From Wally’s stamp collection I learned that Holland is a part of the Netherlands, as Tarrant County is a part of Texas.  The proper way of spelling the nation’s name is Nederland, but my computer thinks I made a mistake when I spell it that way.  My computer’s spell checker is wrong. 

Then Margaret walked into her parents’ apartment.  She had blonde hair, lots of it, tumbling around her shoulders. She wore blue jeans and cowboy boots.  Later I found out this was her every day attire.  Even when cooking and serving meals I never saw her don an apron.  

As for the tulip fields, in several trips to the Netherlands, crossing the country from north to south, I never saw a single tulip in bloom.  The tulips were there; I just did not see them.  Last week when I told Stacy I was writing about the Netherlands, he said, “It is such a beautiful country.  I rode a train across the tulip fields.  On both sides, as far as I could see, were tulips in bloom.  All the gorgeous colors!”

My trips to the Netherlands were made in summer and fall.  Instead of tulips, I saw horses.

Shades of the Old West!  One of the first things Margaret suggested we do while visiting her was go to a farm and ride horses.  Her son Dimitri rode every week.  My son David had never been on a horse. 

I knew David, after spending weeks with no company except his middle-aged Mom, would enjoy spending time with this kid his own age.  On Sunday, Margaret’s husband Joop took David and Dimitri to the farm.  We left Riet to enjoy time alone with her daughter. 

And Kees and I went to Amsterdam to see the museums.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Rose by Another Name

For over 30 years Kees Bouw and I exchanged letters.  When I told people about my Dutch pen pal, I pronounced his name to rhyme with “geese.”  Then I went to Rotterdam.  As soon as I walked into the apartment and Marie said, “Kees is working,” I found out I had been wrong for all those years.

Then there was his wife.  When Kees wrote about her in his letters, I assumed “Marie” was pronounced in the French way.  Then, where he talked about her, I heard “Mary” like my mother’s name, Mary Sue.

Things got more complicated when he called her “Riet”, to rhyme with “meet” and “greet.”  I figured out that “Marie” was her formal name, while “Riet” was the familiar, family name.  Her name was Marguerite. In Albuquerque I have a friend named Elizabeth Lackmann; I always call her Betsy.  By my second visit to Rotterdam, I was calling my Dutch friend “Riet.”

All of us have assumptions about people and things.  We grow up thinking everyone thinks the way we do.  Also we think that anyone who has a different religion or skin color or political belief must be wrong, inferior, and/or dangerous.  That’s wrong.  Can we learn from our mistakes?

In Texas in1952, just before Wally and I were married, a woman came up to me in church and told me how sorry she was to hear that “You are marrying a Yankee.”   It took me years to realize that Wallace had some basic character flaws, but it was not because he was a Yankee.

I learned a lot in Rotterdam, besides learning how to say names correctly.  Most important was being with a family who had very little in material wealth but who seemed truly happy. 

Kees was a tall, lanky Dutchman with a happy smile on his long, horse face.  When he walked into the sitting room in that spare apartment, the whole world seemed warmer and brighter.  It was as if Danny Kaye had stepped out of his role in Hans Christian Andersen.  His wife’s face lit up with joy. 

The feeling of domestic contentment continued when we went to stay with their daughter Margaret in Oud Beyerland, some 40 or 50 miles south of Rotterdam near the Belgium border, where David and I had just come from.  Margaret insisted they had plenty of room for David and me and her parents.

The family lived in a row of town house with small rooms stacked three stories high.  What I remember best were the macrame hangings Margaret made to decorate the windows instead of draperies. 

This was home to Margaret and her husband Joop (rhymes with “rope”), their son Dimitri, and a big – very big – dog named Kees after her father. 

The dog was always in the middle of things.  As I sat in a chair in the small living room, the dog’s tail wagged, swishing across the calves of my legs. If he was in the way, someone patted him on the head and gently squeezed around him.  I never saw anyone in that household show any sign of annoyance or irritation with anyone else, including the dog.

What a wonderful family!  They welcomed us and told us they genuinely wanted to share their home and their country with these strangers from America.