Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Opa

When I look at this photo -- taken of my Uncle Sjaak (on the left) and my father, Marinus, in 1937 in front of their Dutch Reformed Church elementary school, I have to think I really, really know where I got my fashion sense. They've both got that funky tie thing going, with my uncle's tie showing my trademark tie of the trailing end being longer than the leading end. Also, neither shirt really calls for a tie, but the fact that a tie is worn is a sign of knowing and striving towards a more upper-crust look.

Dad would have been 81 years old today, were he still alive. It's still hard to believe it's been nearly ten years since he died. We still say things like "Hello, Opa," or "Howya doin' Fritz," as we pass by the Lincoln Cemetery. We know he's not there, of course.

A few weeks ago, as i was tucking my seven-year-old girl in bed, she started crying. We'd been talking about going to see her Oma, and she was sad that she didn't get to meet Opa before he died. I told her I was sure that after he died but before she was born, he was with her in Heaven, giving her a few hints on how to deal with her parents. A few days ago, I taught her how to say my favorite Dutch word -- wortle, meaning carrot -- and she took to it immediately. I'm sure it's because of the Dutch lessons she got from her Opa before she came to us.

Like my daughter, I did not get to meet all of my grandparents. In fact, only my maternal grandmother was alive when I was born. My daughter's lucky in that she gets three out of four. So we try to spend as much time with them as we can, though I know I'm guilty of not spending enough time. So once and a while we get out the family albums and look at the pictures. I share stories about what it was like to live with Dad. And sometimes I'm shocked as to how little I remember. I'm going to start using this blog to write a few memories down before they fade completely.

So today's memory: They're often centered around work because in many ways that's how we interacted with Dad, through work. He was a bricklayer, and as young as I can remember -- probably eight or nine years old -- we went to work with him, increasingly more frequent as we got older. I can recall one day in my teenage years when I had the privilege of sleeping in the room Albert built out in the garage. As the work week wore on, I was getting more and more weary of getting up to go. So I began playing possum. Each morning Dad came to wake me up, and each morning I was more and more reluctant to get out of bed. One morning I heard the old 1948 Ford roar to life and leave the driveway without me. I was free. Free to do what I wanted. Free to stay home all day. I spent the day, well, doing what I wanted, but dreading the time Dad came home and I had to look in his eyes. He wanted his boys -- and girls -- to gain a good work ethic, and I was disappointing him. So I'm taking this lesson to heart with my own kids. I don't have a job where they can come and help, so when I'm at home doing whatever -- puttering in the shed or working on something at the computer -- I have to remember that those little shadows I have lurking behind me or looking over my shoulder want to be involved in what their Daddy is doing. So I try to get them involved, though some times all I do is fail in that by shooing them away.

This second photo, by the way, is also of my Dad and his brother. His brother's real name is Salomon. We've given that name as a middle name to our youngest boy. He worked in cement, building foundations and driveways. Shortly after he and Dad came to the United States, they got jobs as construction workers, building Idaho Falls High School. Dad and another fellow loaded Sjaak up in the trunk of a car with a wheelbarrow of cement, and then started across the rutted farmer's field with their load. The trunk lid started flapping, hitting Sjaak in the head. Of course he started cursing -- a good one for cursing was Sjaak. All Dad and the other guy could do was laugh. That sounds like something that would happen to me.

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