This is far from the first time for us to be back in this very unique (yes!) little country since our families left the Netherlands in 1951 and 1952. Fred came back as an 11 year old with his family in 1957, we spent 4 weeks here during our 1976 round-the-world trip, and we’ve visited 3 more times now in the past 15 years.
It is special every time – so many relatives, memories, the first language we learnt (but now very much our 2nd), and wow, the “culture”! Such a rich body of history, civilisation, art, literature, learning, etc, and so different from the relatively “new world” in which we usually live.
We’re renting a centrally located holiday house with five of Helen’s siblings and in our talk, also with the local family members, we often agree that with the benefit of hindsight our parents may well not have migrated. Fred has written before for this site about the main pros and cons of migration as it affected him.
Fred’s parents were able to take all their four very young children, but this little family of six was the only one of its generation to migrate and this separated them from their cultural and family roots forever. Helen’s oldest brother and sister still live in the Netherlands; 8 of the 9 children came out with her parents but the eldest son later repatriated. This division has caused pain, and both of us grew up effectively without any of our extended family: we were children without grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins… and the many little joys and links that come with them.
In many ways we and most of our siblings feel quite at home here in the Netherlands; Helen’s brothers and sisters being older than us meant that migration cut them off from dear school friends as well as relatives and it dropped them into a new country where it would take them many years to “make up”. They return here more often than we do which allows them to keep up with some of these friends.
We also realise that we all actually belong to two countries and are quite content to go back home to the space, much more agreeable weather and less formality of Oz. But interestingly Aussies are also it seems to us a more “sun scorched” people: the faces in the streets and cafes here in the Netherlands are typically more open, cheerful and friendly than in Australia, and the clothes more stylish and colourful, yet somehow the Dutch also have something (though thankfully not all) of British stuffiness: very intriguing.
Our Sunday visits to local churches have been interesting to say the least: more of that in another blog.
Visiting and being visited by some of the few survivors of our parents’ generation have confronted us again with the old-age-related struggles of life to maintain a healthy but sometimes elusive tension between opposites. Some are depressed about their present situation, some seem to be waiting stoically for death. How delightful it is to observe how genuinely and humbly grateful some are for every small act of kindness and thoughtfulness, and how others are able to pick themselves up after a grief, dust off their loss and discover a new life. How important is it to find that balance between truth, passion and idealism on the one hand, and reality, gratitude and acceptance on the other.
We’ll be the next generation into that age category!