30.05.2013 - 30.05.2013 14 °C
As I have alluded to in past blog posts, this is the second trip for me and Muriel to the Netherlands. The last visit was in 1992, almost half a lifetime ago. As a result, everything appears vaguely familiar, yet at the same time brand new. The passage of time has seen subtle physical changes in the landscape with the rise of new buildings while there have been much substantial changes on the human level.
In the late afternoon, we went to visit a cemetery in Bodegraven where all my grandparents are buried along with some aunts and uncles. The cemetery has expanded since our first visit so many years ago. We couldn’t remember where the graves were located so we spread out to search the entire grounds. We considered ourselves very fortunate to be able to locate all four grandparents’ graves and the headstone of my uncle after a fairly brief search among the numerous resting places. It is a bit surreal to see your family history chiselled in stone. I had met only two of my grandparents in my lifetime and each of them only once. The physical distance between my childhood home and my parent’s childhood homes looked immense from the perspective of this cemetery. Today travel is so much easier and so much less costly that it makes it hard for my kids to imagine that grandparents and grandchildren might never meet as the result of emigration. It underlines the impact emigration has on families. It reminded me of the huge obstacles that my parents had to overcome without the benefit of family and extended family close by. It also brought to mind that in a much, much smaller way my siblings and I have also lived the emigration experience through our separation from extended family.
When we were in the Netherlands the first time, Muriel and I had been married just three years, we were childless and all four of our parents were living. We return now with two teenagers and having witnessed the passing of one child and two parents. Equally momentous changes have occurred in the lives of my extended family in the Netherlands. Although, we have had contact and a few visits with these relatives when they have come to Canada over the past two decades, there still has been huge gaps between meetings. What is amazing is the atmosphere of familiarity that develops so quickly even after such lapses in time. The bonds that tie families together are neither uniform nor truly definable. What I have found astounding during my visits with relatives, is the ability of these bonds to perist, no matter how thinly stretched or worn by the passage of time. It seems that there is some sort of special grace or dispensation that allows for contact and conversation to so easily begin anew.
Today we visited my Uncle Floor and Aunt Ank and my cousin Mariette her husband Kok and daughter Sophie, my Cousin Frono and his wife Bep and three children and my Cousin Renata. Mariette and Kok generously hosted the gathering in their beautiful home situated right on the Rhine River in the home town of my Dad. It was amazing how quickly five hours of good conversation over great food (pickled herring, smoke salmon and Indonesian pork satay being just a few of delicacies served) passed. Hannah and Abby enjoyed a ride along the Rhine in a Zodiac with their second cousin Sophie and we were all impressed with their two and half year old second cousin David, who could speak words in English and French as well as Dutch. We were equally amazed to learn that my both my aunt and uncle who are in their late seventies continue to ski every winter in Switzerland. It was heartening know that we also have a share in these great family genes. We left this family gathering feeling a little more connected with my Dad’s roots and continuing to ponder the nature of family bonds in the light of emigration.