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Family and Emigration

by Ben

14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Ben's Grandparents

Ben's Grandparents

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.

Ben and his Uncle and Aunt

Ben and his Uncle and Aunt

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.

Ben's Father's Brother and His Family

Ben's Father's Brother and His Family

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.

Posted by KZFamily 15:15 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family netherlands

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19:55 pst 06/02/2013
Well written Ben.
I think it is only as we get older and establish a family that we begin to understand and appreciate the bonds that exist with family faraway. We do not understand it until we meet together and share ourselves, pictures , events and jus the ability to be with each other if only for a few hours.
I can certainly relate to being an immigrant and families not easily available due to distance , time , normal life's journeys. In my case I left a grandfather, uncle , cousins and though two grandparents existed in Canada ( having emigrated themselves) a divorce of my parents blew that connection apart. Raised in a Boy's home was more removal. Once married though we now had my wife as an immigrant and all her families separated but with todays ability to fly easy if not cheap we could visit the Caribbean and stay in touch though when you are young, cousins though have an excuse to be present or not based on activities. Our main point was to visit the parents and all. course we enjoyed the Island and friends.
Once we had children though we realized how important it was to make regular trips to keep the family bonds active and to ensure the young people knew who was who in the flesh. As they will one day see each other as Adult families.
Interesting enough all the cousins and ourselves now ensure we make time during a visit to be together for a few day visits and events. In our case we are all the grandparents watching young ones or the young adults we raised together being social.
Too much sharing perhaps but I agree with your post fully.

by RobBar

Enjoyed your thoughts and they are oh so true. My grandparents left the UK for the prairies in the 1900's & never saw their family ever again. It was the era of letters which carried on throughout their lives. My adult cousins are all across Canada & are very special even though we do not see each other very often. Email is wonderful!

by Sharon Gelling

Well said Ben. I think it was a privilege to share these thoughts with your children as well. I have had similar experiences, especially more so with my more recent visit which afforded me the opportunity to reconnect in a more meaningful way with many of my extended family. I am grateful for the many visits I have had to connect with my extended family and more importantly the last time to take more time to imagine what life was like for Mom and Pa as they began their life in this country and its impact on the life they came to have in Canada.

by Helen Koning

Thank you Ben for this thoughtful blog. Sharing your thoughts with us means a lot to me. The lives of first generation immigrants were complicated and at times tough. You showed us that you understand that. When you visited the graves of your grandparents you see something of the roots you have in another country. When I visited the graves of my parents in 1995 it struck me that they were surrounded by the graves of their friends and family. All these people had lived for a life-time together in the same town and were buried in the same cemetery.
Immigrant life does influence a person for life, but also reenforces the values you learned during your youth. That is why so many immigrants hang on these values for life. I just wanted to share my thoughts with you and fellow commentators. Your dad.

by G Koning

Yes life is much different now. I didn't see much of my English family due to distance and the cost of traveling. Even phone calls were too expensive to consider.

Rhine river on a zodiac sounds fun - why no pictures?

by Jane1

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