My Favorite Dutchman
“I guess it really all started with my Opa and my Oma,” He said.
I sat straight up in my chair. It was a good thing that I was in mid-chew and not mid-swallow when he said that or I might have choked on my food. I could not believe what I was hearing. It had been such a LONG time since I had heard ANYONE say Opa.
He continued talking about his family as I sat down my fork. I smiled across the table at him wondering if he noticed my entire mood had changed. He was still chattering about his brothers & sisters and his childhood home before I could get my shoulders to relax and my heartbeat to return to a normal pace.
“Slaap goed Opa” (Sleep Well Grandpa) I said to myself under my breath remembering vividly the last time I had said those words. It was February 1990, and my very first experience in learning to let someone you love go. Not something I wanted to be reliving at that moment, so instead I choked back tears and candidly asked, “So your family is Dutch?”
He started off on another subject about how his family got its roots, and I sat back in my chair and saved my Opa story for a day like today. He never asked how I made the connection, and I never let on until much later that my own family had Dutch roots of our own.
I never told him at all actually, it would be my Momma' that would bring up our Dutch roots as we sat visiting with her and my Dad in their living room one night. As she spoke I cracked a small smile and looked away from her to blink back tears. I think she knew in that moment that it was one discussion we had never had.
If you have been following my blogs since the beginning you might remember me mentioning my Momma’ coming to the U.P. to work on a farm with one of her friends. That friend’s name was Lena, who just so happened to have a brother named Calvin, and wouldn’t you know it; he just happened to be best friends with my Dad. All of them are still close to this day, but back then the one thing they ALL had in common was a feisty old Dutchman named Harm Veldt.
Now back in those days the old farm used to reside over on S Piche Road, which isn’t too far from where my Dad and his brothers grew up. So it really is no wonder my Momma’ and Dad ended up buying the corner lot on M-28 and Piche Side Road so many years ago. Of course, they have long since sold that piece of property to buy the farm they own now, but my brother and I have handprints on a sidewalk at the old property capturing a moment in time and encasing it forever for anyone that ever steps foot on there now.
Now my Grandpa Harm wasn’t my real Grandpa, but we spent so much time together over the years until he passed away that he quickly earned that title. I never knew him as anything else. Frankly, I never called him anything else. He was Grandpa Harm, and I was his little girl. We were the VERY BEST of friends. When we were together we were connected at the hip, and there was no separating us.
Any chance I was given as a little girl, summers were spent on the old farm on 46th Street in Lawrence, MI. To say that I spent more time in Lawrence, Paw Paw, Lawton, Decatur, and Shipshewana growing up as a little girl in the summers would be an understatement. I spent more time traveling the country back roads in the front seat of that Ol’ Hunter Green Ford just Grandpa, Spike and me than I did anything else.
It was a very different time back then. A time when old farmers saw things through from start to finish, sharpened tools & knives on an old grinding wheel powered by a foot pedal, and Aunt Lena even did laundry in an old washer like the one pictured below. We were never allowed near it or in the entryway when it was running for fear that one of our arms or ponytails would get stuck it in it if we did happen to get too close to it.
Grandpa was always the first one up, and could always be found at HIS place at the table having breakfast listening to the radio. More often than not I always caught him sneaking Spike, his old Australian Blue Heeler, table scraps when he wasn’t supposed to be. He would wink across the table, put a finger to his mouth symbolizing the “sshhhh” that wasn’t audible. I would always smile and wink back. Knowing full well if Aunt Lena caught him, he was going to be in serious trouble!
He would always ask me in the mornings, “Heb je goed geslapen?” (Did you sleep well child?)
To which I would always reply with a BIG smile on my face, “Ik deed Opa!” (I did Grandpa.)
I was excited when he started teaching me his “secret language.” As a little girl, I used to think that it was the neatest thing. There were only certain times that my Grandpa Harm ever spoke Dutch, when he was angry in the garage or barn, at the auctions with the other older Dutchman and Amish, which I would learn later in life was actually Pennsylvania Dutch (A Cross between Dutch & German), and when he was with me.
He used to tell me he could speak it all day long, but it would fall on deaf ears. That only the cattle and the sheep would hear him, and they didn’t much care which language he spoke as long as he still fed them. So when he whacked his thumb with a hammer and started spouting off words in Dutch one day in the garage I imagine it was hard for him to stay mad when I asked him, “Grandpa, what’s that mean?”
He looked back over his shoulder, stuck his thumb in his mouth, mumbled something that I still to this day couldn’t recognize if I tried, and then stopped what he was doing. When he turned around he said, “You really want to know don’t you Becca' Dawn?”
“Yep, I sure do,” I said with a smile on my face.
He smiled back at me and said, “Well it's Dutch.”
“Oh,” I said.
At that point, Grandpa busted out in laughter, and I just sat there wide eyed looking at him confused as ever. He walked over and patted the top of my head and said, “It is a different language Becca' Dawn!” I sat for a moment and then asked, “Like a secret language?” He looked at me, smiled and said, “Well yes, and no. Secret if you don’t understand it, but easy once you do! I will teach you!”
I was old enough to start remembering, and on our drives to the store to get Turtle Ice Cream or the 60-mile drive to Shipshewana he would ask me words and make sure I knew the correct translations. Sometimes I would get them right away, other times not so much, but he did not let me quit, and each Summer I learned more and more words and added more to my vocabulary by the time I would return home to start school at the end of August.
My most favorite lesson came the summer that I was 7. Grandpa Harm couldn’t walk a lot, he had lost a foot and part of his other leg and had to walk with a cane. It didn't stop him any, but he certainly wasn’t winning any marathons. He would get to where he was going, but he wasn’t ever in much of a rush to get there.
As we slowly wandered around the flea market waiting for the Auction to start Grandpa and I came upon an Agate Dealer. He had never had a stand at the market before, and I was immediately drawn to all of the beautiful things laid out on the tables in front of me. Being all of 7 years old I was JUST a bit bigger than the tables so I could literally see EVERYTHING at eye level. Grandpa must have noticed my eyes light up when I got to the “TEAL” one because he immediately said, “Becca’ Dawn, do you see that sign?” I turned and looked at him, and then back at the sign. I then sounded out “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH.”
I looked up at Grandpa, as he asked the man if he could look at the “TEAL” one. The man told him yes! I was immediately EXCITED! As Grandpa held it in his hand he said, “I want you to look really close at it and tell me what you see.” I looked at the beautiful rock in his hand and was shocked at how shiny and beautiful it was close up. I looked up at him and said, “I see a beautiful rock with many different colors, and it is very shiny.” He smiled and then closed his hand around the agate.
He lowered his hand in front of me and opened his hand back up to me at eye level, and this time the back side of the agate was showing, the NOT so pretty side. Again he said to me, “Tell me what you see.” I wrinkled my nose and said, “The backside of a very pretty rock, and it isn’t very pretty at all.” He laughed and flipped the rock back around with his thumb and said, “As you grow Becca’ Dawn you are going to learn that PEOPLE are very much like this rock you see here. They will show you the PRETTY side, the SHINY side, and they will keep the BACK SIDE, the NOT SO PRETTY SIDE, the SIDE they don’t want to show the rest of the world HIDDEN. Be careful who you let in your circle, the shiny, pretties, aren’t always the most real people. Do you understand?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “Sorta’, I think so.”
He smiled and said, “Well we will buy this “PRETTY ROCK” so that it can serve as a daily reminder of what I just told you. Then he winked at me and paid the man behind the table. The man behind the table gave us a black velvet drawstring bag to put it in. You had best believe I carried that beautiful rock with me EVERYWHERE for the rest of the Summer until I returned home and then it sat on the mantle above my bed by my alarm clock every single day until our house burned.
The following Summer was the first time I got to wander off on my own, he didn’t like it much, but he let me go anyhow. When I say wander what I really mean is Grandpa could see me across all the auction pens, and I was within ear shot of a two finger whistle if need be. None the less I felt important and wandered around looking at the live stock like I had big business to attend to.
I came upon the pig pen and found a young boy a little older than me standing up on the gate. “You aren’t supposed to be up there!” I said, He turned around and looked down at me and said, “You aren’t supposed to be wearing pants, but you are.” I looked up at him, down at my overalls, shoved my hands in my pockets and dug the toe of my barn boot into the pile of dirt by the gate. “Well, why are you wearing that hat and suspenders?” I asked. He looked back at me and said, “Not sure. Just what they gave me I suppose.”
I kicked the pile of dirt with the toe of my barn boot. “I’m Becky.” I said. He looked down at me, smiled and said, “You have a proper name?” “Well, I am too young to be married,” I exclaimed. “No, I mean what does your Mother call you?” “Oh, well she calls me Becky Dawn,” I said. “That won’t do,” He said shaking his head and giggling. “Well, my Grandpa calls me Becca’ Dawn,” I said. “How come he calls you that?” he asked, “Well I suppose its cause my name is Rebecca,” I said, “YES – YOU HAVE A PROPER NAME!” he yelled back, “Well yeah I guess so!!” I said with a giggle, “My name is Eli.” He said, “Just Eli.” I smiled as he jumped down from the gate and we took off in a VERY serious game of tag! As he ran off past the pens I yelled out to him, “Well it is nice to meet you, JUST Eli!”
Now as long as we behaved, didn’t make a fuss, stayed out of the way and didn’t draw attention to ourselves we were allowed to play. Sometimes Eli would bring his sister Mary. At first, Mary was really quiet, but once she warmed up we were fast friends. They also had an older sister Elizabeth who would always braid my hair. Her doing so would start the adventure of Grandpa Harm using a rope in the barn to teach me how to braid myself.
I would spend HOURS braiding and unbraiding that rope, to the point that I would get blisters. To which he would say, “Nothing comes without sacrifice Becca’ Dawn. Sometimes you have to push through the pain to get to the things you want in life.”
I must have looked funny with my brow furrowed so much as a kid trying to understand the GRAND lesson in all his quotes. I chuckle even now thinking about how much he taught me in the short 9 years that God graced my life with his presence.
He is the reason that I love salted black licorice, windmills, stroopwafels, and just as almost every Summer morning with him started with Pickwick Tea; as does my Summer mornings even now. The reason that my favorite soup is Erwtensoep (Pea Soup), the very reason I love all things about Peacocks – I wish EVERYONE could have met Roscoe the Salty Old Peacock he had at the farm, the reason that I had my very first pearl handled pocket knife, and why I even started collecting stamps. He gave me a stamp like the one pictured below and it was the very first in a LONG line of stamps collected over the years.
Every Summer was full of magic! Until I was 9 years old every single Summer was spent learning lessons that would live with me forever. Even if I didn’t know it then, he was diligently teaching me things he KNEW would one day serve me purpose.
Recently I did a locate on an Amish Farm. I was locating a fiber line when a small child came out and in broken English said, “Hello, what are you doing in the field?” I smiled and said, “Well I am locating your telecommunications lines.” He cocked his head to one side and just looked at me. I thought for a second about what I had just said. “Oh, it is a phone line. There is a phone line running through your field. Are your parents here?” I asked. “Jah!” he said and took off running towards the house.
I continued locating and after awhile I turned to see a small crowd of people approaching me. I smiled as I counted 7 small children approaching with 2 older men, and 2 teenage boys in tow behind them. The small boy hadn’t just called his Dad, he had called in the entire family. “Hello!” I said with a wave and a smile.
The older of the two men waved at me, as he made his way through the children followed by the other gentleman. As they approached me I could see two girls whispering to one another as they pointed at my pants. I chuckled silently to myself and thought of Eli and my encounter with him so very long ago. As the Dad got closer he said, “I hear there is something here.” I turned and pointed at the paint and flags on the ground. “Yes Sir, there is a telecommu, Uh, a telephone line, a fiber line actually running through this field. Right where you are pounding in fence posts actually.” I said.
He looked at me, then looked around me, then looked at the other man standing next to him put his hand on his chin and said, “Glaubst du, wir haben es geschlagen?” (do you think we hit it?)
I held up my hand, shook my head and said, “Nein!”
It took all of us a second to realize what had just happened, and I was instantly red in the cheeks as all the children started pointing fingers and chattering among themselves. The older of the two men held up his hand and in an instant there was silence.
In broken English, he said, “You understand our language?” I looked at him and made the small symbol with my two fingers and held it up. I set my equipment down, turned to him and said, “It has been a REALLY long time since I have heard anyone speak Pennsylvania Dutch. My Grandpa was Dutch but spoke both German and Dutch, so I learned what I do know from him. I am surprised I even understood what you were saying after all this time.”
“May I see your brand?” He asked, “I’m sorry, my brand? I am not sure I understand?” I replied, “May I?” he asked, as he pointed towards my hand.
“My brand,” I said, “My tattoo,” I whispered realizing he must have seen the German writing on my left hand. I turned my hand towards him so he could see it. “What does that say?” he asked, “Uberlebender,” I replied, “it means Survivor in German.”
He stood looking at me, then to the other gentleman, and finally to the children before speaking in a voice that was barely audible to the other gentleman. All at once two children broke free from the group and ran towards the house. I reached down to gather my equipment to continue my locate as the two children came running back to the group.
They handed a package to the older gentleman who then turned to me and said, “This is from our family. We want you to have it, all of it comes right from this farm. I hope you and your family enjoy them.” I thanked all of them, finished my locate and returned to my truck. Inside the package were eggs, loaves of bread, and some homemade jam/jelly. I smiled at their generosity and was quickly taken back to a time when life was a tad simpler.
The summer before Grandpa Harm passed away, our very last visit to the Shipshewana Flea Market/Auction. Looking back I won’t ever know if Gramps knew it would be our last or not, but when we stopped and he put the truck in park he said, “Becca’ Dawn, let's make today about seeing all the things you always wanted to but we never got to this Summer ok?” I smiled and said, “Well sure! I think I am ok with that!”
We saw all the things I wanted to see. The booth with the wooden snakes, The booth with the foam ice cream shooters, the booth with 1,000 pencils, the booth with all the pocket knives and that was the VERY first summer I went home with my very OWN knife! We smelled all the food, laughed hysterically at each other’s jokes, and did nothing but live in THOSE moments. It was almost dark by the time we were rounding up to leave, and I knew that in the days to follow I would soon be headed North towards home as Summer was coming to an end.
It never occurred to me that Summer when I left the farm that it would be my last moments with Grandpa Harm. I was a KID, you don’t think about such things….but when the phone rang on that night in February during the Grammy Awards, I could never even begin to fathom the heartache that I could feel at 9 years old.
“Rebecca. Rebecca Dawn did you hear what I just said?” Momma' asked; I remember looking across the room to see my brother standing there with tears streaming down his face. I looked straight ahead at her, she was kneeling before me now with her hands on my face. If Jason was crying it meant it was REAL, that this was really happening.
She had just told me that my BEST FRIEND had died and that he was whole again as he danced with the angels in heaven. I didn’t even know I was crying until she reached up to wipe my tears. I also hadn’t realized my Dad standing in the doorway until he spoke; “He is no longer in any pain.” I still remember not even believing him as the words left his mouth, I didn’t want to believe it was real, that it was really happening.
Behind Momma’ on the TV someone was accepting an award, people were clapping and cheering & all I remember thinking was, “How can anyone even be happy right now?” My heart was breaking at 9 years old and I just couldn’t understand why the world was still moving, still happening, still just GOING on like nothing happened.
It took YEARS for me to comprehend the hit I took that evening, and even when I was old enough to finally understand, I still wasn’t fully prepared for it. When you stand in a church surrounded by everyone that you love, next to EVERY SINGLE STRONG man that you EXPECT to hold you up and you watch as they break down and cry in front of you; you realize how cruel and scary the world REALLY is in those moments.
9 years old - I sat watching as my Dad, all my Uncles, and every single man in my life other than my Papaw who was up at the pulpit giving the eulogy for Grandpa Harm, lose control and fall apart. It was the only time my Papaw had stood in front of a church and I hated all the words coming out of his mouth. I was sickened by his words as he spoke of eternal life, God’s Love, and I wanted it to stop! If he stopped talking, it meant it couldn’t be happening!!!
There was NO way I was surrounded by every man that I knew and loved in such a fragile state. I wanted my Grandpa Harm back. I wanted my Opa. I wanted to share strawberries straight from the patch, and do chores with him in the barn. I wanted to hold his hand and sing to him while he pricked his other finger to draw blood for his blood sugar because he said it made him less scared when I did.
I wanted to share morning tea, and listen to the weather on the radio. I wanted to work in the garage and sort nuts and bolts into coffee cans. I wanted him to WAKE UP, WHY WOULDN’T HE JUST WAKE UP?! People all around me were crying, and then everyone started singing. This couldn’t be happening, I did not want to believe it was real. So before my Momma’ could stop me I left her side as they all continued to sing and bolted straight for the front of that church.
It closed in on me as I got closer to that casket. 9 years old and I thought I could take on the world. I was JUST tall enough thanks to the “Kiddie Heels” Momma’ had made me wear with that STUPID dress. I wanted to wear barn boots and overalls, but she was NOT having any of it!
Then suddenly before I knew it; I was face to face with Grandpa Harm, My Opa.
He looked like he was sleeping, but at least they had chosen “GOOD” overhauls and a good work shirt to put him in. His red beard was combed to perfection, as was his hair. I looked down at his hands, they had them crossed, he would have never settled on that. Just didn’t even suit him or his nature. His hands were clean; his nails were clean. They looked like they had never worked a day in the barn or the garage.
I had just finally gathered up the courage to reach out and touch him when Papaw appeared at my side. I looked up at him and he nodded down at me as my hand touched Grandpa Harm’s. I pulled back almost immediately when I felt how cold his hand was. It sends a shiver down my spine even now, just as it did back then to even think about it.
I settled for touching the edge of the casket as I spoke my final words to him. “Slaap goed Opa.” (Sleep Well Grandpa) I said as I looked up and saw my brother and I’s photo along with our cousins in the lid of the casket. I choked out, “I love you!” as Papaw leaned down and said, “He is with the Lord now, may his soul rest in peace. Let’s find our way back to your Momma’ & Daddy,” as the music was just about to end.
I turned on my heel and returned to the pew where my Momma’ was and sat in between her and my Dad. I sat there numb and confused. 9 years old, full of questions no one seemed to have any answers to, and even though we were sitting in a church I was ANGRY! I was angry at God, and I would STAY angry at God for taking my very best friend for a VERY long time after that.
Something about losing your best friend when you are 9 years old teaches you lessons about life that you are never truly ever able to really come back from. The innocence that other kids my age still held on to or clung to was dead to me now. Life was cruel and I KNEW it. I was living it, and I had experienced it first hand as it smacked me in the face and then continued to smack me down over the years when I least expected it.
I was 9 years old when my entire world shattered around me. 9 years old when I finally lost My Favorite Dutchman. Over the years it was something I couldn’t even think about without getting upset. As time went on and the hurt numbed over; it became something I could “handle,” but still NOTHING I could speak openly about.
I never dreamed in all my life that I would be 35 years old when God would decide that in order to TRULY process the loss of my very best friend; he would send me another Dutchman that would ultimately change the woman I was yet to become. God made sure that this Dutchman would hold my hand, soften my heart and put me on a path that would bring me closer than ever to him.
Losing Grandpa (Opa) Harm taught me at a young age that to live life; you’re going to have to deal with loss. Even now I’m struggling with that very thing as I sit and type out yet ANOTHER piece of my life for the world to see. I don’t think the pain and heartache that we feel from the moments that shape us into the people we become along the way EVER REALLY goes away. We process, we deal, and we hope like crazy that along the way at SOME point it just STOPS hurting. Sometimes….well sometimes some of us aren’t that lucky.
I hurt for a LONG time after I lost him, and looking back I know that had I given in and just LET GOD do his thing I would be in a very DIFFERENT place. I also know in the same breath that doing so would have set me on a completely different path in this life. One that the good Lord knew I wasn’t fully prepared for, and honestly I can THANK him now for allowing me to stay so lost for so long.
I wish every single day that My Favorite Dutchman was still here. I wonder what he would be like now, how much he would have adored my own Littles, and what kind of adventures they would have gone on together. Thinking of the lessons he would have taught them first-hand makes my heart skip a beat. Instead, I smile & thank the good Lord that he let me have my Opa even if it was only for 9 short years. I have memories….and lots of them. The advice he taught me I hand down to my Littles as often as I can or they will let me.
I THANK the good Lord every single day that he gave me one other Dutchman in my life that showed me that sometimes if you just TRUST that it will all work out; well sometimes that just happens. (It was something that Grandpa Harm also used to say often.)
God has a funny way of always knowing what we need, and when we need it. For that I am most certainly grateful; I am precisely where I need to be because of that very statement. If I had known then what I know now; how different things would be.
“In God’s Time Rebecca, In God’s Time.” ~ Jamie Lewis-Fegan (Momma')
**I originally finished this blog to send over to be edited awhile back. Re-reading through it was not easy, but necessary so that I can add this part before I release it to all of you. Back when I was younger I was angry with God, and never understood the purpose behind any of what he did. As the years rolled on I learned my Faith would be tested in more ways than I could ever dream possible. God wasn’t something I cared to even speak about so openly; let alone LET him inside my life & let him love me.
TODAY – Today is completely different. Today I can sit in front of a computer and type out the words:
My name is Rebecca, I have 3 beautiful children gifted to me by God himself; fathered by 3 different men, two failed marriages, I make mistakes daily; I am tattooed; sassy; I fail the good Lord more than I care to admit. I am nowhere NEAR perfect, but that SAME God that I hated and stayed SO angry at for SO long; HE LOVES ME & HIS GRACE IS ENDLESS. IF THAT SAME GOD CAN FORGIVE & LOVE ME FOR ALL THAT I HAVE DONE WRONG IN MY LIFE; HE CAN DO THE SAME FOR ANYONE!
I never believed that it was possible, and it took losing my Favorite Dutchman & along the way being gifted another to truly learn what God’s Grace could really do for my life. In the end, I have no doubts that both God and Opa Harm had their hands on the wheel for this one. My Momma' used to tell me growing up - If a Man isn't running with you, blazing a trail towards the Good Lord; well honey he ain't for you." I never knew how true those words really were until just recently.
Today – as I sit getting ready to release this blog; I will also be finishing pulling together the vows that I will be speaking out loud as I marry a young couple this coming weekend. You read that correctly. For those of you that didn’t know; my ordination is complete and I am officially an Ordained Minister.
NOW GO AHEAD AND TELL ME TO MY FACE THAT GOD’S GRACE ISN’T ENDLESS; BECAUSE NO ONE WILL EVER CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE AFTER THE HELL ON EARTH I HAVE HAD TO WALK THROUGH TO GET TO WHERE I AM AT THIS VERY MOMENT.
I can both chuckle and smile at the same time knowing that my Papaw Jimmy must be proud. THIS grandbaby of his FINALLY made it to the point where speaking openly about God, his grace and his endless love is a daily occurrence. I wish both Papaw and Opa Harm were here to see the woman that I have grown into, but I KNOW that they are up there punching one another on the shoulder and saying, “Wouldya’ look at that; I told you she would get there!”
So looking back – After All This Time – I can honestly smile knowing it took a lot longer than everyone had hoped for me to get to where I needed to be. In the end though; God LITERALLY showed me from one favorite Dutchman to another that I am right where I need to be.
In 1990 he took My 1st Favorite Dutchman home, and this year when he was ready for me to get to where I was headed; he told the other one that it was time to, "Let Go." He certainly does work in the most mysterious of ways, then again how would we EVER learn to just TRUST the process.
That my friends, truly is the most beautiful lesson that AFTER ALL THIS TIME I ended up learning from My Two Favorite Dutchmen. Trust the process, God has got YOU and he KNOWS your purpose.
Romans 8:28 ~ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. ~