Monday, August 25, 2008

Do I know you from somewhere?

Sarita and I spent the last few days (Thursday evening through Sunday morning) on Mackinac Island just off the tip of the lower peninsula in Michigan. We were there for a Mission India meeting.

Saturday evening we were supposed to be the hosts at a dinner table for eight. Except, by the time the prayer is about to be said, no one has come to join us. All the other tables are full. Ours is empty . . . except for us!

Talk about feeling weird! I mean, they are all full, and our table is empty.

And then a couple sits down just as the prayer begins.

We are just making introductions after the prayer when another couple shows up . . .

The first couple, who sit on our right, are from Texas. The second couple, on our left, are from Texas, too.

They make a couple of jokes across the table to one another that seem to indicate they know each other.

I ask.

"No. We just met last night," says one of the husbands.

One of the men is an intellectual property attorney, the other says he slops cow barns, wrestles hay, and so forth: "All the heavy, dirty work that cow farmers don't want to do."

"Yah," says his wife, "and sometimes I do that work, too."

Then the third couple shows up and sits across the table from us. I can barely hear what they are saying, but I get the impression the husband has a foreign accent.

I shake his hand. "I'm John," I say.

"I'm Johan [YO-hahn]," says the husband. His wife's name is Sonya. They, too, are from Texas.

I make some comment about three couples from Texas, only one from Colorado . . . and we're all at a meeting in Michigan.

As the talk continues, we discover that Johan and Sonya don't know the first couple at all, but they and the second couple are very good friends. Indeed, the second couple do quite a bit of work for Johan and Sonya. And the four of them go to the same church.

As is still fairly common (though slowly becoming less so), many of the participants at Mission India meetings are of Dutch extraction. Sarita is. The second and third couple are. I and the first couple are not.

So we get talking about "things Dutch." It turns out, both of the husbands, guys in their low to mid-30s, are actually fairly recent immigrants from Holland. The guy to my left is from Groningen, the northeastern-most province of Holland, the other from Friesland [pronounced FREESS-lahnd], the province immediately to the west of Groningen.

"The Fries [FREESS] don't get along with anyone," someone jokes. [I'm sorry. I can't remember who said what.]

"Yeah. You never date or mix or do anything together," they joke. "If a group of bicyclists from Groningen and a group from Friesland meet, they will either bicycle in their own groups side-by-side, or one will fall in behind the other. But they will not intermix. Even if they go to the same school together. . . ."

The wives' backgrounds aren't quite so clear. I get the sense they were both born in the United States, but the one who sits next to me has stronger, perhaps first-generation, Dutch immigrant roots, while Sonya says something about having been born in the San Francisco Bay Area but then spent many years--from the time she was 11 until she was 19--in the Netherlands.

A little bit later, Sonya says something about having spent those years in Drenthe, the province immediately below Groningen. ("Wait," I am about to say to Sarita, "isn't that where your parents are from?" when Sonya continues . . . ) "in a little town called Dwingeloo.

"Dwingeloo!" Sarita exclaims. "My father came from Dwingeloo!"

"Oh?" says Sonya. "What is his family name?"

"Hessels," says Sarita.

"My grandmother's name was Hessels," says Sonya. "She had two brothers . . ." and she mentions their names.

"Actually," Sarita corrects her, now, "she had three brothers. The third was named Tienus. And he was my father."

"Ah! You are right! I think I have heard about him," says Sonya. "But he was not mentioned much."

"That's because he left Holland back in 1951," Sarita explains.

Sonya acknowledges she has heard something about that fact.

"Well, nice to meet you, cousin!" Sarita fairly shouts with apparent pleasure.

There is a slight pause. Then Sonya continues, "When I was preparing to come up here, my Aunt Allie [AHL-ee] told me I should look up the Michigan relatives, but I thought, 'No way! I don't know these people!' --And then, here you are!"

Out of the blue.

And a new-old family contact.

At the end of the meal, Sonya and I exchange names, addresses and phone numbers.

But I wonder: how do we establish--or re-establish--a family relationship that has been so long neglected?
blog comments powered by Disqus