Monday, September 7, 2015

four things I inherited from Oma

Today would have been my paternal grandmother's 95th birthday. Oma was a strong, stubborn, and independent woman, yet wholly convinced of her need for a Savior. Because her death in 2014 coincided precisely with our family's move to Oregon, many of her possessions found a place in our new home. From teacups to cabinets and doilies to delft, most rooms in our house hold a piece of her legacy. In honor of her birthday, here are a few of the most valuable gifts she bequeathed to me:

1. The Quest for Information

My library on Oma's shelves (Photo: C. Imes)
Oma was not a scholar, but her coffee table was always stacked with books, magazines, and newspapers in English and Dutch. Her TV was always set to an international news channel. These shelves, now filled with my own books, once held hers. Though she immigrated from Holland to Canada as an adult and never lost her thick, Dutch brogue, Oma learned English so well that she could beat any native speaker at a game of Scrabble.

2. The Rhythm of Hospitality 

Oma's well-used teacups (Photo: C. Imes)
Having people over was no big "to-do" for Oma, it was simply a part of life. I spent many a Sunday afternoon at Oma and Opa's house, having tea and cookies before the noon meal and visiting with out-of-town guests. The meals were not exotic, and I don't recall ever seeing Oma flustered in the kitchen. The solid predictability of the menu (meat, potatoes, gravy, beans, cauliflower, and apricot sauce) matched the steadiness of her demeanor. Mealtime was not a culinary exhibition, but a time to gather for conversation and to read the daily devotional and pray.

John and Barbara (Brinkman)
Camfferman, 1949
3. The Determination to Stand for what's Right

Naturally, I knew Oma only in the last half of her life, when the settled rhythms of gardening, housework, volunteering, and Sunday services defined her week. Her early years were half a world away, on a farm in the Netherlands lovingly known as "Kalf 20." She walked to school over bridges and past windmills, milked cows, biked everywhere on top of the dikes, and in the winter ice-skated on frozen canals. By the time World War 2 erupted, she was in her 20's. Her mother had already died, so she kept house for her father and siblings. The rest of her energies she devoted to the Dutch Resistance. I doubt she felt brave. She just did what had to be done — carrying messages past Nazi soldiers by hiding them, rolled up in the handlebars of her bicycle. When stopped and questioned, she lied, heart pounding inside her chest. By the grace of God, she was never caught. After the war ended, she helped with relief efforts, proudly wearing the orange arm band that identified her as a member of the Dutch Resistance. (The royal "house" in the Netherlands is known as the "House of Orange," which explains both the color and the word embroidered on the band. It's a patriotic symbol.)

4. The Impulse to Write


Letter from Oma to her family back home in Holland
shortly after her move to Canada, 1949
It wasn't until after her death that I recognized what should have been as plain as the Dutch nose on Oma's face: she was a writer. My parents unearthed box after box of letters she had received over the years from siblings and cousins and in-laws across Canada and back in Holland — letters written in response to her own. A niece of hers began assembling the correspondence between the Brinkman siblings during the years just after WW2. Oma married a dashing Dutch soldier who had been stationed in England and they quickly immigrated to Canada where they could start a new life together. Letters flew from one side of the ocean to the other with regularity. In addition to letters, year after year Oma kept a diary, with brief notes about each day (the weather, visitors, anything unusual). During the war she wrote more extensively, leaving behind a treasure of information about life in the Netherlands under the Nazi regime as well as Brinkman family history. In the last two years of Oma's life, she felt the growing urgency of getting her story down in writing. Dozens of drafts of her life story, highlighting the war years, were tucked in boxes and drawers.

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Oma would have been the first to tell you that she and I are very different. She was not an academic, and other than a brief stint as a school bus driver and a house cleaner, she was never employed outside the home. I have never been through a war, and I am no longer a member of the [Dutch/Christian/United] Reformed Church that was her spiritual home throughout her 83 years of life.

All the same, if you look through the "house" that is my life, you'll see her influence in almost every room. I'm sure I inherited more than my fair share of her stubbornness, and I plan to keep filling her shelves with books and her teacups with tea, to stand for justice and truth in the face of evil in my generation, and to keep writing. For writing is the most tangible legacy we can leave to our children. Thank you, Oma, for leaving me yours.

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