Category Archives: Family Stories

The Story of Anje Jans

The year is 1745.

Jean Jacques Rousseau is 33 years old, Voltaire is 51, Carl Linnaeus 38 and Benjamin Franklin 39.  The author of Gulliver’s travels, Jonathan Swift died.  In England king George II ruled. Bonnie Prince Charley came to Scotland to claim the English throne, but was defeated at Culloden the year after. In France king Louis XV sat on the throne, in Austria empress Maria Theresia and in Germany the philosopher-king Fredrick II.  In the United Dutch Republics the people called for a prince of Orange-Nassau, who was invited to become the ‘stadtholder’ under the name of Willem IV in 1747. Continue reading

Coming to America–54 years later

The first of October 1953 we set foot on American soil. Gosh it was hot. It was 95 degrees in the shade and, of course, we had on our fall clothes as it had started getting cooler in the Netherlands and there was an 11 day trip on the Atlantic Ocean to deal with.  Dad and I slept in the hold in what looked like a barracks on bunks that were stacked 2 or three high. Mom and Etty had a litle room on one of the lower decks. The room was just large enough for mom’s bed and a trundle bed for Etty.

Our last meal was the morning of the 1st when we ate breakfast on board the SS Sibajak (the boat we arrived on). Mom, with a lot of foresight, grabbed a few apples and bananas that she hid in her purse. We were not allowed to take food off of the ship. The ship had docked in Hoboken, NJ. The men on the ship helped the ship’s crew unload some of the crates with belongings as there was a dock strike. I remember seeing several crates floating in the harbor. Lucklily, ours were not among them. We had 2 crates that were a little larger than the foot lockers that were used in the service. As a matter of fact one of the crates was a foot locker that my grandfather and dad both used in the Dutch military. I still have that footlocker.

We were processed off of the ship by customs agents and Immigration. Once off of the ship, there were folks from the Ditch Immigrant Society that assisted us to make sure that we got on the proper bus to take us to Grand Central station in New York City.  Once at the station we had to wait until it was time to get on our train. What a mess. Luckily, the Dutch Immigrant Society was there again to assist. We got on the train and departed New York City at 6 pm.  We traveled coach of course.  All the tickets werre purchased ahead of time as when we got to the U.S. Dad had a dollar in his pocket.  We shared some of the fruit that mom had stashed and tried to sleep as we would not get to Kalamazoo, Michigan for quite a few hours. It would take until 10 am the next morning.

My mother’s sister, Grace (Grietje) and her husband Bill (Willem) met us at the train station in Kalamazoo.  We were promptly initiated to a hamburger and soda pop before we made the 30 mile trip by car in Uncle Bill’s 1948 Kaiser to Decatur where Uncle Bill and Aunt Grace had a farm.

Sinterklaas memories from Eltje and Geesjen Doddema

If you remember I had mentioned that I had emailed several relatives about their Sinterklaas memories ie. what made it important to them. Geesjen Doddema responded with this and I’ll just paste the whole email here:

Hello Bernard,

Sinterklaas was: 1 week before the big day we were allowed to put a shoe next to the stove, just before we went to bed. In the shoe, we put something for the (grey) horse of Sinterklaas, for example an apple, or a carrot, or a head of curly kail. And ofcourse the horse got some water in a bowl. Then you had to sing a nice Sinterklaas-song and go to bed, without the usual complaining or dawdling.

Sinterklaas was riding on his horse over the rooftops, and Zwarte Piet climbed down the chimney to put something in your shoe, and take the food for the horse. The next morning you found something in your shoe, a little chocolate animal, or a small present. And you had to be on your best behaviour all the time, because Zwarte Piet was listening through the chimney wther you were a nice boy or girl. Worst case scenario (according to the grown ups) was: if you behaved badly, Zwarte Piet would put you in his bag, and take you away from your parents, onto the steamship to Spain.

On the evening of the 5th you had to sing all the Sinterklaas-songs you knew and hope for a really big present. That evening we became hot chocolate with “speculaaskoekjes”, or a “speculaaspop”, or gingerbread or ginger-nuts. The week before Sinterklaas, we ate ofcourse hotchpotch of curly kail, or “hete bliksem” which is a hotchpotch of potatoes, carrots and onions. Pure coincidence that you did that in your shoe the day before!

(You will have to ask your father what speculaaskoekjes are, I could not find that in my dictionary).

I hope this is the sort of story you were looking for.

Met vriendelijke groeten,

Geesjen Doddema, Harkstede

Thanks Geesjen for sharing. I look forward to any other submissions. My family and I love to hear how Doddema’s around the world celebrate their favorite holidays.

Sinterklaas memories – Dievertje Doddema


Like the children in America believe in Santa Claus, I believed in Sinterklaas, also known as Sint Nicolaas or De Goedheiligman. Every year on the second or third Saturday of November Sinterklaas comes with his steamship (the stoomboot) from Spain in the Netherlands. Now I know that steamship never came from Spain, but when I was little, I believed so. A week later he came in our village, every year it was a great celebration.My brother is five years older, so he had to play for years he also believed in Sinterklaas.

Some nights my mother told me to put a shoe in front of the stove, because the servants of Sinterklaas (called: zwarte pieten) would come through the chimney at night and put a present in my shoe. Just like Santa does to put it in a stocking. I always wondered how zwarte piet could manage that, because he had to screw the whole front of the stove of there to get into our living room. One day I asked my mother about that and she opened a small window just in case zwarte piet did not use the chimney. I remember that one night I’ve put my shoe in front of the stove I lied awake, a bit scared, because every minute zwarte piet could come into our living room. My room was next to the living room, so when I wanted to use the bathroom, I had to go through the living room. I was too scared to do that. Somehow I fell asleep and the next morning, very early, I watched if zwarte piet and Sinterklaas had brought something. And yes, there was a big present next to my shoe! When I went to my grandparents (the parents of my mother), my grandmother told me that Sinterklaas had left a present for us. The presents at my grandparents always came with a poem (a ‘Sinterklaasgedicht’) about how we behaved that year. Mostly we got new pajamas and we were always very happy with them.

And then, on the 5th of december, that was the day! Sinterklaas came at our school in the morning and we did sing when Sinterklaas walked into the school. The zwarte pieten always had bags with short bread (pepernoten) and other candy to scatter. And also we got a little present at the school. When I went home in the afternoon I was always very excited about the coming evening, when Sinterklaas would bring a lot of presents. At night, when it became dark, my other grandparents (the parents of my father) came and we waited together, while we were eating a piece of ‘banketletter’ (a typical Sinterklaas-related delicacy) till Sinterklaas and his zwarte pieten would arrive with the presents. Suddenly my father jumped up from the chair and said: I think I heard something! I was too scared to watch at the door. My father first watched and then he called us to tell Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet had left the presents at our back door! And there they were, a basket full of presents. We opened them impatient while our parents and grandparents enjoyed our happy faces. The next day we could play with our new presents, but I always was a bit disappointed that Sinterklaas went home (back to Spain) already, now I had to wait a whole year again for Sinterklaas to arrive again.

I hope you enjoy the story, It was also fun for me to write, it brings back a lot of memories.

Please also read the information with this link, because it also says something about racialization in relation with the ‘zwarte pieten’. It is a misunderstanding that ‘zwarte pieten’ have something to do with racism, it is just a tradition, I hope you understand that: