Louis&Louise1942My earliest memory of Dad was riding behind him on his bike on the way to church in Utrecht.  This was probably the same bike he rode years before alongside my mother to her home in Breukelen after Mutual—several miles out of his way.  Her younger sister, Rietje, rode with them.  Occasionally, Rietje was abandoned on the bike path while my courting parents disappeared behind the bushes to steal a kiss or two or three, or until Rietje called and said she wanted to go home now

When I was riding on the back of Dad’s bike, I felt safe in the way only a four-year-old with caring parents can feel.  It was not like later, when I was eight, and my parents, excited with their new Utah landscape, insisted on agonized drives up the canyons on weekend afternoons, and the ancient Chevrolet would vapor lock, and we’d all get out and stand in the sun along the side of the road, while Dad looked for water to pour into the radiator.  I didn’t trust the car, and I didn’t like the curving roads with steep drops on one side.  Mountains were dangerous.

In our first rented house in America behind what was then called St. Anne’s Orphanage on 21st South, we ate dinner the minute Dad got home from work and then sat around the radio and listened to the Salt Lake Bees baseball games from Derks Field.  I now wonder how a man like my father, who played soccer as a kid in the Zandhofsestraat with a ball made of wadded up newspapers and rubber bands, could be interested in, or even understand an American sport like baseball, but Dad was ready to embrace America.

And embrace it he did.  He and Mother learned English quickly and by the time I was in second grade, we spoke mostly English at home except for a few nouns.  We never said, “Pass the gravy.”  It was “Pass the saus.”  Peanut butter was pindakass.  Meatballs were gehaktballen.  I was called Loesje instead of Louise until I was married. In 1950, when they had five children under age eight, they fulfilled the real American dream and bought the house on 8th South.  It had one bedroom and a sleeping porch.

Later, when there were ten of us, that house still had only one bathroom.  Dad came home from work, washed his hands with Lava soap, ate dinner, took a bath, put on a suit and went over to the church.  Often when he was in the bathtub, one of us kids would stand outside the door and whine in high-pitched voices that we had to use the bathroom right away.  “Take the keys and go to the church,” he’d yell from the tub.

So being a bishop’s offspring had its perks.  He allowed the boys to take the keys to play basketball in the gym.  Several of us practiced piano there.  And I had a couple of large art projects that I completed on the stage of the cultural hall.

In 1954, my parents completed the American dream by buying a used RCA television set with rabbit ears.  Dad spent as much time in back of the TV as in front of it.  It always needed adjustment, and he would set a mirror on a chair, so he could replace tubes and rewire the back and see the results as he went along.  He liked watching THE HIT PARADE with Giselle McKenzie and Snookie Lansing and all THE HIT PARADE singers and dancers.  His favorite song was “OH MY PAPA,” which he sang with a tortured exuberance in his baritone voice.

Dad taught me to fox trot in our living room.  He taught me to drive a stick-shift in our ’51 Ford.  He wrote my two-and-a-half-minute talks.  He could bark like a dog, swim the breast-stroke and curl his tongue.  He believed his own bumper sticker:  “You ain’t much if you ain’t Dutch”.  He whistled when he worked.  He loved oliebollen and appelflappen and Dutch chocolate.

When he was sixty, he said to me, “Before you know it, you’re sixty.  It all goes by so fast.” 

I know what you meant, Dad.  Now I’m well past 60 myself, and I find it hard to believe that I was ever your four-year-old daughter riding behind a twenty-nine year old father on his bike down a cobbled street in Holland.

It was a fine ride.