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Brief history of (Oma) Wilhelmina Veldman - Van Kesteren (1898-1993)


Indiana University
1974 College paper for Folklore 220
Prepared by Tom Veldman (01-01)
 

Title: Interview with a Dutch Immigrant


Wilhelmina Elizabeth Veldman
22784 State Road 2South Bend, IN USA

Born: September 30, 1998
Birthplace: Ewijk, Maas en Waal (Gelderland, The Netherlands)
Date of Marriage: June 18, 1925
Date of Immigration: May 10,1962
 

 

Brief Background of Informant

 Mrs. Wilhelmina Veldman, who is described ever so briefly and systematically above by dates and numbers, is the type of person who has such a history and background that it is actually hard to describe her meaningfully even with words. Originally she was Miss Van Kesteren.

 She met and later married Mr. Bernard Henry Veldman. They were married happily, or probably better stated, perfectly, for nearly fifty years until his recent death, April 25 of this year.

 During her 76 years she has witnessed many things, an array of events that most people will never see. At the age of two, her father died of pneumonia, and her grandfather came to live with her, her sister, Maria, and their widowed mother. They lived on a farm in the east of Holland. They had a variety of animals and crops on the farm, but the most important asset was their orchards and the fruit that they yielded.

 They made, in Mrs. Veldman’s own estimation, a good living. The only thing that she feels that she lacked in her younger days was a father. This was especially accentuated by the fact that she had no brothers and that her grandfather passed away while she was still young.

 

Mrs. Veldman has witnessed, first hand, the effects of two world wars. In both, her country, though neutral, was taken over by Germany. Her recollections of both wars are very strong, but by far the terrors and fears of World War II stand out in her mind. During that war, the Veldman's home in Didam, Holland, walking distance from the German border, served as an underground shelter for fugitives. They also housed one of the few radios of that time. Mrs. Veldman herself forged German signatures on German orders and papers, used for the good of her neighbors and friends. To her it is a time to look back to, but one never worthwhile to be relived.

Mr. and Mrs. Veldman and their twelve children all lived through those days of the war. Four years after the war, Peter, the oldest of six sons, began what was to be a tradition, in this family. He left Holland to go to America. In the subsequent years, eight more of the children followed his precedent. They went to America, by way of Canada, with the exception of one who remained in Canada.

In 1962, on their second visit to America, Papa and Mama Veldman decided they too would remain in the United States. This decision left the way clear for Ted, the only son remaining in the Old Country, to emigrate himself. Now only two daughters of the original family of 14 remain in Holland.

Background-of Paper

The above is a short history of Mrs.Veldman and related matters con­cerning her family. Today she lives in a large, gray, two-story house, a medium part of which is remodeled for her living. She lives there of her grandchildren, not always the same one. This past summer I lived there myself for over four months. Now another grandchild, Connie Veldman, lives there. To be sure her company is welcomed by all and in doing this paper, I did what I had done many times throughout the summer, enjoyed her conversation.

 

We sat down in her kitchen and talked. Supper was cooking as we drank a cup of tea, and the only intrusion on the previous summer's style was the microphone of the tape player. Luckily, little attention was paid to it, and we began. I used an outline, which was very general, in hopes of picking up interesting stories. I took every opportunity, however, to pick up on United States related items. Some of the portions of the tape presented below are not directly related to America, but form an interest­ing contrast with American ideas. Other parts deal with her views of, or encounters with, Americans at different times in her life. Finally, I dealt with her feelings on her children’s emigration from Holland to the U.S., and her comparisons and adjustments to coming to America herself.

 

Much of what follows will be Mrs. Veldmans' own words as given to me on tape that day of October 12, 1974. In general, Mrs. Veldman spoke in English, remarkably good English, considering that thirteen years ago she had no English vocabulary at all. However, some parts are in Dutch, the language of the people in Holland, This I translated into English for this paper. The translation is practically word for word with little loss of meaning. That which Mrs. Veldman did speak in English is transcribed word for word from the tape recording. All the quotes are from the one tape, all quoted from Mrs. Veldman and can be denoted by the single-spacing.

 

The Interview

 

 In my conversation with Mrs, Veldman, I tried to keep as much of a chronological order as possible. Her earliest memories go back to her earliest school days in kindergarten, back to 1901-1902, Oddly enough, she chanced to meet an American at that time. He was an uncle of one of her schoolmates. Here is her reaction to her first encounter with an American.

 

 I went to school early--three. When I was three I went to kindergarten. But it was the whole day, always, like the other classes. I can remember that when I go to school, that a girl who went with us to school had an uncle. He was a man who was out of America. He was dressed up--so!  

               (Here Mrs. Veldman gestures with her hands in a way which few people are able. By her gestures, you can just picture the man, dressed sharply, standing out among the other people around him, especially in the eyes of a young girl like Wilhelmina Van Kesteran. Her hands move in such a waving front of her that you can see the clothes being outlined by them).

 I was not jealous that she had an uncle in America, no, but it was something that she did have an uncle in America. That was something else. But I never thought that I would go to America, oh no, no, never, never, no, never thinking that

Mrs. Veldman could not recall having met any Americans between that time and World War I that had made any special impression on her. It was my mistaken thought that the Americans had been in Holland during WWI. However, this was not the case,

No, I never meet an American in that war, the Netherlands were not in the war, they were neutral. It was not too bad that time, we could buy everything, almost everything. But they (the Germans) came for what we had in the house. We had meat and that in the house, but we had nothing to give. It was not too bad. No World War I was not bad.

In the fall of 1923 Miss VanKesteren met the man of her life, Bernard Veldman. It was at a festival called Karimis (Kermis) in Holland, better known as October fest in Germany.  The events at the festival and the little customs that pop up during the courtship form an interesting contrast to those of the United States. From this point, Mr. Veldman can be identified by the names Papa (father) and Opa (grandfather) as well as his formal name. In the same way, Mrs. Veldman, who was also aforementioned as Miss Van Kesteren, will be mentioned as Mama or Oma.

 

      I went with another boy to Duiven's Karimis (Kermis or Fair), but I don't like the boy so good. But my sister said to him, "I will make sure that she goes out with you." Later on she said to me, "you let that boy ask so many times and he would like it so much and you say no. You have to do it." And I had to do it. And 3 go to the Karimis with that boy and Papa was there and his brothers and they danced with me. First one and then another one danced with me. And then I remember Uncle Piet (Mr. Veldman's brother) came up to dance with me. Then the boy said, "No, seven are before you and now I will dance with her by myself." He said that to Uncle Piet because Uncle Piet asked the man if he could dance with me. That is polite, he doesn't have to ask me, but he has to ask that boy can I dance with your girl. Then he said, "Seven are before you and now I will dance with her by myself." One of the seven was Opa, oh yes, and many times I danced with Opa.

 

Another day that boy brought me to Arnhem (a Dutch city) to the train station. Papa came by there with a milk cart and I heard the knocking of the horses hooves. (Here Mrs. Veldman imitates the knock with her fist on the table). He tied up the horse and then I saw him, soon I get a letter from him.

So later on I said to that boy, no, I don't like it. Because we went there he had a farm already. He showed me the house and his mother was with him. He showed the house and he had the bedroom, nice, and I thought, I'll never go in there. Then after that, I told him that I was not interested in him and it was done. Then in the spring (1924), Papa's sister goes married. A letter came asking if I will go with him to the wedding. But in that time, to go in the fall to Karimis with that boy and now in the spring with that boy to a wedding, oh no. That was too short of a time. No, in a half year, that was a shame to do that. It was too short of a time, I said no. Then he sent me another letter and he asked me can he come that and that Sunday and that time. That was not bad, then the people didn't see me there (at the wedding).

So he came and it was-okay. I liked him and it goes on. Then a year later we married. And we always were happy that we did. We never fight, never: When we had something, we talked it out, when the children were not in the house.

Opa Veldman had expressed a strong desire to go to America when he was young. His sisters kept him from doing so, which was probably one of the reasons he never had anything negative to say about his oldest son leaving 30 years later. It is interesting to note the reasons for which he was

 

Papa when he was young, he liked to go to America. But his sisters said, "Oh no! Not to America." Because in early times, there were so many who were not good, that went to America. So many, so many! There were but a few that you said those are good people. They made the money up (got it, any way they could), and they drank and that kind. Good people did do good in America, but at that time, once in a while one came back for a visit, but not many. If they left, you can say we will never see them again.

 

Now the Veldmans were married and had had children. Before long it was 1939. The second major world war of her life was soon to directly affect her life and that of all the Dutch people. Mrs. Veldman has innumerable recollections about the Second World War. It could involve a paper in itself. However, I had to pick just a few of the recollections, and I chose those which Americans probably cannot identify with. Americans had the distinction of not having been hit directly at home by the war. Holland was not so lucky, though it was a neutral country. I think some of these excerpts from our conversation will be found to be very interesting. Mrs. Veldman begins with the night of the first attack.

That night I remember that I heard such a noise far off, what a noise. Then I got out of bed and I thought what do I hear. Then, four o'clock in the morning, the planes came, oh, so many, so many, so many:

 (Here again a comment on Mrs. Veldman's actions should be interjected. Her realistic retelling of the flight of the bombers involves much more than words.           Her sense of fear and amazement is so vivid and her shuddering so real, that you could imagine the planes coming in at any time).

 We heard all the time, the Germans take over Poland and then there and then there. We talked about how one day they will come here. Then they came. You couldn't talk like we were used to before. You had to be careful not to say anything about the Germans, because you never knew what could happen. Many people were what we called N.S.B.'ers ( informers ). There were many N.S.B.'ers in Holland. You had to be careful because you never know is a person is one of those. There were a few persons we could talk to, but in the beginning it was so frightening. Yes, that was a bad time. Right away they (the German soldiers) came to our farm. They had many horses that they came on, so many would come in the kitchen and say, "you bake eggs for me." Or they did it by themselves, most of the time. Some­times, though, they ordered! There were good people too, some were good.

            Then after a little while, they bombarded Rotterdam (the  principal city and the major port of Holland) and the Netherlands surrendered. We had one boy who worked for'-us, he never came back. From my boys, none were in the war, they were too young. Your dad (Peter, oldest son) was only fourteen. No, they were too young, we were happy that they had not to go.

 

We had a stack of wheat, outside, there was a room inside the stack and there the people (fugitives) hid. We had one policeman who warned us, he would call and say, "Your name is under question." Then we would know that everyone had to hide. We had two other hiding places, one with radio and things like that. We had three hiding places. That was a fearful time.

We had no electricity, only at night. It was dark at five o'clock, but the electricity did not come on till eight o'clock. At night we did the washing and things with electricity.

 

Everyone was so happy when the Americans and Canadians came, mostly they were Canadians. We were so happy. (A truly real, sigh of relief, expressed here by Mrs. Veldman). At that time we didn't think much over America. America was in the news sometimes but not so many times, that was later on. America did not have a big effect on us, at that time.

 

A big point in the life of Mrs. Veldman and whole Veldman family for that matter, came in 1949. Peter, the oldest son was twenty-three years old, he was engaged to be married, but he had no set date. A primary factor probably was that he had no full-time job. He had worked. very hard through the years, as had his younger brothers, but the work was mostly on the farm of their father. Now, with farming as his only knowledgeable field at the time, he had to make a decision. Either begin another occupation because it was next to impossible to get a farm in Holland, or go someplace where he could conceivable get a farm of his own--America. His decision to go loomed greater through the years as his brothers and sisters followed his example. It turned out very well for everyone, but at that point twenty-five years ago, no one knew what was later to be.

When your dad (Peter Veldman) was leaving it was hard, but in the Netherlands there wasn't any chance to have a new farm. That was the idea--farming. There was not enough ground. It was so hard when he went, we think that we never see him again. Maybe if came back to pick up Wilma, (Wilma Zents, his fiancée, now Mrs. Peter Veldman), that was the only hope that we will see him back. I remember the day after he left, we were all eating soup and the tears were falling into the soup. I thought he would do good in America, he was a good worker, that helps.

 

Ben (the third son) went next for a visit and to help on the farm (Peter's) in Three Oaks (Michigan). Ben worked on the farm there. He never came back.

(At this point, it is mentioned in the conversation that Al, the second son, and Dolly, the second daughter, had gone to America.)

 

That was hard that there were four gone. Then I was thinking, now, do all my children have to go: The fifth of my children to go to America was Riet (Mary). Hank (Mary's husband now) studied flying in America. He came back to Holland and met Riet, then went to Canada. Riet went to Canada to marry him there. That is when we went to the wedding. We went to America for that wedding, in 1957.

 

That was the first time that we were in America, 1957. I said to Papa, "I like it in America," but not to live in America, but for the children. I think it is okay. When June, then Willy then Harry and Fran liked to go, "Okay, you can go." In Holland, there were no opportunities, there are so many people in Holland, not so much ground for farms. There was just no opportunities.

 

In 1962, Opa and Qma Veldman were once again visiting in America. They had five sons and four daughters living in the States, so they decided it was time to visit them. Eventually the visit became an immigration. There was a house, which was potentially available for them to live in and they liked the country. Their children were delighted about their decision, all except the two daughters in Holland. The last son in Holland, Ted, was happy, too. He had wanted to come to America since the mid-fifties, and now he took his opportunity to do so. This is how Mrs. Veldman describes the event that left twelve of the fourteen members of the family in America.

Papa and I never thought to go to America, but when we visited in 1962, we liked it here, very much. Ted also wanted to come to America. We knew if we stayed that he could come, too, he had always wanted to. So when we liked it in '62, we stayed. We had our children here and we were happy about it all. When we decided to stay here, then I think, "No thinking about Holland, now we have decided to stay here. We will do what we can." I was never homesick.

 

After the decision to stay, things went very smoothly for Opa and Oma Veldman. They did not have to leave the country in lieu of :a permanent visa. They had their own house to live in. Mrs. Veldman said that there were very few problems of adjustments. She commented on some that existed to an extent.

The language was the hardest thing. We went to Central High School (at age 64) once a week. We had a good time there. There were people from all over the world, from Germany, from Italy, from Egypt was one, from Hungary, Austria. Everyone talked English differently, but it was good. We didn't have grammar, but we learned how to speak. I make mistakes, all the time, but I can correct myself. We were happy that we did it.

Most foods that I cook, I changed over to American ways. But the food from Holland that we like, I made that, too.

At this point, I asked the inevitable questions of comparison between the two countries Mrs. Veldman has been associated with. Our discussion ranged from Christmas celebrations to funerals, Mrs. Veldman discusses in the following some things which she considers better in both countries. That is the Christmas celebration and marriage ceremonies in Holland, and the funeral service in America. In the opening paragraphs, she compares the raising of her children in Holland to the raising of American children, and her view on the working housewife. In concluding our conversation, she gives her view on her own nationalism in answer to a question raised on the fact that she is still a Dutch citizen even though she has lived in America twelve years.

Lots of differences, as parents we had it easy, the children did what we said and asked what they had to do or could do. For example, when your dad (Peter) wanted to go to Vorden (small village) to see your mom, he asked if he could, always he asked.

 

The children stayed at home more. We played cards and chess. Many other children often came over and played accordion. We had two accordions and a record player. Yes we had fun, it was a good time. When I came here, I was surprised how many house­wives are working. It was not that way in Holland, then. Now it is just like here. I think it is better for the housewife to stay home. When they need it (the money), it is okay, but I think when they stay home for the children, for the husband, it is better. I think that many divorces come because the housewife does not stay home. I think there will be less divorces if they stay home.

 

We have Santa Claus and gifts, too, in Holland, on December the 6th (St. Nicholas day), not such big gifts as here, oh no. But Christmas is two days, December 25-26th and the whole time we sing Christmas songs. All through the house people are singing. It was a real Christmas, not just gifts like here. It was good, I liked that better there.

The weddings, too, are more pleasant in Holland. The ceremony and in the church is much more fancy here. In Holland, you have only two ushers and two brides­maids and that is all. In the time when I married, I wore a black dress and a white veil. Everybody did at that time. Now it is all white just like here.

 

In Holland, we don't have as much dancing but we have more cute games and ideas. People make skits and plays telling stories about the couple. You hear all kinds of funny things about the people in the wedding. Weddings in Holland are better than here, more pleasant. More personal things, here it is always the same things.

 

Funerals here are much nicer, more expensive too, but much nicer. It surprised me how many people came to the funeral home and to the church (Mr. Veldman's funeral and services April 27-28), because we have lived here such a short time. It was unbelievable how many people were there. The first time I saw a funeral here, I thought, what is that nice: It is different in Holland. In Holland when someone is so-skinny when they die and they leave them just as they died. Here they make it nice and it is a nice remembrance. When you see them in the casket, it is a nice remembrance, just like they were asleep.

 

I would not be an American citizen, it is not necessary, I don't know for what. Voting, that is all, there are enough people voting. But my home country is America, now. I will not go back, I am glad that we did it. This house is my home, it is much like houses in Holland. It is a place for my children to come home to. Many times talking to Papa we said if someone asked

 

Many times talking to Papa we said if someone asked us, "What would you like more to have for yourself,?" we would say--nothing. We could not ask for anything more.

 

 

Informants Reactions to the Interview

My informant's reactions to the interview could not have been better. I informed Mrs. Veldman of my plans two weeks before the actual interview so that she could think about the ideas beforehand. Then on October the 12th, we had our discussion. It was in the late afternoon, after the Notre Dame game, which holds priority over everything in South Bend. She was very articulate and very concerned that she answer the questions properly. She was not affected by the microphone after the first few minutes. The only change in her usual style of speech that I noticed was that she remained very much within the realm of each question. She took it seriously and did not speak on things that were irrelevant.

 

Mrs. Veldman enjoyed the conversation very much. I think it was very interesting to her that her background was to be written about. She was also excited that her background was so interesting as to be in demand for a college folklore class.

 

In conclusion, I would say that she enjoyed it very much and that she was delighted to do it. She remained very much herself throughout the interview, although she was more serious about her commentary than she would be normally. To exemplify her interest in the paper, when I called her recently for some spelling verifications, she had a number of points which she thought might be helpful for me to add to the paper. One that she did make and that I failed to include in the paper was that Americans act themselves much more than the Dutch. If that is true she has certainly become a true American.

 

Interviewer's Reactions

I unknowingly included some of my own reactions in the above paragraphs:

 

 I can only say in addition to those mentioned that it was probably the most enjoyable assignment I have ever had. This past summer I enjoyed nothing more than talking with Oma, often for great lengths of time. She was very easy to interview, if that is the proper word. To me it was more of a discussion.

 

 I was very happy with all her answers and stories and with the way that she presented them. If there was absolutely any problem it was keeping my own feelings for my grandmother out of the paper. The use of Mrs. Veldman in reference to Oma was harder than you may think. In reality, she is either Mama or Oma to everyone she knows--family and friends alike.

 

 In conclusion, all my reactions were favorable. I enjoyed it very much and I even learned some things that I had not known previously. If the people who may read this have as much pleasure out of the reading as I did out of the writing, then Oma and I will have accomplished our purpose in it all.

 

Tom Veldman

1005 North Rogers #j8 Bloomington, Indiana 47401