Brief Background of Informant
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
No, I never meet
an American in that war, the
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
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
(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.
Veldmans were married and had had children. Before long it was
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
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
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
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
Holland) and the
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
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
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.
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
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
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
That was the first time that we were in
I said to Papa, "I like it in
America," but not to
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.
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
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.
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
High School (at age
once a week. We had a good time there.
There were people from all over the world, from
Egypt was one, from
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
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
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.
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 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
America, now. I will not
go back, I am glad that we did it. This house is my home, it is much like
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
Informants Reactions to the Interview
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Rogers #j8 Bloomington, Indiana 47401