Wilhelmien Coenen-Veldman

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1981 - Wilhelmien and Queen Beatrix (or should it be: Queen Beatrix and Wilhelmien?)
The queen approaches Wilhelmien waiting her turn She has a private conversation

The visit of Queen Beatrix to Holland, Michigan in 1981


 Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus made a Saturday spring visit to Holland, Michigan just as the tulips were in full bloom. On the preceding Friday, Fran Beidinger called me to go along and see the queen, she had been told about it by one of her class mates at Indiana University in South Bend. Her friend was disappointed that they would not be able to see the queen up close, they did not have an invitation to the "inner circle" where tables would be setup and a brunch would be served. She was going anyway, because just being able to see the queen from a distance would be a real treat.

 What better time for us to drive the two hours to see the queen since Hend and Wilhelmien happened to be visiting in South Bend anyway. None of us had ever had the opportunity to see a member of the royal family up close. This could be fun. So, casually dressed in sport shirts and shorts, we made our way to Holland, MI well in time to watch the parade through the downtown. As is the custom in that town, they were washing the street in true Dutch tradition (ya, right) and perform the traditional Dutch "Klompen Dance". Quite a learning experience to see how the Dutch really lived, we certainly never washed the street or did the "Klompen Dance". We probably were to too busy on the farm working in the fields, at least that's how I remember it.
 The parade was to start at 10:00 sharp (we all know that punctionality is second nature to the Dutch) and although there were quite a few people, it was not all that crowded and we would be able to get a good look at the royal couple. Finally they arrived, preceded by a local band, they slowly passed by in a luxury convertible automobile waving their royal hands at us.
 So the main reason for us to come was really over and it had lasted all of about twenty seconds... No one really expressed themselves, but it was somewhat disappointing.
 We then decided to make the best of it by visiting some Dutch stores. In the first one we were told about the big city wide picnic planned for two o'clock in the afternoon in the park. We looked at each other and as Fran explained, that it had to be the place where her school friend had been talking about.  It was still quite early, but we decided to at least try to find the park and check it out. When we got there, we could see that the invited guest area was cordoned off with ropes, which would allow the commoners (or as we called ourselves: Het gepeupel") to see the event from a save distance. Then we heard someone calling; "Hey you Veldmans", we looked and discovered that Gerry Wenker, his wife and some friends were sitting at a table in the "invited" section. Gerry was a Dutch friend from South Bend. "Gerry, what in the world are you guys doing here?". He never really answered that question, but invited us inside the royal area. He lifted the rope, we passed underneath and with that simple move, our status had changed from commoner to privileged. It certainly paid to know the right people. It did not take long and the eight of us we were having a great time. Other tables were slowly filling up and there was a general party atmosphere in the air, maybe more so at our table then at the others.
 Then Fran posed the dangerous question: "So how did you guys get an invitation to sit here?". With a puzzled look on his face, Gerry responded with: "What invitation?". Fran swallowed hard, "This area is reserved for people who have a special written invitation". Everyone looked around a bit and then Gerry said: "You really think they will come and check? They are not going to make a scene just because we may not have an invitation. No one knows all the people that are invited. We are fine". Just then one of the organizing type of people walked up to our table and asked if everything was all right. "Well, we could use some more tea, please and we could use some additional napkins" was Gerry's response. "No problem, I will make sure that one of the waiters will take care of it". "Thanks so much, we appreciate how well you guys have organized this event, the queen will appreciate it". I thought by myself, that's good enough Gerry, don't overdo it. Tea arrived and we stayed.
 Fran did have a nervous moment when she spotted her school friend outside the roped area. I exchanged places with her so she would not be recognized and she was able to relax somewhat.

 Finally the moment everyone had been waiting for: The queen and prince arrived. We all stood up, someone started singing the Wilhelmus (Dutch national anthem). The queen slowed walked into the area, waved at all in attendance and sat down a mere two tables away from us. Life is good. The food was set out on one of the tables and an authentic American picnic was in full swing. I think the queen gave a short speech, but I do not really remember what she said.

 A reception line started to form and we realized that if ever, this would be the chance to shake hands with the queen. Wilhelmien got in line and slowly moved forward closer to the queen. I decided to try to take a picture of her as she was about to meet the queen. My view was somewhat obscured by one of the royal entourage members. I tapped him on the shoulder and politely asked him to step aside so I could take a picture of my sister shaking the queen's hand. As he moved over, Hend whispered in my ear: "Henry, that guy you asked to move, that was prince Claus!!". I never got around to apologizing to him, because just then Wilhelmien was talking to the queen. That made her day (for Wilhelmien that is). The three pictures above are the ones I was able to snap, in fact, I think they are the only ones taken that day.

 Once the reception was over, we continued talking at the table, when a cameraman from one of the Dutch TV channels started to make his way to our table. The camera focused and Fran and a microphone was kind off shoved in her face. "So what do you think of the queen?". Fran paused, pointed to me and said: "He will talk".  We had been talking a mixture of English and Dutch and I realized that unless I would say something that resembled proper Dutch, it would end up on the cutting floor. Actually, I expected that whatever was being recorded never would make the news in Holland anyway. I would have been OK if he had asked about the Dutch national soccer team, but Dutch politics? Not really my strong suit. Fortunately, Wilhelmien was sitting right next to me and she proceeded to whisper the answers in my ear, in good Dutch no less. It was very helpful.

 We laughed about the happenings of the day all the way back to South Bend. Wilhelmien called home and told her kids to watch the news on television, just maybe…  The major surprise was that it actually did make it to the "10:00 news" in Holland. Not only that, but Dominick's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Dits, was visiting her Dutch relatives in Holland at the time and recognized us. She had a good laugh when we told her this story.