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
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.
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.