An Invaluable Legacy

8 08 2017

There is a tremendous emphasis these days on income. How much money you have and what you do with it has become a benchmark of success. As if money could be the precursor to happiness. As if your bank account equates your level of contentment. As if those with little money ought to be miserable.

I don’t deny that lack of money can make life difficult, especially for a family with children whose very existence require a decent income to sustain them. But more to the point, the richest people in the world don’t necessarily have a corner on the happiness market. Yes, those whose income is either non-existent or very low have a much harder life than the middle-income range, but here’s the thing. The most giving and kind-hearted people are often those who have the least.

These bold statements come from personal experience.  As a child, my parents were poor. Were it not for the twelve cows my dad milked for income and which provided milk and butter for us, the meager six acres of asparagus he grew, and my mother’s skillful negotiations for ‘sale’ prices on cases of dented canned sauerkraut and other vegetables, we might likely have starved. Potatoes mashed alternately with apples, kale, sauerkraut and spinach became an every-meal staple for us. Never did either my mom or dad talk about our poverty. Never once did I hear either of them complain, argue, or in any way indicate our lack of income. I wore my cousins’ hand-me-downs, as did my brother. We were always clean, always loved, and always expected to be respectful and well-behaved. Dad made a game of going to a Saturday sale, waiting until the very end when the auctioneer would pile various things into boxes and sell them for a quarter. Often those boxes yielded treasures, things Dad could fix up and use, or fix up and sell at the next auction. He took childlike delight in the money he earned in the process.

I remember vividly the generosity my parents practiced. There was always room for one more at the dinner table, and they shared as though they had more than enough. Often Dad went to the bank to borrow against the next year’s crop because the frost or drought took this year’s. His first priority the next year was to honor his commitment to pay back what he borrowed, even if that meant we got no profit.

And here’s what I learned from all that. I learned that being honorable is a great virtue. I learned that kindness can save a person from despair. I learned that generosity is possible, even when there is next to nothing to share. I learned that we are all equal on this earth if you measure equality in terms of integrity and strength of character. I learned that loving your fellow man is an active verb, something you show in a visible way. And I learned that hope is the one word we all need to hold on to. My parents did that. Their hope and their strong faith carried us all those years ago. What a legacy.


16 07 2014


My father was born in 1915, the youngest of seven, to farm-laborer parents. He was the only child who had farming in his blood and after completing sixth grade, he became a full-time worker in the fields alongside his father.
As he grew older he knew he wanted to farm, but buying land in the Netherlands was impossible. He decided his best avenue would be to learn a trade and save up to move elsewhere, though the place he would go wasn’t yet clear.

After taking night classes and completing his required training, Dad became a barber, first as an apprentice and later owning his own shop. When he and my mother married in 1943, he began in earnest saving every penny he could, a difficult task since war had begun the year before.

The thing about Dad was, he had the most optimistic view of life of anyone I’ve met. Pair that up with sheer determination, add an adventuresome spirit and a fearless attitude, and you have Dad. So he packed up his little family of four and set off for America in 1947. And he worked hard.

Fast forward to the 1950’s and Dad owned a small, seven acre farm in Washington where he raised asparagus and tomatoes and milked a handful of cows. He moved us from farm to farm until he purchased a forty acre parcel growing concord grapes, with a contract to sell each crop to Welch’s for juice and grape jelly.

Dad became a successful man who farmed well and worked hard, but most importantly who loved his family and his God without reservation. A man of principle and faith, devotion and loyalty. A truly good man. The world was blessed to have him for 92 years.

And I miss him.

It’s a New Year, Charlie Brown

30 12 2013

IMG_0369“In the book of life the answers aren’t in the back.” Wise words, Charlie Brown, though if the answers were there and were good ones, I might be more inclined to welcome in the New Year. Honestly, for a while I didn’t know if I should look forward to 2014 or dread it.

For anyone who doesn’t know me well, I am an optimist by nature. It’s a good trait, one which has gotten me through a lot of the difficult years of my life. The reality is, a lot of life is hard, painful, impossible. But I prefer to temper those parts with the view that there is always, always something good to come out of the struggles. My parents were a great example of people who lived by that mantra. Life didn’t treat them kindly those first few years after WWII as they moved to a new country and worked hard to make ends meet. But I grew up with singing in the house, an ever present faith in God, and a feeling of security and well-being that never wavered. They never let my brother and me know how poor we were.

My natural optimism tells me to look forward, never forgetting, always learning. So I’ll not listen to Charlie Brown’s dire prediction: “I’m afraid to be happy, because whenever I get too happy something bad always happens.”
You’re wrong, Charlie Brown. I’m not listening to you. Forward is the only way to go, the choice is in the direction we take, either the hopeful path or the dismal one.

I choose hope. I choose optimism. I choose to be happy. I choose to embrace this coming year and all the good things it will hold. I am so very richly blessed by my children, grandchildren, extended family and loving friends. And most of all by God. After all, He’s the one in charge, and I know He has only my good in mind.

Bring on 2014. And shape up, Charlie Brown. You need a good dose of happy.

The Interview: An Unexpected Trust

27 02 2012

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to visit one of our great national treasures, a 91-year-old holocaust survivor. The purpose of the visit was to do an interview, but in some ways I found myself being a student rather than an inteviewer.

Her name is Diet Eman. She was barely 20 years old when the war broke out in the Netherlands, and as the Nazi regime took control, she and her fiance became involved in sheltering and finding new identities for the Jewish people in their area. They paid a great price for that activity. Diet was hunted by the Gestapo for her part in the underground and, despite changing her identity and going into hiding, was eventually arrested. She spent time in a prison and then was taken to a concentration camp. Her survival, she says, was “of God,” but her fiance gave the ultimate sacrifice. He died at Dachau in January of 1945, just four months before the liberation.

For many years, Diet was pshychologically unable to talk about the war. The things she had seen and endured were too much for her to process. But in the early 1990’s a conversation with James Schaap changed all that. He encouraged Diet to write her story, and offered his help. It was, he urged, a story that needed to be told, lest the next generation forgets. As a result, Things We Couldn’t Say became a testament to the resilience, courage and faith exhibited by a vast number of individuals involved in the underground movement in that tiny country while under the crushing power of the Third Reich. It is the true definition of selflessness.

I feel so blessed to have been able to talk with Diet, and to be allowed to see her most precious possession–a letter from her fiance as he was being transported to Dachau. He had thrown it out of the train with the hope it would somehow reach her. It did. “A miracle,” she said. The tiny letter, about 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches in size, was found in the bushes and sent to Diet. She has many mementos of those years, but that one item, the smallest of them all, is the one she holds in her heart. She can recite every word.

I highly recommend the book. It is a story of heroism, faith, courage, dedication, and a true account of history at a time when hell seemed to have been visiting on earth.

Diet was kind enough to lend me two books from her library. One I will never forget is titled Nach Und Nebel, Night and Fog, by Floris Bakels. His story of life in the concentration camps is riviting and shows, without wavering, the true horror prisoners endured. The book is not for the faint of heart, however, since he spares no details.  It is, Diet said, one of the most accurate, true accounts of life in the camps that she has ever read.

At the end of two hours I felt as though I had made a new friend. The conversation covered past, present and future, and I found Diet to be one of the most open, honest people I have ever met. Her faith is unwavering, her willingness to speak of it to total strangers is humbling, and her ability to see humor and hope in the darkest of situations is unparalleled. What an incredible woman.