Alberta "Beppy" Johanna Krommenhoek Gibbons
Contributor: Hculpepper42 Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Alberta Johanna (Beppy) Krommenhoek-Gibbons
This is my story. I was born December 19th, 1937 in Utrecht the Netherlands. I was christened Alberta Johanna Krommenhoek in the Dom (cathedral of Utrecht). My parents were Jan and Mathilde Lemken Krommenhoek. My step mother was Hilletje Voskuil —Krommenhoek. I was the 5th child of nine children. When I was about one year old, we moved from Utrecht to Zeist, a town about 5 miles south of Utrecht. We lived there from 1938 to 1947.
Many things happened in my youth and I have many fond memories, and some not so good ones. My paternal Grandparents lived in Zeist on Van der Merslaan, and when my Grandfather died in April 1938, Grandma moved into an apartment across the street from our house on the Sanatoriumlaan. That was very nice. Mother had a big family and did not have much time to spend with each child, as a result, I spent much time with my grandmother. She remembered driving me around in my little stroller.... going to the park and feeding the birds. Of course I don't remember those early years, but I do remember going over to her house often and having a cup of tea with her and doing little errands for her..
I liked to be outside and take my little sled to Maretraite, which was a villa close to our house. It had a big pond all around it. I liked to ride my sled down the steep banks onto the ice. And I often took my sled all by my self—walked over there to ride it.. Grandma would call out, "Beppy, come in the house, it is too cold outside." I would answer, "No Grandma, it is fun—I am going to go." Then she would say, "Come here then and let me wipe your nose!" I always had a runny nose. When I would come back from my fun, she would call me in. She had this foot warmer. She would take my shoes off and have me put my feet on the wanner. Then she would give me some hot chocolate or tea, and say, "Now do you feel better? Now you can go home." She was a very caring loving person. She told me many little stories about my Grandfather. She had his picture over her little tea table. And on his birthdays, she would sit there all dressed up in her best clothes, then she would say, "He was such a good man." Then she would tell me little stories about him. They used to go dancing, and what a good dancer he was, and that they would enter dance contests and win prizes. Grandma was an excellent cook. She always had yummy things to eat. She would say, "Grandpa would always tell me not to spend so much money—on food, but I knew that he liked to eat well. So before I would go to the fishman. (At that time, the baker and the milkman and the fishman and even people who sold cloth would come down the street and do their little chants to entice people to come and buy.) She always waited for the fish man. Grandpa would tell her, "Now Mi (her name was Maaike), don't buy the most expensive things . We can make do." Well when she came back, she always had the best fish and she would cook it. First Grandpa would grumble a little bit then he would say, "Mi, that was excellent. I just loved that. Thank you very much.•' He was very tender with her, she was about 15 years younger than he . He died about three months after I was born . She lived to be 82.
It was really nice to have Grandma live so close across the street. I was very close to Grandma, often she asked me to come and spend the night with her. I was happy to do
that. I felt very close to Oma, hers was a quiet place, and she would tell me things about the past, about her family and about me, when I was a little girl. I could never sit still for very long. I would say, "droit, droit," (take me out, take me out), and she would take me out for
walks in the park,
Our house was a very busy house, a very volatile household, the people had strong opinions and very strong feelings--often conflicting. There was a lot of fighting, not physical fights, but angry words. Grandma's house was a little bit of a haven to go to when things became unpleasant at home. Father too, often found his refuge there. (He liked to read, he read books and was always studying. I never knew father when he was not studying.)
One fond memory of the war years, I was 5 years old and Fred 3. We both had whooping cough,,measles and chicken pox , all at the same time. In Holland, they have Sinter Klaas which is on the 5th of December , and this year when Fred and I were sick and had both our beds in the dining room...(because that was the darkest place in the house and at that time the doctors said we had to keep the sun away from measles and whooping cough so we were in the dining room). That evening, it was Sinter Klaas and Maaike had about ten friends and the tallest friend was dressed as Sinter Klaas, while the others blackened their faces and were Black Petes—his aides. They came to our house and we celebrated opening our presents and singing Sinterklaas songs, and I thought it was very odd that one of the Black Petes looked a lot like my sister Maaike. But I did not think too much about it. I remember that I got a set of cuff links (meant for someone else). At that time I always wanted to be a nurse and told mother "I am going to keep the cuff links as I would need them when I became a nurse," because they wore cuff links on their shirts. But I could not keep them. Mother took them away from me and gave them to Hans. That was a kind of fun night.
When the war broke out in 1940, at first we did not feel too much of it. But in 1943, when my sister Tilly was born, things got quite rough. I can remember many of the things that happened although I was only 5 years old. My mother sent me to school on her bicycle. I was too little to sit on the seat so I hung in the middle and pedaled to school. After school, I brought home the groceries for her. Sometimes we had to stand in line to get bolls of cotton string that we used to knit our underwear. Sometimes I would stand in line hours for a sack full of cotton string that later we had to unravel so we could knit with it. I learned to knit when I was 4 year old, my sister Maaike taught me. Many of the things a large family needs were made by hand such as socks, gloves and underwear. They itched terribly but they were all we had to wear. Maaike showed me how to knit the fingers in gloves.
1 was kind of a nosy child, and one time I was sitting on the stairs eves dropping, and heard my parents arguing about money. It seems that they were always doing that. I thought I had a solution for them, so I burst into the dining room, and told my father I would take a paper route and give them the money if they would just stop arguing. Father looked at me very surprised and reached out for me, but before he could hug me mother grabbed me by the braids, and told me I was just trying to get attention, and I should go to bed rather than listening to them on the stairway.
One time mother and Maaike had one of their disagreements, both became very angry. Maaike could not take it any longer, so she went over to Grandmother's house. Tante Doortje fathers first cousin, she was the only child of Oma"s younger sister, was there. Mother said to me, "Come on, let's go over to Grandmother's and get Maaike." She was met by Doortje, who was usually a very quiet person. Mother tried to go past her, but Doortje blocked her and
grabbed her by her hair bun and shook her soundly. She said, "You leave that child alone!" And it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I just could not laugh because mother would get angry at me, but it was funny to see some one step up to my mother in such a defiant way.
Often, dinner times were not very pleasant in our home, because mother would tell father all about all the things we had done wrong and we knew that after dinner, we would get a whipping and be sent to bed. 1 got a lot of them because I loved to play marbles with my friends after school. (I figured I would get a whipping anyway, so it did not matter.) I would get my "pack slaag", that is what we called it, which means a spanking. At first I would get it from mother, then father would come home, and she would tell him, and I would get it again. Mother would use the wooden spoon on me. That was like a daily fare.
Some of our happier moments at home, were when Maaike would bring friends over, or Tante Cor or Tante Jo would come. Tante Jo was an elderly lady, she had this really high voice, and she would play the piano by heart, and would sing along with it. One of the songs that I remember was "Swallow where do you go?" She was the mother of Tante To and oom (ohm) Jan who lived in Utrecht. Oom Jan had been married, and about the time I was born, oom Jan's wife died in childbirth, and of course he had a lot of clothes left over. I got all the clothes, the layette that they had had for their child, and also the buggy and cradle. He never remarried but went to live with his sister in Utrecht, on the Maria Plaats, near the Dom. Father took me there a lot. We would get a lemonade or orange aide. It was fun to play over there. Those were happy times.
I have many memories of the war... my mother was German, and was able to save my dad from being picked up by the Nazis and taken to Germany to work. He had to hide out many times. On one particular occasion, I saw dad looking out the windows, and the Germans were at the beginning of the street—just a few houses down from where we lived going door to door. So he did not have time enough to go into the hiding place we had prepared (we had made a hole in the floor beneath our dinning room table for such occasions. The carpet was rolled over the hole covering it). Father would go under the floor until the razzia--- the collection of men between the ages of 15 and 45 or Jews was finished. My father would have been taken had he been found. That he was not found had a lot to do with mother's gift of gab and her ingenuity in distracting-- and of course she being German.
This time, he rushed to the attic as there was not time to hide under the floor. He went into the attic which was called the vliering. It was only a half an attic, more a crawl space. To get into the attic, he stepped on the stair banister in order to reach the vliering. He left a foot print on a diaper hung over the banister. (Mother hung diapers on the banister to dry. When mother saw the foot print, she put her hand on the diaper and took it off the railing and the Germans did not see it. When the Germans started climbing on the rail, she shouted, "It is going to break! It is going to break! Don't do that it is going to break!" in a panicky tone only she could make,. and the German soldier jumped down for fear that the rail might break. If anyone knows my mother, she can be very convincing. If they had looked in the attic, they would have found father. There was no where to hide up there.
One incident during the war was quite significant. When father had to rush and hide in the attic. We had been eating breakfast at the time. Maaike and I were sitting next to dad on each side. When the German soldiers were coming in, I noticed dad's plate was sitting there. I
looked at Maaike and looked at the plate. She carefully slipped father's plate under her own.. I noticed his shoes were under the table in front of his chair. So I reached my feet over and put them in father's shoes. Then we sat very quietly at the dinner table. I am not sure whether the Germans saw that some one else had been sitting there or not. They went up to look in the attic, but mother spoke German and kept the soldiers busy talking, and distracted. They usually came in twos. Mother kept on talking with them and offered them something to eat. They never took any food . They said "Gooten appetite," and left.
Another time when they came, we had a little Jewish girl hiding in our house. Father did not only harbor and share food with the Dutch people, but he also was very sympathetic to the Jewish plight. 'The girl, was about my age, and when the Germans came, we hid her in the closet behind the clothes. (My brother Hans was sick with asthma at that time, at one time, he had diphtheria). The girl was hiding behind the clothes in the closet, the Germans opened the closet door —Hans said he knows the Germans saw her legs beneath the clothes, but they closed the door and went out of the room. If the Germans had insisted on taking her with them, our whole family might have been shot. They probably would have shot us.
There were things that happened in the war that no one should ever see, especially a child. A wealthy Jewish woman lived in a villa near our house. Early in the war, German soldiers went into her house and dragged her out. One soldier on each of her legs. Her head bobbed on each step as they dragged her away.
During the war, we had some real hardships. Father and mother always had a garden during that time, and they had a cellar where they kept the potatoes and the things you keep there. Mother did a lot of canning, we had shelves there where she kept her canning. When the invasion came at the end of the war, there was not much left. One day as I was walking to Grandmother's, I spied a whole field full of cabbage, cauliflower and sprouts. I asked Grandmother for a jute sack. She asked why I wanted it and I answered, "I am going to get some groceries." So I hopped over her fence and started filling my bag with sprouts. I was the only one in the field. When I looked up, the whole field was full of people....I was almost done. When I looked up again, there was the forester raging toward the people—taking away the produce they had gathered. So I hopped over the fence and took the back to Grandma. All of the other people had to give back the vegetables they had picked. When I got home I was so proud that I had found some food for the family for a few days. Maaike started cooking the sprouts and it seemed they never got done---she gave me the lesson that, "When you steal food, it never will get done." That was a lesson for me.
I was probably the most gaunt and pathetic looking child and it showed. Hunger was more obvious on me than on any one else . So they took me with when father and mother went to collect food. Occasionally the Germans would open up their food supplies.
When Mother would take me on the seat on the back of her bike, she would tell me, "Now don't you say a word , because papa will also be there." She said, "He is also getting a ration of food (which was a small bag of flour.) He was also getting a bag of flour and they are not to know we are related—because they want to give out just one bag to a family." So I just sat there silently. When I saw papa, mother just nodded her head. I was not supposed to say anything so I looked the other way. At that time they both had bikes and they each got a
pound of flour or something like that.
Father worked as a CPA for the IRS in Utrecht. He kept an apartment there with Oom Jan and Tante To, on weekends, he would come home and we would see him walking from the train station on the Utrechtseweg. He was a very tall, striking man with a very straight and distinguishable gait—a gentleman. He always wore a hat and had his walking stick. (Not that he needed it, but it looked distinguished to have it.) He would visit the farms in the area for his work. There are several small towns I remember-Brook op Lange ****, he would go to. He had some clients there who were farmers. During the war, he would go there and come back with some really tiny potatoes. They would normally be fed to the pigs, but this was during the war-- he would get a sack full and mother would cook them in oil and seasoning. I remember they were the most delicious dishes she could fix during the war. Potatoes were the main staff of life in Europe.
When we did not have gas, mother would take the pan full of these potatoes (krieltjes) to the lady next door who had a wood stove. Mother would hand a big pot of potatoes through the hedge and the neighbor lady would cook them for us. They were boiled with the skins on. Mother would give us a little spoon and we would scrape the peels of with little waste.
One time mother said, "Beppy, you will have to go to Toxepeus, (who was the forester at the sanitorium), He is letting some people come there and buy food" (potatoes and carrots). Mother said, "You must go over there and see if you cannot get us some food because we are all out." When I got there, Toxepeus said, "I have been to your house many times because your brothers are always climbing in the trees and breaking the fences. Your parents have a storage cellar, and that is where you keep your food under your house, so I am not going to give you any." So I went back home to mother and said, "Toxepeus knows our house and he said we had storage in the cellar." Mother said, "Beppy, go look, it is empty. You go back and tell him that it is empty." So I had to walk all the way over there , about a mile. I said , "Our storage is empty Mr. Toxepeus, can you please give us some food? because my brother is ill." So he gave me a little, I came home with some food.
The Germans had an air base near Zeist (Soesterberg). One day we were out walking when the base came under attack. Bombs were exploding all around us. Mother made us all lie in a ditch—then she told us to pray.
During that time, mother was able to get apples and sugar beets. We had a pot bellied stove in the living room. Mother would dice and cook the sugar beets and make molasses on the stove. To disguise the taste of the molasses, she would put apples in it and make "apple syrup."
During the last part of the war, Father's sister and her husband and son moved in with my grandmother. Grandma's sister would also come and live with her. I thought they were all' hypochondriacs. They had all kinds of pills they had to take everyday, and each had to have their eyes washed out with little things that looked like egg cups. They would hold them to their eyes and wink several times. It was very interesting for a 7 year old to watch. They were always dealing out the vitamins and health food kind of things-- my family did not do any of these things. I can remember them coming over to our house and sharing our food. So it was very interesting.
I also have fond memories of swimming in a natural swimming pool that was not too far from
our house (Mooi Zeist). We would have to walk through the woods to go there, and on the way back we would pick wild blackberries that grew there abundantly. Once we saw an adder crossing our path that provided us and our friends stories that were told over and over. The stories got better as time went on. All of us children would go to "Mooi Zeist" in the summer time and swim all day. My sister Maaike was a very good swimmer. She and I were very close. I used to walk to school with her and I learned all her little secrets and her friends. We lived farthest away from school so we would meet each of her friends on the way to school. Pieter was 2 years older than I. Maaike was the oldest child then Hans, then Ria, Pieter then I, then Fred (Fritz)Tilly named after my mother Mathilde and John born in July at the end of the war. Robert was born in 1950 after we moved to Rotterdam. I would like to go back to Zeist, it is there I have my fondest memories.
I started school when I was about 3 years old. It was more like a pre-shool. I was not allowed to start regular school until I was 6, since my birthday was in December. My father thought I was ready earlier, so he gave me tutors. Then I skipped the first grade. I was 6 in 1944. School was suspended during the invasion and I did not start school again until 1945. We had been in school just 2 months when the invasion started and school was again suspended as there was no coal to heat the schools. They reopened in September 1945. At that time the classes were over crowded. So they took the top 5 students from the 2nd, grade and put them in the 4th grade. That was all right.. When I was in 6th grade, my parents decided to move to Rotterdam, that was totally a different story because the schoolmaster did not believe I could do 4th grade work and they held me back.
To go back to Zeist. Pieter and I were quite close and often spent time together at grandmother's and we walked to school and pulled many pranks on each other, and when ever I could take the bike to school, he would jump on the back and ride... I pedaled him all the way to school (he had not learned to ride the bike yet).
Usually I did not celebrate birthdays very much, but when I turned 7, my sister Maaike happened to be home and my parents were gone. Maaike suggested, "Go and invite your friends and I will give you a party." So I invited my friends and my little boy friend who walked all the way from the other side of Ziest to our house . When my friends gathered at our entry gate, Maaike told them to come in—but instead, they all ran away... so that birthday I had to spend alone on the ice.
I visited with a lot of people on my way to and from school—much to the dismay of my parents. They did not like that at all. They wanted me to come straight home. I liked visiting.with the German guards that stood by the big villas I passed on the way. At one specific villa that had a guard, I saw some peacocks, and I asked the guard if I could go in and see the peacocks. And so I went on the property and I saw a little gazebo and I had to investigate. I noticed the flooring of the gazebo was made with octagon shaped blocks of oak. I went home and told my older two brothers that I needed them to come with me so they could get some wood for the stove . They did not understand that I would know where to get wood. As we walked by one of the windows, the maid was shaking the bedding out the window, and she saw my brother Pieter (who was then 7 years old) smoking a cigarette, and she said, "Would you like a shoe lace to tie up the bottom of your pants so you won't lose it all?" (Implying he was so young he needed a diaper).
We just laughed and went on. My brothers had to jump over the fence (while I preoccupied the guard, asking again to look at the peacocks). The guard said it was all right. So we loaded up the jute sack with the oak blocks. When the sack was full, we noticed we had nothing to tie the bag with so the blocks would not fall out. Pieter said, "Oh I am going to get that shoelace from the maid." So he jumped back over the fence and got the shoe lace and came back. We tied up the bag and again I went to the guard and thanked him for letting me see the peacocks. While I was talking to him, Hans and Pieter jumped over the fence. I said "Good bye" to the guard. For a long time we had those little blocks of wood to cook our food on.
Some times like in the winter of 1944, we were very scarce on food. Some days we had nothing at all to eat, and some times we would get a slice of sugar beet or kohl rabi before we went to bed so our stomachs would not growl. Father would slice of the kohl rabi and give each of us a piece. The Germans took everything they could get their hands on.
We had to put hard rubber on our bike wheels for tires, and at times, a long willow branch was tied around the wheels for tires. The bikes went to-dom to-dom as we rode along.
In the winter, Father and Mother rode their bikes in the snow into the country trying to find food for us. They were gone two weeks. Mother was pregnant with John at the time. They rode for 2 weeks. When they returned, all they had been able to find was a hare (rabbit). The rabbit lasted us 2 weeks. Mother cooked the bones several times to make soup. We were only allowed a small piece of meat per person (so we would not starve).
Mother had some dried fruit she kept in a cupboard in her bedroom. During the 2 weeks they were gone, they had a woman stay with us. The woman had a girlfriend over every night. They slept in father and mother's bedroom, and they always locked the door, and we were not to disturb them during the night. We didn't realize it at the time, but there was a cubby hole (a little storage area) in that bedroom, and they totally cleaned out mother's dried fruit storage. She had also taken all the baby clothes that mother would need for the baby including a little white fur coat for a one year old that grandmother had bought for Maaike when she was a baby. Mother was very angry, and felt that Maaike should have stopped the woman from taking the clothes and the food.
In November of 1944, the worst winter of the war, father and mother knew they would not have enough food for the family. So they decided to send we five older children out to live with farmers so we could have something to eat. We were sent out to live on farms in Friesland. Maaike the eldest, went first, she had to milk cows and work for the farmer doing chores that a 14 year old could do. Then Hans and Ria went to a farm near the one Maaike was at. Then Piet and I went to a farm. I still remember the long ride in the back of a pick up it was so cold. When we got to Zwolle, we had to stop at the border. There the Germans searched our pickup truck.. The pickup truck had an open cab with 15 or so people sitting around who were going to the north countries. There was a little bit more food on the farms. Then we went on. The Trip took two cold days. The first farmers that we stopped at had only planned to take Pieter, but when they saw there was another child, they took me also. I was 7 years old at the time. The months living with the farmer in Friesland were the most fun of the war years. Pieter and I had plenty of food, and farm life was an adventure for a city kid. The couple we lived with had no children. They treated us as though we were their own children.
For many years after the war, we wrote letters to them and went to visit them during the holidays. Just before I went to America, Pieter and I hitch hiked to see them, and I remember that I could not drink any tea because I was then a member of the LDS church. Pieter had also been baptized. All they had to drink was milk. I was kind of skinny, so they thought, and they gave me all the film from the top of the whole milk. (the cream would separate and a film of dried cream would form on the top of the milk. It was like the film that forms on cooked milk.) It was very nasty, I just about gagged on it but drank it down just like it was good, and Pieter said, "I sure respected your doing that, because I would not have done it, I would have just drank the tea." They just gave him the regular milk.
We were given to the family flantinga,They were Omke (uncle) Hendrik and his wife Murkje, In Friesland, aunt is Moike. So there was Moike Murkje, and Omke Hendrik. They were very good to us. The wife's parents lived with them also. Pake (grandpa) and Beppe (grandma). Piet and I had a lot of fun there. Their house bordered on a river. Between each house ran a small canal and they made a landing with steps going down. That is where we would wash our dishes and clean the vegetables. The boats were also tied there. They were scows, not motorized boats. They were pushed with poles, and were called prams. The farmer would take his cows in them to move them from one pasture to another. (The fields in Holland are separated by canals rather than fences.) Friesland was not occupied by the Germans because Friesland has a lot of locks, and to get from one field to another, we had to go through the locks in the canals. When they knew the Germans were coming, they flooded the land and the tanks and soldiers could not come across the land. We were quite free there, and they grew most of their own food. So we did not grow hungry. Pieter and I learned how to make butter and cheese.
It was winter time so all the cows were in the barn. And every night and morning Moike and Omke would milk the cows. We would watch. They would sit on little one legged stools while milking. Our farmer had about 25 cows. He would put the milk in big milk cans that would be put out on the landing. A boat would come and collect it twice a day and take it to the factory.
One time, Pieter and I were playing around on the landing, and I gave him a good push into the water. Piete was a very good swimmer, but it sure made him mad. He still remembers the incident.
One day we were on a dike jumping the gates to go somewhere. Suddenly, I was confronted by a big billy goat. He lowered his head and charged me. I could not get over the gate fast enough and the goat butted me jin the stomach with his head and horns, and he would not release me. It kinda hurt. Pieter had already crossed the gate. Instead of helping me, or driving the goat away, he just stood there laughing. Finally I got over the gate. The goat just stood there threatening, and Pieter just stood there laughing. Pieter reminded me of the incident just recently, "You should have seen the look on your face!" he remarked.
In the spring, Moike sent me to the store to buy cheese. I understood I was to go to the store on the far end of the dike.(called Broek). When I got back I was chided, "The cheese is less expensive in the nearby store." I later learned they sent me out of the house because they wanted to listen to the radio (which was forbidden, by the occupation) and they were afraid I
Pake was hauling several cows across a bay in the pram. A "ship" was approaching. Pake feared the wake would swamp the pram and his cows would drown. He got up and waved his arms and yelled to get the ships attention to slow down. Luckily we did not get swamped.
Often we would fish in the canals. We would catch as many white fish as we could. When the Yankees and Tomrnys came, they would fish by throwing a handgrenades in the water and stun the fish so they would float to the top of the water. We did not think that was very sporting.
Oom Hendrik was an elder in the church, so we got to sit on a fancy pews. We were in church when all of a sudden the doors swung open and a man yelled, "We are free!" The yanks have come. The tanks pulled into Joure. The Domini (pastor) said, "Why don't you all go home. I don't think you will be listening to me anyway." We went to Joure and there were the tanks and soldiers filing into town. I jumped on the side of one of the tanks and the soldiers gave me some chewing gum and a piece of chocolate that I gave to Moike. We were so happy that we were finally free.
Not all memories of the war years were bad., we had some good times too. Often we would go to the swimming pool that was a huge pond in the forest.
All of my brothers and sisters older than I learned to swim in this pond. It had a bridge over the center and on a holiday, Mother and Dad would all come and go swimming. Dad would just hold me on his shoulders, then go into the deep end of the pond. Then I would sit on the'bridge while he was swimming. And I was very, very skinny. I would press down on my legs on the bridge so they would look a little bigger, and I would say, "See Papa, I am gaining weight. My brothers and sisters and an Aunt would go to the swimming hole and they would carry our little bundle of food on a long stick between them. We would sing songs on our way over to the swimming pool. And then I discovered that the dressing rooms were made of wood, and they had little wooden slats we would stand on to dress. If you lifted them up, you could see things people had lost. Many times I found money in there and other goodies. So I told my brothers and sisters. Then we always waited until the pool closed so we would be the last ones in the dressing rooms. We would look under the slats. We would lift them up and find all kinds of things. During the holidays in the month of August, we would go to the swimming pool almost on a daily basis. Last time I went back to Holland, to Zeist, an Indonesian Restaurant stood where my beloved swimming hole had been.
Zeist was a fun place to live. There were lots of forests where we could play and ride bikes in. Aunte Cor would take us there, and we would play all kinds of children's games and picnic ....and give mother a breather from all her brood...I guess.
Pieter and I would go around with the older neighbor boys in our neighborhood.. They didn't always like me along, but I came anyway. We would climb in the trees of the sanitarium that was close to our home. It had a huge forest, and we carved our initials in a tree. At the occasion of Fathers funeral, Piet and I went there and saw our initials still in the tree. The last time I went there the tree wasn't there anymore. Since those times, houses have been built on the field where I picked the sanitoriuim's vegetables. It is hardly recognizable anymore.
Hans and Piet got their share of whippings too. They used to go climb the trees in the sanitorium woods. Their excuse was they were looking for chestnuts. Father liked chinese chestnuts, and he liked to put them in the ash drawer in the bottom of the hearth to roast; then they would peel easily. The only place I knew that they grew, was in the forest around the sanitorium. The forester who took care of the sanitorium grounds would chase them off. He would then come over and complain to dad. Dad would spank the boys...he would "take care of things."
My Aunt, Tante Paula, mother's oldest sister often came when mother was pregnant to sew and remake her clothes so they would fit her better. She told me that when mother was small, she was a torn boy, and used to climb trees, and said to her, "When I get married, I will only have boys, and they can climb trees all they want. I will sew for them and wash their clothes." She had 5 boys so she got to do plenty of that.
We went to school on the Slotlaan (Slot—a small castle, laan--lane) which was very close to the train station, and we went to play and eat our sandwiches there during the noon hour. There is a Slot at the other end of the street, and we would go over there and play. We had a fairly fun youth. The only things I got a spanking for, were for coming home late...every day. I liked to stay after school and play marbles with my friends or look at all the things in the stores. I was a very curious child. I would go into the stores and look around and see the good buys, and at a very early age, mother would give me her bike and have me pick up groceries on my way home from school.
I would go to the bicycle repair shop every week and have them lower the seat to see if I had grown enough to sit on the saddle and reach the pedals. It seems I never got big
enough to sit on the saddle. I just hung in between the bars. Sometimes I would have 2 or 3 grocery bags full of groceries in the pouches on the back of the bike. Mother would have me buy the groceries because I could remember all the prices and notice sale items. I could tell her how much everything was. I always had to verify the prices with the sales slips, and show that I had not been cheated, and that I got the things she really wanted.
About once a year we would go to the shoe store—mother always bought the generic shoes that both the boys and girls could wear. ---which 1 hated with all my heart. Mother kept a big box of shoes up stairs. When our shoes had holes in them too big for piece of cardboard insert to cover, we would go upstairs to the shoe box and exchange them for a better pair. I remember the little red shoes with the buttons. I had a little hook that I had to lace them up with. I cried and cried when my feet grew too big to wear those pretty little red shoes.
When I was 9 years old, I had a boy friend who was the son of a preacher. The father was a "doctor" and gave many talks. Father knew him well. For my birthday, the boy brought me a bottle of cologne that he gave to my brother Piet to give to me—He finally gave it to me—it was a fun time.
I always had clothes that were made over from a cousin's. Tante (aunt) Geertje had a daughter named Dora, an only child. She had a bad scar on her face that disfigured her nose. She never married. She always had good clothes. Tante Geertje was Grandmother's youngest sister. They always had very nice clothes and when Dora grew out of them, she always gave them to mother. I always happened to be the one nearest her size and got a lot of her things made over
to fit me. Mother had a seamstress by the name of Achterberg, and we always called her `achterwerk', which means "big buns". She was a very good seamstress. She came on Tuesdays and Fridays and sewed for mother. Later on when father had left us and remarried, mother Hilda noticed that one of his shirts had 26 patches on it. I guess that was the result of the good work of Vrouw Achterberg.
It was very interesting later on, when I went back to take care of Mother Hilda, I went to church and met Sister Koning. When I mentioned the names of several people who had worked for mother She knew some of them. We had both taken piano lessons from the same teacher. (All of us older children had to take 4 years of piano lessons. I was the last one to get lessons). She had learned to sew from Mrs. Achterberg! She remembered having to go to her house to learn to mend clothes, both by hand and machine. She learned of my father's death from Mrs. Achterberg.
Right after Pieter was born, mother had a nervous breakdown. She had to go to the Mutlinger Sanitarium, in Germany I believe. There she got better. When she got back things were a little better for a while. Then on another occasion, she went to the Hazenberg Sanitarium.
After we moved to Rotterdam, Robert was born. Father left us before Robert was a year old. He felt he could not raise any more children than the nine he had. Mother insisted
they must do nothing to prevent further pregnancies—that would be a sin. This seems to have been their final marital break-up issue. He loved us very much and we went to visit him every week end. When we joined the church, we had to go to church every Sunday and could not visit him. He became very lonely. After 5 years, he married Hillitje Voskuil, who was very good for him. She was a mid-wife who had never married. They met because Hillitje always saw him walking past her window—and one of her friends told her she should open her window and say, "Hi". (She thought he was a very distinguished gentleman—but sad.) So she did. They became acquainted and made each other very happy.
My brother Hans was the most spoiled of our family. He was sickly and mother would always not make a fuss whenever he did something wrong. He would "lose" money and we could not talk about it. Whenever he would need paints for his painting and he did not get them, he would throw knives and dishes and break things. Since I was the only one working, it was always me that had to buy his paints and brushes. I would give mother half of my salary for the housekeeping, but I got no thanks or favors for it. I was working as a secretary for and export company that dealt in steel pipes. Often Hans needed things that were taken from the money that was left over. (That was money for my clothing and personal needs.) I had to buy him paint supplies. Those were not pleasant years. The branch president found this couple that came to the branch in Rotterdam, they wanted to hire a "nanny". They came to me and asked if I would be interested. I was very anxious to leave home at this time., I was 15 years old, and really going nowhere. So I accepted. That was in 1953.
1 left Holland on the 23rd of September 1955. (In 1952 I was baptized into the Mormon faith at age 14.) I came to the United States alone at the age of 17, and lived in San Bernardino, California. The family I lived with at first were the Geo. Wilson's, but they were not LDS. After I had gone to the Methodist church with them for a few months I took Candy and Diane Jane to church with me. It happened to be Easter, and some of the Wilson's friends were there. This weekend was one that George and Diane Wilson were out of town. I didn't know that
they would have objected. The next day the pastor of the Methodist church came to the house and suggested that I should not take the children to a church they were not familiar with. It would divide the family. I was given the choice of going to church with them or not go to church at all. So after living with the Wilson's for three months I moved to Colton with the Woodrow Miller family, who were LDS. Mrs. Miller (Rita) was Cleone Skousen's sister. They had three little children I was to care for. 1 was allowed to attend San Bernardino Valley college. I studied business. I lived with Millers for 2 years until my mother and the youngest four children in the family came to the USA. Mother's sponsor lived in Port Arthur, Louisiana. One of the Dutch missionaries that lived with us in Holland was stationed in Lake Charles at the Air Force. He had found mother a sponsor so she too could come to America. It was very hard for me to leave California. Piet, whose sponsor lived in Washington D.C., had just moved to Riverside California; and he was attending San Bernardino Valley College with me. We had a lot of friends, and had joined the International Club. The Rotary Club sponsored individual students, and the President Kaiser Aluminum asked me if he could be my sponsor. I was majoring in business, and he promised me a well paying job as his private
secretary when I graduated. When I told Woodrow, and Rita Miller how much he had offered me Rita acted a little upset. Evidently Woodrow was not paying her enough. Woodrow just laughed, and said: "Well that's because she is a pretty young girl." This did not make matters any better. I wish I had shut up about it. The year before when Woodrow's Rotary Club had sponsored me I had to pay my own tuition, but now that the Fontana Rotary Club sponsored me they paid for my tuition and books. They also had special nice outings for us on Saturdays. Many times I felt that Rita was purposely finding jobs to do on those days, but if I kept quiet about it I did get to go to some of them. After I had worked for Rita a year, Woodrow suggested that I should not have to work on Sundays. Rita agreed, but I just had that much more to do on Mondays. Actually I didn't care too much. It was nice to be able to be with my friends on Sunday. When I turned 19, Woodrow decided that he wanted me to participate in the Orange Bowl Pageant, in Colton . The competition was fun, and it was exciting to meet the other contestants. A week before the pageant Rita told me that she and Woodrow would not be able to attend the pageant because they had a dinner to go to. When Woodrow found out about that he stormed out the door to find Rita. He confronted her with it, and said: "I am the mayor of this town, and I am going to have to congratulate the winner on stage, and I don't know what dinner you have planned, you can go if you want to, but I'm not. From that day Rita didn't treat me too well. She did give me money to buy a bathing suit, and an evening gown. Though. I did not win the competition, I was runner-up. After it was all over Rita said: "Beppy, the winner is going to Apple Valley for a week to get ready for the state competition, but I would never let you take off for a whole week, so it is better this way. This was surprising to me, because all the time I worked for the Millers they paid me $60 per month for seven days a week work, but the minimum wage at that time was $ 1.00 per hour. I had to have breakfast on the table by seven, and often worked till eight at night. I was hired as a nanny, but I did the household chores instead. When I asked for a raise Woodrow said: "The raise would not mean anything we would just hold more for taxes, but you would get the same amount of money". It was better when Woodrow told Rita that she should not make me work on Sundays.
There were immigration quotas in Holland. America would take only so many Dutch immigrants per year. Our quota had not filled yet so I could go on our quota. Mother signed up on the German quota, and that was in 1953. After 2 years, mothers quota slot came up, and
she could not go—she did not have a sponsor. She felt it better that I go, then I was to look for a sponsor for her. It was not a good idea that mother should go to America with 4 children, no means of support, and no skills other than being a nurse 20 years earlier. And she did not speak the language. Two years after I left, one of the missionaries who had lived in our house, found a sponsor for her in Port Arthur, Louisiana. And so mother came with the 4 younger children. (She punished father by taking the children where he would "never see them again".) I was living in California, and this same missionary wrote me that 1 should come and help my mother. So we decided I should go. Pieter was very much opposed to this. He was living in Riverside at the time. He had Left Holland about a year after I left, and lived in Washington D.C. for a couple of years. Then he decided to come to California where he worked at the Mission Inn in Riverside. Often he would spend his lunch hours with me, and I would cook him delicacies, and have fun with him. I was real glad that he came to California. But then
the letter came from Elder Duffin that I should come and help my mother. Pieter was very much opposed to my going, because I had a good situation and was going to college. I really had not been instrumental in having mother come to the states. She had a fairly good life in Holland. The money father sent, was only worth 114th in America and it really was not enough to take care of the family. I did not have a job guarantee when I went to Louisiana. I started looking and found a job as a dental assistant in Lake Charles, La. where mother was living at the time. I stayed there for 2 1/2 years—which were very hard years, because Tilly was a teen ager and John was 11 and Robert only 7. When they came, mother had a hard time finding work. She finally found a job at a hospital as a nurse's aide which brought in a little money.
When I had been there 6 months, that same missionary sent over a father and mother in their 50's, with two teen age children. They had to live with us and share our food. We really did not have the income to take care of them also. They were very demanding. If I cooked corn, they said, "Are we going to have to eat chicken food?" They complained about a lot of things, when I would make my sandwich in the morning, (because I would have to leave about 5:30 in the morning to be to my work at 8:00—the bus schedule was not very good.), they would have sent their boys in to raid our ice box, and there would be no food for me. I would often go all day long without food because I would not have money to buy lunch.
The people I worked for were very good to me, they even took care of the family's dental needs. One time I came home, and I always had to cook the food after I got home, and evidently Tilly had tried to light the gas stove and had not turned it off. Gas had accumulated in the oven. It exploded in my face when I tried to light it. We were afraid at the time, that the scars would be permanent, but they soon went away.
Tilly was a difficult child, and very demanding. Since I wore uniforms to work, she would borrow my clothes and wear my Sunday clothes and shoes to school. So I never had any nice clothes to wear to church. There were many things that were unhappy there. So after 2 years, when the Stake President interviewed me, (I was on a stake mission at the time), I was very tired and broken down. I told him that my life at home was very unhappy. He said "Maybe we had better send you to Brigham Young University so you can have a life of your own."
By that time, mother was making money at the hospital and father's money, that had taken about a year to process, was coming regularly. Even though the dollar was very strong—so the money father sent was only worth 114th here. She still got about $400 a month, which
with her income, was enough to take care of the family. (I had bought the furniture and had been able to pay the rent.) It was a pretty nice house.
So I left for Brigham Young University. I got a job there in the bookstore. That enabled me to rent an apattment and go to school. The Hans and Pieter came and moved in on me. Neither of them had any money. For 3 months I was able to feed them, when the time came to register, Pieter did not have any money—and Hans did not have money to live on—Hans received enough money for tuition and I gave Pieter my tuition money.
Since I did not enroll in school, I was not able to keep my job at the bookstore. So that fall, we went to pick apples and pears and had a little bit of money One week all I could afford was liver, and I made liver an onions every day. Finally Pieter said, "I am sick of this, why don't you bring me something else?" It was more than I could take, I said, "I guess I will just have to go get a job in Salt Lake City."
Pieter continued his studies and joined the ROTC. Hans went to live with some Dutch people who had no children. Pieter joined the military.
The people that Hans lived with said, "Beppy, did your really desert Hans and Pieter?" I was 20 years old at the time. They were 26 and 22. I did not think a sister could desert her brothers since they made no effort to find jobs. (Pieter had a job in the cafeteria, but Hans made no effort to work.) They had pretty much relied on what I had. When I left, I could not take everything with me. I went to live with the Horlacher family in Salt Lake. Bill Horlacher was the missionary who first contacted mother in Holland. They invited me to live with them while I looked for a job. I lived there for a year and had a job. I was accepted by the United Airlines as a stewardess.
Meanwhile mother had come to Provo and lived with a family where she cared for an elderly woman. I left for stewardess training school. The day that I was accepted, I met my husband De Lamar Gibbons.
I have pleasant memories of the Maria Plaatz in Utrecht. When De and I went to take care of Mother Hilda, we went to Utrecht a lot. It was very easy to reach by train. We would go to the cathedral which was, the Dom, the highest building in Holland. It is about 100 meters high. Behind the cathedral was a bi-weekly auction that we would go to. (I bought a nice piano for $50.) I bought a painting I liked of the Dom and the Maria Plaatz. I bid for it and got it. (The Maria Plaatz is a short distance from the Dom.) When I saw the picture, I was thrilled. I bought it and had it home for a week when the museum in Utrecht called and said they were trying to acquire paintings of this artist as he was one of the only artists painting in the war years. "Would you consider selling the painting to us, we have been watching it for several years." They said, "You did not pay very much for it, we would be glad to give you what you paid for the paining." I told them it had special meaning for me, because I used to play in the Maria Plaats close to the bridge on the picture." They said, "It will mean a lot more to you than it does to us then." I took it to an art dealer who cleaned and re-framed it for me. It has a special place in our home here in America.