Legacy

Dear Grandpa,

Last Friday we laid you to rest in the earth. We, your legacy of more that 70 children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren. It made me realise how many lives you’d touched in a profound way – simply by living a kind and honest life, in which there was always room for the other. To so many of us, your home felt like our home. A place where we were rooted. A place where we could always drop by, no matter what. The front door was never locked, and we never used the doorbell. We just came in, and were welcome.

For me, it was the one place in my life that never changed. Whenever I came back to the Oudendijk, I would take a walk through the whole house, seeing and smelling every corner again. I loved the attic, with its typical smell of old objects (each with a history of its own) and the feel of the rough rug under my feet. Time stood still in the attic. I loved the muffled sound of the grandfather clock each hour. The tiled shower upstairs where as a little girl I would drink hot water out of the tap and imagine it was tea. The toilet at the bottom of the stairs with the “Ot en Sien” birthday calendar, each name written meticulously in cursive letters. The front room looking out over grandma’s garden and the cow pasture, where during summers when I had just gotten back to Holland from Africa, I would crouch up to the fireplace in an effort to warm up. I loved the kitchen, where we ate grandma’s vegetable soup, or rye bread with cumin cheese, and later your own homemade bread. Grandma would toss leftover breadcrumbs out of the window for the birds flitting around. Sometimes you would boil eggs, and I would watch breathlessly as you quickly cooled my egg under the cold faucet so I could have it as I liked it, soft-boiled. I loved every inch of that house, and I will miss it.

Opa, you lived a life in which you placed people before everything else. When a friend or a family member had lost a loved one, you would go and sit with them a whole afternoon every week, and just be there with them. Friends and neighbors would drop by your house just around coffee time and stay for hours, chatting over the latest family news or village gossip.

I’m amazed at how much love I’ve seen in this family you and grandma raised together. It was, and is, a place where everyone can be themselves and there is a fundamental sort of unity, despite all our differences. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have my roots.

I will miss you, grandpa, your funny comments with which you would bring lightness to conversations. Your presence there, in the Oudendijk, with grandma. And as I’m preparing to be a mother, I’m thinking that if I can only create that same kind of atmosphere of love and acceptance in my home, I’ll have done okay! Thank you for your example, for the example of your 67 years of marriage that makes me believe that, in a down to earth sort of way, true love does really exist. I know life wasn’t always easy – and maybe most of your years would be considered rather “boring” by my generation (imagine working for 37 years under the same employer!) – but you two did it. You made it through 70 years of life together. And in the end you said, “If I have my little dove with me, then I have everything I need.” That’s gold, grandpa. We’ll do our best to take care of grandma until she joins you. And then I imagine you meeting each other again – like it’s the first time. You, with your straight nose and smooth cheekbones, she with a quiet but giggly face that shows her delight in being with you.

Till then, I hope you’re enjoying heaven, grandpa. Maybe you could start building a new home for us all there – a bigger one, where 70+ children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren all fit, with room for more.
Wouldn’t that be great?

Good-bye, opa!