Family Life


Five minutes before the agreed time of my appointment[1], I parked my car in one of the “vendors & visitors” lots of the construction company in the small village L. Within three minutes I was in their new office, drinking a cup of coffee.

“So”, concluded the contractor, glancing at his watch, “You’ve managed to find us!” ‘Well”, I replied, “if necessary, I’ll drive this road blindfolded!” “Amazing”, said my interlocutor, “the first time most visitors pass us by unnoticed. Or even the entire village!” “My wife originates from L.”, I said, solving the problem. “May I ask your wife’s name?” I told him. “Oh”, the contractor answered, “then I know her! And then I also know your parents in law very well!” He looked out of the window and undeniably dug in his memory: “That has been quite a while”. He turned his head in my direction: “A highly appreciated couple. They even lived almost next door to us for a few years” and “I have great respect for your father in law. He never had much money, but yet he succeeded in pulling his family through hard times”. He added: “Later on he even bought a home!” “Yes”, I confirmed, mentioning the name of the street as well as the number of the house. “Exactly! One day he came to pay me a visit”, he continued, “he needed new kitchen tiles”. For a while the contractor gazed out of the window again, as if the continuing of the story was written somewhere outside. Facing me again and now smiling because of the upcoming memory: “I calculated him a price for the tiles, but he did not want to pay that. “Half” he said. I sure wanted to allow him a discount, because he did a lot for our village, so I said: “All right! But then you will not get that number of tiles but a few less. Will you then still be able to pave your floor?” Your father in law looked at me satisfactory, shook my hand to seal the deal and said, good-humoured: “I am sure I can. I’ll just make the pointing a bit wider!”

[1] I was a loan officer for a Dutch bank.


My father’s grave is, since his way too early death in 1950, located in the USA. In Shalersville, Ohio, to be more accurate. Looking for my roots I have been in this part of his second native country three times now.[1]

In the Indian Summer of 1978 I drive my rental car effortless through the gate, which is formed by the letters “RIVERSIDE CEMETERY”.

















The grave as it is on 9.9.2014.

After a short search I sit in front of the grave of my father, who died when I was only almost 10 months young. Emotional moments and a lump in my throat as our father/son relationship starts and ends here in deprivation and inability. More questions than answers. The small, grey gravestone not only highlights in black letters and figures the birth- and dying day of Henry Wijngaarden, but also mentions that “his survivors, wife, daughter and son (all first names are added) live in the Netherlands”. On my knees in front of the gravestone I get rid of moss and leaves before I take out my camera. As the grave is situated almost under a large Virginian tulip tree, that eliminates much of the daylight, I decide to use my flash. My photo shoot, for which I took a couching position with one knee on the ground in order to get the entire stone as close as possible into the lens, does not go by unnoticed. A young gardener salutes me, two fingers at his cap, and says: “I always wonder who those survivors in Holland might be.” I stand upright now and declare, full of emotional pride: “I am his son Johannes!”

Three years later my wife and I are on the same spot together to visit this solemn cemetery. In a ceremonial, respectful moment we stand hand in hand in front of the small striking stone. Once again touching moments, which I now share with my wife, who is also very impressed by this for us so far away grave. Again  we remove leaves from the stone and I slide with my index finger over the fissures in which letters and figures have been chiselled 31 years ago now. “If we ever get a son”, my wife promises, “his name will be Henry.” “Ever” turns out to be  December 9, 1982.

In 1991 I am getting ready for my third journey to Ohio. My father’s small circle of friends and acquaintances, in which I, due to earlier visits and frequently letter writing, acquired a very valued position, not only faces advanced ages, but also suffers illnesses. A go round to meet great friends for the last time has to be done. It is decided that I will go alone just to cause the least possible disturbance. My wife, son and daughter accompany me to Schiphol Amsterdam Airport.

This round trip is once more full of close friendships and sentiment and includes the predictable visit to my father’s grave.  On this special place  I think how my life might have been, should I have known my father. Would I be an American then, working and living in this great country now? Another photo shoot is the least I can do. These four weeks fly by just like that again.

Back on Schiphol, however, my family felt its opposite as my little daughter perfectly expresses, dancing of joy: “Daddy still recognises me!(2x)” At home I tell all my adventures, while presents are given, opened up and appreciated: “Ah’s” and “Oh’s” and getting used to daily life again.

Two days later, when I had the picture roles developed, I am working on a scrapbook with an excellent mix of pictures, flyers, event tickets and road maps, on which I carefully mark the places, where I have visited this time. One picture of the tombstone is quite blurry; only my father’s name is readable, so I decide not to glue it in the album. Just before midnight the job is finished and almost all visibly memories are in it. As tomorrow another working day will be awaiting me, I kind of in a hurry put the new album on the book shelve, next to the other two volumes. Therefore the blurred picture escapes my attention and slips to the floor, under the table.

This negligence gets its revenge that next morning. While my wife and I are still sitting at the breakfast table, our son Henry enters somewhat timidly the room. He holds the blurred picture he just picked up, in his fist up in the air and says: “Why do I already have a grave in the United States?”

[1] This story is set in 1981.









It is a wintery day with rain and wind. So time for the attic clean up, which I always seem to put off.

Among the knickknacks I find an old cardboard box that survived our 5 removals so far. When I open it, there are remaining holiday coins from the United States, France, Germany and England. And a broken piece of school chalk, a piece of soap, a ballpoint pen, a package of (far from complete) playing cards and some beautifully colored   U.S. postage stamps. One of the coins draws my attention as it is considerably larger and, as I weigh it in my hand, rather heavy and ugly discolored into almost black.

I think of the high gold- and especially silver prices and when I, standing behind the kitchen table, have been working on it for half an hour with a woolen cloth and silver polish, the origin shines at me from both sides its respond: It is a silver dollar out of 1923. “So it must have belonged to my father’[1],” I think aloud.

“Google” explains: “A silver (90% and 10% copper) U.S. “Peace Dollar” from 1923, with on its front side a female, looking at her left side, with a “liberty head” (like that of the Statue of Liberty in New York, but with the head of the wife of the author, Mrs. Mary Teresa Di Fransisci) and the inevitable “In God We Trust.” On the back side an eagle, facing right, landed on a high rock, creaking an olive branch. The mintages are Denver, Philadelphia and San Francisco. This mint mark is on the edge of the coin, just above the tip of the tail of the eagle. San Francisco is the rarest location and minted with an “s”. This coin has a value of between    $ 20.00 and $ 4,000.00.”

I tell the story to my wife and say gently: “Well, we are not going to get the jackpot here, but it does look really cool! There is not a scratch on it!” I hand it to her: “Feel this out with your finger, there is the mint mark. That must be a “d”, a “p” or hopefully an “s”. But I cannot read it with my hand-lens.” My wife cannot either. Final decision: “I’m going to take it to the jeweler to have it examined.”

In the center of the village I enter the jewelry shop of Popma & Popma right away. On that moment there are no other customers, so I propose my question to Mr. Popma Jr. He glances at the coin and hands it over to his father: “Can you see which letter is listed just above the tail of the bird?” Sr. takes a magnifying lens out of the inside of his suit and slides it for the right eye of his spectacles. He holds the coin just below there for a second and says without hesitation: “It’s an “s”. While giving me the coin back he says: “You did not do it quite right. You should not have polished it so intensely.”

“You’ve got that silver friend, don’t you?” my wife sais as I have numismatically briefed her. “That’s a splendid idea! He is an expert in all that has to do with silver. And he has connections all over the world. I mail Jan the whole story in a just a minute!”

That same evening I got an email in return: “As you describe it: that is undoubtedly a fine specimen. “Uncirculated” such a coin is probably worth up to $ 4,000.00, but then you had, as a manner of speaking, to catch the coin the same minute after it was minted in a stocking and put it in a safe right away. Now your father and you had it, so it has circulated. The silver value is $ 17.25. Then your coin is being fused to withdraw the silver out of it. Would you therefore prefer to sell it, then you have to go to a kind of electronic American Marketplace. I only just “googled” for you and on E-Bay alone there are 2007 pieces for sale between 20 and 40 dollars this day. And when you may have a buyer (if you find one whatsoever) you have to be bickering about who should pay the shipping costs. This is all I can make of it. And you should not have polished it; Collectors don’t like that.”

The Silver Dollar lays in front of me on the kitchen table. I have decided to keep it and I put it back in its box. It shines so beautifully.

(June 2013)

[1] My father lived in the USA from 1922 to 1951.








My wife’s dining club consists of six passionate cooking ladies, husbands and concubines not invited. They regularly meet about every six weeks to feed themselves with usually exotic dishes, every event at a different dinner table. The number of members has been carefully considerated: In  rotation two ladies prepare and serve the appetizer, two others “do” the main course and the remaining two members care for a dessert. I don’t know who is or are responsible  for the selection of wine(s), nor can I assess its quality as it is constantly drunken. But the well balanced dishes taste awesome. Around midnight on such an evening I sometimes (at home) get the opportunity to taste the left over(s) of a dessert and the next day -most of these dining evenings I am lucky- a portion of the main course. Usually they boil, cook, fry or grill far too much.

This evening -the theme is “Mexican”- dinner will be  served at a club member in a neighbouring village. My wife and her team-mate  carefully prepared the starter and take off to the well-known address, leaving the car behind on an almost  next door parking lot. As it is a beautiful summer evening they are going to dine outdoor on a roofed terrace. The second team -main course- is polishing it up on a few details before -awaiting the arrival of team three- a glass of wine is being poured.

The sound of breaking glass. “Oh”, the hostess of the evening explains, “a car crash! Those parking lots are far too narrow. It caused our car a broken tail light and two car mirrors!”

This conclusion, however, is a misunderstanding: Seconds later the missing team rings the doorbell. Devastated one of the dessert brewers (there is alcohol inside) says: “Whoever wants a dessert tonight has to go to the parking lot, next to our car. Don’t forget to bring a spoon along!”