Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Generations of Immigrants, a Personal Story

Hello all,

Thanks, Claudia, for creating a community of working grandmothers. What a neat idea!

This is my introductory post, and I'll make it about emigration and extended families. [Emigration is the act of leaving one's country to live in another, immigration is the process of becoming part of the new country].

I emigrated from Holland to Canada with my geologist husband in 1969 at the age of 25. I have never been sorry for a single moment, but only recently have we started to realize how much the next generation is deprived of extended family.

I come from a close, matriarchal family.

My mother had 4 sisters and her father died when Mom was 12. "Oma van Eijk" was definitely a presence in our childhood.

I was always a bit scared of her, and did not like the way us kids had to behave better than normal (we were really pretty good) when Oma came to stay with us. We did have some good times together when I went to stay with her in her home. But I did not start to fully appreciate her courageous and difficult life till long after she was gone.

My father's parents were more fun, especially since they lived in a downstairs flat with, oh joy! a backyard with an apple tree, a gap in the hedge that led to Opa's brother's backyard next door, and even a few chickens at the end of the yard.
Besides that Oma only 5 feet tall, if that, and was a lot of fun to measure yourself against.

When I met my husband his redoubtable and remarkable grandmother on mother's side was still alive. "Moele" lived in a huge home filled with antiques and souvenirs of her many years in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. She organized a lavishly catered family reunion every Christmas season where all the nieces and nephews gathered. She told us (in 1965) that she wanted to stay alive to see a man land on the Moon. She did. Quite a lady.

I can't say the extended family was a daily part of our lives, but there was definitely a network of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents that one took for granted and it was there in the background.

My parents used to visit here a lot, Mom almost once a year. But none of my siblings had kids, for various reasons. The family tree has shrunk instead of expanded. Four kids, two grandchildren, one great-grand, at least so far. There is still hope :).

This leaves my children in the world without cousins on that side of the family. My husband's sisters had 5 kids between them, but his family is less close than ours.

This was simply not a big deal when they were growing up. We were part of a rural "back-to-the-land" community, with friends taking the place of family. But the young have all scattered, as they must to find more opportunity than a small resource town can offer.

Fortunately our daughter married into a small but close family and her in-laws live in the same town as us. We are good friends, so we are creating an extended family in that way. It is great!

There really ought to be a word for sideways relations. What do you call people with whom you share a grandchild? Our grandson, who will remain un-named because my girl guards her privacy, has cousins on his father's side. The other grandparents of those cousins live here too, and have kindly included us in a sort of sideways extended family. We have even had Christmas at their place.

What do you call people whose grandchildren are cousins to your grandchild?

We need to enrich this language!

Anyway, that's enough for now....

Ien in the Kootenays, Mother of daughter, 33, who just got her PhD in microbiology, and son, 28, a geologist like Dad who is moiling for gold in the NorthWest Territories, one brilliant grandson, 9.

I market wild whole foods products for middle-aged women who are so exhausted and muddled that they can't even finish their own sentences anymore, like I used to be, and I have a special interest in keeping kids with ADD off drugs! Don't be afraid to ask, I don't believe in "selling" and will gladly share everything I have learned on ADD. (There was originally a link to a site, but it is no longer connected to the author at this update, and I cannot find her. Perhaps she will find us one day.)

Updated 11/27/18

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