Invisible Threads…

It’s funny what you lug behind after you leave home. You don’t even realize that “they’re” along for the life ride, let alone maybe a bit different or strange. It may take years before you discover “they’re” trying to kick their way out in the open and have some say. Some of these threads are from my home town of Rock Valley, Iowa. Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s this was a pretty small, somewhat isolated, mostly Dutch community of about 2,500 folks. Much of our population was farmers, though I was always a townie. Other threads were instilled in my home as I was growing up.


Neese sitting in front of the house I grew up in. Rock Valley, Iowa 1959..



When I was small, I thought the whole world was like me. Mom and Dad were Dutch, so I thought nothing of their strange words and phrases. I assumed the rest of the world talked like we did. We watched The Huntley-Brinkley Report or Walter Cronkite for our news, but I never realized they did not use the word “kaup” instead of head, or refer to Nikita Khrushchev as “aggawase” instead of saying he was stubborn and pig-headed. Every mom must have told their kids to make sure and put on clean “broekje’s” (Bru-kees, underpants) before you went anywhere. Certainly every house had wooden shoes, crocheted or tatted doilies and Blue Delft brought over from the Netherlands. Each with its own history and story.


Blue Delft w/ floral motif. I don’t care for windmill scenes. Gasp…


Many of my attached threads had to do with our language from Rock Valley. Though primarily Dutch, there were certainly other ethnic backgrounds and traditions in town. But when you’re a kid, and Dutch, I assumed that’s what was used in every home. Phrases like “oof-da” meaning heavy or too much of something, or “heh-tah” meaning simply good grief were used daily. It would be years before someone questioned what I was talking about when I said, “look at all the “ploujes” (plu-shees) John left on the carpet when he walked across with his black socks on!” (Ploujes are fuzzies on clothes or carpets).


Saucijzbroodjes (sah-size-a-broach-ease) Dutch delicacy…


But the Dutch traditions in foods and cooking were even stronger and perhaps stranger than our ways of expression. Just try this one on for size: “saucijzbroodjes.” Yeah, that’s a mouthful! And quite delicious. The Dutch seem to throw around an awful lot of c’s, j’s, and z’s in their words. It’s really not that hard to pronounce. (Sah-size-a-broach-ease) They’re pigs-in-the-blankets. A traditional ground beef and pork mixture, snugly wrapped in a pie-crust like blanket and baked to a golden brown. Usually eaten hot, but excellent cold right out of the frig. As if they ever last that long. Another Dutch delicacy are Fet-Bols. Similar looking to donut holes, these balls of dough have raisens and are dropped in hot oil to cook for a couple minutes. Plopped on a paper towel for a few seconds, then rolled around in sugar, or cinnamon-sugar mix. Best eaten warm. Traditionally made for New Year’s Day. My Mom made them, but I don’t remember if it was celebrating New Year’s. Some Dutch dishes have never found favor by my palate. One is Balken Brei. Made from pork cracklings (exactly what the heck is that anyway?) John makes this occasionally but he uses cooked, shredded pork roast, buckwheat flour, and several spices like cinnamon. Mixed, packed, and patted in a cake pan, then refrigerated, sliced, and fried like bacon. Covered with syrup. Gross. I don’t ever remember Mom making it, but I do remember eating it. Once. I was very young and spending the day at Wilma Van Zanten’s house. Pretty sure Mom and Wilma exchanged babysitting favors. Must have been my turn to stay there. Never ate it again. No offense Wilma.


Dutch Fet-Bols in a Blue Delft bowl. Pretty and good…


Some popular Rock Valley foods may not have been Dutch either. I think they were only popular or named as such in northwest Iowa. One of my favorites is a Tavern. Served on buns, it’s simply lean ground beef, browned with diced onion, drained, then add a titch of yellow mustard and brown sugar, with enough Heinz ketchup to kind of hold them together. When I moved just a couple hundred miles away in the mid-’70’s, no one on the east side of Iowa knew what I talking about when it came to Taverns. By the time I moved to Michigan in the mid-’80’s, if I mentioned the word Tavern, everyone assumed we were headed to the bar. Sigh. Taverns are like sloppy joes. But vastly different than a loose meat or maid rite. And much better. To this day when I open my weekly Rock Valley Bee, I still spot Taverns on the school menu or as an advertised soup supper sandwhich held by a local church. That hasn’t changed in over 60 years, probably longer. Only in northwest Iowa. It warms my heart when I spot the word “Tavern” in the paper.


Rock Valley still enjoying Taverns at school. Rock Valley Iowa paper, 2015…


After leaving Rock Valley, some threads were easy to sever. Dad’s unrelenting rules on movies, make-up, dances, and dating someone who didn’t meet his approval. It was a relief to put some distance between Mom and me. She liked knowing and being part of every facet of my life. I mean every part. Could be stifling. Had to admire Dad’s convictions though. If he felt something was wrong to do in Rock Valley, (example, swimming on Sunday’s) he’d never allow me to do it any where else either. Example: on vacation 2 thousand miles away. He never made exceptions to his high standards.

If he got called to the State shop during a Sunday blizzard, and Mom hadn’t made up his lunch pail, he would not stop at a restaurant in Canton, Sheldon or Perkin’s Corner with the other guys he worked with. If he worked 12-16 hours, he’s come home starving, but would not break his own rules. He would not eat in a restaurant on Sunday, period. Mom would save his supper on a glass or metal pie plate, covered with tin foil. He’d pop it in the oven for a few minutes. Always had his usual prayer, scripture reading, even if he was eating alone and it was 10 at night. It’s not hard to admire his unwavering faith.


My Dad’s lunch pail. Carried it for decades…


Other threads from Mom and Dad I have clung to like a life preserver on the Titantic. Especially as I get older. I appreciate Mom’s great love and total dedication to elderly people. Her whole life. I got this gene from her since I too have loved older folks. Maybe it’s because she was raised by 2 sets of grandparents after she was just a few days old. Dad for his faithfulness to his parents. It was a rare day in his life when he did not stop at his parents house, drink a cup of coffee, and visit for a half hour. I went along lots of times. Some days they didn’t even talk much. But it was out of respect. Making sure they were ok, or seeing if they needed something. Dad was devoted to his folks.


Great-grands Arie & Bessie Gerritson w/ Shannon, 4, 1974…


Mom and Dad both had a wonderful ability to save money. They could be lavish with their gifts and spending. But saving was vital to them and they did it well. Always tithing to the Lord. That’s giving back to God 10% of everything you bring home. Without fail. Since before I went to school. It was just part of their budget. When they got paid, Mom had envelopes lined up in a small box. Very little was put in their checking account. They hardly wrote any checks. Mom and Dad paid cash for most things, even bills. Either one would make monthly stops at IPS, the phone company, and 2 gas stations. Mom always preferred De Boer’s, Dad liked Doc Ver Berg’s. Don’t know why they continued for years to charge gas at both stations. Loyalty I guess. Or Dutch stubbornness. Money went into another envelope for the weekly church collection. They never varied from their own rules and standards.

I wonder how many invisible threads our kids are getting from us? Shannon shares my love of antique oak furniture. Her house is stuffed even fuller than mine! Several years ago, Joshua asked for some of my recipes. He said, “Ma, how do you make banana cream pie? Just email me the recipe will ya?” But I just couldn’t do it. I bought a Longaberger Recipe Basket and wrote out about 30 of my recipes. It was somehow vitally important that he have these recipes written in my half/cursive, half/printing scrawl. When I’m gone, I want him to appreciate having those hand written recipes. Knowing that I took the time. I did the same thing for my granddaughter Ariana. When she opened Her recipe basket she cried. So did I.


Banana Cream Pie. Josh makes his own now…


But our kids grew up way different than we did. None of them ever got to stay in one place very long. Twenty plus years in North Muskegon is the longest we’ve ever lived in one house. Adam, our youngest, was already 15 when we moved here. I only moved once while living in Rock Valley. John and I rarely use Dutch words anymore. None of the kids have ever made Saucijzbroodjes, Fet-Bols, pea or bean soup. Heaven forbid if I could get them to try Balken Brei. They all like Taverns. And Penuche, which is a brown sugar fudge my Mom used to make with her grandma Berghuis (on Sunday’s, oops a minor sin) in the 1930’s. But I think all 3 kids still prefer fudge…


Brown sugar fudge called Penuche…

 

My great-grandma Berghuis’ Fudge recipe. Still made frequently…

 

One thought on “Invisible Threads…

  1. I have \”pretend\” cousins in Southwestern Ontario with the same surname as I (do). Apparently their Dutch name was shortened to \”NAVES\” by Canadian immigration. The head of the family didn't challenge it as he was ecstatic just to be welcomed into Canada after 4 years of trying. They all grew up in a \”Dutch Bubble\” ( home, school, church – morning and evening on Sunday) as A. A. Naves put it. A good bubble, she added, but a rather sheltered environment.

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