The Race Card…

I would say the first 18 years of my life were very sheltered. I was raised in a small, Dutch community in northwest Iowa. Probably calling the whole town of Rock Valley-Dutch-isn’t fair. But a very large percentage of that small town was of Dutch descent. The town boasted a beautiful Catholic Church, and 2 Lutheran churches, but were highly outnumbered by the amount of Reformed churches. From what I remember, a Calvin, Christian, First, and a Netherlands for sure. So the Dutch outnumbered all the other nationalities by a long ways.


After Sunday night RCYF, the teens marched up to this addition to hear the sermon, mid-1960’s…

I never thought about it when I was young. Kids don’t think like that. It’s just the way I was raised. You don’t wonder, why isn’t there a Synagogue, or a Mosque? But as I got older, I did wonder why all the different versions of Reformed? Was it like 15 Christians fighting with the other 75 in their congregation years ago, getting fed up with some minor detail of their bylaws, then breaking off and starting over with their own little set of rules and beliefs? A couple of the ‘Reformed’ churches pushed their agenda of Christian School education when I was a kid. I don’t know why Mom and Dad didn’t start me off in the local Christian school. They joined the Calvin Christain Reformed when I was about 3. Larry would have been 7, Mona 11. It could have been about money. The folks simply couldn’t afford tuition for 3 kids. Maybe Mona, being the oldest and already attending public school for several years, raised a fuss. But within a few short years of joining Calvin, Larry was dead, Mona was out of school and married. Leaving little Neese the only kid in the church attending public school. Outsider for ever. Had to go to catechism on Tuesday’s after school. Church kids, all from Christian school teased and called me Dennis. Wasn’t very Christian. Begged my folks to switch to a bigger church in town where all my friends went to public school. Mom and Dad caved. I was a brat. Sometimes I feel guilty about this. Calvin was a much smaller, intimate congregation and supported our family with kindness, visits, and food after we lost Larry. Still I was utterly unhappy there. So rather than fight with me, they switched. I was happy. I think they were ok with it too. Dad became very involved, Mom, more of a loner did not. I was part of a huge group of youth and loved it.


Calvin Christian Reformed Church, 1950’s…


So, this Dutchy little town with all the churches. Each sanctuary filled on Sunday mornings, and most again on Sunday nights. With white folks. No African Americans, no Asians, no Jews, no Muslims. Just white Dutch, white Germans, white English, white Scandinavians. Solid white. Hubs folks got in a fight with Refomed church when he was a baby. John was a surprise to his folks, their 5th child. Money was tight for them and the church wanted more. In the Van Berkum house, there was no more. So they stopped going and changed to the United Methodist who didn’t insist on a set amount each week. Just like my folks but for different reasons. Round robin churches, although some were more strict and their congregants were more loyal. The Netherland’s Reformed Church comes to mind. I viewed them from afar in case their loyalty might be catching. Yikes. They allowed no make up, no TV’s, no car insurance. Double yikes. And 3-a-days on Sunday. One service in Dutch! Didn’t want to get too close to that.

To say my life, my church, my town was somewhat sheltered, isolated, filled with idiosyncrasies. This is not a stretch from my point of view looking back. When John was in junior high, his Sunday school class invited a black pastor to visit from Sioux City, because the kids had never seen a black person. Unbelievable. John remembers asking why the insides of his hands were so light? Yup, we were sheltered. Probably not very healthy.


Adore these 2! Tracey and Landon, 2002…


A couple of weeks ago something happened to upset this Dutch grandma. Can’t get this conversation out of my head. It’s on a loop and keeps replaying. Did I handle it well? No, I rarely do. One of my good friends just remarked how much she enjoys a good debate on almost any subject. Geez, not me. I don’t want to confront, argue, debate ANYTHING controversial. Totally not me. No matter how strongly I feel about something, I’m just out of my league. Inept, can’t find the right words to justify my feelings. Not something I was born with. I’m better if I can type it out, but after proofreading and changing words around 15 times, I’m still out of my comfort zone. Usually the knowledge I have on the subject in not kept where I can easily retrieve it either. I know how I believe and feel, and am comfortable in my beliefs, but rarely express it.

So I was invited to a potluck picnic. I was kind of excited about going. It was a reunion with the group I went to Italy with this summer. Yeah, yeah, my story is still in the works about Italy. When I try and piece that one together, it still seems surreal and disjointed. It was an over load of constant 2000 year old architecture that’s simply mind boggling. And art. Art up the wazoo. Just can’t wrap my head around it yet. It’s coming. Anyway, Shannon had declined, but I was up for bringing a bowl of potato salad and cupcakes.

I was the first to arrive. The daughter of the hostess came out to greet me and help carry in my food contributions. First, the house. Not too pretentious. A long rambling brick ranch on beautifully manicured grounds. Over looking a small lake. Winding drive with measured street lamps leading up to the house. A long wing off the house looked like a big mess hall of a campground. It held their indoor pool. As I entered the front door, just to the right was a lighted cabinet filled with Lladro statutes. Stunning. I have a half dozen and still feel guilty about their cost. She led me to a 3-season room that faced the lake. A lone gentleman stood as we were introduced. He shook my hand and motioned for me to sit. Asked me where I was from, where I lived, and mentioned he was supposed to be on our trip, but was recovering from recent surgery.

I went through a bit of Neese history. Blah, blah, we moved to Jackson from Iowa in 1987, then North Muskegon in 1994 for 21 years. Had just moved back to Jackson to be closer to all our children and grandchildren. Being polite, he asked where our kids lived? Things went south. It’s easier if I repeat the conversation from here on out. I’ll be me, and we’ll call him: A Pillar of The Community, or A Racist, Bigoted Bastard. Your choice.


Shannon & Tracey at Hoover Dam, 2015…


Me: “Our oldest daughter, Shannon is a clinical psychologist in Jackson. You might know her or her husband, who’s lived in Jackson most of his life. He graduated and got his master’s degree from the local college.” (Where ARBB donates)

ARBB: “Oh really? Now who is he?”

Me: “Tracey Lowder.”

ARBB: “Tracey Lowder, Tracey Lowder. Did he go to Jackson? Was he an extraordinary basketball player?”

Me: “Yup that’s Tracey. He’s now a principal in Ann Arbor.”

ARBB: “Did you adopt him?”

Me: (trying to not look totally confused) “um no, he’s my son-in-law. Married to my daughter, Shannon.”

ARBB: “Does your daughter look like you?” (His less than tactful way of inquiring if Shannon was white, black or mixed).

Me: (flushed and getting ticked) “Yes she looks like me. She’s married to a black man, Tracey, whom we love dearly. They have children. Who are mixed. I have mixed grandchildren.”

ARBB: (nonplussed) “Yeah, there’s a lot of that going on all over these days.”

I got up from the couch, marched downstairs (ok limped, one step at a time. Damn leg can’t even support me when I’m thoroughly disgusted). Felt sick for the rest of the night. Ate, gathered my stuff, went out to the car and bawled my eyes out. Called Shannon, who was not surprised at all. She caught some racist remarks from his wife on our trip, which I totally missed. Deafness does have it privileges. Who knew? I never even got to our sons Joshua & Adam. ARBB was so hung up envisioning my life with Shannon and Tracey.


3 of my 4 exquisite grands. Ariana, Landon & Peyton, 2004…


I think this couple feed and nurture each other’s bigotry. What I should have said or done in the moment, I honestly think would have been completely lost on him anyway. But that hasn’t stopped me from feeling like a complete ass and loser over not defending my beloved family better. I suck at picnics. And dealing with racist, bigoted bastards…







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