You never know the meaning of a day to a person

Posted 10 May 2009 by

For Mother’s Day, we visited my partner’s mother in Mount Vernon, Washington.

While currently a Canadian citizen, she was born and raised in the province of Fryslân (Friesland) in the Netherlands. After World War 2, she immigrated to Canada with other relatives. Eventually, she ended up in the United States just one month before my partner was born.

She now reads and writes English. She does not speak Dutch, although she can read it. While she doesn’t always admit she can read German, I’ve caught her translating the Christmas hymn “Lo, how a rose” from the original words on an old record she has.

Her native language is Frisian (technically, West Frisian). It is a different language from Dutch, German, or English. As it says in the opening phrase from “De âlde Friezen,” Frysk bloed tsjoch op! (Frisian blood, rise up!)

On holidays like Mother’s Day, family and regional history comes up. My Blackberry has become useful in these discussions, finding websites in English, Dutch, and Frisian about things she is talking about.

In a pleasant discussion about towns being identifiable from their church steeple, town choirs, parents and grandparents, and playmates, she suddenly says,

This is the anniversary of the German invasion of the Netherlands. I was 10 at the time. My mother had us take a family picture, because she was sure we were all going to die.

When asked if she still had a copy of the picture, she quickly finds a photocopy someone made of it for her. That changed the mood in the room!

There is a reason she doesn’t readily admit being able to read German. She told me she was forced to learn the language in school during the occupation.

This mention of the Occupation did not last long. Soon, we were back on other subjects. Still, May 10, 1940, is still important to her. It needed to be mentioned.

We have opened the door for talking about the Occupation on other occasions. There have been times she has told us family stories. We know some of the stories about her family helping refugees and helping to transport Jewish children.

We also know, from talking to my partner’s older sister, there are things she isn’t telling us. Things like a German officer pulling out his pistol to kill a Jewish child at point-blank range right in front of her.

You never know why a day could be important to someone, do you?

Frysk bloed tsjoch op!

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