Sunday, 23 May 2021

Your Life in Pictures

 The other day, I came across this meme on my Facebook page: 

Often memes are cliches, and perhaps this one is, too, but it somehow grabbed me and stuck with me for the day. Perhaps it stuck with me because in my last blog, I wrote that it was time to leave the deep thinking behind and just use my blog to tell stories for a while. Perhaps it’s because I am currently working on family history and digging up many stories and sorting through boxes and boxes of pictures. And this meme is telling me to love my life, take lots of pictures and make my life the best story possible.

I’ve had a few problems writing my family history/memoir. The biggest one is too much material. I have written 100 single-spaced pages, and at this point I am still only 6 years old. This is not a memoir, it is verbal diarrhea. At this pace, I’ll have 1,000 plus pages, and even my dearest friends and family will be loath to read it. The story needs a ruthless edit.

But the meme gave me an idea: what if I summed up my life in 10 pictures and 10 chapters? What would I choose to show and tell? I wondered if this might be good fodder for Crowdayone: each blog a  picture and the story behind it. The picture would portray a foundational part of my life, but it would also need to mean something to the reader. If this exercise of mine inspires you to wonder what 10 photos you might use to illustrate your life and make it “the best story in the world,” great! Let me know how that works for you.

But only ten pictures? I'm going to cheat a bit -- I'll use one main photo, and a few others that are secondary. This photo, taken in 1949 when I am about 1 year old, is my first choice and main photo. Even though it is out of focus, I love it.

That’s my mom and dad relaxing in the grass, looking adoringly at me, their first child. Behind them is their first home, a houseboat. After the war, a severe housing shortage pressed almost anything livable into service.  Appropriately, this houseboat was named Oeral Thus, meaning “At Home Everywhere.” When this photo was taken, it was parked on dry land on my grandfather’s farm outside the  little village of Stiens in Friesland, the Netherlands.

I love this photo because it tells a happy story about my beginnings. Mom and dad had had a long, drawn out courtship – 7 years of an on-again, off-again relationship. He was 30, she was 29, and they were both still living at home. She was her mother’s helper, and he was a bachelor, living during the week in barracks in the Polder where the government was draining swamps and turning them into farmland. Mom finally said yes, and Dad was ecstatic. They were married on July 9, 1947.

Perhaps the dream of a home of their own, where they both felt they belonged, may have been behind that pursuit and the resulting yes. Mom – Jetske Hofstra – was the oldest of 10 children. Her own mother had died in the Spanish flu epidemic when mom was less than a year old; her dad remarried when she was 7, and so all the children that came after that were her half-siblings. Her youngest brother was only just 2 – she could easily have had a child of her own that age, had she been married. Perhaps Dad’s final proposal – “This is the last time I will ask you. If you say no, then it’s over forever,” – made her realize that time was running out.

Dad – Foppe de Jong – was the long-awaited first son in his family, born after three older sisters. But he was not exactly the kind of boy that his father had hoped for. He was a dreamy, inquisitive child who enjoyed wandering the fields alone, too smart for his own good. His father needed a practical, decisive and hard-working heir to whom he could pass on the farm. The second boy, Otto, proved to be that son. Dad knew that if he took over the farm, he would always be at odds with his strong-willed father and his equally strong-willed younger brother, and so Dad made a decision; he told his dad he would seek his own fortune, and Otto could be the heir. At the time, Dad was working in the NoordOost Polder, reclaiming land from the sea. The government had announced that workers in the Polder would be the first to get a farm. When mom and dad married, dad moved out of the barracks into Oeral Thus, which was floating on a canal.

An example of the houseboats that provided accommodation in the NoordOost Polder.

But alas, the dream did not come true. Dad was far down on the list of people who would get a farm of their own. Mom, dad, and Oeral Thus moved back to the family farm and dad began working as a hired man for a neighbour. You might think this would be a very hard time for them – the end of a dream before it was even begun. But look at them! They are happy – they have each other and a baby and a place to live with family nearby. Mom and Dad often referred to Oeral Thus as “Het Arkje” – a little ark. Noah’s ark had sheltered his family and the animals from disaster when floodwaters covered the earth. Now this little arkje was a safe place and a shelter for them.  It was where I was born and where I experienced my first 15 months of life. 

My grandfather's farm. You can see Oeral Thus parked on the left.

And mom and dad were young enough to think about immigrating to Canada to pursue their dream of a farm of their own, where, apparently, farmers were begging for workers.

“We finally applied for emigration to Canada,” writes my dad. “But that required a down payment of 100 guilders as a guarantee that our plans to go were serious. Thus, this became the moment of our final decision! After discussing the matter once more, Jet said, ‘You make the decision.’ And I replied, ‘Here is the 100 guilders. If you send it away with the mailman tomorrow morning, we’ll go. And if you don’t, we’ll stay!’ When I came home the next day at lunch time, she greeted me with a smile. That told me enough: our application and the money was on its way.”

“Take your life and make it the best story in the world,” says the meme. Thanks, mom and dad, for making this first chapter in my life a great story.

 This is my textile art version of the farm, with the church where I was baptized in the background.



  1. Wow, I love your post! I too was sorting photos yesterday as I have a couple of photo albums to finish for two of my children yet...they are now married for 10 and 12 years almost LOL. Time to get at those! And I came across so many photos that I have to deal with yet. I like your idea of the story with a set number of photos. I'm going to ponder that. My story started in Holland too and so did my husband's. Our parents both immigrated as singles and married shortly after they arrived and we were both born here. Love your textile version of the photo too!

  2. Thanks so much for your comments on this blog, and the one before. It means a lot to me to know that people can relate to what I write. I checked out your latest blog with the Round Robin quilt, and am impressed. It's lovely! Nice tulips, too, eh?