This is the compelling true story of my life as a refugee immigrant child from Indonesia to Holland; a tiny country on the continent of Europe and ultimately to the United States; a world power country on the continent of North America. It is the story of our search for a better life, as told by my loving mother and grandmother while I was growing up and as I remember living it with my younger sister. Although the dates sometimes may not be historically accurate, the experiences are true and consequently, the deep emotion with which I composed these chapters was genuine and gut wrenchingly heartfelt.
THE FIRST FIVE YEARS The first five years in Holland were wonderful times, albeit difficult times; wonderful because we were creating a new life, in a new land, in a home of our own; difficult because after years of living through political conflict, my parents were impoverished and felt displaced in a country where the culture was a stark contrast to the Indonesian way of life. As a young child, Evie's parents took the family to Holland for an extended one year vacation, granted by the Dutch government where my grandfather worked as an accountant, however, my mother's naiveté about the ethnic differences could not have prepared her for a permanent relocation in later years. Nevertheless, Ted and Evie were extremely optimistic and embraced the opportunity to "start anew." While my father fulfilled his duties as a Marine on base, my mother worked to transform our apartment into a cozy and comfortable home, suitable for the three of us, including accommodations for the highly anticipated, soon-to-be born new addition to our family. Decorating with the few precious keepsakes brought from Indonesia; she draped a beautiful piece of handprinted batik fabric on a living room wall over a credenza. Two wooden sculptures which Evie called kakek and nenek; Indonesian words for grandfather and grandmother, were proudly placed on a cabinet and two handcrafted wooden picture frames were quickly filled with black and white photos; all reminders of the life they loved in Indonesia. From a piece of brocade upholstery fabric, my mother sewed drapes for the large living room windows and from a gray cloth with green palm leaves and colorful tropical flowers, she created a skirt for her vanity table. Within a few months, the apartment began to look and feel like Home. On June 2, 1952, at the hands of a midwife, our miracle from God, my sister Ellen Maureen Christine de Ruyter was born. Convinced that my mother was giving birth to a son whom my parents would name Allen, the name Ellen was a natural replacement, Maureen after Maureen O'Hara; a famous film star of the time and Christine after my father's mother who's name was Christine; although she was known to us as Tine; Oma Tine. Ted and Evie, overjoyed beyond believe, were suddenly a bustle of increased activity and although at eighteen months old, I may not have completely understood the blessing bestowed upon our family, I sensed that I shared my parents' attention with another little life, who was sweet and adorable and I already loved her immensely. While my father and mother continued to build our new life, they continuously checked public records for names of family members aboard the passenger lists of arriving immigrant ships from Indonesia. In November 1952, aboard the MS Roma, Oma Erna and Aasje finally arrived and eventually so did my father's sister Daisy (nicknamed Puck; meaning small) and her husband Gerrit, his parents; Opa Taco and Oma Tine, followed by the oldest member of our family; my great-grandmother Oma Sinem; my father's grandmother. Arriving sporadically, everyone was assigned housing in different parts of the country. My father's parents and grandmother, sister and her husband settled in The Hague, not far from where Oma and Aasje were assigned a small apartment, my granduncle Leo and his wife Netty settled in Amsterdam, as did Leo's brother Kité and his wife Nini, nevertheless, our entire family eventually fled Indonesia and, sooner or later, throughout the first five years, we reconnected and helped each other settle and adjust to our new culture. Adapting to the bland, tasteless Dutch cuisine, consisting mainly of potatoes, vegetables, fish and chicken was challenging. My parents missed the intensely flavored dishes of Indonesia, cooked by their mothers and family servants with palm sugar, chili, soya sauce and spices similar to those used in Indian and Chinese cuisine. As an inexperienced cook, Evie learned to prepare Dutch specialty soups; split pea soup (erwtensoep), soup with brown beans (bruine bonen soep) and vegetable soup with little meatballs (groenten soep met balletjes). With Ted's modest salary from the Marines as our family's only income, there was often not enough money in the budget to buy meat, therefore, fish, eggs, tuin bonen (broadbeans), bruine bonen (pinto beans) and cheese were our main source of protein. On Fridays when Ted received his paycheck, Evie occasionally splurged by buying a chicken at the neighborhood butcher to rustle up a delicious chicken soup with vegetables and rice (kippen soep met groenten en rijst), those Payday-Fridays were decidedly special days for us. My mother also learned to cook stamppot; one of Holland's best loved classic recipes, pure comfort food consisting of perfectly flavored mashed potatoes mixed with various ingredients like carrots, kale, and onions. Growing up, this was one our favorite dishes. Public transportation in Holland was efficient, inexpensive and my family's only option to move about the country. Oma Erna would often travel by train from The Hague to visit us in Overschie. Evie wholeheartedly enjoyed the times she spent with her mother, moreover, Ellen and I grew to love our grandmother as a quasi "second mother." Our apartment was conveniently located within a short walking distance to the Abtsweg; a street lined with family run shops selling fresh fish, produce, and household items. While Papa (Dad) was at work, Oma, Mom, my sister and I frequently went grocery shopping; Mom pushing Ellen in a stroller, as I walked alongside holding Oma's hand, often wearing a geeky straw hat that my father gave me. Oma reveled in shopping with her daughter teaching her how to choose the best quality fruits and vegetables and the freshest fish. Evie became a frugal, smart shopper and quickly learned how to stretch a miserly budget. The first five years in Holland were truly memorable, my father and I, my mother and Ellen; we were a blissfully happy foursome, our parents doted on us constantly, I loved having a little sister who followed me around and made me feel important. As Ellen began to crawl before she could walk, I never let her out of my sight, we were always together. One day, when I was two or three years old, as Mom tucked Ellen in bed for her afternoon nap, I climbed up on a stool in front of my mother's large vanity table and watched my baby sister in the mirror while she giggled and cooed. She looked so precious and playful that I couldn't resist feeding her from a jar on the table with a baby spoon, as I had seen our mother do a thousand times. Entering the bedroom to check on us, just as Ellen was about to take her first bite, my mother promptly scolded me, firmly took the spoon from me and said that my little sister would not like to eat her face cream! Since it was difficult to find work in Holland, numerous entrepreneurs started their own business, consequently, door-to-door freelance photographers continuously stopped by offering to take affordable family portraits. As Evie adored documenting every move that her darling daughters made, she was a sucker for those offers and even today, we have countless family portraits depicting our precious childhood. Our toddler years were a great time of cognitive and social development for Ellen and me. It seemed that our house was frequently the gathering place for celebrations, consequently, we always had family members over for visits. I fondly remember celebrating Aasje's birthday at a party in our living room when we played a game by hanging cookies tied with string, onto another string suspended overhead between two points in the room. A blindfolded player, with hands held behind their back, was cajoled into trying to grab a cookie with their open mouth. The successful cookie grabber was honored with cheers and applause. On summer days, our parents often placed us in children's seats tied onto the back of their bicycles, taking us on leisurely, scenic rides; me behind my father and Ellen behind my mother. Beyond our apartment was a canal called "de Singel" which lead to the Rotter River, besides it's banks were lovely dikes, and country roads ideal for easy bike rides along typically Dutch farmland dotted with picturesque windmills. Some times we stopped to feed the ducks, throwing stale bread into the canal and watching them compete for the biggest piece, we especially loved the tiny yellow baby duckings that followed behind their mother as they swam among the reeds towards the open water. I vividly recall spending an extra special family vacation in Ouddorp; a quaint beach village on the North Sea coast of South Holland, where our parents rented a cottage on the dunes. We strolled on the beach, collected shells, chased after tiny crabs, sat in the sand where gentle waves lapped on shore and washed tiny pebbles out from between our toes. Papa and I filled pails with sand, turned them upside down, decorated them with shells and pretended that they were magnificent castles. With our parents keeping a watchful eye on us from the porch, Ellen and I often played at the water pump adjacent to our cottage. I methodically moved the pump lever up and down, while my little sister cheered with excitement as she watched the stream of water rush out, she wondered how I could perform such an amazing magic trick. I loved showing off for Ellen, I adored her to the ends of the earth! As toddlers, we could not have been more blessed, we were loved by a strong family network and the focus of our...
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