Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Found: A Priceless Treasure


When I was back in Grand Rapids last week my mom and I took a trip down memory lane, digging out birth certificates and baby footprints from their file of important family documents.

Most of it I'd seen before.

But then we came across something I had absolutely no recollection of:

A letter from my dad's dad (my Opa) to me, from when I was a child.


This was what I wrote to him:


DEAR OPA, COULD YOU TELL ME WHAT LIFE WAS FORYOU WHEN YOU WERE A LITTLE BOY?

P.S. THIS IS FOR HOMEWORK

LOVE:
JESSICA LEE WITTE


And my sweet Opa replied with an almost two page, single spaced typewritten letter about his boyhood growing up in The Netherlands. He also included a handwritten note that said, "Jessica, I hope you are able to read my Yankee Dutch. Opa never went to school in America." Reading the letter, there are some spelling and punctuation mistakes, but they make it all the more special. For someone that didn't set foot in America or speak English until he was in his forties, it was pretty darned good.

A couple of excerpts (in original spelling and such):

"I had to go to kindergarten when I was 4 years old I remember that my mother brougth me to school the first morning and for that occasion I was allowed to where my sunday shoes (The only pair I had) After that I went to school wearing wooden shoes and that was the rest of my life till I was 22 years old."

"If it was stormy weather speacial in wintertime and the wind was from the Northwest direction the water from the sea came into the river and into our harbor with enourmes qauntities. Special the streets around the harbor could be inudated for hours. We lived in a street closed to the harbor. Everybody needed a kind of vloedgates to put before the doors to keep the water out of the house. This happened ones sometimes twice a year and mostly during the nichgt. We were allowed to come out of bed and sit before the windows to see the strret filling up with water, men walking with long waders trough the street helping older people to set up floofgates. We tought it was very exciting."



My Opa is now in his nineties and old age is kicking in. I don't think he knows who I am anymore when I come to visit. Granted, the man has somewhere around 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which would be hard for anyone to keep straight. But we know he probably won't be around that much longer. He is no longer at a point in life where he could tell me all of these things, and I'm so thankful I asked him as a child and now have this letter. It was obvious he spent some significant time on it, because he edited a couple of letters and words here and there in pen on top of the typing. I will always treasure it.

8 comments:

Lynn said...

This is SO sweet! What a treasure to have from your "Opa."

Erika said...

What a special letter, Jess, thanks for sharing some of it with us. I hope you had fun in GR. Next time (or sometime this summer) you guys are around let us know and we'll try to set up a date :)

p + j + g buurstra said...

Definitely a keeper = how special to have that!

Marlene said...

You made me cry this morning. Opa is a very special person.

Dave and Jenni said...

Wow - what a neat thing to have held onto. He sounds like a very sweet man!

aletha jo said...

AWE! That's an awesome letter.

Short Stop said...

How awesome! What a treasure, indeed.

I may have to ask my kiddos to do the same thing to their great-grandparents who are aging very quickly, but would still be able to share such a letter with them.

SO cool!

travelingtroll said...

Thanks for making me cry...love you cousin!