My first trip to Europe, loving the canals of Amsterdam
My father's parents immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands in the late 1950s. Up until then, their families had a long-standing history of living in the Netherlands, originating from the island of Terschelling. Later, family spread out to Amsterdam, Ede, and Castricum. To this day I have family living in Almere and other smaller townships, and I would love the opportunity to reunite with them. As I found out during my last trip to the Netherlands Consulate General in Toronto, I was considered to be a Dutch National until 1995, when the government required a re-application of all Dutch/Canadians (we did not know this, and thus, my Dutch National status was revoked.)
After learning that I was a Dutch National until I was 9 years old, I began to think about my relation to this wonderful European nation. My mother's family is a mix of British and Polish, and yet I always identified myself with my father's Dutch background. Perhaps this had to do with my distinctly Dutch appearance (6 ft tall with blond hair), or maybe my closeness to my Oma and Opa. We had always grown up eating Hagel Slag on our toast, gouda cheese slices on our bread, and oliebollen at Christmas/New Years. When friends would ask what my ancestry was, I would simply reply "Dutch". It's funny how we sometimes identify with one culture over another. While yes, I did drink lots of tea and enjoyed watching Wimbledon on the telly, I never was prone to thinking of myself as a British descendant. Furthermore, my mother always made cabbage rolls and perogies, yet Polish was something that I did not see myself as. Again, this may have to do with my closeness to my paternal grandparents. Their home was full of treasures brought over from Holland, from the gorgeous Dutch countryside paintings to the Delft tiles, it was like a little piece of Europe had arrived in Canada. The familiar sounds of my Oma and Opa speaking to one another in Dutch throughout my childhood also resonates with me, although at the time, I never understood what they were saying. I remember my first trip to Amsterdam, a weekend business trip after my 3rd year of University. I heard small children speaking Dutch to one another, and I instantly associated them with elderly people, they having been the only people speaking Dutch that I had heard in my life.
It always strikes me as odd how my boyfriend's website was sold to a Dutch company, and that I have ended up living in this ancestral country. Out of all the countries and businesses in the world, it seems serendipitous that he would sell his website the day of my final university exam, and that my "gap year" would be spent reuniting with the streets, farms, and language of my paternal ancestry.
It often feels like fate that I have had this opportunity.
To walk along the same cobblestones that my great-great-great grandparents did. To visit the Waterlooplein Flea Market where my Opa would ride his scooter, and to visit the Westerkerk that had hung, embroidered, in a frame on my Oma's wall. My journey to the Netherlands is not just an opportunity to travel and have fun. This trip has meant an opportunity to find myself and to understand more about where I have come from. My boyfriend is always amazed at how sentimental I become, and how many small details I remember about the Netherlands as a country. To me, these are so important, and are threads woven into the fabric of my family's history.
Today is my niece's first birthday. With big blue eyes and blondish hair, she already is a little Dutch girl. While I try to bring her home clog slippers and Nijntje books as much as possible, I hope that she will grow up hearing the stories of her great-grandparents and listening to tales from the Netherlands. When she's older, perhaps I will take her to this country so that she, too, can learn about her history.
It's funny how life comes full circle sometimes. Me, as a 22-year-old Dutch descendant, cycling around Amsterdam along the same path that my Oma did some 50 years before.