Thursday, March 3, 2011


On March 21st my Oma passed away unexpectedly at home.  She was almost 90 (April 4 is her birthday) and I think had a lot of back pain, which I can understand.

I want to write about her and about my family.  It's a pretty sweet family, and she was the head of it. 

She was born in the Netherlands 90 years ago.  I believe her grandparents were Cornelia and Cornelius, but maybe it was her parents.  One of my aunts made family history calendars with old pictures and names and dates on it, which is where I am getting most of this from, and I haven't looked at that particular calendar recently.  She went to cooking school, she lived on her own in an apartment, she took the train to visit her grandparents.  That's so little to know, but so awesome!  I find it so scary now to be an independent woman, and I have had a partner (Josh) next to me since I was 20, and she was able to do it back when women's rights were so much less than they are now.  Oh and her cooking was amazing!

Then she met Opa (William Straathof) and they got married.  She had two junior bridesmaids and a beautiful wedding dress.  As far as I can tell her hair has been the same since she was born.  Short and curly.  I don't know what color it was before it was white...the pictures are in black and white, but I think it was a light to medium brown.  Maybe it was a dirty blond? 

They had 2 maybe 3 children...I can't remember the exact number...and World War II happened...maybe before the children and marriage?  The timeline is fuzzy for me.  But my dad told me once that the men had to hide in the outhouses when the soldiers came to recruit them.  I thought that was a silly hiding place when I was little, but now I think they were hiding in the hole below the outhouse...which is a better hiding place.  Opa must have had a hard time because he was really tall, and his hair was even taller.  :)  That's may favorite part about him, his super tall hair.  It was really thick and wavy and stuck straight up about 3 or 4 inches.  I think my brother could do it if he tried.  His hair was dark brown and he looks very much like my brother and my cousins Will and Eric, in my mind.

With the children they moved to New Mexico where they lived in a chicken coop.  I don't know if there were still chickens there.  They worked on a farm and with cows.  I saw the old "house", "barn"???  We went once on vacation.  It was very dry, very empty and not very welcoming.  The building looked very much like a shed that wasn't a barn or a house.  It confused me, like is the building I saw what was left and there was more? Or was that it?  If it was, they were very brave.  There they had 5 or 6 children total 8 kids.  My dad's job was to sit out with the truck and guard it from Mexicans all day.  He said it was scary, he was also very very young, probably younger than 10.  He also said once that there were Indians out there, and he was born in Indian country and that's why he likes the outdoors so much, he has the spirits of Indians in him.  Now you know where I get it from. Also, I have the spirits of Indians in me, they just don't know it yet.

Can you imagine?  No internet, no cellphones, not very many regular phones, no facebook, and she took a boat across the ocean to a land that didn't speak her language, to New Mexico of all places!  Did they take a train?  That state is apart of America, but the landscape is the opposite of most places I've seen and especially of Europe!  It's all red sand. It must have been such an adjustment and change.

Then, after 10 years, Opa moved to Hersey, Michigan and bought land and a farm.  He raised good cows and taught my dad (and his family) how to have a good strong farm.  When my Dad farmed he had registered holstiens, which I guess makes them worth more, and sold bulls to Japan for their sperms.  Once they had a barn raising party and built the barn in one day.  That night a tornado came through and destroyed the barn and they had to restart.

I know my 4 aunts were heartthrobs and attracted all the boys b/c many (at least 6) of my teachers at home went to high school with them and they always made a point to ask about my aunts and how they were doing.

Before my parents met and when Opa was 55, he passed away from a heart attack, and Oma became the sole leader of the Straathof clan.

Oma means grandma in Dutch and Opa means Grandpa.

Oma I think was the original hipster.  She lived on her own, knitted, road on an old fashion scooter!  Yes, she had a sweet scooter that she used to deliver her baked goods.  She never had a drivers license and talked in a mix of Dutch and English.  She made a soup with meatballs in it, and sandwiches that were rolls with butter and cheese cut into little squares.  That is my ultimate comfort food.  And somehow, as simple as it was, she did it better than my mom.  She also made her dutch salad, which I've made once and it always makes people nervous.  It's ground beef (cooked), green beans and mashed potatoes with dill pickles and the juice ground together in a meat grinder.  Then she mounds it up on a platter and covers it in a thick layer of mayonaise topped with slices of lettuce, tomato, pickles, and hard boiled eggs.  That's my favorite food of all time.  She also always brought me dutch favorite is Lyden which has caraway seeds in it.  And she gave out letters of dutch chocolate at Christmas to everyone.  You got a chocolate letter that was your first initial.  I always freeze them and eat them in July.  She also introduced me to dutch bisquets which are like bread cracker things that you put butter on then top with chocolate sprinkles!  Those are the best.  And Stroopenwafels which are delicious things that sandwiche caramel.  You can get them at whole foods and Trader Joe's.  I suggest it.  Oh and she would take left over steak and slice it really thin and fry it in butter.  That is my absolute favorite way to eat steak and I do it now for me and Josh when I can.

Whenever you came over she would get you something to drink and you had to say yes, otherwise she wouldn't relax until you did.  I would tell boyfriend's to accept a drink no matter what, even if they didn't want it...they better take it!  When I say boyfriend's, I mean only two and one I married.  She always looked forward to seeing them at holiday's too and would always always ask where "my friend" was if he didn't go.

She also line danced and did the macarana, and I'm pretty sure that's where my love of dance comes from...maybe.  My Grandma (see I had it good, I had Oma and Grandma), also LOVES to dance too, so I guess I had no chance at not dancing. :)

My Oma worked very hard in her life but I'm also pretty sure she played equally as hard.  I wish I could describe more and better about her and her life.  She had 26 grandchildren (though I think the count was made before Janelle was born, so it might be 27) and in each one she was excited to see their future.  She loved her grandchildren because we were her goal and future she dreamed of when moving to America. (I don't know for sure, but that's what I think anyways).

So.  Everyone has an amazing grandma, and so was she. 

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