“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
- Matthew 19:4-6
When I graduated college and went to graduate school and my first full time job, I became a loner. I had asked a couple of girls out on dates, but never got one. I was about to give up. Between work and graduate school, I was about to get very busy, and I had the Army commitment to think about.
Then my landlady tried to play matchmaker. Her husband worked with two women who were available. I was told that one was recently divorced, which I later discovered was false, only separated, and the other was single, but she couldn’t have a date for a couple of weeks. Her family was some kind of folk singing group. They were in San Antonio at the Texas Folklife Festival. A young woman who could sing? That intrigued me.
But I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
My future wife was the second oldest of nine children. She was the oldest daughter with the other four daughters being the last four children. But that’s not all. My future wife was born in Indonesia along with two of her brothers. Three were born in the Netherlands, with the final three born in the US. I doubt if you can have a more profound ‘leaving’ of your mother and father than that.
My wife’s father, Barteld Beenen, had been a Dutch Army officer in Indonesia when he met the daughter of a postal worker. Her real name was Margaretha Maria Lapre (maiden name), but everyone called her “Molly.” They met soon after the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, and she was skin and bones.
When they moved to the US, they found sponsorship and a job in El Paso, TX. My wife’s father was very strict. If they were to assimilate into US society, they had to learn English. His rule was to always speak English. He had learned English when, after World War II, he went to England for military training, part of reestablishing the Dutch Army. The children learned English quickly, but the older children missed speaking Dutch. Molly cried. She already knew several languages, but English was just too hard. (Why do you say Kansas and Arkansas differently?) When she later took the oath to become an American citizen, she noticed that the Mexican immigrants had a translator. She wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper about the double standard. There were threats. My wife said something about egging the house. But as for the strict language rule, it was finally relaxed for one night each week. They spoke Dutch and sang Dutch songs. As time went on, they added Indonesian, Czech, German, etc. The boys were less interested, but the older girls especially liked singing the old songs. One thing led to another. They moved from El Paso to Port Arthur, TX. A neighboring town, Nederland, had heard about the new Dutch people in the area. My wife first sang a one-night solo act, but when she and her mother were invited to go to San Antonio, the three youngest girls jumped at the chance. That was the birth of Dutch Dochters En Moeder Molly (The Dutch Daughters and their Mother, Molly).
I attended a few festivals, but my wife and I had to miss many of them over the years. The photograph is from the 1995 festival when my family was living in Washington state. The photograph has a lot of the grandchildren on stage.
Sadly, the singing group may never sing again. Their last ‘performance’ was at Moeder Molly’s bedside before she passed away. There were many tears shed that night. Moeder Molly passed away the next day.
But to understand my mother-in-law, you have to be able to play Liverpool Rummy and Wahoo. Moeder Molly loved to laugh. She loved to play games. And when she played, she played to win the game. She would use cut-throat tactics, if necessary. If you were ever her partner, she would slap your shoulder every time she thought you made a wrong move. You would go away bruised, but you’d be laughing at the same time.
For the past twenty years, my wife would call her mother every day. When they were together, my mother-in-law would let me go to a comfortable spot and read a book. My mother, on the other hand, demanded our presence, all the time when visiting. Moeder Molly had an ulterior motive; she and my wife could go to the kitchen and talk Dutch for hours while I was reading.
Moeder Molly stayed faithful to her Catholic upbringing. She was a great prayer warrior. She always had her rosary, saying a prayer for one person or another. If there were no requests, it took her a long time just going through the members of her family. When she passed away, there were 16 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Moeder Molly was a survivor, but a survivor with a sense of adventure. She seemed to have no fear, but then again, she’d survived Japanese occupation where she was arrested and then released by the Japanese. She had laughed when a Japanese officer got his bicycle wheel caught in the railroad tracks and fell. Her mother, who knew about the Japanese, told the Japanese commander that she was crazy. The Japanese released Molly, being afraid that her craziness could be contagious. Then, she lived through the Indonesian revolution. When the rebels had finally taken over, my in-laws were given the choice of reject all ties to Holland or leave the country. They left. Since all but my wife’s father were of mixed race, they would not be treated fairly in Indonesia.
They weren’t treated much better in Holland, thus they came to the US for opportunity.
I wrote this as a remembrance of a wonderful friend, a terrific grandparent to my children, and to a woman of great faith. Besides seeing her picture on the ledge behind the Christmas tree the other day, I also listened to a few Dutch songs regarding Sinterklaas. The first song that I found on the internet was a song my wife sung each year, but the second song was one that I can still hear Moeder Molly singing. I will miss her greatly.
If we had just half of her courage and faith, there is no limit to what we could accomplish.
She believed prayer works. She prayed for hours each day. She was right; prayer changes things.