My Wife – The Early Years

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

  • Psalm 27:13-14

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

  • Mark 9:35

To explain the verses, Psalm 27:14 is the verse my wife quoted most often, but when you add Psalm 27:13 and Mark 9:35, you get the essence of the woman I married.

The photos that flank her first USA school photo are from Groningen, Friesland, the Netherlands, about all I know of her first trip to the Netherlands, a smiling, happy little girl.

I only have my wife’s words to explain the first third of her life.  We were either dating or married for the last two-thirds.  So, this trip down memory lane has multiple empty spots, some spots in that my wife did not tell me anything about some things and I cannot remember the rest.  For this first installment, I will try to organize the spotty remembrances by three categories: Life in Indonesia, Life in the Netherlands, and the final trip by ocean liner from Indonesia to the Netherlands.

Even this organization is strange.  She was second among nine children.  She and her older brother were born in Indonesia.  The next two boys were born in the Netherlands.  The last of the boys was then born in Indonesia.  And then the first of my wife’s sisters was born in the Netherlands.  Thus, after my wife was born, they immigrated to the Netherlands, but my father-in-law could not get a job that utilized his college degree, from Utrecht in the Netherlands.  He finally got a job offer, back in Indonesia, as the accountant for the Czechoslovakian embassy.  They moved back to Indonesia, but the country was war-torn as Sukarno was leading a revolution for independence for the Netherlands.  Thus having the Dutch East Indies become Indonesia.  They were given an option.  They could either swear allegiance to Indonesia and revoke all ties to the Netherlands or an ocean liner was filling with people loyal to the Dutch.  With menacing threats, they got on board the ship and sailed back to the Netherlands.

Her Time in Indonesia

Although she remembered nothing of her birth, she was told the story.  She was premature, and she wanted to be born in a hurry.  Her mother took a taxi to the hospital, and my wife was born in the taxi, outside the entrance to the hospital.

She was named after her paternal grandmother, but her father hated his mother.  My wife’s grandfather married my wife’s namesake late in life.  She was German and during World War II and the Netherland occupation, many of his mother’s relatives were members of the Nazi party.  It afforded my father-in-law the opportunity to go to college, but he hated the idea that his mother used that influence.  He was once beaten by the Nazi soldiers for spitting on a Nazi staff car.  But even with his mother using her family ties to help the family during these hard years of occupation, she and my wife’s grandfather (in a wheelchair) used their root cellar to hide downed Allied pilots and feed them into the underground system to get them back to England.  The Nazis never suspected the sister of party members and an old man in a wheelchair.  This is background on her father, but it explains the angst her father had as my wife became a teenager.

In spite of her given name, her parents never called her by that name, although everyone said it was lovely.  Her mother saw a birthmark and she thought it looked just like a little animal.  And that became her nickname ever since they left the hospital until she died.

Note: My wife was Eurasian.  Her mother was Eurasian, surviving Japanese occupation.  Her mother laughed when a Japanese officer had his bicycle get hung up on railroad tracks and he fell.  She was arrested and sent to a detention cell.  Her mother then explained to the commander that her daughter was crazy.  At the time, the Japanese thought mental illness was contagious, so instead of sending her to the concentration camp (and since she was already malnourished, probably to her death), she was sent home.  Her mother’s father, with a French last name, was a local mailman, but my mother-in-law had a Chinese ancestor, a Bali princess in there somewhere, etc.  With my wife’s father being half Dutch and half German (which he would not claim) and a little gypsy, my wife was an interesting, exotic mixture.

My wife started talking at eight months old, and she was using full sentences before she was a year old.  This got her into elementary school (a pricy embassy school in Indonesia) a year early.  She would eventually attend first grade three times, advancing to second grade each of those time, but then in a new country with fussy rules by the next school year.

When in Indonesia, my wife had a servant.  Today the servant might be called a pembantu, but she called her “babu.”  The babu caught her before she touched a beggar who was playing a harmonica with his nose.  Why?  The beggar was a leper.  He no longer had lips with which to play the instrument.

Once, when about five years old, she went with her father to the yacht club.  Being a salaried member of an embassy staff, he could not afford to be a member, but he needed to hobnob with those that were.  They dined on the patio and when my wife saw that she had too much food on her plate, she took the food to the fence and fed the beggars through the fence wire.  This caused a small riot among the children beggars outside the fence and also caused the notice of the yacht club member who had invited them to dine.  This of course embarrassed her father.  She received a stern lecture.

About that same time, her father wanted to climb a nearby active volcano and look inside.  She wanted to go.  He demanded that she walk and not need to be picked up or she would have to stay behind.  She swore she could do it, but she did not reckon with how slippery leather soled shoes were when walking on warm lava.  When she fell behind, her father huffed in disappointment, but she was soon hoisted onto his shoulders, and she got to see the molten lava.

She loved her early time in Indonesia.  After a big rain, a python was pulled from a stack of used tires in their back yard.  It was the largest python that animal control had ever captured, thirty feet or so.  She enjoyed watching the Orangutan in the trees.  They watched her while she watched them.  She pronounced it “Oh’-Rahn-Goo”-tahn.” (and roll the “R”)

As the fighting increased during the revolution, she was taught to never say that she was a Christian or a Catholic.  You never knew who might betray you and the family would be killed.  Indonesia is now the largest population of Muslims in the world.  She was taught that if she heard “pop-pop” she was to dive into the ditch and cover her head.

Once, she heard the gunfire while at home.  She and her siblings were instructed to lie flat on the floor and do not look up.  My wife was the only one to look.  The rebels caught a man in the front yard and hung him from the banyan tree.  She saw the man’s face in her dreams for a few months, with his tongue stuck out and his eyes bulging.

Her Time in the Netherlands

She never talked much about those times.  On the second trip to the Netherlands, the Dutch were afraid that rebels would hide among the refugees.  If you had no one to vouch for you, you would remain in a detention camp.  My wife did not like me calling it a concentration camp, but they were taken from the ocean liner and “concentrated” in a fenced-in camp until one of her aunts on her father’s side arrived at the camp.  They went to live with that aunt and until my wife died, she wrote to one of the cousins that she lived with for that year.

She was too young to go into the second grade, although she had advanced to second grade at the embassy school.  But being too young did not stop her from changing into her ice skates and skating to school once the canal froze over.  She had an uncle who won the seldom run race across the entirety of the Netherlands, rarely run since all the canals along the route had to be frozen sufficiently.  But her reason for skating to school was that the bridge over the canal was a long way down the canal, but the school was almost directly across from her aunt’s home.

Although only six, she was given the chore of taking care of her siblings.  She was walking down the stairs with her one-year-old brother when her older brother jumped out of a bedroom at one of the landings to scare her.  He was not scolded, but she was scolded for having dropped her baby brother.  This started her life as a servant for the family, a typical Asian tradition of the eldest daughter being the servant for the family.

I have not found the photo, but there is one photo of the three eldest children.  It was only supposed to be the two eldest returning from school, but her little brother and my wife were inseparable.  He ran to be in the photo next to the school children.  That younger brother was a couple of months older than me, but it would be almost twenty years before my wife and I would meet.

Besides putting my wife to work as a servant, the focal point of this last one-year stay in the Netherlands was taking all the vaccinations and tests to allow the family to emigrate the Netherlands to find a new life in the USA.  Before leaving Indonesia, her father knew he could not find a good job in the country of his birth.

The Last Trip from Indonesia to the Netherlands

The ocean liner was scheduled to go through the Suez Canal.  This is what provides a better timing than my wife’s memory.  She was roughly six years old at the time, maybe a few weeks less or a couple of weeks more.

It is easy to spot the time.  They reached the canal to find Israeli tanks lined up along the Suez canal and Egyptian soldiers along the other side.  It was the Suez Canal Crisis, or the second Israel-Arab War.  The ocean liner could not safely go through the canal during the fighting, so they docked near an Egyptian resort.  My wife got to ride camels.  She sat on board the ship and naked boys would beckon someone to throw a coin into the sea.  The boys would then dive and when they came to the surface, they showed the coin they had picked up from the bottom.  My wife also talked about how she developed a strong competitive spirit while on the ship that lasted most of her life.  They played games with the children on deck to keep them occupied and she hated being teamed with the girls that cried instead of trying to run, pop a balloon, or whatever it was they were doing.  As a result of her competitiveness, she was often team captain, six-years old and already a leader.

They called a truce finally and the ocean liner was allowed to travel through the canal.  While they stopped at other places, she had no remembrances until she arrived at their destination.

And what is next?

She would eventually spend a few months in New York City awaiting a sponsorship.  The sponsor came forward with days to spare or they would have been deported back to the Netherlands.  Then she grew up in El Paso, Texas, finally graduating high school in Port Arthur, Texas.  But all that can wait for volume 2.

And to all this, I give praise and honor to God.  Only He knew that the two of us would one day marry each other.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. Wonderful tribute! Makes me want to quiz my life about her life so far: she’s Nigerian, but grew up in Italy (now in the UK). God bless, and praise Him for His providential care of your beloved wife through tumultuous times 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Linda Lee @LadyQuixote April 12, 2023 — 8:06 am

    This is fascinating and deeply moving. I’m looking forward to part 2.

    My husband has been sick for the past 24 hours. We suspect that he may have food poisoning. He is 74, has type 2 diabetes, COPD, and a long history of cardiovascular issues. I am taking care of him around the clock. I want to take him to the doctor or the emergency room, but so far he refuses to go because he feels too sick to leave the bedroom and bathroom. I am scared.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It sounds familiar. If it persists beyond 24 hours, he needs to go to the doctor. I had my wife carry an emesis bag a few times, thinking she might have to throw up, and diapers, just to get to the doctor.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Lee @LadyQuixote April 12, 2023 — 6:24 pm

        I called the medical clinic yesterday and spoke with a nurse and she recommended that I get my husband to the emergency room. But he wouldn’t go. Finally, just within the past couple of hours, he is feeling and looking better. He is out of bed, sitting in the living room for the first time since Monday night. Whew

        Liked by 2 people

      • Keep an eye on him. My wife had those moments, and I think sometimes she was borrowing energy from a reserve that didn’t seem to replenish, but if it was food poisoning, it could have passed through the system. Prayers work.

        Liked by 2 people

    • What an amazing woman – what an amazing life! It seems the Lord gave her more intelligence and character than most people, in order to survive all the challenges coming her way. I look forward to meeting her someday. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Wonderful tribute, Mark. I’m looking forward to the El Paso part — I worked there 14 years, and lived just north of there for 22 years.

    Liked by 1 person

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