Friday, December 6, 2013

XST NICK | Dec. 6–"Black Peter" Controversy (Superseded)

Will the Netherlands give up "Black
Peters"? Or will Pieterbaas just lose 
the blackface?
The "Black Peter" controversy has been in two news stories in the New York Times recently and in one op-ed.

My comments on this topic are posted here. This post is retained so that links are not broken,

XSt. Nicholas, "Kersti" and "Black Peter" (Superseded)

Kersti and St. Nicholas (1940)
This St. Nicholas was a central figure in my mother Hilda van Stockum's childhood and she made it part of ours. St Nicholas appears in several places in HvS's books and letters, and has a whole book devoted to him (Kersti and St. Nicholas). Her view of St. Nicholas may contribute something to the "Black Peter" controversy.

This post has been superseded by another posted a year later. This post is kept alive so that links are not broken.

Monday, December 2, 2013

December 6 - Happy St. Nicholas Day (Updated Nov 18, 2016)

Kersti and St. Nicholas, 
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of millers and sailors, Holland and New York City. My mother Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006) loved St. Nicholas, as is clear from her book Kersti and St. Nicholas (1934).

St. Nicholas appears the evening before his feastday, i.e., the evening of December 5.

Kersti was republished in a new edition by Boissevain Books in 2010. It is available currently on Amazon for $13.99 after being out of print for 50 years and was available only through rare-book dealers at $200 for a good copy.

This is a "Speculaas Moulin" - a 
Dutch windmill cookie, with almond
and ginger spices. In Belgium they
are "Speculoos" cookies. They 
are specialty of St. Nicholas Day.
At right is a photo of a cookie my wife Alice purchased in Belgium. It is a St. Nicholas Day specialty. It has a windmill on it because it's a specialty of Holland and other low countries threatened by floods.

Hurricane Sandy a year ago shut down much of New York City and reminded us of the Dutch skill at keeping out water. Much of Holland is at or below sea level and the windmills pump out the "polders", the areas surrounded by dikes (Dutch embankments).

The Port of Rotterdam is a great example of Dutch engineering to keep water at bay.

It is also where my mother, Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006), was born. Her father was a naval captain and she grew up near ports and naval bases. Her book, The Winged Watchman (1962), was republished in 1997 after 20 years being out of print. It has sold nearly 50,000 copies in the reprint version and has been optioned for a movie. The book by my mother has special relevance in light of Hurricane Sandy, which caused most of its damage because of flooding and caused most of the lost economic activity because of the electricity outages.
First published in 1962, The Winged 
Watchman has sold 50,000 copies in
 reprint since 1997. It is now being
considered for a mini-series.
The story is about a family that lives in an old windmill during the Nazi Occupation. Two boys aged 10 and 14 join the Resistance. The book shows how the windmill did their work when the electric mills were starved for fuel during the Dutch famine.

New York City has lost the skills of its Dutch colonists and Hurricane Sandy did major damage to the areas of NYC near water. If the Dutch were still in charge this might not have happened. Bring 'em back!

The Dutch first came to New York when the Dutch East India Company in 1609 sent English navigator Henry Hudson to explore the river now named after him. He went far north into what is now Canada and wrote back to his sponsors that beavers lived on the river in abundance. A Dutch settlement, New Amsterdam, was founded in Manhattan largely to support trapping beavers and sending them to Europe for women to wear. The New York City coat of arms has two beavers on it as well as a four windmill wings in honor of the Dutch settlers.

The Dutch have been facing these flooding problems for many centuries. Their world preeminence in building windmills to pump out water also made them experts in making sails for the mill wings and this helped make them a global naval power for a time.

Seal of the City of New York..
Note windmill wings and two
After the English took over the Dutch colony in 1664, they renamed it New York. The city grew most rapidly when the Hudson River became the gateway not only to upstate New York but also, after the Erie Canal was built, to the Great Lakes.

The Dutch have developed many kinds of technology to deal with today's challenges to their flood-threatened system of polders. New York needs to get their advice. And The Winged Watchman provides both a history of the importance of windmills in Dutch history and an education in the ways to deal with flooding.

OBIT | Dec. 29 - Capt. Bram van Stockum

Bram van Stockum (standing in back) and
his wife and two first-born children, Hilda and
On this date in 1935, Abraham Johannes ("Bram") van Stockum died in the Hague. He was married to Olga Emily Boissevain on August 28, 1906 in Naarden (the location of the Boissevain home, Drafna) and had three children with her. He was born in Lisse, Netherlands, on July 3, 1864.

As a naval officer, based on the records and letters that survive, Bram had four distinct phases: 

1. His exploits at the Naval Institute and awards he won as a sailor around that time, during the period 1904-1906.

2. His voyage as a father to the Dutch East Indies, accepting commissions there from the Dutch Navy, as described in the log of his voyage to Java, 1908-1910.

3. World War I responsibilities as commander of the port of Ymuiden, which provides access to Amsterdam via a canal, 1914-1919.

4. A commission by the Queen to investigate the origins of the Saramacca River in Surinam (Netherlands Guiana, north of Brazil on the Caribbean coast), in the 1920s. 

Hilda van Stockum said: "My parents were not ordinary, which caused them both a great deal of suffering.”

Bram as a Child, 1864-1906

Dirk Johannes van Stockum, Bram’s father, was a notary – a combination of a British solicitor and an accountant. He was taciturn, correct and dull. He did not communicate with his children except to spank them when they transgressed. Bram does not seem to have cared for his father very much, though Bram said he always felt sorry for his father when he spanked him.  It really did hurt his father more than himself, he said, especially as Bram took the precaution of stuffing straw into his breeches.

Dirk van Stockum and his wife, nee Sophia Clara Emilia Lastdrager, left behind nine children -- five girls and four boys including Bram.  “The girls were pretty and clever, and the boys had genius," says Hilda van Stockum.  

For example, Bram’s brother Willem became a doctor who “would have gone far if he had not had an unaccommodating and caustic tongue.” Another brother, Dirk Jr., became a notary like his father. The third brother Jo went traveling.

The fourth boy, Abraham, was my grandfather. They called him Bram for short. He was born on July 3, 1864 in a little village in the west of Holland called Lisse, a place with a great history of elegant gardens and great estates, an area hardly touched by the industrial age.  The main economic engine was the growth of the cultivation of tulips and other flowers.

Bram’s father died in mid-1908 after Bram’s first baby, my mother Hilda, was born. Bram and his wife Olga went with their tiny baby to Java.

Bram had joined the Dutch Navy to get away.  Mom says: “I think he hated his boarding school and escaped so often that they sent him to the Naval Institute.  He hated that as well, but either he didn’t get an opportunity to run away or he didn’t try because he wanted to go to sea.”

Bram was a rebel all his life. It was a time of intellectual probing and protest, a questioning of everything hitherto accepted.  At catechism Bram did not last long.  He and his three brothers were sent home with a note from the Dutch Reform minister to their mother: “Although well behaved, the brothers are no longer welcome in the class because they ask too many questions,” said the teacher. It did not increase Bram’s respect for theology and he soon called himself an atheist. 

Hilda and her two younger brothers would sit for long hours listening to Bram’s tales of how he climbed the village steeple and, looking down from the top, clasping the weather vane, saw two old ladies holding up their aprons to catch him.[1]      

He was a tough inventive boy, always busy.  As a child, his mother had to bribe him to read a book. Later he developed a love of literature.  He built a hut in his father’s favorite tree that was not discovered till the leaves fell.  Then, says Mom, “there was the devil to pay.” My Mom goes on: 
He made a sailing carriage out of a disused baby buggy, in which he went sailing along the streets.  It frightened the horses into bolting, so the burgomaster forbade him to use it on public roads.  He had to sail it in the meadow, at one end of which there was a canal.  Once Bram left his little sister in the carriage, anchored it and went to fetch something.  Just as he was coming back a gust of wind uprooted the anchor and blew the carriage full tilt towards the canal.  He said he had never in his life run so fast, but he managed to overtake the carriage and stop it before it rolled into the canal with his little sister.
             Another story from Hilda::
 My father’s talents were all on the engineering side, although there were van Stockum relatives who ran a bookstore in the Hague and both employed, and were related by marriage to, Vincent van Gogh and his cousin Theo. Bram objected to having art imposed on him on a free Saturday afternoon when he had a million more interesting things to do.  His friends were of the same opinion and they decided to try to persuade the teacher to quit.  It was really disgraceful, though my father loved to tell us all the tricks they played on the poor man until their end was achieved. [Look for examples in HvS mss.]
             Bram was very good at breaking windows—he had a sling shot that caused many casualties until his aim improved over time. Tradespeople would present his mother with a list of broken windows and his mother would call Bram.

“Now tell me, which ones did you break?” she’d ask.  My Mom reports:

To most of them he would confess but woe if some luckless tradesman had erroneously attributed a broken window to my father.  Then Bram’s indignation knew no bounds and his mother would refuse to pay for it.
“My boy never lies,” she said.  It was quite true, and sometimes I have wished that he had shown a less rigorous regard for truth.  His respect for truth could shatter the most routine social occasions.  If I remonstrated with Bram and told him that he had hurt someone’s feelings, he was always very surprised.
“I thought people were above such pettiness,” he would say.

Perhaps Bram was sent to boarding school because his family needed a rest, but he was not there long.  He once told Hilda that he would not like to repeat only two periods in his life -- the years at boarding school and the years at the Naval Institute.  From boarding school he simply ran away, and that settled that.  But the Institute he had to put up with.

Twice Bram nearly lost the chance to become an officer.

The Explosion (c. 1904).  As a student at the Institute he wanted to test the power of steam (then still a fairly unknown quantity).  He put a sealed tin full of water in the stove.  The resulting explosion was so great that no one then would believe he had not used dynamite.  All the witnesses however, testified to only water and this saved him from being dismissed, as it had been a scientific experiment and not an act of vandalism. 
            Years later, when he was a Navy Captain, he met one of his superiors at the Institute, who was now retired.
“Well, van Stockum,” he said.  “As it does not matter any more, won’t you confess to me that you did use an explosive that time?”  He was amazed to hear that it had really only been water.

The Naval Exercise at den Helder (c. 1905).  The second time Bram jeopardized his future was at the mock naval exercises at den Helder.  He was given an “enemy” warship which had to navigate entry into the port during a mock naval battle.  Den Helder is at the most Northern tip of Holland, where there are many sandbanks.  It was really impossible for the “enemy ship” to break through the “Dutch” defenses.  The searchlights picked out everything moving in the navigable waters.  Bram was angry because the game was stacked against the “enemy” ship, which made it less instructive. 
This was a challenge that Bram could not refuse.  He was determined to get through.  He searched among the waters considered not navigable, and therefore not covered by the searchlights.  He found a stretch of water that might just be deep enough to let his ship through.  He plumbed it and it would just about fit, without an inch to spare.  He took the terrible risk of bringing this destroyer through this narrow inlet, plumbing the depth all the time.  He said that he had his heart in his mouth as the plumber called out the depths in rapid succession.
If he had stranded the valuable ship on a sand bank it would have meant disgrace, and he knew it.  But his calculations were correct and they just made it.  It was the first time an “enemy” ship had won in those maneuvers.  The whole town of den Helder was full of father’s praise. 
My grandmother Olga Boissevain, then a young girl, was staying with her sister Hilda, whose husband was also a naval officer.  So the first time my mother met my father, he was the hero of the hour.  It was then, my Mom thinks, that she first fell in love with him.

            How Bram Won the Silver Set.  Another story that Bram’s children loved to hear from him was how he won the little silver milk and sugar set that stood on our sideboard.  It attests to his muscular strength.  He was going to go to the races on the river Maas in the south of Holland and decided to sail there from den Helder along the north sea coastline above Rotterdam, entering by Ymuiden and so, by inland waters to the river.  Unfortunately, soon after he set out on his slender sailboat with one mate, a storm arose.  To his horror he found that some of the reefing tackle was jammed, so he could not reef any of the sails.  The little boat flew with dizzying speed over the waves of the North Sea, the tiller held firm by my father’s strong hands.
  “Can you swim?” he asked his mate.
“Like a brick, sir,” grinned the sailor.
He had, as usual, complete faith in my father.  Bram said that their lives were in fact saved by the fact that he couldn’t reef his sails.
“We went faster than the waves,” he said.  “If one of the waves had caught up with us as we shot into the harbor of Ymuiden we’d have been done for… they were mountainous.  But we were well ahead. 
The people of Ymuiden could not believe it.   “You come from the wrong direction,” they said.  “You cannot have come from the sea.”
Well, the next day the wind had abated but all the sailboats had partly reefed sails except my father’s, so he won the race with ease.
            Bram much regretted the passing of the sailing ships.  He said steamships made a dull mechanical job out of what once had been an exciting craft.                       

Bram the Inventor

The Rice Cooker Invention.  One morning my mother Olga was called to the living room by a pitying servant.
“Isn’t it a shame of the poor master?” she said.  Two enormous mounds of rice had been poured on the living room carpet and several of mother’s best pots had holes bored into them.  Olga burst out laughing.
“The master isn’t mad,” she said.  “ He is merely inventing a rice cooker because I can never get the rice to his taste.”  The rice cooker materialized into a beautiful gray enamel set of pans that fitted into each other, the inner one being perforated like a colander.  It made beautiful steamed vegetables as well as rice done to perfection, but it was not a commercial success and our attic hung full of unsold items. 

Bram’s Night-Owl Habits and Logical Brain.   Bram’s wife  would sometimes be wakened by my father in the middle of the night, and told to go for a walk with him… he had to tell her about his newest invention.  He was a night bird, his brain worked best after 10 o’clock at night.
“He was tremendously logical,” Olga said.  “He developed my ability to think.  There was one thing about him, if he saw he was wrong he’d admit it roundly and act on it.  But I had to convince him.  It took me three weeks of solid argument to get him to see that it wasn’t right for him to keep his little daughter awake all night and let her sleep in the daytime, like himself.  When he finally saw it, there was no more trouble.”
The Guided-Missile Invention and How It Was Ended. Bram must have invented one of the first guided missiles.  His wife’s description of it sounded horrible to ears not used to modern weapons.  You could shoot it off from Amsterdam harbor and the thing would go unmanned to an enemy harbor and blow it up.  Bram was in his first flush of inventive triumph and it took his wife long evenings of argument till he was convinced that it was a wicked device and destroyed it.

The Depth Regulator for Mines.  Bram developed a very successful invention, a depth regulator for mines.  It ensured that the mines were neither on top of the water, where they would be seen, nor at the bottom of the bay, where they would not be struck by a hostile ship.  However, the invention was stolen from him. 
The Dutch government did not want it, but the Danish government did.  The trouble was that when it came to paying up for the invention the Danish government produced a document which was supposed to prove that a dead Danish inventor had already patented the invention.  It was a clumsy forgery, because the document contained pieces of machinery not existing at the time the patent was supposed to have been taken out.  However, Bram was not able to appear in court at the time, being on duty at sea, and his friend, who was appearing in court on his behalf, did not spot this. 
So Bram was never paid. 

            Torpedo Regulator.  Mom remembers Bram bending over his blueprints with the eager face of a little boy constructing an erector set.  There was also a torpedo regulator he invented and it was considered a long time by the Dutch government.  Bram was always buying patents and he constantly had to go to exercises testing his inventions.  The Dutch government had first option on them, naturally; some were adopted, but not so that we noticed it made much difference financially.

The Effect of His Inventions on the Home.  Bram’s home was full of unexpected devices, like a clothespin to balance a lampshade or a corkscrew driven into a door to pull it where it stuck.  He had arranged the drawer of his desk so that you could only open them by pulling the two outside knobs together.  That was beyond the span of little arms and made his desk safe from children.  He hated locks.[2]
            I do realize the advantages an artist has over an inventor.  An artist can create without having to spend a lot of money.

Bram as a Husband and Father, 1906-1930

Marriage.  Bram did not marry till he was over 40, which may explain why his children got on with him so well.  He might have been our grandfather.   He was an exciting parent to have. 
My mother’s love for me and my two younger brothers was almost a passion, but my father was God then.  He had made a special saddle just for me behind the handlebars of his bicycle and would take me riding.  I remember the wind blowing into my face and the delicious thrill of danger combined with the safe feeling of my father’s arms about me.
We also had a game: I would stand on what seemed a dizzying high wall and he would hold out his arms.  I was to jump into them and trust him to catch me.  I learned to do it, and he never missed catching me.

The Poverty of My Parents’ Early Married Life.  Bram had married on the strength of the money his depth-regulator for mines would bring him (like Dickens’s Micawber, Bram always saw riches just around the corner) and he and Olga had therefore rather a thin time of it at first.  My father had done more than marry on this fortune, he had also piled up debts. Hilda comments:

My mother and my father carried the feeling of riches and luxury into the poorest conditions.  Even when she could not pay the milkman there was always money for a movie.  But that was later--there were no movies when my mother married--and my father never cared for them.  I do not remember ever seeing him in a movie, though he was very fond of the gramophone and I always bought records for him on his birthday or at St. Nicholas.  Calli Curci was his favorite singer, and Caruso came second.  Whenever I hear the Italian operas, especially Carmen or Cavallerie Rusticana, I think of my father.
Bram had a habit of anticipating fortune and regaling his family with stories of what he was going to do when it fell into his lap.  These stories may have helped make Bram’s wife content with her comparative poverty.  For example, my father described a house he was going to build—its key feature was a private little railway conducting us from the entrance of the driveway to the front door.

Bram was an inventor and most of his spare cash (and some that wasn’t spare) went to patents.  His wife was glad that he never made money with his inventions, though he was always expecting to.  She shuddered to think what our lives would have been like if he had been rich.  Only poverty put some limit to his enterprises.

Bram’s Playhouse.  Bram once had enough money to give his daughter Hilda her heart’s desire, a little playhouse in the garden. What Hilda wanted was a tiny little house, an exact copy of a real house, like her grandmother Emily had at Drafna, in her garden, for the grandchildren.  It had imitation brick walls, a real doorbell and foot scraper, and windows with imitation flowerpots on them.  But my father was thinking more of a new invention of his, a door which could open both ways. Hilda writes:
 It had two handles, and whether you pulled the right or the left one, it opened.  The one window on the house also opened both ways.  My father thought this a great advantage, but nobody else did and it was grief to me… for it made it most unlike a real house.  It was also much too big and lacked the charm of my grandmother’s little house.  On the other hand, we could play in it and were allowed to sleep in it sometimes.  So it did give me a lot of pleasure.

[1] Bram’s exploits as a boy gave his daughter Hilda material for some of her children’s books, especially for Andries,which is about her father as a boy. There is also a scene with a bell tower in A Day on Skates   
[2] Bram’s brother-in-law Han de Booy was not impressed by the general state of the van Stockum household, as is indicated by diary entries in 1912 and 1916.

Friday, October 11, 2013

HvS ART | Evie Hone in 2014 RHA Diary

Portrait of Evie Hone by HvS. (c) by HvS
 Estate. Permissions:
Evie Hone and Studio. (c) by HvS Estate.
The Royal Hibernian Academy of Art publishes a diary every year. A few years ago they included a portrait of Evie Hone in her studio by Hilda van Stockum (see photo at right). This portrait was reviewed at length by Mary Bourke in the Summer 1997 issue of Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, published by the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus. She noted all the items included in HvS's portrait.

The 2014 calendar features her full portrait (see photo at left).

The importance of both portraits is very high because of the dual fame of the two artists as among the 20 greatest Irish artists of the 20th century, and their known close friendship, dating back to 1931. They went to Lourdes together to pray for Hone's health.

HvS studied at the Royal Hibernian Academy after having learned the basic skills at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam, and is claimed as an Irish artist. HvS was born in Rotterdam of Dutch-speaking parents, but her grandmother was Irish-born. The Irish artistic community eagerly claimed HvS whereas the Dutch, disoriented by World War II, did not.

HvS told her children that she once told Evie Hone how good one of her earliest stained glass works was, and Hone told her later than this encouragement helped her decide the path of her career. Hone's work is now in such notable places as the Eton College Chapel and the Washington Cathedral.

A pencil drawing of Evie Hone by Hilda van Stockum was put up for auction by Whyte's with a predicted recommended price of 800-1,200 euros and a starting bid of 600 euros.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

WW2 | Memories of Washington, DC 1940-45

Hilda van Stockum has two World War books near the top of the Goodreads list of the Best Books for Children about World War II (they are The Borrowed House and The Winged Watchman). A third van Stockum book ranks lower down, The Mitchells. That is a pity because the book was very popular at the time and continues to sell well to home schoolers through Bethlehem Books. It gives a unique view of Washington during World War II, as seen from the perspective of five children ("V for Victory" is the subtitle) growing up Catholic in wartime Washington.

If you Google "The Mitchells" you will find page after page on the hugely popular BBC One East Enders television show, which started in 1985 and continues to be broadcast to this day. The two main families in Albert Square on the East End are the Watts and the Mitchells (the notice above left is improperly punctuated - the correct punctuation is below left).

The click-to-look-inside doesn't work here
but it does work on Amazon.
The Mitchells is autobiographical for van Stockum and is biographical for her children (#6, Liz, was born in 1945, after the book was written). Joan stood for Olga, Patsy for Brigid, Peter for Randal, Angela for Sheila and Timmy for John (me). That's the five of us on the cover, in front of the house.

All six of us Marlins are still alive, ages ranging from 68 to 78, and we celebrate anniversaries via email. This coming Wednesday, July 31, would be the 104th birthday of Dad, who was in Ireland (where he met van Stockum) and England during the war, under the auspices of the OSS, predecessor of the CIA.

Randal just emailed us all that he found our 1940 Census entry. It includes newly born Sheila. It has Uncle Willem (W. J. van Stockum) and Grannie (Olga E. Boissevain van Stockum). It also tells us who our neighbors were on Northampton Street. Here are comments from him, Brigid and then my own:

Randal: Maybe John can decipher Dad's job. I can read "Chief of Personnel" but I can't make out the rest. The U.S. didn't enter the war until 1941, so that would have been his actual job rather than a cover for his OSS work. Looking at the Census list stimulates a lot of memories. I can just see Granny and Willem and Gordon and Rita with their bridge evenings and the leftover cake!! 

Brigid: Harley Evans (known as Junior) was on the left side. We didn't know the neighbors on the right side because they had no children. Up on the corner of our street lived two little boys, who sat on the wall and sang a strange version of the National Anthem:
Oh, say can you see / Any bedbugs on me? / If you do, pick a few, / And you'll have some too. 
Needless to say, I was deeply shocked by this irreverence! Lois Dean lived right across the road. Down the street on the right lived Natalie (Tata). To the left of the Deans lived Leroy, who had ringworm and had his head painted with purple medicine. When he was cured we became friends and I accepted his proposal of marriage. We were going to live in a tree house. That's all I can remember!

John: Dad was I think in the Civil Service Commission right before his OSS assignment. After World War II and the OSS he had a job in the Budget Bureau for which he was assigned to the organizational meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945; this led to his appointment to the ICAO and our move to Montreal. My memories of the Washington house are few (we left for Montreal in 1946) but I do recollect the joys of experimenting with the garden hose on the grassy part of the front lawn, which was and is elevated above the sidewalk. I would play there or (after neighbors complained about getting wet) in the back of the house. When Liz arrived in 1945 I was three and I remember pushing her in the pram and then walking with her. Uncle Willem was shot down over France during the week of the Normandy invasion so sadly I never got to know him, although Mom frequently spoke about him to me. In 2010 I  went back to the house at 3728 Northampton Street (will never forget the address – I had to remember it in case I got lost in the neighborhood) when I was working in Washington and the exterior has not changed much.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

HvS | "The Borrowed House" Now in Dutch at Urging of Ineke Kraijo

Dutch teen novelist Ineke
Kraijo liked The Borrowed
 House and urged it be
 translated into Dutch. It is
now, as Het Gestolen Huis.
Sorry for my excitement about the translation of a book by Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006) into Dutch. I just found out today that the Dutch publisher, Mozaiek, says one of its young-adult novelists, Ineke Kraijo, twice asked them to translate the book for a Dutch audience

The publisher quotes Hilda van Stockum, my mother, as saying:
Writing this true story was my way to forgive the Germans. Janna, a German girl, comes to live with her parents in occupied Amsterdam. When she arrives, she knows the F├╝hrer has the best for everyone, of course, but she slowly finds out unexpected things.
Three-quarters-Dutch (her mother was half-Irish, half-Dutch) van Stockum lost both her brothers – Willem and Jan – and many other relatives in World War II.

She was a highly esteemed international children's author. Her books have been translated into French, German, Portuguese, Hebrew, Danish and Japanese. The translation of The Borrowed House (The Stolen Home) by Mosaic (Mozaiek) now gives her book the place it deserves in the Netherlands (see May 11).

More information about the book can be found on the web shop "Bookshop Smit" in Gouda, the Netherlands.

The only other HvS book translated into Dutch was The Cottage at Bantry Bay, about the O'Sullivan family.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

TRANSLATION: The Borrowed House Now in Dutch!

It was a great source of disappointment for my late mother, Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006), that during her lifetime none of her books was ever translated into her native Dutch language. She was born in Rotterdam and wrote five books* about Holland, although several publishers have over the years discussed with me the possibility of bying rights.

Hilda van Stockum's obituary in Het Parool described her as a famous writer and illustrator - famous everywhere in the world except her native country,  the Netherlands.

My mother always said that fame doesn't come until after one is dead. To which a granddaughter responded, trying to console her with the honors to come: "But Granny, you are almost dead."

The English Edition

Now the granddaughter's prediction about her prospects  is coming true. The first Dutch edition of a Hilda van Stockum came out last week. It was a translation of The Borrowed House. The Dutch name - the Dutch being less forgiving about the Nazi Occupation than an English-language publisher - is Het Gestolen Huis (The Stolen House).

*Her five books about Holland were A Day on Skates (her first, 1934; it was a Newbery Honor Roll book), Andries, Gerrit and the Organ, The Winged Watchman (1962) and The Borrowed House (her last full-length book, 1975).


Sunday, May 19, 2013

WW2 BOOKS | Winged Watchman #6 (Updated Dec. 23, 2015)

Ranks 6th out of 193 books
for children on World War II..
On the Goodreads list of the 193 Best Books for Children on World War II, two books by Hilda van Stockum rank in the top 8, and a third, The Mitchells, ranks 27th.
Here is the list:
World War II on the
home front, in Washington.
Ranks 27th out of 193.
The Winged Watchman ranks 6th. It is about a family that lives in a windmill. Two boys– Doris aged 10 and Dirk Jan aged 14–are the heroes. The book is recommended for children and young adults in the 8-14 age range.
Here is what is posted as a review on Goodreads:

This acclaimed story of World War II is rich in suspense, characterization, plot and spiritual truth. Every element of occupied Holland is united in a story of courage and hope: a hidden Jewish child, an "underdiver," a downed RAF pilot, an imaginative, daring underground hero, and the small things of family life which surprisingly carry on in the midst of oppression.
The Borrowed House ranks 8th.  It is about a German family that moves to Amsterdam,. The parents are there to entertain the troops. The daughter had been in Hitler Youth in Germany and is now in the midst of occupied Holland. She learns a lot, and decides that Hitler is a bad man. Based on a true story.
These lists are looked at by librarians, teachers, home-schooling parents and curriculum designers.

If you go to this site, pleas vote for one of the  Hilda van Stockum books... and of course any other books you recognize? I notice Anne Frank's diary sometimes drops to second place.
Ranks 8th out of 193.
To vote, here is the site on the Goodreads list–the same link as above:
If you would like a free HvS book sent to you to review for Amazon or to vote on a Goodreads list - let me know and I will send it - at least to the first 20 people who ask me. Email me at

Friday, March 29, 2013

HvS | Life and Religious Journey (Superseded)

[Superseded by May 9 2014 post -]

© 2013 by Boissevain Books LLC, NYC 

Chapter 1. My Mother and Her Family

 I was lucky in being born into a wonderful family. My mother's father was of Huguenot extraction. It is on record that the Boissevains fled their native Gascony after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and my ancestor, a mother of a large family, had hidden herself and her children in a wagon of hay. When she came to the border, French soldiers, wishing to be sure that no one was hidden inside the hay, plunged their spears through it. One went through Madame Boissevain’s leg, but far from crying out, she had the presence of mind to wipe the blood off the spear with her skirt when it was withdrawn. In this manner she was able to leave the country and take refuge in Amsterdam.

Charles and Emily Boissevain, My Mother’s Parents 

Gathering of the Boissevain Family in 1920-21, at Drafna,
east of Amsterdam in Naarden-Bussum. The seated
gentleman with the white hair is Charles, with his wife
Emily MacDonnell next to him.
There was a lot of Old Gascony left in my grandfather Charles. He was certainly not typically Dutch. As a handsome youth, with a mop of brown hair elegantly arched over a fine, intellectual forehead, deepest grey eyes and an aquiline nose - he went to Ireland as a reporter for a Dutch paper. He was to cover the annual horse show in Dublin, at which Dutch cavalrymen were in the habit of competing.

In the process he met my great grandfather, Hercules MacDonnell, who at that time lived at Sorrento Cottage, Dalkey, with his wife and numerous children. One of these children, Emily Heloise, of an attractive, marriageable age, very much took my grandfather's fancy. His courtship was dashing and French. He wrote poems for (which he continued to do to the end of his life) and smothered her with wily jokes and light allusions to an undying affection.

As she herself said afterwards: "I never meant to marry him, but he called me his wife so often in public, while making me laugh too much to deny it, that I found myself married to him before I knew it." She cannot have found the idea of marrying him too unpleasant, however, as theirs was a very happy union, which was blessed with eleven children.

There are many stories of their early married life in staid and stiff Holland. My grandmother had been used to a great deal of freedom - diving from the rocks into the sea as often as she liked - dashing about on horseback and roaming with young gentlemen through the streets of Dalkey - either discussing philosophy or visiting the poor (“which I didn't like much," she once confessed in a letter to my mother).

In Amsterdam the situation was different. There was a rigid social code there. Ladies were never seen outside in the mornings, a time exclusively reserved for servants and tradespeople. Anyone can imagine the consternation of my grandfathers relatives when they looked out of their windows one frosty morning and saw poor Charles's wife (“Irish, you know”) skating along the canals in the morning arm in arm with her cook.

My grandmother struggled valiantly with the Dutch language but I believe for the first year of his married life my grandfather was fed on beefsteak and potatoes as these were the only words my grandmother could pronounce well. She never really captured the Dutch language though she lived for more than 60 years in Holland as against 20 or so in Ireland.

The eleven children came very rapidly one after the other. My grandfather composed a poem on it.
"Oh Heaven O Heaven
O where am I driven
My children were seven
And now they're eleven."
One was more beautiful than the other, and as my grandmother disapproved of the Dutch fashions, they were all dressed in clothes patterned on the famous English "Liberty" style and sewn by my mother’s Yorkshire nurse Polly - who stayed with family till she died and was as much beloved as their mother.

Meanwhile my grandfather, with the well-known industry of a man who has numerous offspring - made a tremendous career for himself in the newspaper world and soon made the modest little paper he worked on into the most important Dutch daily, of which he became editor and part-owner. His literary contributions were spirited and alive, full of humor and wit, with a quixotic tendency to fight evil and champion the underdog.

He soon had to travel a lot (as so many fathers of large families seem to find themselves compelled to do) and visited various countries, writing amusing descriptions and vivid impressions of his itineraries. Sometimes he took a favorite child - usually the eldest girl, who was very beautiful and gifted. On these voyages he often made girl friends who would write him sentimental little reminders at Christmas. "Love from your Scottish Thistle" - "Greetings from your Irish rose" - "Gretchen sends you her warmest affection".

Grandfather would look puzzled and finger his mustache.

"Who on earth is that," he'd ask, bewildered.

“Oh, don't you remember?" his wife would answer sedately. "That's the girl you read poetry to, on the Rhine."

Or: "She was your partner at that dinner in London. The girl who laughed at your jokes." Then a light would dance in his eyes, and my grandfather would be able to return the greeting.

My grandfather was scrupulous about obeying the customs law, so much so that the officials didn't ever open his bags any more. They knew they could trust him.

"Now Charley, you could very well bring some wine to my relatives in England," pleaded his wife.  "Nobody ever looks inside your bags."

But my grandfather told her with horror that such a thing would be unthinkable. Only an unprincipled Irish woman could take the law so lightly. My grandmother pursed her lips and answered not. My grandfather duly travelled to London and had the usual amiable treatment at the customs which he took as a matter of course, walking off righteously.

Imagine his horror, however, when, upon opening his bags at the hotel he found a row of wine bottles spread out on top, for everyone to see!!

My grandfather gradually became one of the best-known characters in Amsterdam, and his family was famous. As the nurse wheeled the pram with the latest curly-haired Boissevain prodigy and the older children walking around her, their glossy black curls carefully brushed (even those of the boys), their grey Irish eyes shining mischievously under dark lashes, there would be whispers:

"There's Charles Boissevain's family - he's got an Irish wife - those are English fashions - aren't they lovely?"

My grandfather used to carry photographs of his children around in his pockets producing them at the least provocation, which earned him the name of "The Kangaroo".

Olga Boissevain, My Mother

My mother was in the exact middle of this vivacious, beautiful and gifted family. There were three boys and two girls older than she and three girls and two boys younger. She was not one of the most beautiful, though she was lovely to look at - but she soon distinguished herself by remarkable mental ability.

"Olga had the brain of a man," her mother used to say. Whereas most of the other girls married before they were well in their twenties, my mother waited till she was past thirty. While the other girls loved to go out to dances and concerts and took an interest in clothes, my mother wished to study. In those days girls didn't study and my grandmother opposed the idea. My grandfather, however, let her write little articles for his paper and even sent her to Switzerland for a while to take courses in the university at Beme.

This didn't last long however - as the consensus of opinion was that my mother should stay home and get married. My mother was a rebel and at that time she was an atheist. Her brothers and sisters all belonged to their father's Walloon church - rather like the Anglican church, but my mother had been born at a time when my grandfather had a tiff with the Walloon minister and so she was baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church instead. The Dutch Reformed Church didn't agree with my mother. She said that Catechism classes with the reformed Dominee [the name for clergy in the Dutch reformed church] took away whatever religion she naturally had.

It was not until after she was married and had been brought very low in an illness, that she got back her religious sense. She went through a course of psychoanalysis which gave her a revelation of the evil in herself and made her see that order is a divine harmony, created by God. In the end, she was, I think religious in a deeper and more passionate way than her more orthodox sisters and brother - some of whom lost their faith later in life. But at first her religion was a kind of reverent agnosticism with little form in it.

My mother was a very emotional person as well as a logical thinker. She had inherited my grandfather's eloquence and wit and imagination, coupled with my grandmother's sense of fun and impatience of goody-goodness. There was a bit of the quixote in her too - her temper would flash up and flame from her eyes at the least sign of injustice. She was not a cautious person.

As a mother she was most satisfying and to the end of her life she was my best friend. I don't think she'd have ever failed one of her children under any circumstances. 

Chapter 2. Bram van Stockum, My Father, and World War I 

My father was an entirely different personality. He was one of nine children - there were two brothers and two sisters older than him and a brother and three sisters younger. His father and mother belonged to the same stiff, Dutch Protestantism that had failed to impress my mother. It failed to impress my father too. My van Stockum Grandmother got a note from the Dominee saying:

"Your sons are very well behaved and good boys - but I would prefer it if you didn't send them to Sunday school any more as they ask too many questions."

My father, of course, was a terror. His stories about his youth were an unfailing source of entertainment to his children. There was the time when he lived in Lisse, in South Holland, and he designed a sailing wagon out of a sister’s outgrown buggy and sailed along the streets of Lisse with it at terrifying speed. This was before the advent motorcars and the farmers complained that their horses bolted at the sight. So the burgomaster of Lisse decreed that the wagon might only be sailed in the fields.

Then there was the terrifying day when his little sister Pierre stood on the wagon alone and a gust of wind bore her off at great speed towards the canal. My father told me he never ran so fast in his life and managed to catch the wagon before it toppled into the canal with its precious load.

His father was notary of Lisse and a rather stiff, dry man, not given to affectionate gestures. He and my father didn't get on at all - though my father once did say to his mother: "Please tell Papa not to beat me, it hurts him more than it does me," which was in his case literally true.

Another of my father’s exploits was to climb the church tower of Lisse and he said that the thing that amused him most about it was the commotion it made in the village - and how he saw two older women holding up their aprons to catch him if he fell. He used to make slingshots and many shop windows fell victim to his pebbles. Soon - whenever anything got broken, Bram van Stockum got the blame. Once a month his mother got the bill and she'd call Bram.

"Look over this, dear - and see if it’s correct."

Bram would go over it.

"Yes - the butcher’s window - I did that on Friday - and the Shoemaker’s window on Wednesday - and Miss Willem's in the same day but I never did the baker's window - that's a lie - who dares say I did the baker's window?"

So my grandmother would not pay for the baker’s window - as my father was the soul of honesty.

He also was a terrific fighter. His older sister Dina would have to carry his satchel home from school so he would have his hands free. And once he built a house in one of his father's favorite trees, which was hidden until the leaves fell in the autumn - and an outraged parent gave him a thrashing for it. There are revealing bits about those youthful days - how he used to imagine a statue erected in the village square to his honor - and how his mother had to bribe him to read books.

My father had an extremely affectionate nature but he was not emotional, like my mother. He used to be amused at the adventures she would be able to recount after a short journey and he said of her that of she were locked in solitary confinement for a week she'd still have hair-raising adventures with a rat.
Hilda van Stockum at 25.

My father married late in life - he was passionately fond of his freedom, and reluctant to tie himself down. My mother’s married life with him was extremely odd. My father was a naval officer and an inventor. He married because a depth-regulator for mines which he had designed had become a success and he believed he would be rich. Unfortunately the invention was stolen and he never got a penny for it - though it was used (with minor alterations) and proved very successful. So my father and mother started their married life deeply in debt and my mother naturally wanted to save. She made my father simpler and simpler breakfasts and he never protested. She grew very proud of him until he said to her one day: "Wouldn't it be better, love, if you gave me my breakfast at home. It gets rather expensive going to a hotel all the time!"

My mother had been brought up like a lady. The eleven Boissevain children had not been encouraged to learn the household arts. Those were the days of servants. Most of the girls turned out good housekeepers anyway, out of instinct I suppose, but not mother. It is one of the stories of her early married life that she discovered thick dust on the mantel piece, flicked it with her finger and said pensively to her husband; as if she'd made a terrific discovery: "Wouldn't it be a good idea to wipe that off?"

My father was a connoisseur of food. He knew his wines, for instance. Once his friends wanted to test him, and blindfolded him. He was given many different wines to sip and unfailingly placed them. Finally his friends thought they'd stymie him and mixed two wines together.

"That's odd," said my father. "I can't make out whether it’s this one or that," naming the two wines that had been mixed. His friends gave up after that.

It was rather awkward to have a person of such fine taste in the house. While we'd all be enjoying some store-bought cake, he'd push it away in disgust. "Margarine and saccharine," he'd mutter, outraged. Or: "the eggs weren't fresh."

On the other hand, his enjoyment of good food was a pleasure to behold - every taste was relished. Mother said that though she began by disliking oysters she learned to like them from watching my father eat them. Afterwards I often wondered at the casual way most people treat oysters - making soups and stews of them and acting as if they had no dignity. There was only one way my father would eat them - as they lay cosily in their mother-of-pearl bed, with a sprinkling of lemon juice over them. And opening them was a kind of religious ceremony. It was no wonder that my mother in the early days was swayed by his preferences and ordered caviar and oysters almost every day, until a relative told her that was not the way to save.

For an emotional lady like my mother, my father was not a wholly satisfactory husband. For one thing, his hours were not normal. His brain only became active after 4 pm and then he would work through the night. Going to bed around the time my mother got up he would presently sleep through most of her waking hours. That was, of course, when he wasn't on active duty. He usually had some sort of invention on hand at which he worked furiously, not noticing my mother much. As those were the days before she had children and as they lived in a lonely country place, my mother found it a bit dull. There was the memorable evening when she rebelled. Finding my father absorbed as usual, my mother simmered slowly by the fire until suddenly she kicked up her feet so that one slipper hit the ceiling and the other flew right across the room and she exclaimed passionately.

"I'm going out of this house and I'll run off with the first man I meet."

My father, roused out of his meditations, took in the whole situation at a glance and went into one of his delightful, shoulder shaking laughs - which immediately restored the harmony. (Mother liked nothing so much as having her jokes appreciated.)

In some ways my father never outgrew his childhood. He lived his whole life in near-poverty and always expected to be made a millionaire by each of his inventions. Whatever money he had always went on patents. Once he was complaining that mother hadn't cooked the rice properly - My father had strict views on rice which must have each grain separate and soft, but not moist. My mother said irritably:

"Well, why don't you invent a pan which would make rice the way you want it."

That was enough to start off my father and my mother soon rued her words. My father was up all night in the sitting room and in the morning my mother was greeted by a pitying servant who shook her head and said: "Ah, poor Mr. van Stockum - isn't it sad about him." My mother asked anxiously "Why? What's happened?"

"He must be ill," said the servant. "Look what he did -" and opening the door she revealed the result of my father's nocturnal labor. Several enormous mounds of cooked rice had been carelessly emptied out on the Turkish carpet and various pots and pans of my mother's were lying about with holes punched into them.

The result of these efforts was a very efficient pan which would infallibly make the right kind of rice if you obeyed instructions. It was a kind of steamer and would cook any kind of vegetable in a wholesome way. We used it all our lives and valued it but it wasn't a commercial success as it needed a modicum of intelligence to use it. I still remember an attic full of these pans which were never sold.

Sometimes, when my father had a marvelous idea he would wake my mother up in the middle of the night and take her for a walk on the moors. She was very sleepy at those times and found it difficult to follow his thoughts but her warm heart always responded to his need for companionship.

She often said that she was glad that my father never made a success of his inventions. It was only lack of money that curbed his ambitions and when he regaled us children with stories of what he would do when his millions came in, in a year or so - I could see my mother shudder. It always involved an enormous house full of gadgets and once he even had an idea for a miniature railway in our garden. Once, when I was about ten years old, my mother got a legacy. I had been begging her for a little playhouse as my Grandmother had in the garden for her grandchildren to play with. It was just large enough for two children to sit in - it had a nameplate and a bell and a letterbox on the door and a window with curtains and a little chimney on top - exactly as if it were a big house. My mother wanted to use part of the legacy to give me such a house and my father said he'd design it for me. But alas, it was not his idea to follow the conventional which delights a child. He had an invention of a door which could open on either side (it had no hinges but worked on the principle of a banknote wallet.)

It was a complete success. The door did open on both sides. But who wants a door opening on both sides? It was a great disappointment to me. (There was no letterbox, nameplate or bell either.) It was done on crossed ropes.

My father was an extremely sensitive person. As a small boy it was well known that he could be led by a kind word though he resisted all compulsion. He had a loathing of any kind of harshness. When anybody spoke unkindly to or of a person, my father would get up and leave the room with an expression of real suffering on his face. Though he was an atheist for the greater part of his life he never spoke a profane word or showed any irreverence towards traditionally holy things. He was a tremendous example to us children as he never lost his patience. His only way of protest was to leave the room and meditate in the seclusion of his study. With children he was at his best - he loved them. I remember walking hand in hand with him and hearing Kipling's Just So jungle stories retold by him. On another occasion he bought me "Alice in Wonderland" and read it out to me, punctuated with his shoulder-shaking laughter.

Then there was the day when he took me to the Amsterdam Zoo and I lost the paper whistle with the colored streamers he had bought me. Later we found it trampled in the dirt and I got my first lesson in philosophy, in the transitoriness of all worldly glory. I don't remember his arguments at that time but when I was a little older a similar thing happened. My father had bought me a bag of sweets and I lost it on the road. I wept bitterly until my father told me of the little poor boy who was going to come along that road and find that bag of sweets - and the delight it was going to be to him. That dried my tears.

No children were ever too young to talk to, according to my father, and we were treated to the best of his thoughts from the first. My mother says he even talked to me as an infant and I can well believe it. I know I worshiped him and liked nothing so well as to sit on the little saddle he had made for me on the crossbar of his bike - with his arms around me and the whole wide world in front. 

My Father’s Naval Career 

My father's naval career was unusual. Several times he risked his reputation for an idea. At the naval port of "Den Helder" there used to be exercises of the navy - one part of the fleet would be the "enemy" and the other "Dutch". The enemy would have to sneak into the harbor at night without having been spotted by a searchlight. In my father's early days he was appointed captain of such an "enemy" ship. And he didn't like the assignment. The "enemy" never won. It couldn't win.

The searchlight covered all of the navigable space. Father felt it was unfair. He was always ambitious, and he wanted to win. He explored the approaches to the harbor and found a place not covered by the searchlights which was considered too shallow for the kind of ship my father commanded. My father always wanted to find things out for himself and he measured it. According to his calculations he could make it. And so, on the fateful night, he went over this dark stretch of water, his heart in his mouth. If he grounded that ship it would have been the end of his career in the navy. He often told us how he listened with beating heart to the ominously dwindling numbers of the depth meter - until at last - it remained steady - steady - steady and my father’s ship came through. It caused terrific excitement in Den Helder - as it was the first time the "enemy" had won for years. It was on that occasion that my mother first met my father and that he and she quarreled about the number of children they wanted to have. It was ten years later before they finally married.

My father once won a sailing match through similar daring. He took his boat from Den Helder at the Northern Tip of Holland down to Rotterdam harbor in the south, whence he'd reach the lakes where the regatta was held. Unfortunately the wind rose while he was sailing over the North Sea and something went wrong with the rigging so he couldn't take down the sails. They flew like a bird over the storm-tossed sea.

"Can you swim?" asked my father anxiously of the sailor who was with him.

“Like a brick," said the man, meaning it literally. But he had full confidence in my father. My father believes that they made Rotterdam harbor on account of the fact that all sails were up. He said if one of those enormous breakers had overtaken them they'd have been done for - but they went faster. Nobody afterwards would believe that he'd gone into that harbor in that weather. The next day the wind had considerably abated but all the other sailboats had only half sails up. Of course my father saw no need in taking down his sails and so he won the match with ease. (we still have the little silver tea set he got on that occasion).

My father always deplored the advent of steam. His first ship was a clipper and he could tell appetizingly of the activity and skill involved in handling sails and the way you were alive to the weather and became one with your ship.

World War I 

My father wasn't a pacifist but he believed all wars should be fought at sea. He was very much against women and children being involved and he felt land-warfare was unchivalrous and messy. "At sea we do not fight against people." he said. "We save them when we can. We fight ships."

It was the fact that the Germans broke this rule in their naval warfare and refused to save the crews of sinking ships or failed to give sufficient warning, that turned Father against then during the First World War.

They do not understand the laws of the sea-" he said with disgust.

He was commander of the seaport to Amsterdam called Ymuiden in 1914 - and once when a British warship was mined just outside the harbor he had the crew rescued, clothed, fed and dispatched to England before the night was gone. Of course, my mother said, “Holland was neutral. But father was never neutral."

He always maintained that we should have come to the aid of Belgium when it was brutally invaded by the Germans in 1914.

“But think of all the suffering that would have brought on Holland-" protested my mother.

"No matter - when a brother is attacked, you don't stand by and do nothing - you help." said my father. "The same rule goes for nations as for individuals." I often thought of those words when the 1939 war was upon us and he was so plainly proved right.

Once, during the First World War, my father invented a gadget that horrified my mother. It was a kind of automatic torpedo which could be directed infallibly towards an enemy harbor - where it would explode. My mother thought this diabolical and wept and argued until my father tore up this invention. Perhaps if there had been more wives and husbands like that we wouldn't have the atom bomb upon us now.

My father had tremendous physical strength and seemed to me most courageous. He smiled when I told him that.

“Not at all - " he said. "I wasn't brave. I just couldn't imagine anything going wrong." He always said that he could stand any pain as long as he could clench his teeth - that's why he was a coward at the dentist's. He was so afraid of the dentist that he once pulled one of his own teeth. I can remember it clearly, my father standing in front of a mirror with a pair of plyers clenched around the offending tooth - tugging at it for all he was worth.

"Bram," my mother called from downstairs. "Dinner is ready!"

"I'll be down in a minute." my father replied. "It's half out already!"

Once my father was vice-admiral for a while and his beautiful uniform made a deep impression on me. He had a three-cornered hat with a plume and he had gold-braid epaulettes on his shoulders. The gold-braid on his sleeves and trousers glittered and he wore a saber at his side and white gloves. He was covered with medals which he said he got for sailing and bowing at royalty.

He used to have dinner with Queen Wilhelmina and he often told us children with relish how a minister had taken a spoonful of boiling hot soup and was growing purple in the face, unable to swallow it though not daring to return it to its original place. The Queen noticed it.

"Spit it out - your Excellency," she cried with maternal solicitude. "Spit it out!"

He used to take me to see processions of the royal family - I'll never forget the lined streets - the waving flags - the handsome Cavalry men and the open carriage in which the Queen and prince consort bowed from left to right.

When my father became a naval officer, the Queen of the Netherlands was very young. He saw her crowned as a girl of 18 and I think he fell in love with the slim, long-necked dignity of her. His feeling for her was always that of a champion and he often said he preferred to have a Queen to fight for than a King. Not that he did an awful amount of fighting. He participated in some minor skirmishes in the East Indies, that was all, until the first World War came.

He was sent on several exploring expeditions in New Guyana, which he had described himself in a diary. He penetrated forests where no European had yet set foot and gave names to mountaintops, the Van Stockumberg being one of them.

My father was a terrific arguer but a fair one. When you beat him in an argument he always acknowledged it and congratulated you with as much pleasure as if he'd thought of the idea himself. My mother says that her intellect went through a terrific course of training with him, as his ideas were so original and unconventional that he was hard to live with unless you could convince him that the generally accepted way was best. She managed to convince him several times, and on each occasion the matter was closed. My father gave in and the subject was never mentioned again.

One such argument dealt with the training of us children. At heart my father was an anarchist with a flavor of Rousseau [who loved the state of nature]. He believed children to be naturally good and able to grow up perfect if not interfered with. All my mother’s efforts at discipline were considered interfering with nature. My mother said that nothing less than the welfare of her children would have embarked her on the argument that ensued. I believe they argued day and night for a week, but in the end mother won and we were brought up normal children instead of savages. The only remnant of his former attitude could be found in the fact that he didn't like our table manners to be corrected.

"The children will learn from looking at us." he maintained. "Meanwhile conversation at table should be pleasant." If mother sometimes forgot and burst out in irritation at our bad manners he'd leave the room.

Another extraordinary trait of my father's was his opinion about time. One of the tragedies of my childhood invariably went like this: Father and Mother would take us out on a trip in the train. We were all dressed neatly and left much too early on account of Mother's nervousness. Father would laugh to see us go.

"You'll have to wait for hours." he'd warn us. "I'll follow later."

"I don't care." Mother would answer defiantly. Of course we did have to wait for a long time on a cold and draughty platform. The train would eventually come, but not father. With tearful faces glued to the carriage windows we would see him arrive just as the train pulled out of the station. To go out together with him mother used to say, she'd have to aim for a later train and he for an earlier one.

Once we went on a trip in a donkey carriage with my father. We were not allowed to beat the donkey. Though it went at a snail’s pace.

“It will run when it wants to," said my father treating us to many stories of gentleness and charity to animals. It was a very edifying journey but it took us all a day to get to the seaside place that we should have reached for brunch - and instead we all had to stay overnight at a hotel. The next day we went home by train and father's orderly made the return trip in the donkey carriage in two hours. You have no idea how slowly a donkey can go that knows it’s not going to be beaten! And how fast it can go if it does!

I don't really know what that trip taught me. I think I dimly felt that some ideals cost more than they're worth. But I honored and loved my father for it all the same.

Both my father and my mother always followed their consciences. When they were atheists they were so from a mistaken idealism, because the God they were asked to believe in didn't measure up to their standards. Eventually they both became ardent believers. God could not have failed to love them even in the days when they denied Him.

Chapter 3. My Religious Sentiments [Diary Book II] 

My father and mother were not the kind of people to discourage a child in his search for God. I made up my own mythology, patched up from various remarks made by grownups added to an inborn religious sense. I was really a Sun-worshipper. Early in life I associated the Sun with God.

The first real grief I can remember is when my father went to the West Indies on an expedition and was away for many months. I was only three at the time [1911] but I missed him dreadfully. I'd go to the house of my aunt [Mary Boissevain van Eeghan?] and she had made up a song for me about my dear father coming back, which she played on the piano. That comforted me. 

Mother Leaves for Switzerland 1912 

A year later an even worse thing happened. My mother fell seriously ill and went to a sanatorium in Switzerland. My baby brother Willem and I went to an aunt [Teau de Beaufort] in another part of the country. To have my mother go - to be sent away from our home to a place where we were not the pivots of the universe but merely guests - was shattering to a child of four. I know it deepened me and showed me the transitoriness of human life. Luckily I had an aunt who taught me about God and the angels of Heaven. It gave me a new sense of security which I badly needed at the time.

I must have worked on these few data in my own mind for a year later I find myself with this mythology I worked out for myself. My mother is back in Switzerland again but this time I am with her and I've begun to draw. I still have the book with those early drawings. The sun is obviously God - He is smiling when "the children" are safe - but frowning and worried when they're in the woods, because of the wolf (devil) who will eat them. On one page there is a church and the wolf is listening sentimentally to the bells. All the children are turning around gaily in the wood and the sun is smiling because the wolf is so piously occupied.

My mother's sanatorium [Privatklinik Bircher-Benner] was in Zurich and they have a carillon there every Saturday night. These bells impressed me profoundly. They were the holiest things I'd ever heard.

There was a nurse in this sanatorium whom I disliked. She was called Marianne and she was often impatient and harsh with children. Once my mother had to go out and left me in her charge. She took me to her bedroom. There I saw a picture of the Thorn-crowned Christ. "Who is that funny man?" I asked, struck. She was horrified. She took me under the armpits and planked me on her bed.  Then, kneeling before me with a fierce face she told me the story of Jesus. As I sat on that bed - my legs stretched in front of me, I marveled. I felt a great dislike for Sister Marianne who was obviously very angry with my parents for some reason or other. But the story made a deep impression on me all the same. 

The Great War 

It wasn't long after that when the war broke out [starting end of June 1914 – after the Assassination of the Archduke of Austria in Sarajevo, and escalating in August with the invasions by Germany of Luxembourg and Belgium] that the war broke out and my father was appointed commander of Ymuiden [the port of Amsterdam]. We had rented a country house in the neighborhood but when the Belgian refugees flooded the country we gave it up to them and retired to a smaller house - until another place was found for the refugees.

I remember my mother studying near a window and weeping over the horrors described in the paper. I remember my father full of ingenious plans for the defense of Ymuiden. (Unfortunately for him, it was never attacked. [Holland remained neutral and Germany did not invade.])

To me the war was a fantastic thing I could not understand. I used to imagine to myself, when tucked in bed at night, what would happen if German soldiers came into my house to kill my parents and my two brothers. I always felt sure that all I'd have to do was to go out to them and tell them:

"Don't you know, they're my father and mother, you wouldn't want to kill them, would you?" and I'd look at them and they'd say in German:

"Oh no miss, of course not, we thought they were just people but if they're your father and mother we will go away."

Another of my fantasies was that I'd have an underground passage, like a rabbit warren, with various openings, stocked with food and other useful things. I could spend hours imagining and furnishing that hide-out. 

My Father’s Teaching 

Though my father was very busy at the time and was away sometimes for weeks on end, he wouldn't let me go to school but instructed me himself. He thought all schools were stupid, killed initiative, made knowledge unattractive and were physically unhygienic. He disliked us acquiring a vulgar way of speaking and feared the influence of other children. My mother wasn't happy about it. She favored a more social attitude but she hers  elf had suffered a lot from boredom at school and didn't care for the orthodox methods of education. She had just heard of Maria Montessori and was examining her methods. Meanwhile she taught me reading and writing by the Jan Lighthart method - a great improvement on the older ways.

My father understood arithmetic and geography. He was a very difficult taskmaster. He allowed no hesitation. If he told me to learn a table I had to know that table without pausing to clear my throat. I remember weeping hopelessly one afternoon because I couldn't "understand" the table of two.

My father didn't make allowances for a child's way of thinking. Instead of starting geography with a familiar thing like my own house, or our village, he began with the earth and the sun. There was a candle and an orange. I remember, and a lot of talk about stars and planets. The result of this was that I no longer pictured the night sky as a sheet with holes pricked in it to let through the glory of heaven.

My father's teaching was dramatic and descriptive and bolstered with logic. I pictured my life as an angel after death, flying between all these worlds in a space without an end - so it didn't matter if you fell for there was nowhere to fall to - and was it likely you'd ever meet another angel? Well, once in a while, perhaps - and then what would we do? Sit down in a world and chat for a while? What a dreary existence! However it wasn't as dreadful as another nightmare I had, after my father had flatly told me that God was an invention of people who were too cowardly and lazy to stand on their own feet. I remember standing in front of him as he told me this, the lovely sunshine outside making an incongruous background. My father said it sadly, regretfully. There was no hatred, not even satisfaction in his voice. He was dreadfully sorry to disturb my illusion but honesty compelled him. No, there was no God - I might as well know now as later. I ran to my mother and asked her. She was more concerned with my peace of mind and much less sure.

"I don't know -" was all the comfort she could give me. I felt more deserted then I had done when they had left me because of illness and travel. I pictured what it would be like to die if there was no God. I could picture nothing - for ever. It was appalling. I had to stop myself from doing it because I knew it was bad for me. And secretly I didn't believe a word of it. I knew there was a God. But I remember freezing coldness. The freezing coldness of the thought.

It was at that time that we had a servant who was found to have stolen a lot of our things. They were found in her suitcase. There was a terrific scene. I still see the girl walk past me, weeping. I was horrified. Suddenly I knew very definitely that I must never lie or be dishonest in any way - neither with myself nor with others. "If you are truthful you will be saved," something told me deep inside myself. I promised this something that I would try - and any lapses against truth have always hurt my conscience more than any other sin. 

Blockade, 1916 

I was about eight years old [1916] when Holland was being blockaded by England along with Germany. So there was scarcity of food and fuel. I remember being very cold in my bed at night and being allowed only two slices of grey bread. Also there were not as many toys at Christmas and St. Nicholas day. My mother celebrated both feasts as her Irish mother had done. The Dutch usually only celebrated St. Nicholas. I remember the day when we expected the saint’s arrival. To me he was always a very holy man, but I was afraid of him. I was dressed in white silk, with patent leather shoes and white socks. I was shivering with fear and before joining the others in the drawing room. I knelt by my bed and asked God fervently to protect me from St. Nicholas. With beating heart I joined the others and the solemn figure of St. Nicholas entered.

Then, suddenly, my fear collapsed like a pricked ballon. My mother had not put the front of the bishop’s mitre properly on Nicholas's head and so a wart was revealed in the middle of his forehead that proclaimed him immediately as harmless Mr. Cornelis, my father's best friend. Instead of feeling disillusioned as so many children do when they find out that St. Nicholas is only someone dressed up, I felt it was a beautiful answer to my prayer.

What better way was there for God to protect me against St. Nicholas than to show me the truth? I have never forgotten it and my faith in prayer dates from that day.

Somebody gave me a children's bible around this time and I was absorbed and thrilled by the stories, especially the New Testament. I felt passionately concerned in Jesus's crucifixion and would weep over it, curled up in my father's big red armchair.

As a consequence I wanted to go to church and I told my mother so. My mother thought it rather amusing and said I could go with the servants the next Sunday. However, the servants were Reformed Dutch and the church was a bare, cold affair. The clergyman hopped about excitedly and talked a lot in an unnatural booming voice. I was bored stiff. I remember thinking to myself as I walked home between the chattering servants that it was a hoax the grownups had played on me and that it hadn't been a church at all.

A little later my mother, brothers and I were walking through the village. The door of the Catholic church was open and light and music came streaming out. It must have been Benediction - I darted in, followed by Willem. The lights, the music - the incense - or was it the Real Presence? I sensed something and I ran excitedly. "Mother, mother, come inside, this is where God is!!"

My mother quickly hurried us away.

"Never go there again, that's a dangerous place," She told me sternly. 

Finding Religion in Hans Christian Andersen 

At the time [1916] I was very fond of Hans Andersen's fairy tales, from which I also got a sense of religion. I preferred them to the Arabian Nights or Grimm's Tales. Especially the Little Mermaid and the Snow Queen seemed to me full of religious truth. [The “Snow Queen” story is posted online here: The family is interested in having this published as a book or a DVD or both.]

I secretly had the ambition of marrying a prince and when our neighbor, a farmer's boy of my own age, asked if I would marry him I told him I aimed higher. This boy lent me a book on Don Juan which he said was very good. I don't know what kind of a book it was, but from a few sentences in it I concluded that it was an evil book. (I must also admit that it didn't interest me very much.) I didn't tell my mother about it but I took it to a little pavilion we had in the garden where I solemnly told God that I wasn't reading it for His sake. After which I returned it to the boy. I never said a word to anybody about this, not at the time.

My grandmother, my father's mother, fell ill at about this time. My father was very upset about it. He was his mother's favorite. I remember sitting up in bed and my father coming into the room looking ever so sad and saying in a broken voice:

"Your grandmother has died."

"Now he will have to believe in God-" I remember thinking. And strangely enough it wasn't long after that that he did get a kind of revelation which changed his whole outlook and made him a firm believer in God - though in an unorthodox way.

I had a pair of rabbits in those days which I called Adam and Eve. I don't know whether I neglected them though I was accused of it by my nurse - but one day I found Adam lying still and I took him in my arms to the nursery, where I sat on the floor with his poor stiff body on my lap. I remembered reading how the first Adam had been formed and I began to blow hopefully on my rabbit - but though I blew and blew nothing happened, and I found out the difference in power between God and me.

Sometimes I used to play with two little Catholic girls who lived a few fields away. They talked about the Holy Ghost being a dove and I argued with them.

"How can a ghost be a dove?" but they said He was - and that was the end of it.

The war was getting worse and worse - there was less and less food. Mother was ill and a young cousin of mine of 18 came to help out with the household along with a friend of hers named Hanna. I stuck to my cousin as being the more familiar and of a blond, comfortable type. My brothers immediately made a beeline for her friend who was dark, vivacious, full of imagination and told stories. I could invent stories too - I often did, for the boys, and the books I chose were filled with the antics of two bad little girls, laboriously written with cramped fingers.

But Hanna could invent things nobody else ever thought of - she had ghost stories that sent shivers down our spines - like the one in which someone plunges her hand in a flowerpot and brings up an eye! She had to feed us with her stories for neither of the girls knew much about cooking and once there was only rice for dinner and it was both burnt and hard - no one could eat it - not even the cat. I remember being in a dilemma about going to school. (My father had at last relented and Willem and I went to honest-to-goodness schools in the village.) My boots had no soles but my slippers had good soles. As it was wet and cold outside I wanted to wear my slippers but my cousin said I had to wear my boots until Hanna came to my aid and said it was silly to wear boots without proper soles and sent me off in leaky slippers.

My mother became very ill indeed and was sent to a hospital. My father fell ill also at that time so our house was closed up and we children were distributed among relatives.

Aunt Teau 

I went to the same aunt Teau [for Catherine or Cateau Boissevain de Beaufort] whom I had visited at the age of four. She had a girl of my age and three younger boys.

This aunt Teau was my mother's youngest sister – the youngest of the eleven children. She was a lovely person and extremely gifted. She used to tell us bible stories and made them come alive in a way I've never heard since. A person like the actress Ruth Draper seems closest to her. There's a story of how she wanted to see "La Dame aux Camelias," with Sara Bernhardt as a young girl and her father said it wasn't a suitable play. She was furious - and a few days later she told her father that she had a surprise for him. Unsuspecting he sat down in the chair provided and then my Aunt Teau proceeded to act La dame aux Camelias more movingly and better than Sara Bernhardt, according to those who saw them both.

My aunt Teau often acted in private theatricals and even wrote plays but she never went before the general public. Instead she married a professor of zoology of aristocratic lineage and lived in a castle on the moors - where she made life for us children into an enchanted fairy tale. After my mother there is no one I loved more. And she had a simple, childlike faith which appealed to me very much. She taught me hymns - the Lord is my Shepherd - We Are Little Candles - etc. Naturally I was not completely happy. I missed my parents and my brothers. At those times I used to look at a little bronze sparrow which my aunt had given to me and it seemed to hold a message: "Not a Sparrow shall fall to the ground..." That little bird was a great comfort to me.

My aunt didn't live long. She suffered from leukemia and died when I was twelve years old.

Meanwhile my mother had become very close to this sister and persuaded my father to go and live in her neighborhood. As my father was by this time pensioned off and there was no need for him to stay in the house near Ymuiden, he rented one in Amersfoort - not too far from my aunt’s house.

My aunt often came to visit us, driving up in her pony carriage or in the car in a grey suit with a big white muffler carelessly flung around her neck and a red tam o'shanter perched on her glossy black hair. She had a lovely face with a sensitive mouth, long straight nose and grey-green eyes full of expression. I used to love to crouch behind my mother's chair and listen to their conversation when she visited us.

I didn't realize how much my aunt was suffering at the time, knowing that she could not live very long. Once she came to visit me when my mother was away and I was ill in bed and weeping from self-pity.

She knelt by me and said passionately and tragically: "Child, child, if you only knew how little you have to weep about. If you only knew what real grief is!"

The note of anguish in her voice struck me deeply. I stooped weeping and never forgot it. She was very concerned at leaving her four young children. Two have joined her since. One drowned as a young boy, the other was shot by the Germans. The other two married and are now well and happy. 

My Father in USA 

Around this time [1917, 1918] my father went to America. One of mother's brothers, Eugen Boissevain (the widower of Inez Milholland) gave my father this chance to try out an invention he had for a gearless automobile [what we call an automatic transmission]. My father enjoyed the year in America very much, but nothing ever came of his invention.

While my father was away we children came down with the measles, Willem first - and Jan and I weren't allowed to go to school - so we played in the woods together. It was beautiful weather and I enjoyed very much getting to know my little brother better. I was still young enough to enjoy playing imaginary games and Jan responded very well. Only I noticed that he was very credulous and inclined to get frightened at the idea of hobgoblins. I didn't want him to get frightened but I liked the fact that fairies seemed quite possible to him - so I told him about the fairies there were in these woods and that there was a particular hole in a hollow tree which he should visit every Sunday morning and then he would find that the fairies had brought him candy. Jan was about seven years old at the time and the idea enchanted him. So when we were over the measles I used to spend all my pocket money buying prettily colored sweets and hanging them decoratively around the hollow tree - Jan trudged there every Sunday morning and was a firm believer. Once he went before I was quite ready and I fled through the streets in my underwear to get to the place before him. Another time I hadn;t any weekly money except a penny and I dared not go into the sweetshop with so little. My school teacher found me weeping in front of the shop and brought me inside to buy my pathetic pennyworth of sweets.

For months I kept up this game until one day, when I'd been away on a trip, my mother awaited me with a grave face.

"I'm sorry, Hilda - but I'm afraid you're going to be very disappointed at what I'm going to tell you."

"What?" I asked, alarmed.

"Jan came to me on Sunday and asked me if God was true. I told him yes." (Mother had decided as much by this time.) "Then he wanted to know if the fairies were true..."

"And you said no, I hope -" I interrupted her. "Naturally, it would have been wicked not to. I don't mind a bit," I said.

Mother was very relieved and perhaps I was too. It had been a bit of a strain looking after a fairy hole all the time.

My mother made an interesting circle of friends in this town. (We lived on the outskirts of it.) She was by now thoroughly familiar with Maria Montessori's ideas and she was trying to find a school like that for poor Jan. There wasn't one in Amersfoort - and at the ordinary school he was unpopular. Poor little fellow - he used to give away all his toys in hope of making friends, but didn't succeed. My mother joined a philosophical and theosophoical society and heard Rabindranath Tagore speak. She read Dostoyevsky and Herman Bahr and used to discuss these novels interestingly with her friends. One of her frineds was a famous art-critic Josh Havelaar - who was married to a charming woman who became Mother's great friend. Then there was the musical family next door - the Father, Piet Tiggers, gave me piano lessons, but I was frightened of him - and his wife taught me dancing. His wife was much gentler and helped me to compose little dances for my mother's birthday. I always tried to have some sort of entertainment on my mother's birthday and drilled my brothers and whatever schoolfriend would join, into their respective roles. They had two little children who used to call their father and mother by their Christian names but when they heard us call our mother "Moeder" they did the same. I remember having long arguments with Mrs. Tiggers about Hans Christian Andersen. She didn't like him and I defended him with all the vehemence of a twelve year old. I saw my first opera during that period and it made me drunk with joy. Mr. and Mrs. Tigger were in the thick of it. I loved the smell of greasepaint, the excitement, the music. For a long time afterwards my cousin and I would walk along the streets playing at being Lionel and Martha and singing Martha, Ade.

My Emergence as an Artist 

During those days my talent was being disciplined by all these great people who nodded wisely over carelessly executed drawings and wondered if anything would come of it.

"I don't know what I'm more astonished at - what she can do or what she can't do," said Josh Havelaar.

So it was decided that I should take painting lessons from a friend of his - a charming painter called Mewg, who taught me to use hard pencils with sharp points and look well before I drew anything. I remember getting very tired. I used to love watching him paint. His colors were always fresh and he had a mellow, tender outlook on things. Once he painted a picture which Josh Havelaar dissapproved of - but I liked it - a little dead rabbit surrounded by primroses. It was delightfully sentimental. It was around this time [1922] that my poor Aunt Teau died.

Father Returns from USA 

Presently my father returned from America and astonished us all by having grown a beard. He liked America and he told us great stories about it. He'd liked the three-ring circus and the empty sidewalks (you've got the road to yourself if you walk) and the Cafeterias. He also enjoyed the comic strips. He liked the universal carfare system and the lack of red tape and a certain generosity in trade, which didn't trouble itself about a penny here and there. It all suited my father very well.

Meanwhile we were having trouble with our neighbors who kept doves and roses while we kept a goat. Our goat got at their roses and their doves got on our clock. As a matter of fact my goat was a good little creature though she took a lot of looking after. She used to jump on our windowsill to bid us "good morning" She was a very young goat and I called her Kiddy.

I had to get a bundle of straw for her stable every week from a farmer some way off - but I would have done more for her. She used to follow me everywhere, she wore a little bell and I'd hear it rin-timing behind me. I went for long walks on the moors with her and she was more company than a dog - I know, I've had both. But when she got old and melancholy I sold her - she was better off on a farm where there were other goats.

It was around this time that I began to discover the pleasure or working well and getting high marks. I used to take an interest in history and read my father’s Streckfuss for hours on end. I was delighted to find Palestine and Christ mentioned in an ordinary history book. I had ideas of my own on religion at the time. When the teacher wanted me to parse the sentence: "As the hart panteth for water so I pine for God."

I refused. I said it would be disrespectful to God to pull that sentence to pieces. The teacher sent me home with a note to my father who laughed and said I was perfectly right. Henceforth I was excused from parsing religious sentences and the teacher probably thought we belonged to some obscure, unknown sect.

 © 2013 by Boissevain Books, LLC