Chapter 1. My Mother and Her Family.1
© 2014 by Boissevain Books LLC, NYC
|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.|
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:
|Hilda van Stockum at 25.|
My mother wasn't happy about it. She favored a more social attitude but she herself 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.
I took Adam 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.
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.
Then he asked "Are Angels real?
Again, Mother said "yes"
Then he asked, "Are fairies real?
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. Tiggers 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.
The Books That Led to Her ConversionMajor incidents of HvS's early youth according to Brigid:1. Her giving away of her favourite doll to the poor. It was a life size doll, called "Esquimo", because it was dressed like an Esquimo. Hilda took it everywhere and fed it at meals and took it to bed at night.Then one day a lady called and talked to Granny about the sufferings of the poor little children. SHe asked Hilda if she had any spare toys for them.Hilda told me later, it was just as if God were telling her to give up her favourite doll, and not any of the others, so she bought it to the lady.Granny was very distressed. "But that is your favourite doll! (it was also very expensive) Can't you give her some of the toys you don't play with?But Hilda said, "No, I want to give Esquimo."Hilda said the lady looked at her with great love and said, "You want to give your best doll to the poor children?" And Hilda nodded. Granny said "You will miss Esquimo, and Hilda knew that this was true, she would miss Esquimo dreadfully.But the lady understood, and thanked her profoundly.2. Later on when she was older there was the time when she forgot to feed her rabbits and saw that the male rabbit had starved himself to death so that the pregnant female could live and give birth. It broke her heart that she had forgotten them! And she never forgot the pathetic sacrifice of the male rabbit!
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.
The Reading Behind Her Conversion to Catholicism
|Hilda van Stockum (L) with her parents
brother Willem, c. 1914
The van Stockum entry is five pages long. It is highly useful as her own story of her road to Catholicism from parents who were nominally Dutch reform Protestants but were non-practicing and agnostic.
My mother always told me that G. K. Chesterton's book What's Wrong with the World was an important influence on her decision to join the Catholic Church. I posted this and Michael Phillips questioned G. K. Chesterton's right to be a spiritual leader on the grounds that he was anti-Semitic. I cited Paul Johnson on this topic and Michael was satisfied. Johnson wrote in 2010:
Why this hostility [to Chesterton by the BBC]? One explanation often advanced is that he was anti-Semitic. I have never been able to see this. His odd and aggressive brother, Cecil, was certainly an anti-Semite. So was his friend and associate Hilaire Belloc. GKC was involved in the Marconi campaign against Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs. But that was all. GKC lacked all the characteristics of the real anti-Semite: love of conspiracy theory, bitterness, huge hidden hatreds and violence of thought. It is significant that he saw through Hitler before anyone else in England, issuing dire warnings from 1932 onwards. Before his death in 1936, he even predicted Hitler would begin the Second World War with a grab at Poland.
May 29, 2017 — Today is G.K. Chesterton's birthday and is a good time to update this post with some additional comments. He was born in London in 1874. He was a large man, well over six feet, and rotund. He used to say that when he got the urge to go and exercise he would lie down until the urge passed away. He argued with people like H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, but he kept them as friends. He wrote 4,000 newspaper essays, 80 books, several hundred poems, about 200 short stories, and several plays. His Father Brown stories, about a detective-slash-priest, were imitated in the social-psychological crime series called Inspector Morse and its follow-on Endeavour. He dabbled in mysticism before going the Church of England and then becoming a Catholic. His book The Everlasting Man (1925) contributed to C.S. Lewis's conversion from atheism to Christianity.
Chesterton wrote: "If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby." (Heretics (1905)
Another quote: "The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane." (Orthodoxy, 1908)
Another: "Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." (Tremendous Trifles, 1909)
Finally: For the great Gaels of Ireland Are the men that God made mad, For all their wars are merry, And all their songs are sad." (The Ballad of the White Horse, 1911) The same could have been said of the Scots history, except that the Scottish resistance to English rule was more effective than the Irish.
Meanwhile, John Beaumont's new book on U.S. Catholic conversions, The Mississippi Flows Into the Tiber: A Guide to Notable American Converts to the Catholic Church (South Bend, Indiana: Fidelity Press, 2014), 1014 pp., $69, mentions a different book as having been an influence of HvS. I reached Beaumont's via a review of it by Anne Barbeau Gardiner. She says:
throughout these pages we see the influence of certain books on conversions, such as the works of Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Newman, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Gilson. Then, too, some entered at an early age, like Marco Rubio who at thirteen told his parents he wanted to be a Catholic, and others, like Wallace Stevens, waited till their deathbed. Some inched their way into the Church over the course of years, like John Sparrow Thompson, the first Catholic Prime Minister of Canada, and others converted in a flash, like Hilda van Stockum, who finished reading Arnold Lunn’s Now I See and exclaimed, “I’m not thinking about being a Catholic, I am a Catholic.”