Saturday the 30th of May
Today has been massive. I may not describe it as being action-packed or have too much to document in my entry, but I cannot deny that today has been a long and overwhelming experience. I did not realise that the emotional weight of seeing family members after three years separation would be so great, but am grateful I am able to process how much these people mean to me. The weeks of anticipation had me nervous to see my father’s side of the family whom I had often described as strangers. Although this void is not repaired to resemble an idillic nuclear counterpart, there is no doubt I now know these people and their interests at a level far greater than I thought I ever would. This may not be my house or my country of residence; but laying atop this bunkbed amongst my cousins with my aunts and uncles and grandparents across the hall, I feel at home.
The early morning gym session had left me hungry for a beschuitje met hagelslag, a crisp biscuit with chocolate sprinkles (yes, this is breakfast food). We had exhausted our stay in the Radisson Blu Palace of Noorwijk by the Sea and had to repack our suitcases for the next section of our holiday. We were two hours underway to a seven bedroom house in the province of Zwolle for a family reunion on the day of my grandmother’s 85th birthday. Months prior, we had received word of the intention of Oma to have her four sons and their families together again to celebrate her birthday as her sight and hearing ability had deteriorated over the past year. This had motivated us out of the warm climate and comfort of home to travel 17 000 kilometres to see the people we had been deprived of contact with for the past three years.
Before we could allow ourselves to depart, a stop by the shopping street was in order. We went to Heemskerk Bloembinderij where we bought a gorgeous pink bouquet of roses, gardenias and other delicate flowers to give to Oma on arrival. As the florist trimmed and wrapped the gift, a large blonde dog wondered comfortably into the store to sit aside the counter. No owner was is sight of the animal so I was surprised to see the shopkeeper hand it a treat from under the counter and to learn that all of the stores keep treats for animals that chance to stop by.
Despite its modern navy walls and wooden panelling, the newly refurbished house matched the traditional architecture of those around it. It was surrounded by flowerbeds and a grassy front yard that had a decoratively repurposed water well at its centre. The butterflies in my stomach made a commotion as we approached De Zandstuve, but thankfully my worries had little ground. When we arrived, Oma and her boyfriend were unloading their belongings having also just gotten to the house moments earlier.
The likeness of the four brothers is quite uncanny. Height six foot four inches; hair a hue of light brown; piercing blue eyes; strong jaw. Their personalities were also similar, if not complementary. It was great to see the family together. Oma had organised a series of games to keep us entertained beginning with a cryptic puzzle in which teams of two had to finish a given sentence and decipher the corresponding place name. The second game, called kwartetten, had the objective to discover the secret identity or idol of each player to bring the teams of four into one large group. These games were intended as a way to have us learn one another in a way that we may not have had the chance to know previously.
Mealtimes were prepared and arranged as a buffet banquet of homely dutch cuisine in our living room. We spent the majority of our time around this set up playing catch up, but made the most of the outdoor area when the weather permitted. We often engaged in Oma’s favourite past time: “koffie met gebak” – coffee and cake was consumed at least six times in our 24 hours stay in De Zandstuve because what better way is there to catch up? Once all the games were finished for the evening we were off to bed. The cousins shared a room with two bunkbeds where I quickly fell asleep between the soft sheets of the top bunk, exhausted from the excitement of the evening.