Today’s date is one that always sticks out; it’s my paternal grandfather’s birthday. Way, way back on January 15th, 1888, Jacobus Oostveen was born. It’s hard to imagine 130 years have come and gone since that day. Another day that also sticks out is June 21st, 1888, the day my maternal grandmother was born.
I never knew my maternal grandfather; he died in an accident right after the end of World War II. I also never knew my paternal grandmother. My sister, being four years older than me, however, knew her well and wasn’t very fond of her. She was a difficult woman, not very kind or affectionate, but she must have been different at one time to capture my grandfather’s heart. By marrying my grandfather she went against her parent’s wishes and was promptly disinherited after the wedding. When the first children came along her parents revised their stance and all was well once again in the family. When I came along in the summer of 1957 my sister told my parents she would be happy to give grandma Oostveen to me and she would take grandma S. as her own. Well, grandma Oostveen passed away a few short months after I was born, so the point was moot and we shared grandma S. equally.
I always gravitated to Grandpa Oostveen. On most weekends my dad would pick him up and he would have dinner at our house. Or we would go into Utrecht to the Cathedral where I would find him in his regular pew and afterwards we would go to his house and have coffee and cake. To this day I remember the High Mass in Latin which was the only service grandpa would go to. Mass in Dutch, or heavens forbid, with contemporary music and song, just wasn’t the same.
Grandpa’s row house had a tiny little courtyard out back. Not much was grown in the garden back then although during World War II it was used for growing vegetables to augment very meager meals. Grandpa’s interior remained unchanged in all the years they lived there. Their wedding picture taken at the dinner table in the house shows the same furniture, wall paper and clock compared with pictures taken more than 50 years later. When I went to high school in the city I often stopped by at grandpa’s during lunch. Because grandpa’s house was also the heart of the painting company he started in 1919, quite often I would run into my father or either of his two brothers who ran the different divisions of the company during that time. When they were together they would play a round of cards before going back to work again. Now my cousin Kees runs the company and in another two years he will be celebrating the centennial anniversary of the company started by grandpa.
While grandpa passed away when I was seventeen, I still mark each birth date. Just as I do for mom, dad and grandma. Without them I wouldn’t have been here. They shaped my world in one way or another. Without a doubt from dad I got my gardening genes, from mom my sense for order, from grandpa my love for Gregorian music and from grandma my love for peonies (of which I should plant more in my garden). People come and go into our lives and some leave a bigger footprint on our heart than others. It's good to look back once in a while and remember what they meant to us.