A family legacy of words

At my recent family reunion, my second-oldest uncle talked about the work he’d been doing to clear out his house in anticipation of downsizing. He said he had all his father’s letters and poems. And then he said the most glorious words:

Would you like them?

I don’t know what made him think of me for such a treasure, but I am so grateful that he did.

the poetry files
Opa’s poems, both original and translations

These are the files of poems and songs, both his own and his many, many translations of other Dutch poets and songwriters. And in the middle, a chapbook of his poems from the 1920s — all in Dutch.

There are some materials in English, though. So far, I’ve found benedictions, poems written for friends’ wedding anniversaries, a limerick, a rewriting of a hymn so it’s about a man watching hockey, a very silly poem (half in English and half in Dutch) written for his young daughter, and his copy of one of my favorite things: a poem he wrote for me when I was a baby.

For Nataly, by Klaas Hart, 1968
For Nataly, by Klaas Hart, 1968

He had stayed in our house in Toronto some night when we were all gone, and this was the gift he’d left. His poems often had elements of what was in the news, hence the reference to David Lewis, who was a politician at the time. The “cardboard cellar” was where I was sleeping at the time: in a refrigerator box with a mattress in the bottom. My dad had used it as a prototype for the beautiful mahogany crib he’d later build me, so the cardboard had stylish curved cutouts, but I rather love that my box bed is immortalized in verse.

But wait, there’s more.

Opa's letters and assorted documents
Opa’s letters and assorted documents

There are liturgies for church services, articles for religious publications, notes on Synod meetings. And letters. Oh, the letters! They start from before the war, and I’m sure there are some from during the war, when he worked in the Resistance, and was often separated from his young family. All in Dutch. Which I don’t understand. I’m hoping either to hit it big enough some day to pay for someone to translate them all, or to entice a Dutch professor to turn translating some of them into a class project. (Any leads, send them my way!)

Tucked way in the back was a file labeled 1953. The year they emigrated to Canada.

ticket to Canada

This is my father’s ticket to his new life.

I don’t know whether I have any more words to describe the gift my uncle has given me.

Okay, I do have more words. Does anyone out there know how anything about how to archivally store a two-foot-high stack of papers? I want these to be around for a good long time, so I can root around and see what all there is to discover.



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4 thoughts on “A family legacy of words

  1. Delightful! It certainly is a treasure to read through all those years of history. I got to read my mother’s diary a few years ago. She passed away at 80 years old in 1990. There were only two and a half years written down, but they answered a lot of questions about my mother.

  2. I’m glad it was a good experience to read your mother’s diary (I’m still debating what to do with my old diaries). I think the thing about all these old words is that we really get to see our loved one as a person in their own right, not in terms of our relationship with them, which is what we usually focus on.

  3. The library always used Gaylord Archival for archival supplies. They have folders (like file folders) and boxes that are acid-free. Always use pencil for labeling everything. Good luck with getting all those precious papers settled!

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