|This is a translation
I made of a letter by one of our relatives, Gree van
Daatselaar - Somsen from Lichtenvoorde, who worded her
impressions after our wonderful and unforgettable
reunion. I am sure she hit the right tone and therefore I
wouldnt like you to miss this beautiful document.
SOMSEN REUNION - WORLD WIDE, 8 - 15 August 1997
I have a feeling that I have to hurry up now. All the impressions and emotions, encounters and conversations have been given a great deal of thought and have been allotted a place. If I do not record them now I am afraid they will vanish.
The predominating impression of the whole happening is one of deep recognition, of great warmth and involvement, immense pride to be allowed to be a member of such a family. The penetrating feeling of "this is something you only experience once in a lifetime" is always present. This you could also see and feel in the eyes, in the faces of many members of our family: an intense enjoyment of this specific happening. Natural affection existed all over.
What am I going to do now? Am I going to stick to a chronological order or am I going to give an overall impression with some salient items here and there? I experienced so much that I will stick to a chronological order so as to give some body to this personal account of the reunion.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, 8 AUGUST
There is an agreement with Derk, via e-mail, that we are to meet at the water-tower of Aalten around 5 oclock p.m. to welcome the coach with the American Somsens. In this coach there are ,among many others, our distant relatives from Utah, USA, who will be our guests.
More than an hour before we get a phone-call from a young American/German voice, asking if his parents have already arrived. Surprise on our side. It is Darren Somsen inquiring about his parents Don and Susan Somsen from Utah. Lovely! The beginning of a "feeling of reunion" is born at that moment. Darren and his bride have driven down all the way from southern Germany to be present at the reunion. They are staying at Hotel Reyrink in Lievelde and they would like to join us to pick up Darrens parents.
It does not take us long to make an appointment. Jan and I will drive up to Reyrink and pick up Darren and Catherine. They are still very cosily eating on the terrace at the front. A place so well-known to us. Introductions. Shaking hands and "How do you pronounce your name? Gree?" After some practice they succeed in producing a sharp g-sound. In a cue we drive to Aalten. Just a short drive which, with all the windows open, brings us some cooling.
We had so fervently hoped for good weather, many of us, we had crossed our fingers, supplicated, and we really did get splendid weather! Twenty-six to thirty degrees centigrade, a clear blue sky and not a breath of wind, throughout the weekend and a long time after!
At the water-tower soon Derks jeep is approaching. He gracefully parks his car and all of a sudden there are two billboards. They are put on the roof of the car. Somsen Reunion - World Wide, in very big capitals. A beautiful beacon for the bus that is approaching. More callers are joining us and then the coach with the Americans appears. "Hello" and "Pleased to meet you" are heard all over. Darren and his parents had not seen each other since November last, so that is a very happy encounter. We are also very curious about our guests. We had already exchanged letters and photographs , but seeing and speaking each in the flesh, that is the real thing.
Thursday night, after all the turmoil of preparing meals, spare bedroom and cleaning the house and putting flowers everywhere, - oh, and how late it was- , I had made a placard.
Jan: "Is that really necessary Gree? And where are you going to hang it?"
Gree: "On the carport, as a welcome. Nice isnt it?"
Jan: "That isnt easy!"
Gree: "Who says it should be easy? I bet you can do it."
No more discussion, fortunately. Somsens are inventive and headstrong. We are to learn this during the coming weekend in various ways. With a sense of humour, with fun, also with a bit of pride we hear about these family traits.
Very skilfully fixed to the front of our house by Jan, from Friday morning there is the life-size placard "WELCOME TO DON AND SUSAN, our American Somsens!" The passers-by were not even surprised for everybody in our good village reads the regional papers and the Somsen family-reunion had been given attention several times. And since many of our acquaintances know that we read a national paper, we got multiple newspaper-cuttings in our mailbox. So nice! And also very easy to hand out to my brothers who live in the west of the country.
That Friday we drive home in a procession by six oclock. Of course we also invite Darren and Catherine for dinner in our shady back-garden. The placard really is a surprise for Don and Susan. "How nice" and "incredible" we hear and we get hugs and kisses. At that moment the silent decision is taken to give them the placard as a true reunion trophy. But first a picture of all of us has to be taken!
We have a splendid evening in the garden, getting to know each other mutually and exchanging information. We would have liked to bring out a toast or have drunk champagne, but we had to stick to water since Don and Susan are Mormons. But, oh, water also makes one happy and keeps the head cool. What an advantage. We exchange gifts. With some ritual, Susan offers me an extraordinarily beautiful and home-made present, a quilt! Hours, no, days of work and precision to arrange all the patches in a colourful and geometric connection. "Pure cotton", Susan says, "for I am a puritan". A piece of priceless hobbyism as a present, just like that! And carried along with them all the way from America for us. I am so pleased with it and proudly show the quilt to every visitor here. A real quilt like the ones that were made by the first settlers from their garments out of sheer poverty.
Close by twelve Jan coaches the young guests to their hotel. After that we turn in. Don and Susan are exhausted! But all four of us are eagerly looking forward to the oncoming days.
SATURDAY MORNING, 9 AUGUST
Half past eight, breakfast on the terrace. Hot rolls, farmers cheese and home-made jam. A pot of tea on the table, fresh orange juice and a jug of ice-water for the guests. The jam is put on top of the cheese... Then the doors and windows have to be locked. Don one more time breaks his tongue on my name. Bags are packed, cameras checked and off we go!
That first impression at Erve Kots I shall never forget. We are rather early, not many cars in the large parking-place yet. We are driving in - a very well-known place for the two of us - and then there is all of a sudden such a beaming curly-head, such a broadly-smiling Somsen-boy, who is enthusiastically pointing out our place. Well, you feel more than welcome, it is as if a bi front-door is widely opened and as if a cordial voice says: "Very pleased to meet you!" We enter, shake hands, kiss, look at badges repeatedly, try to imprint names on the memory.
There is a large info-desk with all the necessary papers: programme-booklets, buffet-vouchers, stickers, T-shirts with the Somsen-emblem, the badges with names and genealogical numbers are all ready, also the videos that were ordered, etc. etc. There is a computer-desk with screens, printers, fax, portophones and what not ! It is as if we are at an international hightech congress. Everything is bilingual and that will be so throughout the weekend and very professional indeed. I am starting to be so proud about so much know-how in one family. And this is only the very beginning.
The rooms start filling, get full and fuller. Well over four hundred guests are expected. The atmosphere is lovely. "Have you seen so and so? She must be there in the third row." People you have not seen for thirty, forty years appear to have almost the same fine sweet faces. I see my two brothers, discover my cousins, aunt and great-aunt and make the acquaintance of members of my family that I have never met before.
With a cup of coffee and a slice of currant-bread - always too much butter there - we take up our seats in the great hall. We are waiting for the official opening. "Welcome to this Somsen-reunion and more than welcome in the region where we all come from originally!", thus Theo Somsen opens this festive meeting of relatives with a warm ring in his voice. Johan Somsen, who is standing next to him, translates these words without any difficulty in beautiful English. That is going to be a sparkling duet of the two of them. A pleasure to listen to. And that is to continue for the rest of the morning in this way.
The presentation of the family-book is a climax that morning. For that matter, it is a jewel of professional skill, both concerning the contents and the get-up.
When a few days before the reunion "SOMSEN OMNES GENERATIONES" was delivered to Jan and me by Dick from Eibergen, I was gone for hours and hours. For the whole Sunday I carried my mind back to the fortunes of the generations before us.. With ever increasing interest, with ever increasing astonishment and with ever increasing respect for what many had to go through and have achieved, both in the Achterhoek and in the New World. The writers-duo Derk and Theo should certainly be placed in a golden frame.
"As far as we know there are no family-books that are bilingual. So that is unique", thus Theo continues his speech. Well, that is a certain fact. It is amazing that there is so much talent in the reunion committee: translators, writers, movie-makers, a poet of the Somsen-song, financial, business and organisation qualities, also talents in the field of music and entertainment, and all this united in one group, that is hardly believable. And then I did not even mention the expertise in the field of genealogy and computer information, both here and in the States.
We are flabbergasted by all this. Our American guest, Don, is moved to tears from time to time. "That I have got such relatives, that I may be part of them. I did not even know that they existed..."
Premiere Video Film Somsen Panorama
Ben Somsen, a professional movie-maker, has made a solo achievement in complete silence. Filmed at sites, even from the air, photographs transformed into movie-pictures. He was moved by conversations with relatives - also in our conversation - and has composed a beautiful story about the fortunes of many Somsens.
All of us are listening and watching in complete silence. Sound and pictures are sublime. The spoken texts are brief and clear, "which is clever, especially when a Somsen is involved, for they love chattering so much", according to Theo. How recognisable is this remark. Our in-laws also always say the same thing and we, we react greatly surprised with big questioning eyes: "That is very normal, isnt it?" It gives me a very good feeling that I have two video-films , two Somsen Panoramas, in my bag. That will be the loot to bring home and one of them will very soon fly across the ocean : Somsen-greetings to a Van Daatselaar-Somsen son.
That is just lovely, isnt it?
Lunch, inside or outside, in the shade or in the glowing sun, strolling with your plate along the Somsen-booths, it is all possible. It is a very lively happening and you almost forget to eat, there is so much to talk about and so much to be seen. Harmien, Riekie and Ada, my Aalten cousins, have filled a whole booth with precious items from the Landstraat 7 , the house of our grandfather. The very swivel-chair of his desk was even there. Books with letters from the office of the smithy, ancient photographs , e.g. of our grandmother, the most beautiful girl of Barlo at the time, the old type-writer .... I can hardly get away from all this. It is as if my father is standing beside me. How often am I thinking today: "I wish they could be part of this". My beloved who are no longer there.
In the opening sentence this morning Theo conveys the same thought. That gives a warm feeling. "We dedicate this reunion to all those who would have loved to be there."
Rich of love, rich of loyalty.
Together with Don and Susan we seek cooling in the archaeological museum Erve Kots, under the big trees or in the ancient buildings. High spirited conversations everywhere, peals of laughter, children sporting about playfully. Inside many reunion-members who have their relationships found out or who study the yard-long family-tree. Don and I belong to the tenth generation and in the second generation we have a common father. It is remarkable to go back in time so far with all the images that turn up then.
The badges, worn by everyone, are a perfect means to get in touch fast. "Oh, you are from the "cold side, so am I", someone says to Jan with laughter. A nice joke, but no more than that. All the in-laws are automatically part of it and, moreover, it is very fascinating to find out with what partners the Somsens share their lives. In response to what is said above Jan once remarked: "I have few relatives and have not grown up with family-ties, but when I married I got relatives and surprisingly many." An observation that is dear to me.
The Somsen-market, the Happy hour and the buffet, they all fit seamlessly together. We are having a good time, and eat and drink deliciously. Ad and Aaf, my brother and sister-in-law from Edam, also have the day of their lives. They see Maarten and his family again with whom they lived on Curaçao together for many years.
Then it is half past seven. Everybody moves into the great hall. Don wants to have a seat in the front row. He wants to experience everything, yes everything at close quarters. A whirling show of folklore dances and square-dances, of singing and music and a true Somsen orchestra, all linked together by Derk, the great entertainer and writer, assisted by his daughter Marianne, translator. How many talents, how swinging and how much daring. Too much to be mentioned. Everything seems to be matter of course, but everybody who has organised something knows that such a happening must have been preceded by disciplined organisation.
Applause, applause, applause!
The complete reunion-committee is being introduced. We go on applauding. We can hardly get away....
That late evening there is a very pleasant atmosphere in our garden and it is nice and cool. We talk for a long time together with Ad and Aafje, whom we almost lost in the darkness of our little village. " Tomorrow morning half past nine, breakfast", that is the deal, then we will go for a walk.
Now first a shower and then to bed.
I cannot manage that fast.
I see all those people passing by like in a movie. I see resemblances in posture, line of the shoulders, back of the head, implantation of the hair, gestures. How wonderful.
I had very pleasant conversations with a Swiss Somsen, someone from Canada, Americans, Gé from Bolnes, Jan of the Snieder and aunt Len from Zelhem. With Frida and Anneke, cousins from Kampen in the past I also talked. Many said: "What a similarity between you and your mother", and that is a great compliment for me. For it is she and father who showed us the Somsen-way. (More about this later.)
Sunday, 10 AUGUST
A breakfast with the six of us, which is too copious, makes us decide not to have pancakes at the Gulle Waard in Winterswijk. Would have been nice, but enough is enough. Four of us are going to take a long walk in the surroundings of Lichtenvoorde. Don and Susan enjoy the beauty of the countryside. Aaf and I go into the kitchen. We are making preparations for the Sunday-evening dinner, for we will be away for the whole long day. Menu: Soup as a starter, Salad Niçoise with hot French bread. Cake for dessert. Now we can close the front-door.
By 2 oclock in the afternoon we climb the stairs of St Helenas Church in Aalten for the festive memorial meeting. Greetings of welcome with a tinge of nostalgia, that is how I experience the friendly person at the entrance who invitingly holds out a large basket to us. In the basket small one-person bags... with peppermint! "The Calvinist food of the people" of the past. Every single detail has been though about...
The old church embraces you as it were because of its round shape. The hum of voices, greetings, waving. Is it a Mokum, does it feel like coming home?
"Narrations, history, music and singing", it simply says in the programme-booklet. But how am I to describe the atmosphere that is developing there? We are carried along to times gone by, the days of the former tenant-farmers who owed much serfdom to the Lords of the neighbouring castles. We are carried along to the days that the Low Countries were catholic, up to the Reformation. To the Dutch this is well-known, we have grown up with this, with the 80-year-war, with Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. But for the Americans among us it is a little bit of a shock to learn this. "Are we of catholic descent? Is that the way it used to be?
And so as to enliven this history, suddenly Gregorian plain-chant sounded very devoutly through the church. When we have arrived at the Reformation Theo invites us to sing from psalm 42 in archaic Dutch and in whole notes. My face develops an unbelieving smile. This cannot be true? Whole notes? That is a stage we passed a long time ago, isnt it? But listen! There we can hear the first lofty tones of the church-organ, played by Derk.
A wave of emotion spreads through the church. At the front we see a man and a woman dressed in the ancient traditional costume of the Achterhoek. It is not any difficult at all to imagine to be back in time. "Just fancy - Try to imagine". When the farewell of the first Somsens is broached then, of course in two languages, and we can exactly see the pew where Aaltjen Somsen and later her brother Jan Hendrik Somsen used to sit and we sing the psalm again, which used to be sung to those who left a long time ago, well over 150 years, "The lord will always watch over you...", (psalm 121), then many of us get tears in their eyes and a lump in their throats.
We are given time to "swallow away" our emotions and to listen to Derk on the organ and his granddaughter on the German flute. A beautiful ensemble. So long, good-bye. Theo is coming to a conclusion. He quotes the words from a beautiful letter by one of our relatives from America. She wrote:
"I see my trip to Holland as a pilgrimage, a way to thank a remarkable family for a wonderful legacy. I call it the Somsen-way: strong love to family, the capacity to dream big and work hard, a sense of service and commitment to others, a deep reverence for education, as well as spiritual appreciation of being accountable to something larger than oneself."
How strikingly expressed. A Somsen-way goes past borders and time. That is the way I was brought up. What a valuable asset.
Then the "Wilhelmus" (the Dutch national anthem) resounds, beautiful and lofty. We sing it at the top of our voices. Even Don and Susan, their noses close to the paper, do their utmost. With much pleasure we also exert ourselves to join in with the singing of the American national anthem: "The Star-Spangled Banner". Fortunately the organ gives us firm support.
We keep lingering on leaving the church, look around one more time, say how much we have enjoyed everything..., go back one more time to pew number A 71...
This story is going to be too long.
There is the Japikshuis with the lime-tree, planted in commemoration of those who left from there. A heart-warming happening. We will certainly go there very often to have a look or to drag all our relatives and friends along and tell the stories.
Finally we have coffee at the camping-site "t Hoftijzer". We taste wine, talk with everybody. We can hardly get away.
Many many thanks, thanks enormously!
See you on Monday when we see "our Americans" to the bus in Aalten.