Fifty years ago today, my parents got married in a small town in Holland. It was a genuine celebration. They were surrounded by their family and friends, some who came from distant places like the Isles of Scilly, where my father had spent so many childhood holidays. Both their families were in the flower trade and my grandfather had arranged for magnificent Proteas from South Africa to be flown in for the occasion. At the reception there were skits and songs—often depicting life in South Africa, where the young couple would head right after their honeymoon. The photos and slides that I’ve seen are all filled with much laughter and merriment.
So started my parents’ life together.
In the era before Skype and email, it was not the easiest of things to move to the other side of the world, into a small company house on a flower-bulb farm. My mom was homesick. She lived for the letters from her mother, which fortunately came like clockwork (the SAPS was obviously a little more organised back then). The birth of my sister in ’68 eased the homesickness and when I arrived three years later their little family was complete.
Ours was a rather idyllic childhood. We roamed the flower farm, swam at the huge ‘Little Falls’ pool throughout summer and revelled in the alternating visits from grandparents. We were a close little family unit. Our friends were largely drawn from other Dutch immigrant families on the farm. But my father wanted to own his own property and so we moved to the house where my parents still live today, shifting away from those close farm circles.
And there we did what all kids do—we grew up. We got married, moved out and had children of our own. My parents extended all the love they’d always poured into Yvonne and my life into the lives of their grandchildren (although, with somewhat less discipline). Love like that is always reciprocated. Even now that the grandchildren are almost all young adults, they still Skype Oma (with Opa usually hovering in the background) and genuinely enjoy visiting and spending time with them.
Fifty years of marriage is something truly remarkable and on Saturday our family is going to celebrate with good old Dutch Indonesian food. Yet, I sense that such milestones are not always easy. They cause one to stop and remember, to reflect on who was there to celebrate the marriage, but is now no longer around. To look back on the years that are now condensed to memories and photos. Nostalgia is a strange emotion, often laced more with sorrow than joy.
But today I want to celebrate my parents. I was brought up secure in their love. Even though they’re not particularly demonstrative (I think my father and I have probably hugged about forty times in the course of my lifetime—mainly on my birthday), I never doubted their love.
I also value their steadiness. I think this is a severely underrated characteristic. Our society often values only outstanding achievements. My father worked at the same job all his life. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, always around to make us a sandwich when we got home from school. Even though the world might not have noticed them, I think their lives are amongst the most successful I’ve ever known. Working steadily, parenting steadily, being a loyal friend steadily—over the course of fifty years such stability is a gift to your children, grandchildren and friends. There’s no doubt that faithfulness and steadiness leave a valuable legacy.
Fifty years ago there was a large wedding celebration with loved ones. Saturday there will be a much smaller anniversary celebration with me and Yvonne, our husbands and children, who love them just as dearly–I’d hazard to say even more dearly–as those who were there when their marriage started. I’m chilling the champagne as we speak.
Thank you Mom and Dad for your love and steadiness. Congratulations on 50 years together! I love you (consider yourself hugged, Dad!)
Read the story I wrote based on their courtship (it’s a particularly cute story!) Surnames were changed, but read Zandbergen and Barnhoorn in all the right places.