September 30, 1984 was a Sunday and as our Martinair flight descended over the Dutch coast the rain-clouds broke just enough to provide fleeting glimpses of the land below. “They have red roofs!” Renata exclaimed, spotting a row of houses. Later that day, as our host family took us home in their old VW van, we learned our first Dutch word: “File” (“fee-la”, traffic jam). Having just come from Seattle, everything seemed incredibly…..flat!
These poignant memories all came rushing back again yesterday, 25 years to the day, as I got stuck in a “file” on my way back from work in The Hague.
Growing up I never, ever, imagined that I’d end up living most of my life in Holland. (The country is “The Kingdom of the Netherlands” but we happen to live in one of the two provinces that really are “Holland”.) Back then all I knew of this tiny land was that their soccer team was very good and had the odd habit of playing in orange uniforms, even though the country’s flag is red, white, and blue. (Why? Because the monarchy is “the House of Orange”.) But that I would end up living, studying, and raising children here? Well, as my Dad was always quick to say, “Who would have ever thought!?”
The world was an entirely different place in 1984. There was still an Iron Curtain in the east of Europe. We sent a telegram – a telegram!! – to congratulate Renata’s brother who married soon after we arrived. We were all listening to music with the help of LP’s and cassette tapes. And, perhaps most importantly, personal computers and the internet were unheard of for the common man. We arrived in the middle of an economic downturn and the whole of Europe seemed depressed and worn thin. As fresh-faced North Americans we were amazed again and again by how “the war” (WWII) was still present in the lives of so many. Not a day went by without some mention of it in conversation or the newspapers – bombs found, victims acknowledged, treasures recovered…(bombs are still being found regularly, by the way).
We came for “two years”. And actually, we left again at exactly the two year mark. But after a break and 18 months in North Africa we were convinced to come back again in 1988. We thought we had left permanently in 2007, but here we are, back again. We know other families who have done this same yo-yo thing with Holland. Something in me doesn’t want to grow “old” here, but I’m well on my way.
As my new colleague in the Hague says, “The one sure way to make God laugh is to make plans.”