Grandchildren fully American in 2 generations
May. 27, 2006
Grandpa Hesterman's thick Dutch accent meant that my name sounded more like
"Ann-Root" than RuthAnn as it fell from his ever-smiling lips. Traditional
European lace curtains filtered the sunbeams that shone in his front parlor and
the cookies in his kitchen, well, they always had the shape of windmills.
I don't believe, however, that I ever heard him or either of my grandmothers (he
had divorced and remarried) speak a word of Dutch.
It wasn't their way. The Hestermans were proud to be American. So proud, that
only English was allowed to be spoken, even in their home.
That doesn't mean that years later my father, Lenny, and his older brother,
Bill, wouldn't learn the language of their fathers or return to their homeland
for extended visits. They each did just that. I hope to follow in their
footsteps when life and circumstance allow.
We grandchildren all learned to sing a little Dutch song about Lina and Hans at
the insistence of my non-Dutch mother. At one point, I could even recite the
alphabet in Dutch.
Most of my father's family held to the Continental custom of opening of
Christmas gifts on the eve before the big day. My mother's influence made our
branch of the Hesterman clan the most progressive, I suppose, because we adopted
along with our mother's family's mixed heritage the tradition of waiting until
Yes, we ate Dutch apple pie. Dad liked to cook apples with red cabbage. Given
the chance, he'd serve us relish trays in grandma's tiny glass dishes.We
second-generation and fully Americanized children knew, however, where to draw
the line. We left any live herring tasting solely to him.
Tulip arrangements and wooden shoe displays aside, we always knew where our
first and only national allegiance lay. There was no question about it.
The only flag we ever owned, the only flag we ever flew was a Star-Spangled
Banner. July 4 was the only Independence Day we observed.
Sometimes I think my father and his father worked twice as hard to make sure we
appreciated our newly won American heritage than preserving our past.
Yes, I'll admit we'd kept more of what made my grandparents who they were before
they stepped foot ashore Ellis Island. I treasure my father's rare writings in
journals kept in Dutch and the Dutch-English dictionary he used when learning to
speak his parents' mother tongue.
But do I ever regret that we came here, that Grandpa Hesterman walked away from
all he knew, from all he owned to come to and assimilate into the culture of
this great land of the free?
As my children would have said just a decade or so ago, "No way, Jose."
We've got a good thing, baby.
RuthAnn Hogue is the award-winning author of "Goodbye, Walter: The Inspiring
Story of a Terminal Cancer Patient." She teaches high school English in Avondale
and is building a home in Goodyear. She is the daughter of Dutch immigrant
grandparents who entered legally through Ellis Island in the early 1920s. She
can be reached at ruthann@ goodbye-walter.com.