Grandchildren fully American in 2 generations
Arizona Republic
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 Christmas morning.

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@