A hundred years ago today, my paternal grandmother Gesiena Wilhelmina Woordes was born in Winterswijk. She was born on a farm in the hamlet of Woold, just outside the village.
Her father, Hendrik Woordes, had been born on the Woordes farm that gave the family its name. At least twelve generations of Woordes men had farmed there, but Hendrik married a girl from Woold and settled there. After this first wife Hendrika Wilhelmina Droppers died while giving birth to their son Berend Jan (Jan), he married her sister Janna Geertruida Droppers. They needed royal dispensation to get married. Together they had three more children: Gerrit Jan (Gerrit), Gesiena Wilhelmina (Mien) and Aleida Gesiena (Sien).
Grandma went to the school in the hamlet of Brinkheurne, which was closest to their farm. After finishing primary school, she went on to the Landbouwhuishoudschool, the school where young farm daughters were taught about farming and running a household.
Dating and marriage
Mien’s brother started a radio shop in the shed of their farm. “Radio Woordes” quickly grew to be a well-known brand in Winterswijk. This is probably how she met my grandfather, Hendrik (Henk) Hoitink, who worked as an electrician. They were dating in 1934 and engaged by 1938.
Then World War II started in 1940. Family stories tell how grandpa used to hide out at the farm, to avoid going to Germany as a forced laborer. They married in 1942, after Henk’s father died in a tragic accident. As the caretaker of his mother, this probably exempted him from going to Germany and enabled him to start a family.
They became the parents of three boys. The youngest, Dinant, suffered from lack of oxygen during birth and was severely mentally handicapped. As I wrote in the tribute to my grandfather, Henk Hoitink, taking care of Dinant became a large part of my grandparents’ lives, until old age.
By 1964, it was clear that Dinant could no longer live at home and needed special care. They were living in Almelo by this time, where my grandfather found work in a textile factory. The nearest facility that could take care of Dinant was in Assen, over an hour away by car and several hours by train. I have a copy of a lovely letter that oma received from her mother, who offered to pitch in so they could buy a car: “If you buy a new car, I will pay you half this year, and the other half next year. Or if you buy a second-hand car, I will buy it for you. It is for the wellbeing of you and Dinant, it is worth it to me if I can help you that way.”
I am the oldest of the three grandchildren of my grandmother. My earliest memories are mainly about her cooking. My grandmother was ahead of her time, focusing on biologically produced wholesome food. If something was good for you, it had a chance of ending up in her cooking pot, no matter if it was a good combination with the rest of what she was cooking. I remember eating brown rice with bell peppers, a very unusual combination in those days. I also remember going to the farm to get fresh milk, which she would turn into tasty puddings. I loved those, except for the thick skin that often formed on top of them, but of course I had to eat that too since that would fatten me up (I was quite skinny as a kid). Another favorite were grandpa’s own beans and carrots, from the vegetable patch they had in the back of their house.
In 1992, they threw a large party to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. My gift to them was a book with their family history, that I had researched. It was a big surprise for them.
Henk and Mien in their back yard in 1997
In the late 1990s, grandma and grandpa moved to a senior citizen home in Enschede, just around the corner from the institution where Dinant was living by then. This allowed them to be near him and visit him even when driving longer distances was no longer feasible.
In 2000, grandma suffered two major losses in one year. Dinant died of an epileptic seizure in March. Grandpa did not long outlive his son and died in November. We were all worried about oma, since taking care of Dinant had been such a major part of her life for forty-five years. But she managed well.
Oma had always been a social person, and loved spending time with her neighbors and the ladies she met at her weekly handicraft workshops. She was a member of a bible study group from her church.
Oma had a pronounced stutter when she talked, but this disappeared when she was singing. She enjoyed it so much that she joined a choir. I remember calling her one day, to set a date for celebrating her birthday. The date I proposed was impossible, “sorry, I will be on tour then.” Not something you expect to hear from a ninety-year-old! The choir was giving concerts at different nursing homes in the area, singing songs of yesterday to entertain the people who lived there.
In those final years, I think oma finally got to do what she wanted to do, without having to put someone else first. I am so happy that she got to spend her final years that way. She passed away on 25 February 2009 and is buried besides her husband and son in Winterswijk.
Great article Yvette! Sweet tribute and nice photos.
Time flies. Mien was one day older than my father.
What a terrific memorial to Mien. I love all the photos.
What a great story. Do you know when the picture of the 2 children was taken? I have a picture of 4 children, probably taken in Canada, wearing similar clothing. I am trying to date the photo to try to determine who they are.
My family is English/Scottish but I have a favorite niece who married a man of Dutch heritage in Canada. Their kids call their grandparents Oma and I think Ompa. I love to read your articles about your grandparents because it makes me feel closer to these kids that I only see once or twice a year.