A hundred years ago today, a boy was born in Winterswijk, Gelderland. His parents, Gerrit Jan Hoitink and Willemina Berendina van Nijkerken, had just been married the year before. They named their son Hendrik, after Gerrit Jan’s father, as was the local tradition. Informally, they called him Henk. Henk Hoitink was my grandfather.
Henk grew up in the village of Winterswijk, where his father worked for the railroad as a shunter. Winterswijk was an important railroad hub in those days, with multiple stations owned by different railroad companies. From Winterswijk, you could take the train to Zutphen, Arnhem or even Germany. The family lived first at the Berkenstraat but later at the Vredenseweg 97, at the eastern edge of the village. Unusually for that time and place, Henk remained an only child. He went to school O, where he joined the bowling club.
He met Wilhelmina (Mien) Woordes, a farmer’s daughter from the neighborhood of Woold. Her parents’ farm was just outside the village. It was unusual for a village boy to marry a farmer’s daughter. But Mien had a brother who had a radio store, “Radio Woordes,” which he started at his parents’ farm and then moved into the village. Henk was keenly interested in all things electric and was training to be an electrician. He probably met Mien through her brother.
Henk and Mien started dating around 1934. Grandpa told me that that was also the year he got his driver’s license. He told me how he had to go to Groenlo to take his driving exam, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Winterswijk. When he arrived, the examiner asked him how he had got there. “I drove,” replied grandpa. “How did that go?” “Pretty well.” “Good enough for me, here you go,” and the examiner gave him his license. I did not ask whose car he was driving, as his parents would have been too poor to have one. Perhaps it was his employer’s car.
First, Henk had to serve in the military. He served in a radio company at Camp Zeist. The photos of his service time show they did not just practice fighting, but had some fun too.
In 1938, Henk and Mien got engaged. Back then, it was customary to be engaged for a couple of years so they could save some money and the girl could work on her trousseau. Then World War II broke out and disrupted their plans. I’ve been told that Henk went into hiding on Mien’s parents’ farm, so he would not have to go to Germany as a forced laborer.
Then, in 1942, tragedy struck. At the railway depot, Henk’s father Gerrit Jan Hoitink was run over by a train, cutting off both his legs. He was taken to the hospital but it was too late. He died the same day.
Henk was now the sole caretaker of his widowed mother, which probably made him exempt from having to work in Germany. He married Mien six months later, as soon as the mourning period was over. Mien moved in with her husband and mother-in-law.
In 1944 and 1946, two sons joined the family. Henk worked as an electrician in a textile factory. Cheap cotton from India was flooding the market and the textile industry in Winterswijk was in decline. They decided to try their luck in Almelo, Overijssel, where the Nijverdal Ten Kate textile factory was still going strong. Henk got a job there as an electrician and also joined the corporate fire brigade. He would work there until his retirement in 1979.
In Almelo, their third son, Dinant, was born in 1955. Unfortunately, it was a complicated birth and Dinant was deprived of oxygen. He was severely mentally handicapped and suffered from epilepsy. His mental faculties never developed beyond the stage of a one-year-old. He was able to walk but not able to talk. When you put a plate in front of him and gave him a spoon, he would mechanically feed himself, but for most other things he was dependent on the care of others.
Taking care of Dinant became the center of my grandparents’ lives. First, they kept Dinant at home but as he got older and the seizures got more severe, they could no longer manage, so Dinant had to live in a mental institution. No suitable facility was available nearby so he had to live in Assen, Drenthe, 90 kilometers (55 miles) away. That must have been devastating for them. I have read a letter by Mien’s mother, saying she would gladly pitch in so they could buy a car to visit Dinant. In time, my grandparents were able to find Dinant a home closer to Almelo, in Enschede.
In the meanwhile, their two eldest sons were growing up, leaving the house and raising their own families. In time, three grandchildren were born, of whom I am the eldest. To me, grandpa Hoitink was always “opa Dada” [grandpa bye-bye] since he would always walk up to the window to say bye-bye one last time before he left. One of the earliest memories I have of him is of a bowling party, thrown at his retirement from Nijverdal Ten Kate. I must have been three years old. I bet all the practice that he got at School O came in handy, although I distinctly remember that I won 🙂
My grandparents’ house in Almelo had a very large garden which was opa’s pride and joy. The first part was a flower garden, the rest was a vegetable garden. I loved going there in the summer, picking and eating the fresh berries and digging up my own carrots. As I am writing this story, I can still remember how they tasted; they were the best carrots I’ve ever had. Opa was always making jokes with me, ‘stealing’ my nose and then finding it between his fingers (he would insert his thumb so it looked like a nose).
In 1992, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I had just started doing genealogy and created a book about their ancestors. They were very surprised at how much I was able to find (and to find out they were distant cousins, like most people from Winterswijk!). Researching our family gave me something to talk to my grandparents about when I visited them. I have fond memories of sitting next to opa, going through his photos and writing with a pencil on the back. Some of the captions in this article are the result of that. I also scanned most of the pictures, for which I am very grateful since most of them have since been lost.
Even as they got older, my grandparents would visit Dinant every week: not just to see him but also to do his laundry, buy him new clothes and take him out for drives around the countryside. The 30-kilometer (20 mile) drive from Almelo to Enschede was becoming increasingly difficult for them. They tried to move to a sheltered living accommodation nearby, but were refused. At 80 years old, they were still considered ‘too vital’ for that living arrangement, which amused my grandfather to no end even though he was sorry they couldn’t move. A couple of years later, they did qualify so they moved to Enschede, just a few hundred meters (half a mile) from the institute where Dinant was living.
Dinant died in 2000, as a result of a tragic accident when his epilepsy monitor failed. Grandpa and grandma told me they were sad but relieved too, as they had worried what would happen to him after they were gone. I had promised to keep watching out for him and they were very grateful for that, but we all knew that nobody could take care of him like his own parents. Opa did not long outlive Dinant and passed away later that year, after a fall from his bike. He broke his hip and needed surgery to replace it. The surgery was a great success and he was walking and able to go home the next week. But the morning after he got home, my grandmother found him in the bathroom. He had died.
Grandpa and grandma are buried in a joint grave at the cemetery in Winterswijk. They opted out of the plot that was waiting for them, in a row with grandma’s parents and siblings, so they could lie next to Dinant. Here they rest side by side.
I am so grateful that my genealogy hobby allowed me to spend time with my grandfather as I would never have done otherwise. He was a joy to be with, always kind to everybody he met and willing to lend a helping hand. His sense of humor made him see the upside of things. I am just sorry that he never got to meet his great-grandson. I would love to hear him say “da-da” one more time.