Friday, April 13, 2007

Oma Brouwer (Grandma Brouwer)

When my parents first moved to Holland in 1950 from Indonesia they faced much discrimination by the Dutch people. Even though Indonesia was a colony for over 300+ years, the Dutch society knew little about it and its people. They viewed the former colonial subjects as inferior and primitive, even though they had Dutch citizen status and Dutch blood running through their veins. The distinction was the color of their skin and the funny dialect they spoke. Dutch-Indonesians or "Indo"s come in varying shades of brown; cafe latte to dark chocolate and all in between. Many had Dutch last names.

With this background in mind, my parents had to begin a new life in a 3-room flat in Rotterdam with 6 children. Accustomed to servants, a cook and nanny, Mom was lost as to how to run a household, cook, shopping, etc. Our neighbors above, Mr. and Mrs. Brouwer, complained about the noise us kids were making running back and forth and the strong odors coming from our flat (Indonesian cooking). Somewhere along the line Mrs. Brouwer's dismay turned to compassion as she saw my mom struggling with the overwhelming task of daily life. Gradually she became my mom's mentor and most staunch ally. Their bond became so strong us kids called her "Oma Brouwer" and I actually thought she was my grandma or at least an exra one !

Oma Brouwer guided my mom in the ways of domestic management. Laundry day is Monday, market days are Tue and Thurs, etc. She showed her how to set up a household schedule and delegate chores to the family. The boys would fetch the coal for the stove and haul it up the typical vertical narrow Dutch stairway to our flat. She was there with each birth as four of us were born in Rotterdam. Since most of the births were at home with a midwife, the rest of the kids went upstairs to Oma Brouwer's place. She became my mother's rock and anchor in this changing new world.

My most vivid memory took place on a rainy evening. It was a heavy downpour. Our doorbell rang hard & fast. We peeked down the narrow staircase where at the bottom was Oma Brouwer in tears and all disheveled. She was crying, her hair hanging down in strings, her nylon stockings were run and her knees were skinned and bleeding. She had fallen on the pavement walking home. My parents rushed down to help her up the stairs. I was totally in awe. I had never seen an adult cry before and thought "wow grownups cry !".

When it was time for us to leave Holland for America it was a bittersweet goodbye.
Mom said that Oma Brouwer could not hold back her tears, gave us all a kiss and waved goodbye. Mom told me that once a Dutch person is your friend, they back you up 100% and remain loyal forever.

And that was Oma Brouwer's legacy...... her memory has stayed in our hearts after all these years.

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