Today, November 15th, I learned that my dear uncle Om Henk, also my namesake, passed away after a long struggle with COPD.

Recently, I sent the following piece to my Om (Uncle) Henk and Tante (Aunt) Liny on the occasion of their 50th anniversary, and it seemed appropriate to post it today.

I first met Om Henk in Holland when I was 4 years old or so.  By way of background, Opa and most of the family went to Canada in 1952.  But my mother and father stayed in Holland until 1959, and emigrated to Canada that year.

So Om Henk came to our house around 1958, give or take, as I said, when I was 4 or 5 years old.  We had little in the way of extended family in Holland, as they had all gone to Canada, or lived in the southern part of Holland.  I hardly knew what an uncle was, they don’t tell kids much, and in those days, children were seen and not heard.  So Om Henk was just this guy who showed up in Holland on a return visit from Canada and brought a lot of sunshine to what were fairly difficult times for our family, running a failing grocery store. Those were my first memories of Om Henk in Holland.

We emigrated to Canada in 1959, a journey of many days by ship and many days by train.  I had really no clue what this was about, but enjoyed the days on the ship and the train, and had no problem entertaining myself. Where were we going?  No idea.  Again, my parents never explained anything, and I didn’t care.  However, I remember a sense of adventure and everything being unfamiliar and strange.  I remember looking out the train window in northern Ontario and seeing lots of snow and trees and only the occasional human being.  So at the end of all those exciting days we arrived in the middle of the night on the platform of what I later knew as the Medicine Hat train station.  And there in the middle of this strange place was that fellow again who had visited us back in Holland.   How did this smiling, welcoming presence, get way out here in the middle of nowhere?

So, in the car we went, to what I later knew as Opa and Oma’s house, 521 Broadway, Redcliff, Alberta. All I remember of that day is feeling very tired but safe, and in the darkness, seeing only telephone poles going by.  (Later, I realized, that even in daytime, “telephone poles” are all that there is to see on the Prairies.)  Family welcoming us made everything seem okay, and family was very important in the years to come, making a new country familiar to us; the way had already been paved by Opa, Om Henk and the others.

Om Henk was always in the middle of all goings on in those years. He was the one with the best stories, painting the tower at CHAT TV, playing his Dutch party music on Sunday afternoons.  Everyone of my uncle and aunts was unique and compelling in their own way, and yet they also shared a lot in common. Om Henk was the lively one, he had a personality! The one thing that I didn’t like is Om Henk’s insistence on picking me up and throwing me in the air every time he saw me.  He might have painted the CHAT TV tower, but I liked both my feet on the ground at all times.  I’m still somewhat upset about this.

So, then Om Henk disappeared for a while, back to Holland.  When you’re a kid you don’t keep track, and, in case I didn’t already mention it,  no one tells you anyway.  The uncles were always appearing and disappearing in the Sixties while we were in Redcliff.  And all of a sudden, just like that, Liny appeared on the scene. Suddenly Om Henk wasn’t as interested in his nephews any more.  I don’t remember much about Liny except that at the time we all recognized that he had one very beautiful bride, and no offence intended to any women living in Medicine Hat at the time, but it seemed that you might have to go back to Holland to get one of those.

It’s been my pleasure to visit Om Henk and Tante Liny over the years, and they always had a very welcoming and open home.  I wish we had had more opportunities even to visit than we have had over the years.

Some things that happened 50 years ago, seem as vivid as more recent events.  I feel very blessed in having family such as Om Henk and Tante Liny, and for me they have left a legacy of happy memories.