I am sitting underneath our octagon pergola covered with wisteria and trumpet vines listening to the Florentine fountain, a gift from mom for one of my birthdays. The first orange trumpet vine cones are falling into the fountain.
I am basking in the simplicity of this unique day that will never repeat itself. A gentle breeze is lifting the foliage ever so lightly. I can feel the lightness of my being after the stress and anxiety of the previous week.
Wearing a pink beach cover up that states, “I need beach” I am far from any beach or a larger body of water. I am listening to the birds chirping in the wisteria and earlier this morning I spotted a red cardinal.
The Frenchies and Ludek left for town to return empties, so I grabbed that moment for myself. I lack nothing; the gardens and the plum trees are watered, we will be grilling thirsty birds this evening an shooting fireworks with the grands.
Upon checking the vegetable patch with Sam, I found out that we’re going to have plenty of cucumbers for pickling and more.
My stillness is elusive in the long run, but right now I am just being. I love watching the nature’s relay, as the blossoms of bloody red weigelas and purple spiraeas wane, the orange of day lilies takes over.
Summers are easy and I celebrate them with my summer books from the Shifting Sands series. They are the culmination of my summer happiness.
Watch for more immigration stories, participate in survey about what makes America great
By Emma Palova
Lowell, MI- In the beginning, leaving your homeland is like leaving a part of you behind; not to mention friends and family.
Owners of Arctic Heating & Cooling Catharine “Kitty” and Evert Bek left the Netherlands in 1977 to pursue their dream in the USA. However, their parents Anna and Gerard Sr. Schuivens left first for Grand Rapids and ended up in Lowell.
Catharina and Evert visited them in 1976 and fell in love with the USA.
“When we came to visit, we loved the openness, the opportunities of having your own business, the freedom and the acreage,” said Catharina.
The Beks lived close to Rotterdam, a big harbor city, in the Netherlands. Much like the rest of Europe, everything was crowded, tight and overpopulated.
For the first two years, the Beks lived in Kentwood and in Wyoming.
“We wanted some property and found five acres on 36th Street,” Catharina said. “We moved to a different house in Lowell in 1997.”
One of the biggest challenges of immigration is learning the language. Any immigrant can attest to that including Catharina.
At the time, Lowell Middle School was offering English classes.
“I also learned English from shopping and TV,” she said. “Evert had no problems; he learned English at work. He has always worked in the heating and cooling industry.”
Another challenge was finding a job.
Pictured above are Dutch treats: Dutch Rusks, oliebollen fritters. The wooden shoes are now used as decorations.
“I worked in an office since 16,” she said, “and I went to trade school.”
Here, she worked for an insurance company in Grand Rapids.
But, it was friends who got them through the first tough years.
“It’s hard to leave your friends, but we still have friends in the Netherlands,” Catharina said.
It took three to four years to adjust to the new life in America.
“Friends helped us settle best of all,” she said. “This is home for me now.”
Catharina said she managed to combine the good parts from the old country with the good parts from the new world.
However, everything became easier when daughter Kim was born in 1983 at the Metropolitan Hospital in Grand Rapids. Kim went through the entire Lowell Area Schools system.
“I met new people at the school,” Catharina said.
And then finally, the couple’s dream came true when they started their own business, Arctic Heating & Cooling in 1983 in Lowell.
Pictured above: licorice, Dutch pancakes and St. Nick.
Catharina works at the business as a bookkeeper.
“Having our own business and owning a home, was one of our many dreams,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder how we would end up if we hadn’t left the Netherlands.”
There are no regrets about immigration for either Catharina or Evert.
“I wouldn’t go back,” she said. “Evert feels the same way. “I love it here. We met good people and made great friends.”
They speak Dutch at home including their American-born daughter and grandson.
As far as traditions go, the Beks celebrate St. Nick on Dec. 5th.
Kitty cooks Dutch dishes like meat, potatoes and vegetables, pea soup and Dutch pancakes.
She goes shopping for spices for meatballs to VanderVeen’s Dutch store on 28th street.
“You have to have windmill cookies with coffee or tea,” she said.
A typical Dutch tradition for breakfast is a slice of white bread with chocolate sprinkles.
Other Dutch specialties include Gouda cheese, a Dutch Rusk with pink or blue sprinkles when a baby is born.
“Dutch people love licorice in all shapes and forms,” Catharina said.
On New Year’s Eve, she makes oliebollen. They are fat balls or fritters, deep fried with raisins and served with powdered sugar. A typical beer is Heineken and egg nog liquor Advocaat.
They became naturalized after five years.
On the theme of the recent immigration crisis, Catharina said she doesn’t agree with separation of families.
“I don’t agree with mothers being separated from kids,” she said.
Over the years, the Beks have built up their business with repeat customers.
“We’ve been lucky,” she said. “I feel that I do fit in and that I am a part of Lowell.”
Catharina also works part-time at the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.
Both Catharina and Evert are known for their community involvement.
Copyright (c) 2018. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Lowell, MI- I love the Fourth of July holiday for many reasons. Most of all the Independence Day reminds me of my independence when I decided on my own free will to leave my homeland Czech Republic to pursue a better future in America.
Most of my dreams have come true and I am working on the ones that haven’t materialized yet. I am grateful to this great country that I have the freedom to express myself without censorship, that I can fly as high as I choose to, that I can be a woman entrepreneur.
While honoring the past in Czech Republic, I am moving ahead with life in the USA. Sometimes seemingly small steps lead to bigger victories. The path is not always straight, it winds and twists much like life itself. We now have deep roots in USA with the fourth generation already born here on the continent right at Bronson and Borgess hospitals in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
I trust that Josephine, 19 months old and the new guy will be fully bilingual in this ever-changing world. I know they will be able to travel to the old country to trace their roots and marvel at the European culture, try some Czech beer and the national dish; pork, dumplings and sauerkraut.
Have a burger, a Budweiser and a great holiday,
Emma and the EW team
Copyright (c) 2015 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
I like simple things: a cheap glass of wine, a good book, a new picture of my grandchildren and a sturdy lawn chair. I also LOVE the 4th of July. It’s one of my favorite holidays. I love the heat, humidity, picnics, parades, fireworks and time with family.
Each July fourth we load up Sara (my trusty SUV) and head north to the big muddy, the Mississippi river. We have our annual fish fry waterside. My husband, son, nephew and brothers-in-law are all sport-fishing enthusiasts, who do their best to accumulate a sizeable catch. If the catch is small (something a fisherman does not like to discuss) we hit the Piggly Wiggly for fried chicken. The day revolves around good food and conversation.
On the morning of the fourth, we start out with homemade mini donuts deep fat fried on the patio. There is nothing better than a warm donut with your morning coffee!
Midday we heat up the fish fryer and begin breading and cooking the fish. Once it is ready we bring out the corn on the cob, watermelon and a crazy good mixture of midwestern potluck fare. After the fish fry, the kids are busy with squirt guns, swimming, boat rides, jumping off the dock and fishing.
A few years ago we started a new tradition, at dusk we launch Chinese paper lanterns: one for each of the grandchildren. The kids line up by height and the parents help with the launch. Last year, long after the last lantern had flown over the western bluffs, my grandson pointed to the eastern sky and said, look grandma that one made it around the world already!
Meanwhile, a campfire is lit and the adults pull up their lawn chairs. The kids bring out the sparklers, sizzling snakes and their renewed enthusiasm. Sometimes I wonder where they store all that energy. And since we have not eaten enough, the marshmallow forks and pie makers magically appear. We make s’mores, campfire pies and roasted marshmallows before the fireworks begin.
There are several small communities on the big muddy who have fireworks and from our vantage point we can usually see three to four different displays. Sonic booms go on into the wee hours of the night and if the mosquitoes cooperate you can watch the fireworks until almost three in the morning!
I think my favorite part of the holiday is spending time with family. The campfire brings out the stories and embarrassing – the better. One of the uncles, who liked his beer, cut down a light pole with his chainsaw because he ran out of firewood for the campfire. On another occasion, he sunk his boat and motor while it was tied to the dock.
We are also very fond of corny jokes. My father in law was a master; he could entertain a crowd for hours. His standard comeback has now become a one liner for his great grandkids. When he was asked, where did you catch that fish? He would reply, I caught him in the lip. It’s really funny when a three year old delivers the punch line.
Hopefully, one of my great- grandchildren will be sitting by a campfire on the banks of the big muddy retelling stories and corny jokes for years to come.
Copyright (c) 2014 story by skgroen photo by Emma Palova