Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Morning Thanks--the unknown soldier
Never heard the name before, and I've lived in Dutch hamlets for most of my life, seen hundreds, maybe thousands of strange-looking names, like Schaap or Vreugdenhil. This guy lived once upon a time in my own hometown--Liefbroer, Peter, a WWI vet, an Oostburgian. To me, he's an unknown soldier with an unknown name.
My mother is 94, and she's not one of those great-great grandmas with an unfailing memory. She's not sharp on the past, but she recognized the name immediately when I asked. A single man, she told me, a cobbler, a shoe-repairman, never married--that kind of single.
I have the rare distinction of having a cemetery named after my forbearers, the Hartman Cemetery, just a shade north of County Trunk KK, a spittin' distance from the old Sauk Trail. My father is buried there, as is his father, as well as generations of my mother's side of the family--Dirkses and Hartmans all.
Right there at the heart of things stands a buxom stone that belongs (can we say it that way?) to Dirk Hartman, my great-grandfather, a man who was, I'm told, a big talker, a traveling salesman, and something of a Willy Loman, a man who may have needed a showy stone.
He's there in the Hartman plot, surrounded by his kin and this man, Peter Liefbroer, who, like Dirk's son, Edgar, served time in the war to end all wars and was discharged as a Sgt., the stone says. Peter Liefbroer is surrounded by Hartmans, no other Liefbroers anywhere. I'd love to know more about him, but Pete Zuurmond is here now, no longer capable of acting as town historian; and Allie June VerVelde is gone too. Maybe there are new Oostburg historians. I hope so.
We went home last weekend. It's a strange usage, this word "home." In a certain sense, Oostburg will always be "home" to me, even though this trip more than any other teased me away from that sentiment. I walked around town, drove around the area, and realized that the stories that step out of every door are as left behind as Peter Liefbroer to those who call Oostburg home today. The only way I could ask questions was by using names so long gone you'd have to be retired to know the map I've got in my head--"you know, just down the street from Chinky Wieskamp" or "right there where Arie Joose used to live."
I am myself an anachronism.
Which still makes me smile.
The very last student in my class from Oostburg, Wisconsin, was nearly blown away when I told her that I too grew up there. It was as if she'd seen a ghost.
Me and Sgt. Liefbroer, the unknown soldier, a man with a name I'd never seen before.
I won't be in Hartman Cemetery someday with all of my kin. I'll likely be in Orange City, Iowa, buried beside my wife and her family. But, strangely enough, I've got great-grandparents there too, so it'll still be some kind of home, I guess.
Anyway, back home in Iowa, it's Peter Liefbroer, the only Liefbroer I've ever heard of, who stays in my memory, the bachelor shoe-repairman of Oostburg, Wisconsin, a World War I vet with a name and a story that world has forgotten.
Dust to dust, and all that. The problem with being Dutch Reformed is there's no end to sermons, a lot of them on Memorial Day. Still, this morning, the sun rising over what still is a flooded plain, I'm thankful for the homily Sgt. Liefbroer delivered from beneath that flag when I found him right there in the Hartman plot, a sermon that sticks to the insides.
And I'm glad he's there because somehow he's family.