Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beneath Siouxland skies

According to Robert Swierenga, the Dean of Dutch-American scholarship, immigrants from the Netherlands were serious clusterers:  not only did they originate in the same Dutch communities, they arrived in America with folks from those communities and then stayed in communities they created in America. We were--at least the 19th century Calvinist brand of Dutch immigrants--quite unashamedly clannish, even tribal. 

To anyone who knows us, that's not news.

Take the immigrant Schaaps, seen above.  Old Cornelius C., the bearded patriarch, took his family over in 1868, when, family lore has it, he could no longer abide the scandalous liberalism of the State Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, in Midsland, on the island of Terschelling, where he lived and where there was no pious seceder church. I doubt his reasons were totally spiritual--that is, I'm guessing economic motivations prompted the move as well; but when the Schaaps came to America, they came with a whole gang of like minded folks, malcontents the local Terschelling parish was probably happy to see depart. 

Once in America, they didn't go their separate ways. They got on a train for German Valley, Illinois, because a woman they knew back home knew the preacher there, who said he'd do what he could to get them acclimated, the whole bunch.

It was three years after the Civil War, and free land was to be had not all that far west (what paleface gave a thought to the Native people?). So when C. C. and Neeltje Schaap got a hankering for a chunk of their own land-of-the-free and home-of-the-brave, they lit out for the northwest corner of Iowa, where a bunch of Hollanders claimed good land was to be had. Once again, en masse, they settled in just a bit north of here, between Newkirk and Hospers. All of them. Most anyway. They stayed together. 

They left together and stayed together, maybe more than the other European ethnics, even though the rural Midwest is still mapped with their footsteps--Brussels, Luxumbourg, New Prague, New Berlin, New Holland, New Glarus, and etc.

When we moved to Siouxland (was there ever such a terrible misnomer?), the Schaap bloodline was, in essence, returning. Not one of my father's generation ever set foot on Siouxland soil, even though C. C. and Neeltje are buried right here. Their son, a preacher, left children sprinkled hither and yon in the pilgrimage of his pastorates. My father, born in 1918, never knew his Schaap grandparents, who'd died a decade before. 

But C.C. and Neeltje's great-grandson--me!--grew up in Dutch-American America; and even though I never knew a soul who wore wooden shoes or wore orange during World Cup soccer, my world was almost totally Dutch-American. When, after college, I lived among Swiss folks from southwest Wisconsin, I knew I wasn't what they were--but I also knew that they weren't much different--except their cheese of choice was. . .well, you guessed it.

Last night in Siouxland (note name), in windmill park in Orange City (note name), a mariachi band played for an hour or so, eight or nine men in fancy, traditional outfits, a couple of fiddlers, three or four guitars, two trumpets--you know the sound. Thousands of mariachis sing and play and make weird noises all over this country today, but, listen to this!--this one was local. They were from here. Their address is Hawarden, Siouxland.

I'm not making this up.

At the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandparents, who died here, could never have guessed that a gang of local Mexicans would make the music they did--and not a psalm all night long. When C.C. and Neeltje's great-grandson moved to Siouxland, 75 years later, I still would not have guessed that would happen. A gang of men's quartets wailing out gospel faves--sure. Mariachis, no way. 

When my father-in-law started farming, horses did the heavy work. He had a car, but he'd never been on an airplane. Rural electrification came along during his lifetime--poof! just like that there was light. Most people his age couldn't afford books. They ate food they grew, had basements shelves lined with canned goods, and kept their houses warm--through mean winters--with coal, and sometimes corn cobs. They did their business outside; if they were rich, they had a two-holer.  

But no neighborhood change, I'll assert here, is quite so dramatic as today's immense Hispanic presence. 

Some would move them all back, line up buses from here to Hawarden, fill 'em up with gas, and point them south. The bottom would fall out of the economy in a day or two.

Last year, when this house was going up, I liked to stop by and watch craftsmen do their work. I'd been in a classroom too long, never really knew people who framed a house or hung drywall. One day the insulators came in, a gang I knew were Netherlands Reformed, a particularly staunch and clannish form of Dutch Calvinism (not redundant).  

I stepped up into the house, looked around, had to hunt a bit, but finally found them, filling every nook and cranny with insulation. All--every last one of them--were Hispanic.

There we sat last night, in our lawn chairs, out front of the band shell, listening to a mariachi band from just down the road in Hawarden.


One more thought.  Here's this morning's dawn.

Just up the river from here, just behind those trees, the Floyd takes a hairpin turn and circles back on itself. Right there at the crook of the stream, an old vet says he once found Native American artifacts from a time--say 1800--when the Yankton Sioux lived right out here on the bank. 

It's interesting, isn't it, that some July morning this sweet pastel sky might have looked exactly the same to them, long before C. C. Schaap and before his grandson and before those mariachis. 

It's His, you know, this world. Not ours.  For clusterers, that's humbling.

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