We had little, but we were happy

  • Reader Column / Reader Column
  • Tuesday, January 22, 2002 9:00pm
  • Local News

BY GRACE VERHOEVEN

The middle kid. I was sure I’d been adopted, and said as much to my Dad.

"Why would we adopt you when we already had five children of our own?" he asked.

I must have been left on the porch.

Grace VerHoeven

The sixth of 10 children of Arie and Clazina DeRooy, I was born two weeks after the family arrived in Everett. Dad worked at the Great Northern Depot as a baggage man. In between train arrivals, he planted dahlias and made colorful window boxes. A photo in The Herald led to his promotion to supervisor of parks for the Great Northern Railway.

Those were the Depression years. We ate salmon caught by Dad from the Great Northern dock, rabbits we raised and pigeons caught at the depot. Dad’s garden kept us supplied. We played happily and noisily with the neighborhood kids. We had no money, but we had fun.

We were called to meals by Dad’s police whistle — neighborhood parents loved our prompt response. Disobedience meant going without "what was good" for dinner (no jelly on bread, no dessert). If we were picky or disobedient at meals, we were told to sit on the floor to eat.

Embarrassing. I might giggle, but I didn’t want a repeat performance.

After dinner and chores, we joined neighborhood kids for kick the can or softball.

We attended Everett Christian School and church twice on Sunday.

We had no car — we walked everywhere.

When we needed shoes, we’d sit at a closet that held a generous supply Dad bought at the Salvation Army and repaired, and we’d try on shoes until we found some that fit.

Clothing also came from the Salvation Army.

We bathed on Saturday nights in a tub on the kitchen floor, the youngest first. I was fifth in line. We used some of the same water, with a little hot water (heated on the stove) added. The eldest got a complete change. Then came the three boys. I was asleep when Dad and Mom bathed.

During bath time, everyone else sat in the living room studying the Sunday school lesson.

The house at 2513 Cedar St. (now remodeled) had a small living room, bedroom, kitchen and attic. The toilet was on the back porch.

After Dad’s promotion, we moved to Monroe for a year, where Dad worked in six large greenhouses from which flowers were sent on the trains. Every Sunday our family of 12 rode a bus to Everett for church. But Mom wasn’t happy there. Her Danish-speaking friends were in Everett.

We moved to a six-bedroom house with a real tub that Dad purchased for the enormous sum of $2,000.

At school’s end in June, housecleaning began. We emptied rooms, cleaned wallpaper with Absorbene, washed closet walls. The boys carried mattresses and springs outdoors for airing.

Then came canning. A farmer delivered gunnysacks of beans, peas and corn. Neighborhood kids were eager to help. We sat in a circle in the yard and destrung beans, shelled peas and shucked corn. We talked, sang and had fun. After hours of work, each of us received a nickel and a glass of warm homemade root beer (we had no refrigerator), and we considered ourselves well-paid.

Neighborhood kids returned annually to help without being asked. If the DeRooy kids were busy, who was there to play with?

I never felt deprived, even though we had little. We were well disciplined. We shared. I treasure my family.

Years ago, as we enjoyed our annual sisters shopping day, one sister said, "Isn’t it nice that our sisters are also our best friends?" Exactly. Though we have different professions and incomes, we have found many ways in which to share. We are close to each other.

My first husband, Ken Spillman, died in 1982; my second husband, George VerHoeven, passed away in 1996. I have realized loss that is still hurtful, but I consider myself blessed because of my family, friends and other relationships. My four children and seven grandchildren are a joy to me.

A book I’ve written about our family, "Ten Little Dutchmen," is in local Christian bookstores. In 1963 I won a trip around the world in a peanut butter contest, and Ken and I visited 17 countries. I like to travel and would like to travel more.

Ho hum. I’m happy, blessed, grateful to God and contented.

Grace VerHoeven still lives in Everett.

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