The Steenderbult is Born
as told by Opa Johannes Proper, 1911-2005
Anno Domini 1989
The following was written and published in the 1989 Proper clan reunion newsletter.
Nov if nobody likes this year’s story, which I have had to unearth out of the depths of my dim recollection and have rescued from oblivion for our posterity, then don’t blame me. For it was at the suggestion (or stimulation) of our dear Diane that I recorded this event in the first month of the Lord’s year 1989.
Cornelis Proper was the oldest of three boys born to Hendrik Proper and Willemina Brummel, who were farmers in the neighbourhood of Oene in the township of Epe. Cornelis was born on July 22, 1796. Those were poor times—times of war and famine. A few years before his birth, the French Revolution had started and plunderings and murders were still going on. In Holland, lots of people thought this revolution to be a blessing and invited the French rabble to come to Holland; the House of Orange, who had done so much for the people of the Netherlands, had to leave the country to save their lives. That “blessing” soon turned out to be a real curse. Four times a year for a number of years, France sent 25,000 troops, the rabble of their population, to Holland to be fed, clothed, and supplied with footwear—without pay, of course! Most of these troops had been in the army for some years without ever getting dressed; most came on bare feet and infected with all kinds of contagious diseases. When Napoleon came to the throne, he straightened things out, but the wars and bloodshed kept on unabated until finally, at Waterloo, the French were defeated [in 1815].
But then, about 1830, the Roman Catholic southern part of Holland (what is now Belgium) revolted against the Protestant north and, after bitter fighting, became independent with the help of France and England.
All these circumstances brought great misery and poverty to Holland and most people were in dire need of the most basic necessities. Such were the times when the following events were carried out by our ancestor Cornelis, whose lot it was to be born in such a turbulent time.
Cornelis became a weaver by occupation and got engaged to Rikje vanEssen, whom he married on April 30, 1824. Too poor, most likely, to buy a property, he took it upon himself to make use of the old squatter’s right by which he could claim possession of a small piece of government property if he could build a dwelling on it in one night. There must be nothing seen in the evening and the next morning there had to be a dwelling out of whose chimney the smoke was rising when the sun nose on the horizon. If these conditions were met, then the neighbours could testify to the fact that no building whatsoever had been there the evening before, but in the morning when they rose at the dawn of a new day, there to their surprise stood a dwelling out of whose chimney the smoke ascended to high heaven.
So this story is recorded as follows, passed along the line of the generations by word of mouth, just as I have heard it told as I sat in front of a flaming hearth fire many a time. Now I will record it to the best of my ability (taking a certain freedom of expression in doing so) in order that it may be kept in remembrance by future generations, as many as the Lord God may grant the Proper clan in its spreading branches here in Canada.
The sun at eventide had sent her last colourful rays over hill and dale and had departed as a glorious red balloon from this part of the globe beneath the Dutch horizon and the landscape of the Veluwe. Now in the clear sky in the east, a full moon rose majestically and flooded with her golden light the countryside in a soft dusky shine. The little breeze which had been stirring the watery reed grasses along the sluggish little creek and the stubborn woody heather on the higher ground had laid itself to rest. Along a deserted, rutted road came a horse, pulling a creaking, grinding wagon loaded with wood, reed, and some household goods; it climbed the little knoll which would be known in future years as “the Steenderbult.” In its tracks followed several men and women, the women with some kettles and baskets in which cups and food were stored, the men with squeaking wheelbarrows and spades and axes.
At the top of the little hillock, Cornelis Proper turned the horse to the left and stopped halfway between road and creek. “Here,” he said, “is the location on which Rikje and I had our eye, and what, my friends, do you think of it? Here we have water nearby and a good kind of soil to cut sods for walls.” All the friends and relatives who had come along for the fun of it (and the heavy work) thought this place to be as good as he could find anywhere!
With no time lost, stakes were set out for the size of the house-to-be and the men started to dig out about a foot of sand, taking the top sods for building the walls. Others unloaded the wood and building material from the wagon and started to build the roof. Most of the sods for the walls were taken from the lower ground near the creek where the peat made it easier to take them, and loaded onto the wheelbarrows. Men and women worked together with pleasure in full harmony, with jokes flying back and forth, to and fro, to be interrupted again with snatches of songs. Some of the young ladies collected dry spruce wood and pine cones and in no time had a nice campfire going. On each side of the fire, they hammered a post into the ground and bound a young sapling to them; from it they hung a round iron kettle over the fire to boil water for coffee. It did not take them long, and soon their young voices were calling that the coffee was ready. The hampers filled with black rye bread were opened, and soon the whole group was sitting around the fire enjoying the food in such pleasant company.
After a short rest, all were back at it again. Slowly the building took shape. Poles for the roof were raised and thin long saplings of fir trees were fastened onto the poles and a wooden chimney nailed on top. Some of the men were thatchers by trade, and bundles of thin pliable willow branches which had been brought along were used to tie the thatch on the roof. They were skilled workers who did not have much trouble working in the spare light of the moon. The sod diggers and wall builders put one window in the west wall where the weaving loom was to be placed. The front wall had to be high enough to put in a door and a window. These items had been brought along and were fitted in. Every field stone they found was saved to be used for the fireplace and for the floor inside the house. The young women kept the coffee and bread available throughout the night.
But it was the young boys’ responsibility to keep the girls in a happy mood throughout this long night. For that reason, one of the boys had brought his accordion along to have some moments of respite from the hard work. For it was music in the men’s ears to hear the rolling, teasing laughter of the lively young maidens bubbling through the moonlit night and to have a klompendans (wooden-shoe dance) around the campfire in the middle of the work. This gave the perfect opportunity for the boys at the same time to steal a kiss from a happy smiling face. It did not often happen in those times that there was an occasion and a good reason for having a pleasant time, so they did not let an opportunity like this slip past.
Steadily, by dint of hard work and cheerful spirits the simple and humble dwelling rose on the Veluwe moor. The last thatch was tied on the roof and the last sod ceremonially laid in place. Stones for the fireplace were already in place and Rikje, as the mistress of the house, started for the first time, all by herself, the first fire in her own dwelling while all her friends were outside, leaning on their tools and watching for the first wisp of smoke to leave the open chimney. When that first smoke rose into the air, a cheerful cry went up, and with handclasps and laughter they congratulated each other, glad in the knowledge that the job was satisfactorily done.
In the bleak sky, the sun rose to a new day, and friends and family, leaving their best wishes behind, trudged homeward, being loaded with thanks for their help from the new couple who now at last had their own roof over their heads, even if it was a very poor one. A few formalities had to be fulfilled at the municipal office to get registered and acquire a homestead certificate.
As soon as they could afford it, the west wall where the weaving loom stood was replaced with a brick wall and later on the other wall was also bricked in.
It was not until Reinder Proper took possession of the property after his father Cornelis’ death that a whole new brick home could be built. The building of that house was done by his son-in-law, Johannes Huiskamp, who was a bricklayer by occupation and after whom I was named.
But even in that house, the flooring was still the same old field stones used in the first poor and simple squatter’s hut. When my mother Gerritje married my father Reinder, the same stones were still the flooring in the living room. Then one day (this was before I was born), my eldest brother Hendrik was left unattended for a while, and in playing broke up the best part of the floor. While my mother was busy putting the stones back in place, a friend of Dad dropped in and, seeing the mess, told my Dad to cut down some big trees growing around the house and bring them to the sawmill to be cut into boards. These could be used to make a pine floor in the living room. Dad thought that was a good idea and so it was resolved and done.
And so I have come to the end of my story. Whereof acta Johannes Proper.
What Is the Steenderbult?
Continuation by Herman Proper, the son of Johannes Proper.
For our dad, Johannes Proper, and for us, his children, the Steenderbult was always the name of this house, and it was the symbol of home: Capital-H Home. Johannes Proper was born in that home on January 4, 1911, and a little over a year later,
|The Steenderbult as it looks today.|
his father died of cancer. His mother then married Gerrit vanLaar and the ownership of the Steenderbult passed out of the Proper line into the vanLaar line. Dad felt himself disinherited. At the age of about 13, he went to work at various farmers’ places and eventually got a job as miller in Voorst, about a half-hour away (by car, much more by bike). Here he met Marie vandenBrink and married her in 1942, right in the middle of the Second World War. Grace was born in 1943 and Herman in 1945, less than three months after the war ended. In 1949, Dad left Holland for Canada and spent his life looking for a new Home. Their home on ten acres near Rockwood became the Home that his children and grandchildren cherished for many years. Dad and Mom eventually had to move on to a nursing home and are now in their eternal home, the city without foundations whose architect and builder is God.
All of us look for an eternal home. If we are fortunate, we find and make a real Home here on earth, and if we are really blessed, we will recognize that it is only a type of the final Home to which we are bound. Dad apologized to his children that he moved around so much in Canada, done because he wanted to find us a permanent home. He and Mom pointed us to the final Home with God.
The story of the Proper family’s earthly Steenderbult is over. The last vanLaar, my Tante Driesje, had to move into a nursing home a few months ago and just in the past few weeks, the Steenderbult was sold. The new owner took possession on July 29. That era has passed but that is okay. We must learn to hold things here lightly, to hold each other dearly, and to hold our hope firmly because the new City has eternal foundations and we are beloved by the architect and builder.
Herman Proper, 2016 July