My father who was Dutch and my Indonesian mother immigrated to the United States after the Indonesian government demanded the expulsion of all Dutch nationals. There were few job opportunities available in the Netherlands which was still recovering from World War II and when my parents were made an offer by a small denomination known as the Church of the Brethren, to live in the land of milk and honey, they packed up their two young sons and landed in rural Lawrence, Kansas.
My father was delighted by the wide open space, he accommodated his new life with ease. He had a talent for language and in addition to his native Dutch; he spoke English, German, French and Bahasa Indonesian. He easily adapted to the Kansas twang and began speaking English like a native Kansan. My mother did not love life in the country. She was accustomed to having a maid and a nanny and she did not drive. Though she spoke Bahasa and Dutch, upon arriving in the States she did not speak a word of English.
My first home was an old dairy farm which had also served as a hemp farm. Interestingly, the hemp (cannabis Sativa) trade originated in Central Asia in the 2nd century and was used for paper, textiles, food and medicine. After the Middle Ages the sails that were employed by voyaging European ships were made of Hemp. The Dutch coined the name “Canvas”, the Dutch pronunciation for the Greek Kannabis, the material used to make the “canvas sails”. I like to believe that the hemp growing in our valley below that farm was the decedents of the original Asian hemp carried by Dutch ships propelled by cannabis sails.
Our home was a beautiful little farm with a big white dairy barn, several out buildings and huge, old trees that seemed to stand protectively, in constant watch of the two story shaker style, white farm house. When the wind blew, as it often does in Kansas, the house would emit arthritic groans which never ceased to frighten me. Sometimes in the heat of the summer day, one could smell phantom bread baking. It was as though the house held the nostalgic memory of an earlier day and a much different cook. Perhaps the house objected to the exotic spices, lovely marinades and lively flavors of my mother’s Indonesian cuisine.
I imagine that I must have been an odd child. My memory is of being a kind of light-brown skinned, part wild animal, part human child. I ran barefoot with a tangle of nearly black hair following behind me. I was the youngest of four children and the only girl. The isolation of country living provided no neighbor girls with whom to play and so naturally, my playmates were dogs, cats and an occasional chicken. I specifically remember talking to the grand old elm trees that surrounded the white farm house and having the distinct impression that they were listening.