Thursday, May 28, 2009
Look what we found during a bike ride through Midsland, on the island of Terschelling. This koe (cow) was popping out of a derelict barn on a small cobblestone street. As we passed by, he let out a low mooooo, startling us and prompting a photosession. The weather-worn door, purple flower bush, and old bricks make this a beautiful sight, and of course the cow is an unexpected surprise!
Midsland is a small village in the middle of the island. My Oma had told me that we would find many Pals family relatives (buried) in the church cemetery. Our last name is not popular. In Canada, most people find our last name unique and hard to understand (Pauls? Pallace? Pels? Palls?) My whole life I have had to resort to saying "Pals, just like friends" when trying to explain my name. Of course, I get those "original" sayings like "you're my best pal.....get it? get it?" It wasn't until I arrived in the Netherlands that people began to view my last name as normal. However, I have had to alter how I say it. Instead of saying Pals, like friends, I now say "Pauls" which is the original Dutch pronunciation. If I say Pals, people think I mean Pels.
When we arrived at the church cemetery, I immediately had the most surreal and inexplicable feeling. There were Pals names on almost all of the headstones, dating back to the 1800s (although our history on the island dates back many centuries earlier). To come from such a small family, and to see the place where it all began, was truly amazing.
In North America, people often identify themselves with their grandparent's heritage. For example, when people ask where I'm from, I will say I'm Dutch, Polish, and English. Others will say they are Italian, Scottish, Irish, or Greek, and rarely you will hear people say they are Canadian (because, after all, the only original Canadians are the First Nations people). The majority of Canadians are immigrant families, so everyone has a story about their heritage. This is what makes living in North America such a rich experience. There are Little Italies, China towns, and Polish districts. You can find great ethnic restaurants, and hear of your classmates celebrating holidays different than your own. So for me, having always described myself as half-Dutch, it was quite the experience visiting the teensy island where it all began, and to see so many people who look just like me, still taking part in the sea-faring tasks of our ancestors.