CultureFamily StoryStories

by Jamie Stern

Happy National Grandparents Day!  – Sunday, September 10th, 2023

In the Indo community, many of us share such reverence for our grandparents. We have dynamic stories about Oma and Opa. We know about their bravery and their incredible efforts to create safety and opportunities for their children and future grandchildren. We remember their wisdom and how hard they have worked. We appreciate their strengths. We feel their love flowing through us. 

Many members in our Indo community have now also stepped into the honorable role of Oma or Opaand it is a brand new adventure for them! In the United States, 72% of the grandparent population believes that being a grandparent is the single most important role in their lives. They feel so much joy being with their grandchildren. 

In the United States, Grandparents Day was officially recognized by presidential proclamation in 1979. It always falls on the Sunday after Labor Day. In the Netherlands, Opa en Oma Dag was created in 2004 and falls on June 4th. In Indonesia, Grandparents Day is a Javanese tradition that is observed every year on November 12th. 

To celebrate this marvelous continuation of our community’s story, we have been collecting precious recounts and memories, to share wisdom, strength, and love. 

We hope you enjoy it!

Opa en Oma Dag

Sadly, I was not fortunate enough to have any of my grandparents in my life for very long. They had preceded us in repatriating to the Netherlands from the former Dutch East Indies. I was born after they had already left. Then it was our turn to repatriate. First I met Opa and Oma Paap in Arkel, Zuid Holland. Opa, a totok Dutch, had been a KNIL soldier in the Japanese POW camp. He was a chain smoker, rolling his own tobacco cigarettes in Zigzag paper. They hung from his lips, sunken deep in his toothless mouth. I had to turn my head sideways to kiss his lips, which always smelled like tobacco. His fingertips were stained yellowish brown from the cigarettes.

Oma was Indo, squeezable, soft, and a comfortable presence, always grinding fresh (coffee) beans for the endless cups of kopi tubruk. They would pour the coffee from their cups into their cup saucers to cool, often sipping it straight from the saucer. Their home was very cozy, with many mementos of their lives in the Dutch East Indies. 

They raised twelve children in the colony, but had left three behind; one child died from trauma before the war, and two teenage soldiers were killed in action against the Japanese. We met Opa and Oma Monod de Froideville afterwards since they lived further away in Bergen, Noord Holland. Both were totok Dutch, but their hearts belonged to the islands. They also had a very cozy home, again with mementos of the Dutch East Indies. They had a piano and a big yard in the back. They lived near the beach. Opa played the flute, and Oma the piano. Unfortunately, I only knew them for the five years we lived in the Netherlands.

Since immigrating at the age of seven, I never saw Opa Paap again, Oma Paap only once (she died in California while on vacation), Oma Monod also once, and died a few months later. Opa Monod came to visit us two to three more times. It’s sad to think that immigrating was the reason I hardly knew my grandparents. Life could have been so different had they been part of it!

~ Shared by Hanneke Olson. Hanneke is a dear friend of The Indo Project and a long-time supporter of its work and mission. We would like to share that she has kept her entire family involved with Indo events and even brings her very young grandkids to participate. She is an incredibly active Oma and very present (on a daily basis!) in her grandkids’ lives. We are so grateful to see the history and wisdom being shared generationally.

Indo Opa August Duurvoort
Opa August Duurvoort

I would love to mention the most interesting man I know- August Duurvoort, also known as my Opa. He is the epitome of a Renaissance man, dabbling in everything, and at ninty-three, he does it with the energy of a man half his age! Jakarta born, in his incredible life he survived Japanese internment camps, studied at the Academie va Beeldende Kunsten in Den Haag, and spearheaded cargo shipping deliveries to Quebec’s Eskimo settlements. Today he enjoys sailing, partaking in local art shows with his beautiful oil paintings in Santa Cruz, California, and cooking fresh Indo meals every day for his lovely wife. I feel immensely blessed to have this man in my life and love that my children can enjoy him as their overgrootvader (great-grandfather in Dutch).

~ Shared by Stefanie Duurvoort Irwin

Indo Kareen Richard with her grandmother holding her baby brother - Surabaya
Kareen Richard with her grandmother holding her baby brother - Surabaya

I’m sharing about my Oma on my mother’s side. The first photo was taken in Surabaya when I was probably two years old with my baby brother. The second photo is of my Oma together with my parents on my wedding day, May 30, 1973. My Oma was the sweetest person I knew, who loved to cook for her family!

~ Shared by Kareen Richard, longtime volunteer and friend of The Indo Project

Indo Kareen Richard's Oma along with her parents on her wedding day, 1973
Kareen Richard's Oma along with her parents on her wedding day, 1973

Aw, wow this is so amazing! I love my Oma and Opa. Even though they’re gone, they still live on in our memories and spirits. I’m currently away from home on a job, and I still listen to my Opa’s meditation tape he made many years ago. I never met him, but I find his voice so comforting, and it really helps me navigate anything in my life.

My Oma was such an integral part of my life. I used to love going to Florida and staying in her guest room during Christmas as a kid. She would fill the whole closet with all of our favorite games like a Luke Skywalker aircraft with voice activation and jeeps to run around with. When Zach and I played around the house, we always included her, and she loved it when I put my Elf hat on her.

As the years went by, Zach and I always made an effort to call her and keep her company in any way we could. She always kept her memory; the whole family often interviewed her and recorded her many stories of her amazing and, at times, frightening life. Growing up in former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), losing her mother to cancer and her father to a Japanese concentration camp, she had to take care of herself and her sister at the age of thirteen. I always tell her story as it inspires me.

I once told her that she was our family tree. And her branches stretch far and wide with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We love our Oma and miss her every day, but never fail to think of a funny, sad, and/or beautiful memory.

~ Shared by Caroline Wacquier Anderegg and written by her cousin Eric Sebek

Indo Andrea Matthies Grandparents - Herman and Paula MacMootry in Beverwijk, Noord Holland, 1950s
Andrea Matthies Grandparents - Herman and Paula MacMootry in Beverwijk, Noord Holland, 1950s

Opa Herman MacMootry was an engineer by trade. In his golden years, he was constantly working to upgrade and improve his surround sound hi-fi stereo in his house. I remember pulling up to their home in Clairemont, California, to hear the sound of the baselines of Indo Rock pumping out through their open screen door. Exiting the car, my senses filled with the sweet smell of jasmine rice blended with the smell of whatever dishes my Oma Paula MacMootry was cooking. I know now that the smell included frying trassi, and the smell of that always just whisks me back to those days. They both loved to cook and were meticulous about how they prepared their offerings. We would walk in and see my Opa cutting up the veggies and meat in small pieces. He would show us how to cut them to allow more absorption of the flavor into the meat. You had to cut them with a slanted angle.

They loved us grandkids, and if we asked, my Oma would disappear into one of the two “Rommel kamers” to get us some snoepjes such as drops or mints. If we were lucky, we would come to their house on the same day as the Hollandse Bakker van. That was my favorite. We would patiently wait for him to open the snoep drawer, and we would be able to pick out a couple of items. The key-shaped drop was my favorite.

These visceral memories are dear to me and what I wouldn’t give to have an adult conversation with them, as they were really only around until we were young adults.

In loving memoryI miss you Oma and Opa, tot ziens

~ Shared by Andrea Matthies of Dutch Indos in San Diego

Indo Andrea Matthies Grandparents - Herman and Paula MacMootry
Andrea Matthies Grandparents - Herman and Paula MacMootry

I don’t think I am telling lies when I say that Indos generally have a close relationship with their grandparents. But this is not a feature that is exclusive to Indo culture. Still, I think an extra dimension exists that makes this bond unique, caused by the fact that the first generation has sadly become the last of Mohicans. 

Armando Ello, my good friend and business partner in the production of our book ‘Ramboet Djagoeng‘, is a professional photographer and therefore always up to date with the latest photo technical gadgets. In his studio, for example, I first witnessed the technique of making moving images of old photos and thereby seemingly bringing long-dead people back to life in an almost magical way. Perhaps more than by the technique,

I was intrigued by his relationship with the protagonist of his animation: his Indo grandmother. She has often been the subject of his creative expressions and appears as a key figure in his Indo world of experience. His love, appreciation, and respect for her run like an aorta over his Indo heart. What many might find most striking about this bond is that Armando’s grandmother passed away twenty years before his birth. However, I understand him perfectly.

My grandmother was, and still is, a special and influential presence in my life, even though she passed nearly a decade before I was born. The way my mother and her siblings spoke of her, always in the present tense, how her vision of life, wisdom, and principles were constantly reflected in the lessons I was taught, how her courage and determination became the foundation of our family’s prosperity, how the argument ‘grandma always did it this way’ undoubtedly could turn everything into an iron law for every family member … all this was exemplary of how my Indo grandmother, like probably many others like her, never really left us. But why does her voice echo for so long?

There are two facts about our people and culture that made the first-generation Indo-migrants the most important generation of all. Firstly, we are a ‘created’ people. We didn’t come to the Dutch East Indies, and we weren’t completely indigenous to it. So, we did not have a homeland or ancestral tribe which had evolved over the centuries and of which we were the end result. We were actually thrown into existence when East and West unromantically met. Despite all the inequality and inauthenticity of colonial society, the Dutch East Indies was the closest thing to a motherland for us. The second fact is that that motherland no longer exists. The cradle of our entire culture and history is trapped in the past; in a place we can never reach again.

Yet there is one last connection with this land, however fragile and swiftly fading it may be. Our grandparents are the very last witnesses of the world in which our people were created and evolved. Only they know what the authentic Indo world feels, sounds, smells, and looks like. They are the disappearing connection between all our questions and answers. And we know all this is happening, but we are powerless. Fear seizes us; now that we just dared to learn about our culture, there are almost no more teachers left. What now? What is a rootless tree that has not yet branched?

Fear not, our grandparents will never, ever leave us. As long as their lessons, wisdom, and stories remain central to our families and lives, we will remain strong. And we will remain Indo. That’s Oma’s magic!

~ Shared by Willem-Jan Brederode

I left the Netherlands when I was about to turn five years old. My Oma, a small petite lady, not quite five feet tall, was the center of our family. We left them all behind to start a new life in California. 

Each month she would call us (we couldn’t afford to call her) for five minutes. It was expensive. She always made sure we each got ten guilders for our birthdays and care packages from home but still, we missed her very much. 

Then a miracle happened, she was coming to visit us—in America. She had never been on an airplane before but she came anyway. I remember going to the airport to pick her up. It was 1970 or 1971. She got off that airplane, and it was like we had never been apart even though we hadn’t seen her since her birthday in 1968. She came to stay with us in California almost every year for about a decade. She loved us so fiercely even from all the way across the ocean that it was as if we were never apart from each other and our family in the Netherlands. Years later, long after she had passed, I was visiting my cousin in Drenthe. Saskia started saying how Oma never forgot her birthday and was always looking out for her and I was transported, remembering that feeling myself. 

It was true for every single one of her grandkids, all seventeen of them! She made each of us feel like the center of the universe. She made coming to America bearable because being with her was like being home.

~ Shared by our own Patricia Teunisse of The Indo Project

Indos Jamie with her Oma, Opa, Tante, and Mama. Bell Gardens, California - 1990
Jamie with her Oma, Opa, Tante, and Mama. Bell Gardens, California - 1990

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article. Please share and spread it around. We wish to celebrate the deep bond between grandparents and grandchildren. It is such a precious connection that transcends time; we are forever bonded by love and intention. ~ Jamie Stern

The authors and publishers disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.

The Indo Project wants to know: what are your memories of your omas and opas? Submit your story today!

3 Comments

    • Hi Sandra! Wow — Thank you so much for such a kind message. It warms our hearts to know this. We’re so grateful for your input!

      warmly,

      Jamie

  1. Jamie: These stories are so precious. Reading my Oma’s story brought her home to me again. Gosh I am a little emotional! Thank you.

    Met vriendelijk groet,

    Patricia

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