Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Vrolijk Kerstfeest!" - Merry Christmas from Govert, South Dakota!

"Merry Christmas" from Kate VanderBoom in Colorado and "Vrolijk Kerstfeest" from Hans van der Boom* of Hoogvliet, The Netherlands! This blog posting is a collaboration between cousins, Hans and Kate.

Govert Van der Boom wasn't always a big fish living in the small pond of Govert, South Dakota. He wasn't always the founder of a town, the owner of the mercantile, the land locator, the postmaster, the notary, the U.S. Commissioner, civic booster, and sales representative for International Harvester, husband to Emma, father to Virgil, Gordon, and Roger. He wasn't always the man after whom a town and a newspaper were named. Once, back in 1909, Govert filed a claim on 160 acres of prairie land, just like every other homesteader in Harding County, South Dakota.

After filing a claim to enter his homestead in August 1909, Govert remained in Govert, South Dakota, the town named after him, for a total of 19 Christmases. Govert and his partner, Howard Jacobs, were not alone in the 36 square miles of the township but, in 1909, they might as well have been. Only 12 other men and one woman had been known to make homestead entry in the township since 1903, and most of them were long gone by 1909.

Those first three Christmases in Harding County may have been shared with other homesteaders. Otherwise the bachelor partners would have returned to the homes of their parents, where their families gathered, Govert Van der Boom to Platte, South Dakota, and Howard Jacobs to Wessington Springs. Govert spent his fourth Christmas as a homesteader with his new wife, Emma, a homesteader in Butte County just south of the county line from Govert township; they were married 3 November 1912.

Govert Van der Boom's Christmas tradition was Dutch. Born in Holland, Govert came to America at the age of seven and grew up in his big Dutch family of 10, in Platte, South Dakota. The van der Booms attended the Platte Dutch Reformed Church and, together with the other Dutch families in Platte, perpetuated Dutch customs and traditions, and the Dutch language. Govert Van der Boom never lost his Dutch accent.

This man who never lost his Dutch accent thought in two languages. For those Christmases shared with his American-born wife and his new friends on the prairie ... while everyone around him was singing "Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright" ... the Dutch words must have filled his memory and curled around his tongue. The words Govert Van der Boom hummed to himself followed the same tune ... Stille nacht, Heilige nacht.

Stille nacht, Heilige nacht,
Davids zoon lang verwacht.
Die miljoenen eens zaligen zal,
Wordt geboren in Bethlehems stal.
Hij, der schepselen heer,
Hij, der schepselen heer.

Although "Silent Night" long ago became one of the common songs that bound early settlers regardless of their faith, in a way similar to "Amazing Grace", neither song appeared in the Dutch Psalmbook. My cousin, Hans van der Boom, knows about these things because he is an historian, heart, mind and soul, and he is Dutch-born. Hans tells us that in the practice of their faith, our Dutch ancestors ... yours, too, if you have Dutch ancestry ... were strict and righteous, and they professed their faith in a deep and intense way.

All of our immigrants brought their traditions and customs ... and their music ... with them aboard the ship. With the dilution of tradition through the passing generations in America, sometimes we forget this. Hans will help us remember the Dutch Christmas music the van der Booms brought to America.

The remainder of this blog posting is in the words of Hans van der Boom. Here's Hans:

"Silent Night" seems to be considered an appropriate song for the stricter religions, which surprised me a little [writes Hans]. I thought the song to be much younger, but the English translation seems to date from 1863, and the original lyric is from 1818.

The Dutch Psalmbook contains only the 150 approved Psalms. The real stuff in our ancestors' psalm books that pertains to Christmas and can be sung are the Psalms; those that pertain to Christmas are Psalm 89, 98, 111 and 118. Traditionally the psalms were not accompanied by an organ or other musical instrument. Govert Van der Boom's Dutch ancestors would have been led by a "voorzanger", a pre-singer who first sang the hymn as example. 

A psalm considered "christmasy" is "Ere zij God" (Honour unto God). This is a simple song, based on the Bible book of Luke 2:1-20, in which the Christmas story is told.

Ere zij God
Ere zij God
In de hoge, in de hoge, in de hoge
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
In de mensen een welbehagen.
Ere zij God in de hoge
Ere zij God in de hoge
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
In de mensen, in de mensen een welbehagen
In de mensen een welbehagen, een welbehagen
Ere zij God
Ere zij God
In de hoge, in de hoge, in de hoge
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
In de mensen een welbehagen.
Amen, amen.

Glory to God! (2X) In the highest! (3X)
Peace on the earth, peace on the earth to the people who have God's favor.
Glory to God in the highest! (2X) Peace on the earth. (4X)
To the people, to the people who have God's favor.
To the people who have God's favor, who have God's favor!
Glory to God! Glory to God! In the highest! In the highest! In the highest!
Peace on the earth, peace on the earth to the people who have God's favor.
Amen, amen.

I've read that the words to "Ere zij God" come straight from the Bible, the angels' "song" in Luke 2. A popular Dutch carol, it's also very popular in Christian Reformed churches in Canada where it's often used as the closing song of Christmas day services. Another, rather archaic, one is "Komt allen tezamen" (Adeste Fideles), originally a mid-18th century Catholic song with the English text, "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", introduced in 1841 by Frederick Oakely.

Another with a Catholic origin, although our ancestors probably didn't know that, is: "De herdertjes lagen bij nachte". I think this is typically Dutch, and probably dates from the 17th century.

De herdertjes lagen bij nachte
Zij lagen bij nacht in het veld
Zij hielden vol trouwe de wachte
Zij hadden hun schaapjes geteld
Daar hoorden zij 'd engelen zingen
Hun liederen vloeiend en klaar
De herders naar Bethlehem gingen
't liep tegen het nieuwe jaar

There seems to be an English translation (which follows), but it is set to another melody. Wouldn't that have been fun? People from different countries essentially singing the same song but getting totally confused because the music is different! The English version is 17th century, too, appearing in print the first time in Brady's Psalter in 1702.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around,
And glory shone around.

Probably the oldest one is "Nu zijt wellekome", even more archaic than the rest and dating from Medieval time, probably the 14th or 15th century (Gregorian), but with the oldest known music version dating from the 16th century. Kyrieleis means "Have Mercy Oh Lord".

Nu zijt wellekome Jesu, lieve Heer,
Gij komt van alzo hoge, van alzo veer.
Nu zijt wellekome van de hoge hemel neer.
Hier al in dit aardrijk zijt Gij gezien nooit meer.

This modern English translation dates to 2005:

Jesus, You are welcome here with us today.
You came to earth from heaven on Christmas day.
Jesus, You are welcome now to stay with us again.
In our sinful hearts, give us mercy, come and reign.

What Hans tells us about traditional Dutch Christmas music also explains why Govert Van der Boom carried to Harding County the intensity of the faith of his Dutch parents who came to America, the faith of his Dutch grandparents who remained in Holland. In a country of immigrants, Govert's neighbors would understand if he did hum the words to himself in Dutch ... "Stille nacht, Heilige nacht ..." remembering what he could of his grandparents and life in the Old Country.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[*You may wonder at the many spellings of the family name. Historically "van der Boom" is correct. Because Govert chose to Americanize his name as an adult, "Van der Boom" is now also correct. Because Govert's son Roger decided to further Americanize his family name, "VanderBoom" is correct. Those who choose to spell their name "Vander Boom" or "Vanderboom" are also correct. This blog is written with gratitude to Hans van der Boom, for his insight, his knowledge, and his interest in his American cousins.]

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Govert, South Dakota, P.T.A.!

"Merry Christmas!" "Hiya, neighbor! Merry Christmas!" "Good evening and Merry Christmas!" "Hey! Merry Christmas!" "Merry Christmas to you, too!"

Voices from every direction called out cheery greetings as Goverites gathered at the schoolhouse for the Govert, South Dakota, P.T.A. Christmas Program. Every man, every woman, and every child, glowing shiny clean and rosy from excitement, was carefully dressed for the holiday celebration. They were ready for the best, the biggest, the most enthusiastic community gathering of the entire year.

Inside the schoolhouse, the children's desks had been pushed to the fringe of the room and rows of wooden benches were lined up facing the blackboard in front. In the swelling anticipation, an evergreen tree decorated with tinsel and colored balls, standing awkwardly to the side of the blackboard, seemed bigger, brighter, and more confident than perhaps it really was. Nine-year-old Marie Kulisich thought this tree, brought in from the Slim Buttes, was the most beautiful Christmas tree she had ever seen.

Darkness closed in on the schoolhouse and, although the weather grew only colder and colder as the evening progressed into night, the coal stove burned hot. Gasoline lanterns, carried in by the Govert neighbors, radiated light and a little heat, brightening the schoolroom. With all the neighbors crowded into the single room of the 19' by 27' schoolhouse, the air became warm, almost steamy.

The desk of the Govert country school teacher, Alma Eleanor (Cox) Schuck, the widow of Walter Benjamin Schuck these last 14 years and more, was pushed to the side of where the stage now sat in front of the benches, on the side opposite from the decorated evergreen tree. Every inch of Mrs. Schuck's desk was obscured by plates holding cakes and cookies, and more plates holding sandwiches piled so high as to threaten to tumble. And coffee. The P.T.A. always served coffee, strong and hot.

With no admission fee, the P.T.A. Christmas Program was the perfect holiday activity for rural Harding County families during the Great Depression. What should Goverites find in the Govert schoolhouse that night in December but a glamorous Christmas tree, hours of laughter and heartfelt entertainment, companionable fellowship with neighbors, and sugary treats for everyone. Who could ask for more happiness than the oh-so-pleasant here-and-now, in that interlude before leaving this bright place to find their way home in the dark and cold of the earliest morning hours?

Like all the years preceding, the P.T.A. Christmas Program for 1939 was an acclaimed hit among Goverites and all the farming and ranching families within reach of the Govert schoolhouse. The performers that year were Mercedes Hafner (2d grade), Marie Kulisich (4th grade), Leroy Scofield (2d grade), Roland Springer (1st grade) and Edwin Springer (2d grade), and Alice Mae West (4th grade) and Evaline West (6th grade). Twelve-year-old Billy Lale was the oldest student at Govert School that year; he was in the 7th grade. Billy joined in the songs and acted in the plays with the other students.

Eager for holiday excitement, the grade school students, their parents, brothers and sisters, and all of their neighbors, including the old bachelors in the township, began the program singing ... quite loudly ... "Joy to the World". The children ended their program much, much later, tired and happy, singing "The Tree That Blooms at Christmas." Between these two songs were plays, readings, recitations, a dialog, and more holiday musical favorites.


Joy to the World ...... Song by All

Silent Night ...... Song by Govert School

Just a Hint ...... Reading by Alice Mae West

Our Baby ...... Recitation by Edwin Springer

One Drawback ...... Recitation by Roland Springer

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear ...... Song by Govert School

Tangled Telephone ...... Play by Govert School

Poor Dolly ...... Recitation by Mercedes Hafner

Christmas at Grandma’s ...... Recitation by Leroy Scofield

Put a Candle in the Window ...... Song by Govert School

Christmas Angels ...... Reading by Evaline West

Nurse! Nurse! ...... Dialog by Alice Mae West and Marie Kulisich

A Wise Christmas Gift ...... Recitation by Edwin Springer

Dear Little Stranger ...... Song by Govert School

Christmas Strategy ...... Play by Govert School

Hark the Herald Angels Sing ...... Song by All

The Tree That Blooms at Christmas ...... Song by Govert School

By the time the Govert schoolchildren sang the Christmas lullaby, Dear Little Stranger, little brothers and sisters were snuggling in their parents' laps, with mommy's or daddy's protective arms around them. The adults were smiling nostalgically, remembering their happiest Christmas times. Waves of light and sound echoed between the stage and the densely seated benches. These are the voices of children you would have heard: Dear Little Stranger.

And these are the words:
Low in a manger, dear little Stranger,
Jesus, the wonderful Savior, was born.
There was none to receive Him, none to believe Him,
None but the angels were watching that morn.

Dear little Stranger, slept in a manger,
No downy pillow under His head;
But with the poor He slumbered secure,
The dear little Babe in His bed.

Angels descending, over Him bending,
Chanted a tender and silent refrain;
Then a wonderful story told of His glory,
Unto the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain.

Dear little Stranger, born in a manger,
Maker and Monarch, and Savior of all;
I will love Thee forever! Grieve Thee? No, never!
Thou didst for me make Thy bed in a stall.

By the time the children reached their finale, "The Tree That Blooms at Christmas", Mercedes, Marie, Leroy, Roland, Edwin, Alice Mae, Evaline, and Billy wistfully sang their wishes for a Christmas tree with presents stacked underneath.

We, with hearts so light and happy
Gather 'round the Christmas tree;
There are gifts that love has given,
Gifts for you, and gifts for me.

See the tapers, lighted, burning,
Sending forth a cheery glow;
See the tree, a-sparkle, turning,
All its dainty gifts to show.

Tops and balls, and drums and every
Gift to mention, swinging there.
What care we, though snowflakes whitely,
Flutter through the frosty air.

For the tree that blooms at Christmas,
With its fruit so strange to see,
Bears amid the shining branches.
Some sweet, dainty gift for me.

As they sang, the children were glad for this holiday celebration at the schoolhouse ... and wondered whether their own tree would bloom this Christmas.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Based on an article in the Govert Advance, December 28, 1939; with gratitude to Marie Kulisich for assisting with details; Dear Little Stranger, Charles H. Gabriel, 1900; The Tree That Blooms at Christmas, Author Unknown, sung to "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning", Philip P. Bliss, 1871]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What’s Happening in Govert, South Dakota: Thursday, 5 December 1940

In preparation for Christmas, 73 years ago today, the Govert Advance published the instructions for Santa’s helpers to craft a four poster doll bed. All a mommy or daddy needed were a cigar box, four wooden clothes pins, four wooden thread spools, scraps of fabric to make a pad, pillow, and bedding, and a bit of paint. This, together with a late night of gluing, sewing, and painting, might be the best a Goverite could offer a young daughter for Christmas after struggling through 11 years of the Great Depression. The good news: only one more year of the Depression. The bad news: America would join the war.

Reading beyond the cigar box doll bed that Thursday night in 1940, a Govert family might have been comforted by their decision to choose a home on the Harding County prairie, 1800 miles from the east coast, far away from the bright lights and the crowding in the cities, and far, far away from the political wrangling.

That Thursday night in Govert, farmers and ranchers shook the creases out of the Govert Advance and read that New Yorkers were now being warned to be alert for suspicious packages. The abandoned box, bag, valise, or satchel might be a bomb positioned by “subversive and destructive elements” in America. "Thank goodness we don't have to worry about THAT," Goverites echoed across the prairie. Why in the world would any subversive, or any foreign spy, waste their time traveling to a place where the two-legged population was far outnumbered by the four-legged variety?

Continuing through the newspaper, they read about the destruction left by Nazi bombs in England. And then the Govert Advance reported a survey conducted by the United States Employment Service revealing 215,000 people registered with employment offices throughout the United States for jobs in defense industries ... should they be needed.

In December 1940 the folks in Govert are less worried about an abandoned valise or satchel left in a place where a bomb might be calculated to cause maximum damage to resources or morale, and they are more worried about Christmas. So what happened in Govert, South Dakota, the first week in December in 1940? You saw it first in the Govert Advance:
  • "Herman West and Archie Cornella are hauling hay from the Primm place to the JX Ranch for Howard Sheridan. Howard will winter a band of sheep at the ranch."
  • "Chester Phillips has been quite ill with pneumonia and was taken to the Buffalo hospital."
  • "Mr. and Mrs. F.F. West, of the West General Store at Govert, were shopping in Belle Fourche, Friday."
  • "Ann, Anton and John Kulisich were in Newell Friday, visiting the dentist."
  • "Guests at the Bert Ellis home Thanksgiving were Mr. and Mrs. Paul Ellis, daughter, Nona, and son, Harold, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Class, Mr. and Mrs. Mitch Kulisich, daughters, Ann and Marie, sons, Anton and John, and Leonard West."
  • "Wesley Horton and wife spent several days with relatives at Whitewood."
  • "Nick and Pete Lale took their dressed turkeys to Lead and received very satisfactory prices."
  • "Alice Mae West spent the weekend with Marie Kulisich."
  • "Mrs. Westley Horton is visiting her daughter, Evelyn, at Custer. Evelyn is taking a Beauty course at Custer and making her home with Mrs. Horton’s sister."
  • "Mr. and Mrs. Nick Lale entertained friends Thanksgiving Day."
  • "Mr. and Mrs. Louie Frandsen were in Belle Fourche Wednesday to get his pick up repaired. Mr. Frandsen slipped off the grade and turned over causing some little damage."
Life goes on. War may be raging in Europe but, in Govert, you do what you always have done. You tend to the work in front of you. You laugh when the opportunity presents itself, and you create as many of those pleasant opportunities as possible. On Thursdays you read the Govert Advance. And, in December, you might make a gift from an empty cigar box and scraps of fabric. Life goes on.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Based on the news reported in the 5 December 1940 edition of the Govert Advance]