Friday, August 22, 2008


Back in 1947 our little Girl Scout troop decided to take on some pen pals to help in our badge work. My assigned pen pal was a little girl my age - Johanna "Hannie" Nicolai - who lived in Breskins, an area close to the Belgian border. In my first letter to her I asked if there was anything my family could send her that they could use. Things were still pretty rough in the parts of Europe that had suffered during the Second World War. She asked for "pajamas, or wool to knit with" - and a package of chewing gum. She said in that letter, "Breskens was a well-to-do place but on Sept. 11, 1944 was heavily bombed and many houses damaged or entirely demolished. Our house was very badly damaged but luckily we can live in it again. Many died in the ruins from the pieces that fell on them. Luckily we escaped unharmed, for which we cannot thank God enough."

She had an older brother who could translate my letters in English to Dutch, but I had a dickens of a time finding someone in Long Beach who could translate hers to English for me. Below is just a part of a subsequent letter I received.

If I had to guess, I'd say that we probably corresponded for 18 months -- and then as we were going into our teen-age years, we lost contact with each other. But I kept all her letters and her sweet picture in my scrapbook.

When Jerry and I left Istanbul for home in 1993, we decided to spend a couple of months in a western country where English was spoken, as kind of a help to transition us from a rather unusual way of life in Turkey. We chose Holland mainly because England required incoming animals to be in quarantine for 6 months -- and we didn't want our cats to be subject to that.

I never expected to visit Holland so I hadn't brought my "Hannie" documents with me, but with determination I marched myself down to the main telephone office, asked to look in a Breskins phone book -- and lo, there was one lone Nicolai family, still living at the address where I'd sent those letters so many years before. To make a long story short, I found Hannie again; unfortunately she didn't speak English, probably one of the only people we found there who didn't. But she had a friend in Amsterdam (where we had settled) who contacted me and we arranged for a day together. Greta and I went to the train station where Hannie was arriving from Breskins and there she was, looking exactly like a grown-up version of her picture!

The three of us had a wonderful but frigid day in January of 1993 in a restaurant out close to the Dunes and the North Sea -- not the optimum time for seeing that part of the country, but I wasn't there to look at the view anyway. With Greta helping us out, Hannie and I relived our little childhood connection and discovered we really enjoyed each others company almost 50 years later.
I have to admit that when we parted, the three of us cried. It was such a special and unforgettable connection, and in our heart of hearts we knew we would never see each other again.

1 comment:

Stacey said...

What a great story and amazing how you were able to connect again after so much time had passed. :o)