Geert Dijkstra, born on November 16, 1911, spent his early years living in the Dutch countryside just outside Leeuwarden, a city in the province of Friesland. As a boy, Geert enjoyed a fairytale-like Dutch childhood, playing rugby, fishing in the dykes near his home, and frog-hunting in local meadows and bogs. At the age of 18, with his education completed, he took up work at his family’s Holstein dairy where his primary job was to manage the dairy’s grass pastures. Later, when reflecting on his career as a sod-layer and weeder, he would describe the work as “boring, but deeply peaceful.” In 1931, as the Netherlands entered the throes of the Great Depression, the international price of milk dropped from over $2.00 to a mere 19 cents per gallon, prompting thousands of dairy farms across the Netherlands to go bankrupt, including the one on which Geert worked. Unable to find work in the Netherlands, he asked his predikant (minister) what he should do. His predikant would reply with words that Geert would never forget: “Travel God’s kingdom, and find a new home.” Following these words, Geert decided that he would either journey to South Africa or United States as, in the words of his daughter Alice “Those were the only places where he knew that it was warm all year round.”
While the allure of travelling to a country with so many Dutch speakers nearly pulled Geert to travel to South Africa–he in fact purchased shipping tickets from Rotterdam to Cape Town–he ultimately decided to venture to the United States after having what he proclaimed to be an epiphany. Geert ultimately crossed the Atlantic in 1932, travelling aboard an ocean liner from Rotterdam, Netherlands to New York, NY for 4 days. While he told his family of the incredible boredom of being on a ship for so long, he remarked that he found the journey to be far more pleasant than he was expecting, as his passage was blessed with good smooth seas and warm weather.
From New York, Geert travelled to Orange City, Iowa, a Midwestern Dutch community. It was in Orange City where he began to experience his first challenges with cultural assimilation. While Orange City was primarily a Dutch community, it still presented many challenges to someone who had only lived in the Netherlands. Perhaps no bigger shock existed than the weather. In his first night in Iowa, Geert witnessed perhaps the most incredible phenomena he had ever seen–a tornado. While he was certainly not known to be afraid of much, the extent to which the tornado frightened Geert amazed his family. According to his Alice: “Even though we were living in California, any time he would see a thunderstorm roll in, you could see him visibly start to sweat–he really was quite afraid that a tornado would come and get him.”
Aside from the weather, other assimilation challenges presented themselves to Geert. One such challenge that existed was the food which Americans ate. Back in Friesland, all meals consisted of a meat, a dairy product (usually cheese), and some sort of overcooked nightshade. In the United States however, most meals lacked the starchy bases frequently found in Frisian meal.
While Geert may not have found a perfect home in America, as he was still faced with challenges in his new country, he did successfully fulfill his American Dream. “I would say that he would consider his dream fulfilled” said his daughter Alice. In the end however, the dream of Geert Dijkstra rests in the hands of the family he created in his new land.
The story of Geert Van der Laan was recorded by his great grandson, Alex Ross.