DUTCH IRIS (Photo credit: neil2047)
When Grandpa H. died, my maternal grandmother, a transplanted Michigander I knew as Nana, moved to Florida permanently. She settled in Clearwater with her very own grapefruit tree in her back yard. At the time, I lived just over the causeway in Tampa.
After visiting the Kennedy grave in December 1963, we (Connie, Richard and I) traveled by train from freezing Washington DC bound for my mother’s snow-covered house in western NC. We were en route to our new home at McDill AFB in Tampa FL.
By the time we left the frozen north, that some persist in calling The South, I was more than ready for the warmth of FL. FL did not disappoint. Arriving with the boys of summer, in FL for spring baseball training, I knew I was in the right place.
Not only had Nana moved to FL but some of her Dutch cousins (from Holland and Grand Rapids Michigan) had retired to Tampa. I set about visiting all these old ladies (most were women) little realizing that someday, I would become one of them.
I visited them at the urging of my Mom, but they were more than happy to see me. Unfortunately I did not take the time to get to know them. My first visit was my last, old people are so boring, you know.
What a wasted opportunity. My Nana had grown senile since the last time I had seen her, but her cousins were bright and could have told me tales about their childhood and their parents who immigrated to Michigan in the latter part of the nineteenth century…had I been willing to listen.
Most of Mom’s relatives had lived on farms and grew wonderous things in the black moraine soil. When they immigrated to the States, my Dutch great-grandmothers had carried ‘flags” hidden in their voluminous skirts. Flags is the word my family used to describe what some call Dutch Iris. The English word probably comes from the French who occupied the Dutch Republic under Napoleon and said the Iris looked like the Fleur de Lis or French flag (it is neither).
Fleur-de-lis on an old concrete wall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My Mom came from a large family, but today, most of them have died or left Michigan. I was in touch with a few second cousins until a year or two ago, but they have dropped off my map with the death of Christmas cards.
Although I had lived with her from time to time when my Dad was unemployed back in the 1940s, I had not seen Nana in over 8 years when I saw her again in Clearwater in 1964. It wasn’t until the end of my visit that she recognized me. Her new husband, whom she called Pop, told me she was suffering from dementia.
She was in her 70s then, very close to the age I am today. After Pop died, she lived into her late 80s, totally demented, and in a nursing home. But I will always remember her fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. I think of her, when I smell walnuts in the fall, or coffee in the morning, spot birds or kiss parrots goodnight. She showed me many things, including how to make coffee in a dripolater and the proper way to section and eat grapefruit. Most of all, I will remember her dressing as St. Nicholas in good Dutch tradition. I’d like to think all children remember their grandmothers.