Interview with Lois Kregel (1)

MHH:  It is March 24, 2008. I am at the residence of Lois Kregel and about to begin an interview with her. Could you tell me where and when you were born?

LK:  I was born in the parsonage on Eastern Avenue in 1925, the month of August.  It was before we had been evicted, and I was known by my father as the “trouble baby.”  I have no memories of that time.  It was shortly after that that we were locked out.  We weren’t immediately locked out of that parsonage, but we did have to move.  So I spent my earliest time in a temporary parsonage on Sherman Street.  I don’t even know where it is, but it was before the time that the parsonage on Fuller and Franklin was built.  I believe that was done before the church, so that we could move into it.

MHH:  Did you grow up in that parsonage of First Church on Franklin?

LK:  That’s right.  I have no recollection of Sherman Street at all. I do have very early recollections of the parsonage on Fuller and Franklin.

MHH:  What was your life like growing up in the parsonage?  What are some of your earliest memories of your life and life in the parsonage and life in the context of the church?

LK:  My life in the parsonage was punctuated by trips my father had to take for the church for various lectures and mission activities. There were times that I don’t remember at all, and there were times that I must have gone along, but I was too young to remember.  I know I did go…my father didn’t get a car till about 1932.  But there were many people that drove him here and there.  I know that Nick Jonker drove a lot, and Jake VanderWal also took them a lot.

MHH:  And you went along on these trips?

LK:  I went along.  Homer [her older brother, later known as Prof. H. C. Hoeksema] and I went along a lot because we were the youngest and they didn’t want to leave us home. I think Etta stayed with my sisters at that time.

MHH:  Now you referred to Etta [Kooistra].

LK:  Etta came to help my mother when my oldest brother Herm was a baby. Herm is 5 years older than I am.

MHH:  Why did she come to help your mother?

LK:  I always remember my mother as being rather fragile. Yet she lived to be 76.  But she always seemed rather fragile.  She lay down every afternoon.  Etta did much of the heavy housework, the washing and the ironing. But Homer and I usually went along.  We went along, for example, to New York when Mr. VanderWal drove them to pick up my uncle from the boat. I have vague memories of that trip.  I remember going to Hull because I was scared stiff of the siren, the curfew.  I remember that, but I don’t remember why we were there.

MHH:  They blew the siren…

LK:  Nine o’clock.  I was afraid.

MHH:  It’s amazing that you can remember those things. If we move into the 1930s, what do you remember of your childhood in the 30s?  It was obviously the time of the depression.

LK:  I remember the favorite expression of my mother was in Dutch:  “We hebben geen geld.” [“We have no money”]  If we needed something, “don’t have any money.”  But even before that, when things were good, I didn’t realize that they were good.

I remember my father being gone to the Netherlands in 1928.  I used to eat oatmeal for breakfast with my father).  I came downstairs asking for oatmeal for papa and me, and my mother reminded me that papa was gone (laughter).

I remember the day the banks closed.  My father had all his money in the Grand Rapids’ Savings Bank,  and he never recovered it, except for very, very little.  My dad didn’t have a lot of money, but in those days, his salary, I believe, was $3,000 a year, which was pretty good.  And I had $5.00 of my own in the bank, which I thought was huge.  And I never got that back either.

MHH:  Tell me a little bit about the Etta that you referred to.  That would be Etta Kooistra, who was apparently a part of your life and in the context of the church for many years.

LK:  Etta was a totally selfless person.  She had nothing of herself that she ever would push.  She took care of her crippled brother, who had a shoe store on Baxter Street.  I don’t know what year it happened, he suddenly he had a stroke, and he wound up in Saint Mary’s Hospital.  She never left his bedside for the week that he was there, and then he died.  She would not go any place to eat.  If someone brought her something, she must have survived on something, but she could not be pried away from his bedside.  She was very faithful. She was the same way with my parents—always faithful.  She would not ever talk about anything that she thought was nobody’s business in the house. She faithfully worked, and when the depression came and my mother couldn’t really afford her anymore, they both cried.  But she just kept on coming a couple of times a week to help her. She was very, very serious-minded.  If we ever used any levity of expression, for example, she would stop us in our tracks—“You may not talk so lightly about such things.”  And we obeyed her.

MHH:  Was she intimating?

LK:  No, she was a very little woman who bustled about, and just as kind as could be.  After the war when you could begin to send stuff, she almost gave everything she had and sent package after package to the Netherlands.  During the depression, she would find out who in the church was in need. Whatever clothes we had that we had outgrown, she would make a basket of it and then she would carry it ( she walked all over—nobody could take her anywhere), she would make a package and after it was dark, she would go up and put that package by their door, ring the doorbell, and go away (laughter).  Nobody ever knew where it came from.

MHH:  But you did.

LK:  But we did.

MHH:  So she was a fixture at the parsonage for many years?

LK:  Oh, yes.  Even after everybody was out of it, she stayed and took care of my dad.

MHH:  So she served for many years.

LK:  Oh, yes.  I think she died the year after my parents died.  No one could contact her. Finally they found her dead. I know that she often came and helped me.  If I was going on a trip after we were married and had children, she would say, “Just leave it all to me.  Just don’t even make the beds.  I come and I clean your whole house.  And when you come home, it will be clean.”  The only thing she ever wanted was left-overs to take home.  She could have that for her supper. She would also ask if she could have my waste-paper.  She heated her house with a kitchen stove. She said, “I put that in my stove in the kitchen and then I light it, and then I’m so thankful.” I can hear her say it.

MHH:  She must have been a pretty amazing lady.

LK:  She was an amazing lady.  We took her for granted a little bit as children, but the older I got, the less I took her for granted.  She often came over, but only one time did she ever come for dinner.

MHH:  So she was like a second mother.

LK:  Oh, yes.

MHH:  But that certainly must have helped in a busy household to free up, especially your father and possibly your mother to do the work of the church and to do the traveling that you mentioned.

LK:  Oh, that’s true.  My mother always was president of the Ladies’ Aid and Bible leader.  She had an eighth grade education, but she was a reader.  So she faithfully studied to lead the Ladies’ Aid, which was very big in those days.  Remember the Ladies’ Aid sales, or don’t you?  Oh, there was the big Ladies’ Aid sale every year.

MHH:  I wasn’t born until 1949.

LK:  Well, I know it.  But we were still having them—until 1953.

MHH:  So what was the purpose of these Ladies’ Aid sales?

LK:  I really don’t know where the money went.  I think a lot of it went to the schools.

We ought to get back to the depression now.  Because, after my parents bought their first car (1932), it was a Chrysler Demonstrator—a black Chrysler.  From then on, if Dad had anything to spend at all, he would like to get in that car and take a little trip.

The first thing Dad did in the depression was cut in his own salary in half, because he did not want to be in a better position than the people in the church.  So his salary was automatically cut, and my mother learned to scrimp.  I remember she hid her purse in the clothes chute because she was so afraid she’d lose her money  (laughter).

We did manage to take trips. I happened to have the bedroom that adjoined my parents’ bedroom.  There was a door in between, and there was also a door to the hallway from both of our rooms.  I remember hearing them talk about it—could they afford it or not?  I remember also that they said they had $163.00 and we had seven people. We made that trip on $163.00.  When we got to stay in a motel, it would be the stinkiest little motel you ever saw.  If they were more than 50¢ a person, they wouldn’t stay.  We’d go on.  One place in particular.  We were all dead tired.  In Watkins Glen, New York they wanted a motel.  The owner was adamant:  75¢/person.  My dad tried to jew her down, but not successfully.  We went on until we found something for 50¢/person (laughter). I don’t think we even saw Watkins Glen (laughter).  Those were the days!

Then we went to Patterson [NJ].  You can imagine we were pretty crowded because those cars were narrow, and there wasn’t a lot of room. My dad built a bench in his blacksmith’s shop and upholstered it with a plush gray kind of velvet upholstery. That bench was Homer’s and mine because we were the smallest.  We had to sit on that bench.  It didn’t have a back and wasn’t very comfortable, but we did go. We cooked all our meals on the way—a hot meal at noon in a state park.  I can remember my parents roasting corn and having pork chops.  We did that all on a wood stove in a park.  The first day my mother had a prepared meal in a big pan—all together—like a New England dinner.  And that was our first meal.  But after that we cooked, no matter what.  We didn’t cook at night.  Those old cabins didn’t have cooking facilities anyway.  And we never ate in restaurants.  When we got hungry, begging for an ice cream cone, all five kids would sing, “Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, waiting to be fed”  (laughter).

Anyway, that’s how we traveled.  We got to Patterson, and Rev. VanderKeef [?] was there.  My father knew that he was pretty sound and we went to church there. So happened that Mrs. VanderKeef’s sister was Winnie Dykema. She was staying there, and she assumed that she could ride home with us.  Now, Winnie Dykema was not a small person.  Believe me, from Patterson home, we could hardly breathe (laughter).  But my father thought that as a member of his congregation, he could hardly turn her down.  So she rode along with us.

MHH:  Where else did you go?

LK:  We went to California.  I think it was 1934, when Bellflower was organized.

MHH:  Is that why you went?

LK:  Yes, but we all went. We all got out of school for six weeks.  My sisters were in high school.  The rest of us were in Baxter [Christian School].

MHH:  And they took you out of school for six weeks?

LK:  They took us all out of school.  My father thought little of that at all.  He just assumed that we would be at the top of our classes. He never told us anything about report cards.  He assumed that we would come home with A’s on our report cards.  And if there was anything less in conduct, we really heard it!  (laughter).  And sometimes there was  (laughter).  But that’s the way it was.  He never told us to study.  When we would prepare for a test, he said that was ridiculous: “You learned it once.  Why do you have to study for the tests?”  But we weren’t like he was that we could retain every single thing in our minds all the time—many weeks later.  But he thought it was stupid to study once we had learned it.

MHH:  Because that was a concept that was foreign to him?

LK:  That was foreign to him.

MHH:  So, if he read something…

LK:  He retained it.  And we were supposed to retain it, too.

MHH:  Whether or not you were able.

LK:  That’s right.  But he assumed that we were able.  And we weren’t.  We studied.  He couldn’t figure out why we studied (laughter).  More people have to tell their kids to study.  He had to tell us it was dumb to study.  He never asked us our catechism questions.  I don’t remember ever, ever, ever.  He assumed that we would know those questions, and he probably assumed that someone would tell him if we didn’t (laughter).  We had students for teachers at that time.  We almost never had a minister for a teacher.  He taught the classes at night, but not the day classes.  Many others could not keep order as we got older.  So he made a habit of periodically and unexpectedly opening the door.  And there would be suddenly dead dead silence (laughter).

MHH:  Apparently they knew better than to misbehave in his presence.

LK:  That’s right.  He never had a trouble with order.

MHH:  So, he had no hesitation to take you out for six weeks. Off to California you went.

LK:  Right.  We stayed in Redlands.  My mother said she was never so cold in her whole life because they had just little space heaters or floor furnaces or something—not central heating.  Maybe they do now, but they didn’t then.  And she was very cold.

MHH:  This was, apparently, during the winter months?

LK:  Oh, yes.  It was February. Another thing: we left in the middle of a snowstorm in February—4:00 in the morning.  There were no defrosters in those days.  My mother took a little bag of salt.  When the windshield got so clogged by fog we couldn’t see anymore, then she would clean it with her bag of salt.  That would last a little while.  We got as far as Moline [MI], and we could not go any farther.  The roads were absolutely full of drifts.  We had to wait till noon before the roads were cleaned. We played “Giant-steps” and everything else in an old garage in Moline.  That’s where we were stuck.  We left at 4:00 in the morning.  By noon we had made it to Kalamazoo (laughter).  After that it was duck-soup.

MHH:  So, at that time he was instrumental in organizing the congregation in Bellflower?

LK:  Yes.  And we were in Redlands.  We spent quite a bit of time in Redlands.  We got to know many of the people.