June 16, 2024

PROGRESS: Greenfield couple hangs on to Dutch background

Jack and Marijke Brown with a Delft Blue piece of Dutch pottery in their home in Greenfield.

They’ve called Greenfield home for the better part of 50 years, but Jack and Marijke Brown will always have a piece of The Netherlands in their hearts.

The Netherlands is where Marijke was born and raised. Her slight accent will tell you that, however there are numerous traditions and affinities the Browns have that will also show you their love for all Dutch things.

The Browns have Delft Blue pottery in their home. Royal Delft has been creating high-end Delft Blue since 1653.

They also have wooden shoes in their home, known as klompen. Dairy farmers would wear them in The Netherlands. Now, the Pella marching band has become known for wearing them in parades, carrying on their Dutch heritage.

The Browns also have a few tulips growing at their home, but in number, they are nothing in contrast to the number of tulips Holland exports or Pella has annually for Tulip Festival time each May.

Dutch people also observe St. Nicholas’ Day each year December 5. It is the day that St. Nicholas comes and brings gifts to all the good boys and girls, instead of it being observed with Christmas such as is tradition in the United States.

In northwestern Europe, The Netherlands today is home to 17.5 million people, yet in area, it’s only about the size of the portion of Iowa that is west of Highway 169. Bicycles are so prevalent in The Netherlands that you don’t need a car to get around.

“It’s over-populated. The Dutch people love to visit with family and friends over pastries and coffee,” Marijke said. “There are a lot of pastries — they make Gouda cheese, which you’ve probably heard of.”

Marijke was born and raised in a town called Leiden, where many of the pilgrims coming to America from Holland departed from. When she was 12, her family moved to The Hague, which is the third-largest city in the country today, home to about 500,000 residents.

Marijke never thought she’d move to America, until she met a dapper United States Marine on guard at a location her mother’s cleaning business was tasked with cleaning. Her mother came home one day and told Marijke about Jack, and eventually they became acquainted with each other.

“He was on duty that night, so we got to meet one another,” Marijke remembers of their first meeting. “Then I went more often to see him, and that’s how we met.”

Jack remembers when Marijke first came to the door he was stationed at.

Marijke blonde hair and tan from a recent vacation to Switzerland caught Jack’s eye.

“I was like, ‘Holy Crap, who is this? I’ve gotta let her in no matter what’,” Jack said. “I let her in and became acquainted with her that way. She couldn’t speak any English and I couldn’t hardly speak any Dutch, but I learned Dutch and she learned English.”

Marijke’s very first trip to Jack’s family farm near Pitzer in western Madison County was a culture shock experience. Jack’s sister was painting a little shack when they pulled in the driveway, and Jack had to explain to Marijke that she was painting the outhouse, and what an outhouse is. The Browns had no running water in their farmhouse.

Jack and Marijke returned to The Netherlands and Jack made a return trip home to finish college before they were married December 30, 1972 in The Netherlands. A white carriage driven by two white horses carried them to their ceremony, with two black carriages behind them that carried their families.

When they returned to Iowa after Jack’s time in the Marines, there was a debate to decide whether they would live on the farm or in town. Marijke said that “small town is country enough” for her, so they lived in various southwest Iowa communities until arriving in Greenfield in 1976.

They moved to their current home in 1984 — a 1923 home east of the town square with a wrap-around porch. They raised daughters Jecque, Annique and Angelique there. They spoke both English and Dutch in the home as they raised their family. Annique is now the director of the foreign exchange program at Drake University, and was in India in March strengthening the relationship the university has with that country.

Marijke used a variety of means to become acclimated to the American culture. She watched a lot of daytime television to enhance her English. She had her own business, The Dutch Cleaning Service, for 30 years, beginning in 1984, mostly cleaning for residential clients. Her interactions with her customers also helped her learn the nuances of English better.

Now empty-nesters and mostly retired after Marijke’s cleaning career and Jack’s work in banking (he still has his own farming operation and works in crop adjusting), the Browns still visit Holland every other year. They did have a four-year stretch around the pandemic when they weren’t able to visit.

Trips to Holland are well-spent with family and friends. Marijke’s sister doesn’t enjoy flying, so they see her and other family when they visit her home there. Trips are usually about three weeks in length. They like going there in September because airfare is more economical then and the summer travel rush here is mostly complete.

In her time in the United States, Marijke said she has grown used to the space Americans enjoy. She describes Greenfield as a big family. Even when she was a child, Holland was a very crowded place to live. She says that now, parking there is a nightmare.

“When I go over there now, you have to stand in line everywhere — the post office, and even just normal stores. It’s always busy and there are people everywhere,” Marijke said. “I really appreciate the space we have here. When I go back there, it doesn’t take me long to get used to the small areas, small houses and people everywhere. I get along fine because that’s how I grew up there.”

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.