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A Name for Ourselves

There is a part of most of us that wants to know more about where our grandparents came from. Some wonder what ancestor made what fateful voyage to bring our family to America. We all came from somewhere else (except the Indigenous population) and how we managed to get here can be a mystery to many.

I loved my grandmothers. I know very little about them, bits and pieces of stories relayed to me, along with some amateur genealogy work, has given me a rough outline. Unfortunately, all my grandparents are gone and so I cannot collect what they knew. It is a common problem that affects many of us.

In A Name for Herself, K.A. Van Til managed to capture what so many of us miss! Not only does he know how the story of how his family came to America from the Netherlands but he has also been gifted an incredible first-hand account of his grandmother’s life.

The idea came naturally. One day his ninety-year-old grandmother said, “Well, I sure haven’t made a name for myself; maybe one of you grandkids will.”

In K.A.’s reaction to his grandmother, I find a kindred spirit. Why shouldn’t this woman have a name for herself? It is in the ordinary stories of people we find true heroism and grit. In the lives of women who have raised families, conquered challenges, faced hardships, been affected by war, made communities thrive, and done so much more, we find those whose names should be known! Too often we reduce recognition to someone “famous” who did something remarkable. But I think, peel back the layers of anyone’s life and you will find a story worth telling, experiences that make a person, events that leave an indelible mark on others.

In his book, K.A. relays the stories of his grandmother. It is Grandma Zwier who tells us about coming to America, finding a place to fit in, moving west to Montana, then back to the Midwest, sending her sons off to war, falling in love, the impact of their Dutch Reformed community on their lives. We get to be privy to a conversation between K.A. and his grandmother that too many of us never get to have.

While the book might be more interesting to those connected to K.A. and his family, it is still an informative read about how one immigrant family found a place in America. Its themes are still relevant to those coming to the U.S. today. Some parts are a bit rough and the story could have been a bit more engaging if told a different way. I still appreciated the chance to walk with Grandma Zwier through her life and echo K.A. sentiment that why shouldn’t this woman (and countless others like her) be able to make a name for herself?

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