Stories of My Grandfather, Part Three

There’s a German tradition known as Kaffeetrinken. Literally, that means drinking coffee. In a proper German household, people would gather at 4PM and drink coffee.  Many German immigrants to Canada continued this custom, including my grandparents. Every Sunday, we would drive over to the farm and visit my Opa and Oma, and the visit would conclude with the obligatory Kaffeetrinken. We would sit around the kitchen table, often with other German friends, and eat cakes, cookies, and pastries while drinking coffee or juice and engaging in conversation.

Hans Boldt and Anna Ludwigs ca. 1955

In 1953, my grandfather, Hans Wilhelm Joachim Boldt bought a farm just outside of Odessa, about 20 minutes west of Kingston. He worked hard on that farm, raising dairy cows. Up until the late 1960’s, they also had chickens and grew their own vegetables. I still remember digging up potatoes in that garden.

When I was old enough, I’d help out bringing in the hay. We would ride in a hay wagon out to the fields, and load it up with bales already sitting on the ground. It was hard work. Each bale typically weighed up to about 30kg, and we’d stack them five or six layers high on the wagon. They had to be stacked properly since the ride back to the barn was rough, and the load would sway back and forth as we drove over the bumps. Inside the barn, we’d stack the bales up high. They’d have to feed the cows for a whole year.

Usually, my Oma would walk out to the field bringing a pitcher of grapefruit juice, much appreciated on a hot Summer day.

Opa was a proud man, respected by all. At one point, though, he had to get a loan from the bank to upgrade his machinery. He expected approval to be a sure thing. My Dad wasn’t so sure, and before Opa went to the bank, Dad went there first. He wanted to make sure his Dad got the loan, and so agreed to co-sign the loan.

Once when visiting a neighbor down the road, Opa admired an antique curio cabinet. The neighbor offered to sell it, and Opa took him up on the offer. That cabinet now stands in my living room.

The first 50 years of his life was difficult, influenced by tumultuous events in Europe. For the next 30 years, he lived a quiet, relatively uneventful life in Canada. Apart from the farm work, he loved to read and listen to music. They had a large kitchen in their farmhouse. Beside the wood stove, there were two rocking chairs. Opa sat in the one closest to the stove.

I remember the last time I saw Opa alive. In April 1981, I was getting ready to move to Toronto. Before leaving, I visited the farm and chatted with my Opa. I had a sense that it would be the last time. The day I started my new job at IBM in Toronto, I got the call, and had to return home for the funeral. Opa was remembered fondly by everyone there.

Stories of My Grandfather, Part Two

In a previous post, I shared some stories about my grandfather, Hans Wilhelm Joachim Boldt. First, I mentioned before that he was tall. Here’s a photo showing how tall he was.

During the 1930’s my Opa played guitar. Now and then, he and a bunch of his friends would meet in a wooded area south of Hamburg to play music. I like to imagine them playing protest songs in the style of Woody Guthrie. But it was probably mainly traditional folk songs. Later, he loaned his guitar to a friend in the navy who was serving on a U-boat. When he got his guitar back, it was in pieces. Opa never played guitar again.

The war broke out in 1939. Shortly thereafter, Opa was arrested and imprisoned a second time. He never discussed the reasons why, but he clearly was a critic of the Nazi regime, and openly speculated that the Nazis would eventually invade Russia. We believe his sisters Bertha and Frieda ratted him out. (By this time, Minna was already living in Canada.) His brother-in-law was a member of the Nazi party, but he insisted he had nothing to do with his arrest.

While Opa was in prison camp, my Oma, Anna Ludwigs, had to work to support the family. At first, the authorities wouldn’t let her since the Nazi’s believed that a woman’s place was in the home. But since Opa was not available to support the family, they relented. She had a job as a railway crossing guard, a job she enjoyed a great deal. Whenever someone came by who she didn’t like, she would lower the gates and make him wait, even though there wasn’t a train coming. She would smile and say she was just following procedures. One time, she earned a commendation for her bravery in stopping a train when there was a cow on the tracks.

When Opa was released from prison, he wasn’t allowed to return to work in the shipyards since it was considered too vital for the war effort. But he got a job working for a company developing prestressed concrete technology. Go figure! Did the Nazis not see a military application for prestressed concrete? But at the time, the technology was new. At one point, the company built a concrete roof. When they brought in the building inspector, he took one look and said the roof had to come down. They then took him outside, and showed him a bunch of heavy trucks parked on the roof!

In July of 1943, allied bombers attacked the city of Hamburg. The resulting fire storm destroyed a significant part of the city, and killed more than 40,000 people. The Boldt family survived in a bomb shelter, but their home and all their belongings were destroyed. A distant cousin of my Oma was not so lucky. Here’s her death certificate. At the bottom, the cause of death is listed as “enemy action”.

By the end of the war, my Oma and Opa were in the town of Groß Görnow in the Russian zone. When the Russian troops were advancing, a lot of elected officials fled to the west. Opa agreed to take the position of Bürgermeister (mayor) of the town since he felt he could deal with the Russians. He held that position for six months from June to November of 1945. If they were to have any hope of reuniting with their son, they had to return home to Hamburg. (At the time, my Dad was in an American POW camp in France.) They did get permission to leave, but Opa had to bribe a Russian official with his leather jacket.

I’ll end this installment with one more anecdote: Because of his skills in the field of prestressed concrete, my Opa was offered a job in Canada. But before that could happen, some amount of paperwork was necessary. First, he had to get his criminal record cleaned up. Because his “crimes” were political in nature, that was no problem. Second, Canada wasn’t yet fully open to immigration from Germany, and so his immigration required federal cabinet approval. In 1949, he started working at the Fred Elgie Company in Belleville. His wife and son arrived in Canada shortly thereafter.

 

Stories of My Grandfather, Hans Wilhelm Joachim Boldt

For the first half of the 20th Century, life in Germany was not easy. A world war, hyper-inflation, depression, the rise of fascism, and finally another, even more destructive world war. This is what my grandfather, Hans Wilhelm Joachim Boldt faced. One could argue that my Opa was lucky, damn lucky to have survived all that. But that’s a form of “survivorship bias”. That is, it’s the survivors who get to tell their stories. Here are some his.

My Opa, Hans Boldt, was born almost on the eve of the 20th Century, September 1900, in a small village in the former Grand-Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. His father, Heinrich Boldt, worked as a day laborer, as did most other men in rural Mecklenburg. But when he figured out that the land-owners were cheating the workers out of their rightful pay, he could no longer find work, and so the family moved to the city of Hamburg.

During the First World War, Heinrich Boldt went off to serve in the army, and Opa went to work to support the family. Food was scarce. Heinrich was often able to send food packages home. But by the time Opa returned home from work, his sisters Bertha and Minna and half sister Frieda would have already finished off all the food. As soon as he was able, Opa joined the army, if only to be properly fed. He joined an elite unit whose members were over two meters tall, and he served as a motorcycle courier on the eastern front.

Fast-forward to one of the last “free” elections in Germany before the rise of the Nazi party. Hans brought his son Ernst (my Dad) with him to the polling station. While waiting in line to deposit his ballot, he suspected something amiss (probably from the presence of brown-shirts monitoring the process). He handed his ballot to his son, a typically rambunctious six year old, who promptly ran to the front of the long line, and dropped the ballot into the ballot box. Of course, kids will be kids. Once the ballot was in the box, that was that, and they left. We’ll see the relevance of this anecdote later.

Once the Nazi’s were in power, the first groups they went after were their political opponents: leftists, socialists, and communists. At the time, the shipyards in Hamburg were a hotbed for leftist groups. Although, my Opa was not officially a member of any left-wing group, he certainly sympathized, and he certainly knew people belonging to these groups. While the communists were being rounded up, Opa helped one of them escape, the editor of a communist newspaper. Opa took him to the top of one of the tall church steeples in the city, and he was able to hide there until it was safe to leave, and he then successfully escaped to Denmark.

While at the top of the steeple, Opa couldn’t resist taking a picture of the city. That photo, and other evidence left at the top of the steeple was enough for the police to arrest Opa for aiding a fugitive. During questioning, two factors worked in his favor. First, the Nazi’s had a lot of respect for veterans of the First World War. Second, they mistakenly thought he had voted Nazi in the previous election. How could they know who he voted for? Probably, someone was able to merge arrival information at the polling station with the ballots, still in arrival sequence, to figure out who voted for which party. When my dad dropped the ballot into the box prematurely, that put a number of ballots out of their proper sequence, and so some of the resulting data was incorrect.

The arrest resulted in my Opa’s first imprisonment. More stories later.

 

 

A Couple of Tough Years

We’re now at the end of 2019, at time to look back at the previous year. For us, the past couple of years have been tough on us.

It actually started in April of 2018. My Dad was seriously ill, and living in a nursing home. One day at the end of April, I was getting ready to head home after visiting him at Providence Manor. I told him I’d be back in a couple of days. By his reaction, I could tell he didn’t expect to be around then. Two days later, he passed away.

His illness started in January 2016. For all of that year, he was in and out of the hospital with serious bladder issues. My mother wanted to care for him at home, but her own physical condition made that impossible, and he moved into Providence Manor. By the Spring of 2018, the doctors finally found a cancer in his bladder, but it was too late.

Sylvana’s sister Anita was the next to leave us. She had been diagnosed with frontal-lobe dementia, and was living in the dementia ward of the Fairmount Home. For some time already, she was unable to speak or walk, and needed help feeding herself.  Unexpectedly, in June of 2018, the dementia reached a critical part of her brain, and she passed away.

Sylvana’s mother Maria was living at the Rosewood retirement home, but in 2019, her arthritis, dementia and diabetes worsened to the point where she too needed to go into a nursing home. A spot opened up just across the hall from Anita’s old room at Fairmount, and Maria moved there. She didn’t stay there long. By the end of May, she too left us.

Lastly, in the Winter of 2018, my mother was having trouble walking. She checked into the new Providence Care Hospital for three weeks of physical therapy. But her condition worsened, and she never left the hospital. She was eventually diagnosed with ALS, and was moved to a long-term care ward at he hospital. She was mentally alert, but she was unable to speak or walk.

She made it very clear that when her condition progressed to the point of being unable to swallow, she did not want any medical intervention. She got to that point at the end of June. That day, she was alert and talkative (using her various assistive devices). The next day, she was in bed, barely conscious. She held on for a little over a week. During that time, we expected the end to come at any time. But we still had to make a couple of day trips to Toronto, first for the celebration of life ceremony for Maria, and again a few days later for her interment.

My mother’s funeral was probably just the kind of service she would have wanted. But a funeral is also supposed to comfort the living, and we found little of that with her funeral. We know that she and the members of her church had strong beliefs about an after-life. But we were appalled at the minister’s sheer joy in describing how my mother was now at her eternal reward in heaven. It just seemed a bit too surreal.

Four deaths of close family members over 15 months. It was all starting to become too much for us. You want to stay strong, but grieving still takes its toll. Sometimes you don’t realize the effects of the grief. Sometimes it just hits in a wave of panic.

This Christmas hit us hard. All of our parents are now gone. Our immediate family now consists of Sylvana and I, our daughter and my sister. That’s it now.

So now we look forward to a new year, and a new decade. The grieving will continue, for at least a little while longer. But with a new year, it’s also time for a new beginning, to make resolutions, to take positive steps to recover and move on.

Hans

Ten Suggestions For Music Jams

Music is a social thing. Music takes on a whole new dimension when two or more musicians get together. These days, I participate in two or three jams a week. And for a while, I organized a regular ukulele jam in Kingston. In this missive, I offer some advice on how best to take advantage of your musical jam opportunities, whether you’re organizing a jam or participating.

To clarify, I’m discussing the informal song circle style jam where a dozen or so musicians take turns singing songs. Not the large big city jams where fifty or sixty people cram into a room together.

1) Participate. That is, don’t just show up and strum along in the back. I mean, be sure to take your turn in leading the group in the songs of your choice. Song circles work best when everyone participates. They’re less fun when they’re dominated by the same three or four musicians.

2) Don’t be intimidated. There’s always going to be someone better than you. Or someone with a more expensive instrument. Don’t let your lack of skills or lack of confidence deter you from participating. We were all beginners once. Private lessons and practice can only go so far. A jam is the best way to improve your skills and confidence.

If you do feel lost, don’t sweat it. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Remember that you’re with friends. Over time, you’ll get the hang of things.

And if you’re an experienced musician, do have patience with the beginners. Remember that you were in their position once yourself.

3) Pay attention to the leader. I’ve been to jams where everyone is looking down at their song sheets, plowing through regardless. Sometimes, at the end of the song, half the room is a couple of beats ahead of the other half. Don’t do that!

Pay attention to the person leading and follow their lead. Don’t start a verse or chorus until the leader starts. Sometimes they may want to add a bar or two. Or they may want to give others the opportunity to do an instrumental break. Or if the song is short, they may want to return to the bridge before finishing the song. There’s no right or wrong way to perform a song. Let the leader decide how they want to do it.

4) Don’t push the tempo. This is related to the previous point, but it’s worth emphasizing. I know from my own experience how annoying it can be when another musician tries to push the tempo faster than what you want. It can be a challenge to bring the tempo back down. Sometimes you can do it by just slowing down until the offender realizes that they’re off tempo. Sometimes, I’ve just had to stop the song, scold the offender, and start over.

5) If you can, bring copies of your songs. If possible, include chord diagrams of at least the less common chords, or chords with a non-standard fingering. Before diving into the song, explain the trickier elements of the song.

Don’t be surprised, though, if an experienced player simply introduces a song by saying “It’s a 4-chord song in the key of G”, and expects you to follow along. That’s fine for songs that everyone knows. But for unfamiliar songs, keeping up in that type of situation is a skill that takes a while to master. If in doubt, just look at what chords the other musicians are playing.

6) Develop a repertoire. We all like to try out new material. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we also like to play songs we know. As a general guideline, I’d recommend limiting new material to one new song per person per jam. Having a repertoire of familiar songs is also helpful if the group is called upon to perform publicly.

7) No key changes. When arranging songs for your jam, stick to one key. In addition, stick to keys that are easiest for your instrument. For example, in a ukulele jam, stick to C, G, D, or A.

8) Be prepared. When bringing your favorite songs, be sure to practice in advance. This should be an obvious piece of advice, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has seen others try out a song without any advance practice.

9) Allow for a variety of skill levels. I know ukulele players who primarily choose three-chord songs in the key of C. Those are easiest for beginners, but that can get boring for the more experienced players. When choosing songs to bring, choose one easy song along with more challenging songs. Most beginners gravitate to the easy stuff, but most still appreciate (albeit grudgingly sometimes) the need to get out of their comfort zone.

10) Finally, have fun! I think this goes without saying. I just wanted to pad out the list to ten suggestions.

Cheers! Hans

Bass – One Year Later

Almost exactly one year ago, I took delivery of a Gold Tone MicroBass. Thus began a new phase in my life as a musician.

Now there might be some of you who might wonder why I would want to play bass. To those few who think that, I’m tempted to say, stop reading now and go away! But no, I’ll just say that if you’re grooving to a song, it’s really the bass and drums that you’re grooving to. It’s the bass and drums that you’re dancing to. Bass and drums are the backbones of most bands. I can attest from the jams I participate in that the other musicians really appreciate the presence of a bass player.

In a previous installment, I discussed how over the Summer I borrowed a couple of full-sized bass guitars from the local musical instrument lending library to gain some experience with that instrument. However, when practicing and jamming, I was still reaching for my M-bass since it was so much easier to play. But when my M-bass was out of action for a couple of weeks, I had to jam with my borrowed Yamaha. It was just the push I needed to get over the hump. Within days, I was playing that Yamaha with confidence. I was even taking the Yamaha to jams after I got my M-bass back from the shop.

I liked that Yamaha bass. The quality of instruments from the MILL varies quite a bit, but that Yamaha was a good choice. I was even leaning towards buying a Yamaha of my own. But then back at the end of August, I visited the local music store.

For those unfamiliar with bass, Fender is THE name in bass guitars. For many bass players, the Fender is by far their instrument of choice. But due to their price, I never expected that I would own a Fender. However, the music store had this used Fender Jazz in spotless condition offered for an affordable price that I just couldn’t pass up.

The Fender isn’t as light as the Yamaha, but it’s rock solid. The neck is smooth with absolutely no sharp points on any of the frets. I’m not a big fan of the classic sunburst color scheme, but then again, when buying a used instrument, you don’t have the luxury of choice. Besides, I’ll take playability and sound quality over the color any time. And it’s an instrument that will keep it’s value over time.

These days, I participate in as many as three jams per week primarily with my new J-bass. The first jam of the week is at the local Senior’s Centre. For the second, I bring my M-bass to the ukulele jam in Gananoque. But the third jam is the one that offers the most challenge, and is the one I look forward to the most.

On Thursday afternoons, I jam with a group of people at the Collins Bay Legion, often with a bit of an audience. There’s me with my J, a tenor banjo player, a fiddle player, and the rest play guitar. They say you should always play with better players, and these guys are good. I’m always stretching my skills, and I often leave as a noticeably better bassist.

I’m really enjoying playing my Fender J, but sometimes it does feel intimidating. It’s a no nonsense instrument used by musicians in the big leagues. It often feels like that instrument demands as much from me as I expect from it. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m gladly stepping up to.

Cheers! Hans

 

Introducing the Ex-UU Group

It’s been said that the only constant is change. This truism probably goes back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said “Everything changes and nothing stands still”. People change. Institutions change. Situations change. Change is all around us. Sometimes change is difficult. But sometimes change is what we need to do.

Back when I was in university, I was undecided what to do after graduation. I felt I should stay in school to get my Master’s degree. But I also felt I should move on. I decided to take what seemed the easier path and stayed in school. But within months, I realized I had made the wrong choice. I quit school, accepted a job at IBM Canada, and moved to Toronto. I never regretted that decision.

In 2010, my family decided to take a radical step and we moved to Kingston to be close to family. Shortly thereafter we joined the local Unitarian fellowship. It made sense at the time. We were with a group of friendly, more or less like minded people. However, as time when on and we became more involved with the fellowship, we became more and more uncomfortable. Something was changing. But it took a while before we began to make sense of it. (You can read about our decision to leave the fellowship here.)

Which brings me closer to the topic of this missive. Lately, we have been participating in one particular on-line forum on Facebook, The Gadfly Papers UU Book Conversation Group. I’ll try not to get into a lot of details, but the group reflects deep ideological differences among the Unitarian Universalist (UU) laity. Differences that may threaten the very existence of UU.

In a nutshell, the key issue is this. While it is probably a given that the vast majority of UU’s (if not all) want to see an end to racism, there is deep disagreement over how that is to be achieved. The UUA has embraced an extremely controversial theory called Critical Race Theory (CRT). It’s worth reading the Wikipedia page, especially the Critique section. One big problem with the theory is that critics of the theory are summarily dismissed with accusations of “white fragility” or being part of “white supremacist culture”. If the theory cannot be challenged, it cannot be tested, and therefore is bad science. I realize the social sciences can’t be as rigorous as the hard sciences, but I believe most researchers in the social sciences do try to make an honest effort to apply the scientific method.

Critics of CRT argue that there are better methods to address racism in society, methods that don’t alienate vast parts of society, including people who are making a sincere effort to stamp out racism. Within UU, good people have been thrown under the bus just because they disagree with the current CRT doctrine of the UUA. There is a serious chilling effect. Ministers cannot be seen as disagreeing with CRT lest they be accused of acting out of covenant. I leave it to you to decide how many of the Seven Principles are being violated by the actions of the UUA. (If you want another opinion on CRT, read A Perspective Based on 22 Years of Marginalization, by Jozef Bicerano, a UU for more than 35 years and also currently an active member of a UU congregation.)

But I don’t want to dwell on that. My point is that, for various reasons, people have left their UU fellowships (or Unitarian, in Canada). And as a result of the current controversy, more may well be tempted to leave. But as for us, we left two years before the Gadfly Papers made a splash at the recent UUA General Assembly meeting. As I mentioned at the start of this essay, people change and institutions change. Sometimes the only viable option left for someone who’s feeling unsatisfied is to leave their fellowship.

A few months ago, I jokingly suggested to someone that we needed an on-line support group for people who have left UU. As a result of the heated discussions on the Gadfly Facebook group, we decided to go ahead and start such a group. If you have already taken the leap and left a UU congregation, you are invited to join the Ex-UU group on Facebook.

Just to be very clear, this is intended as a forward-looking group. While group members may have strong feelings about their prior involvement with UU, it is not our place to engage in UU-bashing. And I want to make this clear, it is absolutely not our purpose to encourage people to leave their fellowships. Many of us still have a strong affinity with UU. As I’ve mentioned before, even though I no longer identify as Unitarian, I still have a strong respect for the Seven Principles.

We are a group of people who share our stories as we move forward in our lives. Some ex-UU’s are looking for different channels to support their humanist leanings, while others look for more spiritual outlets. There are a lot of different alternatives, such as humanist organizations or progressive Christian churches. Leaving a church can be difficult. We want to send the message to disaffected UU’s that they are not alone, and that there’s life after leaving a UU fellowship.

To further our purpose, we do try to screen prospective group members. When you press the “Join” button, you will be asked three questions: What is the name of your last UU fellowship? What year did you leave it? And do you agree to the rules of the group?

The group is simply a recognition of the fact that situations change. Some may well view the existence of the group as provocative. But I would argue that if someone sees the group as provocative, they don’t fully understand the Seven Principles. The fourth principle in particular talks about the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. If you truly accept that, you must accept the possibility that your own search for truth and meaning may well lead you away from UU. There’s nothing wrong with that.

If you are a former UU and would like to join with others, then please feel free to check out the Ex-UU group on Facebook.

Cheers! Hans

 

Wikipedia and Genealogy

Occasionally, I go back through my ancestors to see if I’ve missed anything. For the Dutch side of my ancestry, I think I’ve gone back about as I can go along all of the lines. But I still hope to be surprised.

A few weeks ago, I came across a 5th great grandmother, Rijkje van Assenraade, who lived in Amersfoort during the 1700’s. If she was born there, then surely there should be a baptism record. The WieWasWie index is steadily improving, and I was pleased to find a baptism record for Rijkje, dated 1733.

Searching through the Amersfoort church records, I soon came across another baptism dated five years later:

I also found a burial record for a child of Wijnand van Assenraade dated 1734. Through a process of elimination, I was able to conclude that that burial record referred to the Rijkje born in 1733.

So now I had names for two new 6th great grandparents, Wijnandt van Assenraade and Hendrikje van Willikhuize. Going back further is turning out to be a challenge. From their marriage record, Hendrikje was from Nijkerk. However, there’s no sign of her in the Nijkerk church records. Also, the name van Assenraade doesn’t seem to occur any earlier than the 1730’s. So more work is needed to extend the pedigree further.

However, my search through the Amersfoort baptisms turned up a few siblings of Rijkje, one of whom, Jan van Assenraade (1732-1810) also survived into adulthood, married, and had children. Going down that line turned up some interesting people. Which brings me around to the topic of this post, using Wikipedia as a source.

One of the children of Jan van Assenraade was Wijnand van Assenraad (1764-1855). In the death record for his wife, Hendrina van Uijttenhoven (1766-1838), the occupation of Wijnand was listed as Burgemeester. Now then, most people in my database were just regular folk, such as farmers or workers, and rarely get mentioned anywhere outside the church records or civil registration. However, for some people, it’s always worth doing a web search. Someone as important as a mayor is likely to be mentioned elsewhere, and sure enough, a search found some information in Wikipedia, as well as a picture.

Going down another line, I discovered a few more distant cousins mentioned in Wikipedia, my 3rd cousins 4 times removed, the composers Johannes Albertus van Eijken (1823-1868) and Gerrit Isak van Eijken (1832-1879). That was three Wikipedia relatives found in one day!

All together now, out of the more than 13,000 people in my database, 25 of them have their own Wikipedia pages. While it obviously can’t be relied on for most people, it can be a useful resource for the more famous (or infamous) people in our databases.

I’ll end this missive with a list of the Wikipedia people in my database:

Just to emphasize the point, it never hurts to do a web search on names you come across in your research. You never know what it will turn up.

Cheers! Hans

p.s. After publishing this tome, I realized one famous artist was missing from the list. I checked, and found that while Evert Moll (1878-1955, 4th cousin 3 times removed) is listed in a Wikipedia page of painters, he does not (yet) have his own Wikipedia page.

I Am A Musician

There are times when I look at my bass and wonder: “How the heck do I play that thing?”. I then pack up my gear, head to one of my regular jams, and still I pound out some decent bass lines. I’ll never be as good as Geddy Lee or Bruce Thomas, but I’m doing fine, and getting better each time out.

Back when I was young, I took piano lessons. I hated it! Later, in my teens, I tried my hand at guitar. While I was more motivated to practice, it never really stuck at the time, and I stopped playing. Fast forward to 2007 when I turned 50. That December, Sylvana asked me (as she usually does) what I wanted for Christmas. I said that I wanted a ukulele. After all, at the time, the ukulele had been gaining in popularity, and I was indeed curious. She did get me one, and I loved it! I had finally truly discovered the joy of making music.

Over time, my collection of ukuleles grew, and I branched out into other instruments, including banjo, and more recently, bass. I’ve found that choice of instrument is important in maintaining an interest in making music. Ukulele, in particular, is a wonderful introductory instrument since it doesn’t take a lot of practice to get it to sound like it’s supposed to. But with practice you can still do a lot of interesting things with it. And while I learned a bit of music theory during those painful piano lessons, ukulele can help bring the music theory into a practical focus.

Likewise, when learning bass, I started with a Gold Tone Micro-bass. Although it’s bigger than a typical U-bass, the M-bass is sometimes classified as a bass ukulele. The M-bass is a lot of fun and easy to play. In fact, I was jamming with it after just six days of practice.

This Summer, I’ve been making an effort to learn how to play the full-size, solid-body bass guitar by borrowing instruments from Joe’s MILL. Since the M-bass is so much easier to play, I tended to grab that first when practicing and jamming. However, an accident with my M-bass forced me to bring my borrowed Yamaha to a jam, and I managed fine with it. The full-sized instrument has additional challenges in technique, mainly in the realm of limiting fret noises and muting the unplayed strings. But once I broke the ice with that first jam, I’ve been jamming mainly with the Yamaha since then.

(When I return my borrowed Yamaha to the MILL, I’ll probably buy a Yamaha bass. Of the basses I’ve borrowed this Summer, I like this particular instrument the best. It feels right and play well. From what I’ve read, the Yamaha’s are considered very good value.)

My point in this tome is that, while I’ve been making music now for almost a dozen years, I still sometimes find it hard to call myself a “musician”. Some artists describe the creative process as if there were some supernatural spirit controlling them. And sometimes I too feel like it’s not really me playing an instrument. But that ignores the dozen years of experience and practice I’ve gone through. I’m fundamentally a lazy person, though, and I have difficulty focusing on things that I don’t enjoy doing. But I enjoy making music. What I’ve done over the past dozen years doesn’t seem like practice at all since it’s been so much fun.

With what I can now do with ukulele, banjo, and now bass, there’s no reason now for me to avoid saying this: I am a musician.

Cheers! Hans

Groote Beer Passenger List – August 1953

In August 1953, my mother, Johanna Maria Moll, came to Canada on the S.S. Groote Beer, along with her parents and nine siblings. Of the remaining siblings, one arrived in Canada a year earlier, another emigrated a year later, and one more stayed in the Netherlands.

About 20 years ago, I downloaded a passenger list for that voyage. As far as I can tell, the website that hosted that passenger list is no longer active, so now I offer that list here.

The Groote Beer left Rotterdam for Montreal on August 10, 1953. Along the way, she stopped in Le Havre, Southampton, and Quebec City. My mother and her family disembarked at Montreal and then traveled by train to Kingston, Ontario.