Article taken from De Colve I – 1996: Cousin Willy tells us

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Cousin Willy tells us about past years (Willy Kolff-Vernes, CBCF, XVz2)

colve11 (1)I got to know the family Kolff in 1950 through friends of my parents, Sara Kolff (CBCF XVz1) and her second husband Henk Oudenhoven, who lived at Schiedam. One day my mother and I got invited for dinner there. Several other guests were present, amoungst which was Nico (CBCF XVz2), the brother of Sara. “I have placed you next to my little brother,” said Sara, “I am sure both of you can have a good conversation.” Well, the conversation went well and when it was time to leave, Nico hurried to accompany my mother and me to our house at Voorburg. This was quite a journey: first by tram to the railway station, then by train to Voorburg, then walk to our home. And after that, Nico had to continue to Leiden, using the famous Blauwe Tram that has – to the pity of many – long disapeared. My mother thought that this accompanying us was somewhat overdone.

However… overdone or not: soon after, on an icy cold Saturday, Nico walked into the antiquarian bookshop where I worked then. He bought a pile of books and, after, asked whether I’d like to join him for dinner. I was wearing a checquered woolen dress (I mean to say: what kind of dresses did one have at that time, so short after the war?) and I felt embarrassed to go out for dinner like that. But to go back all the way to Voorburg to find something else to wear was also kind of complicated so I put up my best face imagining that I was dressed according to the latest fashion. And we went for dinner at De Doelen on the Tournooiveld (The Hague).

The food was excellent. Nico met an acquaintance with whom we had a lovely discussion. On the way back to my home he asked me to marry him, but because he was mumbling so much I could not quite understand what he had said. It felt strange to ask him “What did you say?”
The next day all became real clear: in an kind of ‘proper old style’ way he came to visit my mother… and we were engaged!
Part of getting to know the family was the introduction to the closer aunts and uncles. Whom of the older Rotterdam generations doesnot remember uncle Jan from the Westersingel? A neat little man with the nickname Jan Kriel (CBA XVIj)(transl.: Jan Small Potatoe) (see note on nicknames) or Jantje Zakformaat (transl.: Little Jan Pocket-Size).
I never met Great Aunt Sara (CBCF, XIVp), living at Rotterdam on the River Maas, except from the stories. During the bombing of Rotterdam in May 1940 she was saved, with great difficulty, with a rowing-boat, but she died, nevertheless, in an other battle: while playing one of her favorite games of bridge.

More on the aunties.. happily we were travelling around to meet them all, and so we also came to visit aunt Heleen (CBCF, XVy) and her sweet daughter Til (CBCF, XVy1) at the ‘Nimmerdor’ estate in Amersfoort. We were to be picked up at the railway station by the car and the driver of the Ladies, but oh dear, travelling from Leiden to Amersfoort in those years was rather complicated.

Note: Jan Kriel: the company Kolff & Witkamp exported potatoes and other goods (see also the note at page 3 of this article).

How it happened and where we got out of the train I don’t remember, but it was way past the Amersfoort station, maybe at Nijkerk. We quickly took a taxi and drove back to Amersfoort, ran into the station from the back-side, and walked, as if nothing had happened, relaxed out of the station at the front entrance, hoping the driver would not have noticed our rediculous journey. “The train was rather late,” we told him, and all this good fellow did was give a nod and that was it! I had to laugh so much about this whole show, but ever shy Nico thought it a difficult situation, and I was supposed never to tell anyone…
After we often stayed at ‘Nimmerdor’, with the smooth and efficient household, where order and schedule ruled, but to which I have the best memories.
Also we often stayed with cousin Baldine (CBCA XVIp) at Naarden where the atmosphere was just as pleasant, the house was always filled with guests, but where the household was run less efficient. At times it was very cold in the guest-rooms, other times it was unbeleavably hot, aspecially in the guest-room above the front entrance. Sometimes maid-servant Marie miscalculated the number of guests while buying food so that there would not be enough food! Before Nico met me he spent many a springtime here to relax from his heavy studies and work and get new energy. And when he was telling one of his often melancholic accounts about some happening cousin Baldine used to respond in her own funny way “Now come on, Nico. Nonsense!” Which made him laugh because he had a good sense of humour.

Nico & Willy

Nico & Willy

To end my story I’d like to say this: please come to the Family Days! Then you will get to know most of the members of the family. 1950 was our first Family Day together. This was at cousin Jan and Ella (CBCD XVIv) at the Koekoekslaan in Wassenaar. Nico introduced me to all present. I shook many hands, hardly understood any name, and thought: “How can I ever remember all of these names and faces?” But it was not that bad, aspecially thanks to cousin Jan, at that time secretary of the family association, who knew all, and who didn’t get tired in helping me. Rare are the years that I skipped a Family Day. I am full of respect for the organizors of these days who always manage to create a good reunion.

Now that I myself am seventy-nine years old I can imagine so very well that all of the younger members think I am centuries old… just like I thought of the board when I was introduced in 1950.

To conclude: See you at the Family Day!

Willy Kolff-Vernes (CBCF, XVz2)
[transl.: Marius Kolff]

Note: During the major part of the 20th Century within the family Kolff members were referred to with their nickname, that could derive from the place where they lived, their company or their work, or, sometimes, the size of their body! An example: Jan [my grandfather, Marius, ed.] was nicknamed Jan Koekoek: he lived at the Koekoekslaan in Wassenaar.