Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Growing up with the ‘mark of Cain’

By Kevin Widdison, City editor, Daily Courier

Rachel Van Meers has always enjoyed telling stories about her childhood in Belgiumin the 1930s and ’40s. Maybe it’s a form of therapy, since by many measures it wasn’t a particularly happy childhood.

In spite of a veil of sadness that shrouds her tales, they are fascinating. Others mustthink so, too, because Rachel says many people have told her she should write a book.

And now she has.

“Lost in the Fog: Memoir of a Bastard” is the book’s jarring title. Much of her childhood was wrapped in an identity foisted upon her at birth: She was born in 1930 to an unwed mother in the strict Catholic culture of small-town Belgium. In the book’s liner notes, she refers to “bearing the mark of Cain.”

Sitting in the dining room of the tidy Merlin-area ranch home she shares with her husband, it’s difficult to believe Rachel has endured so much. She is relentlessly upbeat and seems to enjoy a good laugh, often at her own expense. Pointing at two framed pictures mounted on a nearby wall, she says, “Those are my beautiful young granddaughters. Not like me. I’m an old bag.” And then she lets loose a laugh.

For someone in her late 70s, she has a lot of energy.

A lot.

And she can still tell a story.

Rachel speaks with a thick Flemish accent that sounds like a cross between German and French. If she hadn’t told me, I’d never have known it was Flemish. It’s not the kind of thing you hear every day.

The stories in the book are actually told by Rachel to local writer Daniel Chase, whocommitted them to paper. The two met every week over a three-year period, asRachel told her life story to Daniel an hour at a time.

In the book, Rachel manages to tell her stories through the eyes of a young child, allthese decades later:

■ On life with her grandparents, who raised Rachel while her mother spent her days working at a textile mill and her nights going out with a series of boyfriends:

“My grandmother was strict with me, but I loved her. She taught me to crochet thecurtains, knit, and mend socks.

“… I loved my grandfather dearly. Wherever he was, I was like a dog following himaround. When my mother and grandmother started in, my grandfather winked at meand got me out of the house.”

■ On being born out of wedlock:

“I said, ‘I don’t have a daddy.’ That was it. I was doomed instantly …

“At my grandmother’s house, most of the time my aunts Jenny and Sofie were like the Queens of Sheba, because my mother was the fallen lady. When my grandmother asked my aunts, ‘Do the wash. Iron this,’ they said, ‘Why? Let Helene do that!’

“My grandmother said, ‘Okay.’ It was like, ‘Let the one who has sin work.’

“So my mother did it. I hated that, too.”

■ On Belgian capitulation to the Nazis:

“… We did not fight them. We had no weapons.

“In the beginning, people disappeared and the stores closed down. We never sawsoldiers in the streets. They came in the night.”

Her mother followed a boyfriend into the Nazi party. One of her uncles joined the Belgian resistance and risked his life fighting the Germans. The rest of the family justtried to stay out of the way. It tore the family asunder.

Many years and many chapters in the book later, Rachel came to America in 1961with her Dutch-Indonesian husband. At first, they spoke little English. They were tutored, but mostly picked up the language from living life in Yoncalla, where they were sponsored by the Methodist church. They sometimes encountered bigotry, but felt welcome in their new country.

“I really was treated so good,” she says. “People brought food every day.”

Over the decades, her husband worked as a typewriter repairman and airline mechanic, among other jobs. Rachel also worked a variety of jobs, including electronics assembly. In Grants Pass, she worked at the now-closed Litton plantand at ESAM. The couple raised three sons.

Rachel eventually made her peace with her mother.

“The first time I went back to Belgium, I went to the house and then I met my mother for the first time in years … She hugged me and she cried and cried and cried. She nearly broke me in pieces she hugged me so hard. I told her in her ear, because I didn’t want nobody to hear, ‘You know what? I love you, and youknow it.’”

Rachel Van Meers is a pen name, and all the names in her book have been changed to protect those who are described with brutal honesty.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Meet the Authors

Rachel Van Meers and Daniel Chase will be signing books at Oregon Books, 937 Northeast D St Grants Pass, on Saturday July 19 from 11:00am – 2:00pm. We look forward to meeting you!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The book is out!

We're happy to announce that the book is slightly ahead of its release date and available in stores now. For more information, visit our website:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #10

During the German Occupation, Rachel's mother and stepfather, Geoffrey Voorst, joined the SS. While Geoff was fighting against the Allies, he took the lion's share of the SS money, leaving only a small, insufficient amount for Rachel, her mother, and her infant brother and sister. This week Rachel remembers her mother joining the SS, and how they survived using special SS rationing coupons.

As always, we love to hear from you. Send us your questions or comments to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #9

Hitler's armies invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940. This week, Rachel remembers what it was like being ten years old when the Nazis marched into Ghent and how the landscape changed under the German Occupation.

As always, we love to hear from you. Send us your questions or comments to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #8

In 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, thousands of refugees fled over the borders of Spain into Europe. Rachel tells the story, when she was eight years old, of her encounter with one of those refugees.

As always, we love to hear from you. Send us your questions or comments to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"That's no more a church. That's a concentration camp."

By Rachel Van Meers

A few weeks ago when I saw all the people from this cult in Texas, all the young girls and mothers only sixteen and fourteen married to a dude fifty years old, and they had kids and kids and kids, me and my husband Lud talked about it. I’m so cautious sometimes, you know, telling what happened to me, because whenever someone is misusing some religion to get what they want, it’s not a nice picture. Look at what happened with those innocent kids in Texas. They took them, and they raped them in the church in the name of the Lord. Can you believe that?

I was thinking about that, and I was so sick when I saw that. I thought to myself, “The poor little girls.” What can they do? They believed what they were told, and they couldn’t get out. It is so sad, you know. But as soon as that cult separated them from the people and told them “You cannot do this, and you can’t do that,” that’s no more a church. That’s a concentration camp. I said to Lud, “There is something that exactly happened in my time.”

I never knew too much about my stepfather, Geoffrey Voorst, really. He came from Holland to Belgium. He was from the Quakers then, and the family all dressed really funky, always in black, black, black. When you saw him, he was good-looking, he was nice, he was charming. Well, he was oozy floozy with my mother at first. He hugged her, and that’s what my mother needed. She never got that from my grandmother. So for her it was like the king came home. When he was going out with my mother, I was still in school, and I could see the women hanging around him. He was bon vi von, we call it. I could feel that. And I don’t know why he took my mother from all the other ones. Maybe he knew he could get away with her.

Even though his family was religious, I have a feeling he must have been abused by his father. One of his brothers was gassed to death in a German camp during the war. And, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were Jewish, too. I have no idea about that, but, you know, when Geoff came back from the war, his surviving brother never talked to him, his family wanted nothing to do with him. Something was wrong there, but as a child, I really couldn’t put the pieces together.

After the war, Geoff was obsessive to my mother, he wouldn’t allow her to go out of the house, she couldn’t go visit the family, and that’s where it all started.

He had two personalities, I think. One was jovial, and everybody liked him, but when the door closed, and it was just him and my mother alone in the house with the kids, he was, I don’t know. When you can beat up a woman that’s pregnant, I don’t think that’s a nice picture. He was a cruel, cruel guy. The things he would do to my mother, I couldn’t believe it. Even his face changed. You could see his veins and nose and mouth, everything would open and close, his breathing changed, and then my mother thought, “Uh oh,” and she looked with her eyes on me, and I looked at him. I tell you, if you made him mad, he was really mad.

When he started hitting my mother, I hated him purple. I never saw my uncles hitting my aunts, and I told my mother, “Why does he do that?”

My mother said, “Oh, because he’s jealous, and he loves me.”

I thought, “Jealous and loves you?” I told her, “When you love somebody, you don’t hit them.”

My mother said, “Well, you’ll learn it when you’re older. We’re not going to talk about it.”

So I thought, as a child, “That’s funky.” I couldn’t believe that I had to live my life with a guy that hit me all the time. I said, “I’m not going to get married, I tell you that, because when he hits me, I chop his hands off.” That’s what I felt then.

I couldn’t do nothing for my mother. She had accepted it, and I didn’t understand that at the time. A lot of times I was pissed at her, too, because as soon as she saw he was starting to get wound up, she would irritate him. She went stone quiet, and then she started cooking, cooking, cooking, banging the pots, and finally, “boom!” the pot was over. I told her, “What are you doing? Why don’t you talk to him? Stop aggravating him.” But my mother couldn’t do that, either. And every time I told her not to do it, because she knew who he was, boom, she started it. Then he would beat the hell out of her, and it looked like she enjoyed it. I told my mother, “Are you nuts or something?” I couldn’t handle that.

I had to fight it, too, because he would provoke me. And I was not my mother. He wanted to hug me and touch me, I didn’t allow that, and I couldn’t stand his face because of what he did to my mother. Can you imagine someone beats the hell out of you, and then he wants to hug you? I couldn’t handle it. But many times he lay down in bed with me, and my mother said, “What are you yelling for? He likes you! He likes you!”

I said to my mother, “He don’t like me. He always wants to touch me where I don’t want him to touch me, so what do you mean he likes me? When you hug somebody, it’s a different story, but when you put your hands all over their body, that’s not hugging to me. That’s provoking.” She didn’t see it. Or she didn’t want to see it. I don’t know.

Geoff told me, “The Bible says the father can sleep with the daughter.” That’s nothing to do with God. That’s just a mask on the face. The same when you say, “Oh, I’m a Christian, I love God.” In the meantime, when no one is looking, you rape all the kids. I don’t think so. That’s not God. That’s evil. And that’s nothing to do with God. Absolutely not. That’s nonsense to me.