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.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #7

If there's one person that affected Rachel's life the most, it was her stepfather, Geoffrey Voorst. This week on the podcast, Rachel explains how he and her mother met and Geoff's relationship with her mother.

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

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #6

In this interview clip, Rachel Van Meers remembers her mother's collection of "Piccolos," a magazine from Europe, and how it met its end.

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

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #5

In podcast number five, Rachel talks about her mother before the war, their relationship, and standing in line for food.

Send us your questions: lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #4

This week, Rachel Van Meers tells a story about what happened one time when she was looking in the mirror at her grandmother's house.

If you'd like your questions answered in an upcoming podcast, send us an e-mail to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #3

The third in our series of podcasts with Rachel Van Meers. This week, Rachel talks about her grandmother, going to church in Belgium, and a scary painting in her grandmother's house.

If you'd like your questions answered in an upcoming podcast, send us an e-mail to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"I tried so much as I could to do right."

By Rachel Van Meers

The real story about my father I don’t know. My mother never talked about it. I heard it from my grandmother. My mother might’ve gone dancing, she might’ve been home when she met him, but as soon as she was pregnant, he left her. Now that’s normal, I think. Everybody has kids, and they don’t care. But in my time it was different. Then it was a disaster. At that time, most of the people in Belgium were all married, married, married. There might be others like me, but not that I knew. My aunts and uncles were all married and had kids later. My mother was the only one who didn’t. That was what was so bad about it, you know, and certainly in a Catholic family that was not supposed to happen. But it happened.

As a baby, I was baptized, I did my first confirmation when I was seven or something, in the class at school. But my grandparents were always there, so I felt protected. When I was growing up, my mother worked, worked, worked. Well, she worked to support me. She did everything for me; suffered for me, too, and she was bitter about it. I don’t know what she went through, I was not there, but as soon as I was born, she quit going to church. She always told me, “You are the nail in my coffin. My life is miserable because of you.” And at the time I never knew why she said that. But I knew I was not welcome. That’s for sure.

My grandmother was a real strict Catholic. To her, my mother was lost, she let her know it all the time, and then my mother put it on me. It went around like a circle, you know. My mother joined different things in politics, anything she could do to offend my grandmother she did. In the meantime, my grandmother tried to bring me up right, and she did. So I saw two views. I didn’t see it that I was ever going to heaven. At first I didn’t understand what I was, but I felt like a mistake, you know what I mean? Like I was not meant to be.

Wherever I went people asked, “Who’s your mom? And who’s your dad?” and I told them. Well, right away their reaction changed. I didn’t see that as a child; I didn’t know that was wrong. Even other kids told me not to play with them, and I thought, “Why?” Then I thought maybe I was not dressed right, or I didn’t look good, I was ugly, you know, all these things in my mind. It was only when I did my last confirmation that I finally understood. Then I was old enough to realize when the priest told me, “Your mother is not married, and you are a bastard.” Then I got the picture, and from then on I felt like an anti-Christ my whole life. I tried so much as I could to do right, you know. And I cried a lot. Then I was thinking and crying about it, and I thought, “I shouldn’t be here so my mother is happier.” But some voice in my mind said, “You’re going to live through it, and you’re going to be okay.” And I did. I made it through.

One funny thing about it is, later in Holland when I was married, and my husband Lud and I were thinking about immigrating to another country, he sent in his papers to Australia. Lud was Dutch Indonesian, and they sent back a letter saying he was considered a bastard because he didn’t have enough Caucasian blood. Then, in the early 1960s, the White Australia policy was still in, and it was a whole different ball game than from me. Even though he had a beautiful mother and father, he was considered a bastard because his mom’s father was Dutch and his other grandfather was German, but the two women they married were Indonesian. For him he experienced prejudice because of his skin color, and for me because I was born out of wedlock; he couldn’t change the color of his skin, and I couldn’t change what I was born into. And that’s the truth.

Now, because I’m much older and much smarter, I see it as a lesson for me to go through that. I had to learn from it. It was not an easy lesson that you say, “Well, today I’m happy.” You just lived from day to day to day. But now I can see it was not me. It was the people. I don’t know why, but years later it was like a light went on in my mind. Then I could see the whole thing; I could forgive my stepfather, I could forgive my mother, I could go on in my life.

Before I had been so judgmental. I would judge people, “Oh, this and this and this.” When I learned to forgive the people who judged me my whole life, that was over for me. Now I don’t judge, because you never know what is in that person; what made him like that, or brought him up like that, or made him talk like that. Because there is always something that did that to him. Now I‘m so happy, and so much different you wouldn’t believe it. I feel like it is sunshine inside to me and clear. I laugh, and the misery is to me no more painful like it was before. When you are talking about it, it’s always going to come back to you; you never forget what happened, you know. That’s not the point. The point is, you are not in pain no more like it was before.

I believe every person that the Lord put on this earth has a duty to do. You can think like I did: “What is the use of being born when you go to hell, and there is no God for me no more?” You might not see it now, but you are learning something like I did. Every person is here for a reason.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #2

The second in a new series of podcasts with Rachel Van Meers. This week, Rachel talks about the languages of Belgium and how her mother's refusal to allow her to learn French affected her life growing up during the 1930s.

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As always, you can send in your questions to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast

As promised, we launch the first of a new series of podcasts with Rachel Van Meers. In this inaugural episode, Rachel explains why she picked the title, "Lost in the Fog," what it means to her, and the weather in Belgium.

Direct Download Subscribe

If you want to talk to us, or you would like Rachel to answer your questions in an upcoming podcast, we'd love to hear from you. Our e-mail address is:

lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

“I rule a nation, not a road!” –Albert I, WWI

What happened to Belgium in World War II?

By Daniel Chase

In 1914, the King of Belgium, Albert I, with only six ill-equipped divisions making up the entire Belgian army, heroically held off superior German troops for thirteen days, buying time for Britain and France to gather their forces behind the lines. By the end of World War I, Belgium, crippled after a difficult four years of German occupation, was heralded as one of the bravest nations to face off against the Central Powers.

Two decades later, Belgium was invaded by Germany again. This time, after three weeks of hard fighting, the new King, Leopold III, surrendered, and the Nazis invaded, using the country both as “a road” and a back door through the Maginot Line. During the next four years, while the War raged hard between the Axis and the Allies, Belgium was occupied. It is estimated that during those four years, 75,000 Belgian civilians were killed.

Unlike the First World War, the story of Belgium during the Second World War is not one of great armies, heroic leaders, strength, or strategy. Rather, Belgium in WWII was a nation abandoned. Left demoralized, their King surrounded by controversy, the story of Belgium during the occupation is a story of the little people; the common working families. Politically, Belgium, already divided into two languages and two classes, sided differently. One side strongly favored the Nazis, the other strongly opposed them. However, the people were not militarily inclined, and homes were without weapons. The story of those four years is a story of distrust, conflict, and survival; of ordinary people trying to make it one more day.

When I first met Rachel Van Meers, it didn’t take me long to learn that this was a unique story, about the undistinguished Belgians who survived and were killed during these mostly unrecorded few years, from one Belgian who had to live through the occupation and witnessed it. Rachel herself was of the lowest class in Belgium. From the Flemish side, families whose pride was in their work, she was looked upon as a lowly girl born out of wedlock, with one scraggly dress, and only ten years old when the invasion occurred. Too young to know about politics, her education cut short, and despite an antagonistic mother and stepfather, she was a completely ordinary little girl, who, like millions of other Belgians, woke up one morning to find herself in extraordinary circumstances. For us a more humble storyteller would be difficult to find. And humble is the story of Belgium in WWII.

I think it’s a fascinating story, and to me it’s somewhat baffling why more books haven’t been written about this sub-facet of 20th Century European history. But, anyway, I feel happy that I had a role in bringing a part of this story to you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Welcome to Lost in the

Thanks for checking us out on Blogspot!

Lost in the Fog is the name of the soon-to-be-released memoir of Rachel Van Meers. It's a rare glimpse into Depression Era, WWII, and post-war Belgium, through the eyes of a common working-class Belgian family and told in the truly unique voice of Rachel Van Meers. It is also the story of the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter and how, over the course of a stormy half-century, that relationship changed and matured.

Coming soon: Journal entries by Rachel Van Meers, podcast updates, and more!

By the way, we've just launched a new website! Check us out:

Look for more content going up soon.