Today is your birthday and it seems unreal that you've been gone for over three years already. I wish you could be here to see how we finished renovating the upstairs our of house. Thank you for believing in that dream of mine, and for encouraging me (already in high school) that it could be done. Thank you for waiting until I graduated university, instead of tearing it down, like you threatened so many times. Thank you for all the hours of work you did on the place that summer, when you should have been working on the farm. For all the things you didn’t understand about me, the one thing that you totally got was that “you can’t have two women in the same kitchen,” especially if those two women were me and Mom. Thank you for helping me fly the coop and achieving at least one of my dreams.
I wish I could have known you better, but I think the eulogy below (written by your sister) really sums up what you were all about.
Miss you always.
In Loving Memory of Hessel Dykstra (1935-2010)
I love my brother Hessel. It’s my privilege to have this opportunity to celebrate who he was, from my point of view, over the years. We’ve all experienced him in our own ways, of course, but I think any one of you can relate to something of who I’ve experienced him to be.
Hessel was a nature lover. Early in his life already he dreamed of someday having his own farm. It was that dream that had a lot to do with our family immigrating to Canada in the early 50’s. God honoured his dream as he grew in knowledge and maturity to pursue it with the family’s backing.
Most of my memories of growing up with him are pretty funny. We had a good time together, even though he was the big brother for my sister and me. He was an incessant tease so we learned to defend ourselves. It was a big joke with us that he’d have to run around the kitchen several times in order to collect his thoughts before he headed out to run some errands or leave on a significant trip. We were smart enough, usually, to give him space lest our backside got in the way of a smacking hand in his travels.
We played lots of Monopoly on Sunday afternoons. He was a shrewd Monopoly player and he knew how to get my goat. He ate like a horse and stayed thin like a reed. I was so envious as a teenager because I didn’t have that problem. Jane or I would be trying out our baking skills, some days, he’d sniff the air and blow into the house to sweep up anything that looked edible and hadn’t left the cookie sheet in one piece, and call them “misbaksels” (baker’s mistakes). Sometimes the “misbaksels” were burnt and he ate those too, as a favour, so we wouldn’t have to admit that we’d wasted food. That was frowned upon in our home. It was also his way of saying he had faith in us for a better day.
I remember the tomato summers when the family was faced with picking 5 acres of the red globes for the daily trips to the canning factory. The job would start in the heat of August and continue until the first frost in September, or sometimes October. Some days were so hot that the tomatoes sizzled in the sun and you almost burned your hands on the sunburned ones. Hessel could sense my silent seething against the drudgery and heat that was suddenly wilting any motivation to fill another crate. Well, he knew there was nothing like the sudden splat of an over-ripe tomato square in the chest, to pump up the adrenaline. His aim was perfect. So was mine. And we’d be back at top performance for a while again. I didn’t mind child labour as much if he were around. We did a lot of laughing.
He was a very sensitive guy. I remember the day the dog died after a nasty farm accident. He wasn’t too ashamed to hide his tears. He let me cry with him, even though he was a grown man. That’s probably one of the reasons I’ve always felt emotionally close to him.
Hessel was a gardener. He loved his flowers and had an ongoing war with the earwigs over the ownership of his stock of geraniums around the house. We always knew what would delight the other as a birthday gift. He supplied me with a flat of bedding plants that he carefully selected each year at the beginning of May and we knew that a flowering shrub or rose bush would always be welcome when it was his turn. The climbing rose in front of the garage was his favourite, I think; he’d make a point of telling me how many blooms it showcased. He also grew the best tasting pears in all of North America, which he liberally shared with us. His vegetable garden grew well in the former barnyard. Whenever we’d visit on a Sunday, he’s be proud to show his neatly-kept batch of strawberries, raspberries, beans, potatoes, and whatever else was growing at the time.
He was also a shrewd farmer. He learned from the best, as a teenager freshly implanted from The Netherlands into a new culture at the Thompson family farm. They taught him to understand the value of having a purebred herd of cattle. And he experienced the glory days of having the best herd of Holstein cows in the County on several occasions. He understood the land he was responsible for and he knew himself to be a steward of all that had been allotted to him by the Lord. He was careful about pollution, and what crops grew best in the different types of soil on his farm. He worked hard to get the land ready as early as possibly for receiving the new seed each year. It was a game to see which of his farming compatriots would be the first to have the land seeded and the first cut of hay ready for the baler. But it was also his sense of responsibility that motivated him. He kept his ear tuned to the weather forecasters and his eye on the sky for sunshine or rain, and his intuitive sense calculated when the crop needed to be ready to be able to tolerate the dry seasons.
Hessel was a generous man. I owe much of my post-secondary education to his sense of family support for one another. When my high school years were over and I had aspirations of going to Calvin College, there weren’t the easy answers of applying for government funds through OSAP. Hessel’s response to my SOS for tuition payment was simply, “Well, we’ll just have to sell one of these cows.” I know others of you have tasted of his generosity as well. He also didn’t like to waste, so if he didn’t think a cause had merit, you’d be wasting your time waiting for a hand-out.
He didn’t need a lot for himself personally. Vacations weren’t very feasible for a farmer with a herd of cows. The only ones he trusted to milk for him, on the few times he did take a break, were his nephews, Chuck and Rick. When they left the area and got married, he stayed put. Until his knees gave out. He saw only one course to take after that, and that was to sell the herd. Even then, the only way he could justify a vacation was to give to the Lord the same as he was spending on himself.
Hessel was someone you could count on once he had given his word. I remember his public profession of faith many years ago. The scripture that the pastor gave to the group of young people with him was Romans 10:11, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Well, he didn’t spout off at the mouth much about his faith, but he lived it in very practical ways.
The Lordship of Jesus meant he had responsibility for the needs of others. He committed himself to getting involved in Christian education long before he ever found Connie and had children of his own. Farming was a moral task and he became an active member of the Christian Farmer’s Federation. He became a board member of Parkside Village because providing a Christian community home for the elderly was important too.
He wasn’t perfect, of course. Those of you who lived with him on a daily basis know that when his frustration level reached its peak, he could lose his temper, or disappear into a dark mood. Connie had to cool him down more than once when the heifers didn’t behave themselves on their way in and out of the stable in the spring. And when machinery broke down and new parts didn’t fit, he preferred nobody around to listen to him vent.
He wasn’t the world’s greatest optimist either. It didn’t take much to discourage him, sometimes, and he lived by Murphy’s Law—if something can go wrong, it will. Those clouds that would come rolling in with a promise of rain would split when they arrived at the corner of Scoharie Road and the Highway, leaving a lovely patch of blue as far as Picton, where the two sections would meet again and pour out their accumulation in a deluge over the dusty pavement of the town and empty out into the bay.
He was also a cautious man. From childhood on, he was known to us more or less as never attempting anything until he was sure he could safely handle the task. Nick tells us he never went swimming with the boys in Holland until he knew how. Where he ever learned is a mystery to the whole family. And when he went pole vaulting over the ditches in Friesland, he didn’t come home wet like his older brother either. It took him 46 years to be sure he could handle asking the first woman on a date, and Connie trusted he was reliable and she could marry him.
My most cherished memory of Hessel, however, is of the mealtimes with him and his family when we were privileged to experience dinner devotions with them. I remember his simple prayers of faith in his compassionate God who always daily provides what is needed. Cancer robbed him of the joy of eating the meals he always relished so much. But that ordeal is over. I believe he may now sit with Jesus at the banqueting table and enjoy the feasts of paradise.
“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”