‘This is her story’: More than a Century of Living – Part 1

On March 8, 2021, Joyce Van Dam celebrated her 102nd birthday at Tiverton Park Manor in Tiverton.  According to staff, she is “sharp as a tack” and is on computer.

This is her story

(assisted by George Potter)

In my 101st year, I was asked to write my life story.  My name is Joyce Van Dam to everyone nowadays, but I was born Sarah Josina Mulder.

I was born on March 8, 1919 in the city of Zaandam in the Netherlands.  I was the third child in a family of seven, four girls and three boys.  As I write this I am sad to say that I am the only one left.

When I was born, things were quite primitive.  We didn’t have a flush toilet, only an outhouse on the edge of our property.  Once each week a row boat came up the little stream (nothing more than a ditch) to clean out the outhouse.  They would pick up the two used bins and replace them with clean ones.  it was not until I was four years old that we got a flush toilet installed under the stairway in the house.  i remember this with quite a little excitement when flushing the toilet by pulling on the chain.

The milk was delivered every day.  The mile was held in a big container standing on a three wheeled cart.  You came to the cart with a container and said how much you wanted and paid the man.  The vegetables, etc. came the same way only in a bigger cart that came down the street and you went to the cart and sorted out what you wanted.  Fish were sold the same way.  We had a woman who stayed on the street, she had a bell and also a very sharp loud voice and we called her the ‘fish wife’.

Streetlight bulbs were lighted each evening by two men with long sticks.  When the streetlights were lighted, that was the signal for the children who were playing in the street after school that it was time to go home.

Clothes were washed by hand on a scrub board in a simple wooden tub.  Electric washing machines came later.

There were no kindergartens then.  You started school when you were six years old and went to school for six years or seven years if you were planning to go further.

Our family went to a Christian school.  My grandfather, Opa, was one of the persons who started the Christian school in the Netherlands – I believe that was in the 1850s.  He was the principal of a public school before he started the Christian school.  Since this was a Christian school the government did not support is and my grandfather lost is salary and depended upon the parents of the children who went to school to give him some money.

A that time only boys went on to hight school and university. I went to a girl’s school leaning cooking and sewing, etc.  My older sister had been there too and returned home to help our mother when she finished.  When i finished I also returned home to help mother. But after I had finished schooling, I wanted a job, a chance to be somewhat independent.  My mother didn’t want to hear of it but father overruled and I was allowed to take a job.

My father was an Elder in the church.  he spoke with Bill Van Dam’s father, who was also an Elder in the church and worked in the x-ray department of the hospital.  I was given a receptionist’s job in the hospital.  My job was to greet the people entering the hospital and to operate the telephone system switchboard.  I started at 9:00 a.m. and worked until 6:00 p.m. but my job was not finished until I had delivered the mail usually riding on my bicycle.

Bill Van Dam was the second child in a family of nine and was about three years younger than me.  Bill’s family and my family knew each other as we went to the same church and schools.

Since Bill was a boy, he was allowed to continue on through high school and afterward went on to become a navigational signal man on the shipping vessels.

 That ended when the Germans invaded.

To be continued ….