I am one of nine grandchildren on the Soetenga side (Tami, Meghan, Dirk, Jeremy, Brian, John, Nikki, Sydney, David and myself). For ten years I was the “youngest” grandchild. My dad is the youngest of six (Claudia, Dawn, Wendy, Gayle, Mark and, Big Steve). Having many cousins and dad coming from a “big” family has always made me want that “extra” big family myself.
Growing up, David, Nikki and myself were the only grandchildren that lived in Wisconsin. The rest of the kids lived throughout the United States so we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them. We were all lucky enough to spend time at the pool every summer when we’d get together at the Soetenga household for some family fun. Those were some of the best times. Though we all lived in different places, it was the pool that brought us together and allowed us to have a great time. To this day, it is a rarity to have the entire family together, but again when we’re all together it’s like things have never changed.
Most of my childhood memories involve the pool at Grandma and Grandpa Soetenga’s. Many times we’d call Grandma and have her pick us up so we could spend time at the pool while mom and dad were working. Grandma always had the best soda, not to mention we ate ham and Loraine Swiss cheese sandwiches with yummy potato salad from Sentry. We’d swim for hours and we weren’t allowed to come inside and watch the “boob” tube. Her and grandpa were firm believers in being outside.
As the youngest grandchild it was always said that I had my Grandpa wrapped around my finger. I’m not quite sure why, but I do know that Grandpa and I had a very special bond. Anytime we were in the pool, he was constantly singing songs to me, mostly Disney tunes, and bouncing me on his knee. Grandpa always took us on different adventures and thought it very important that we experience many things in life. For that reason we took sailing lessons for two seasons. I often rode with my grandparents to visit family in Iowa or Illinois and it was on one of those adventures that Grandpa taught me to read a map.
When I was 13 my grandpa passed away unexpectedly and it was by far the worst day of my life. It was a Friday (January 19th) and I was expected to spend the weekend in Fontana at the Abby for a convention (I was part of a Lions Club for kids and we were doing some presenting that weekend). Mom’s car was in the driveway when I got home and I knew immediately something was wrong. Mom told me right away that Grandpa had passed and I remember running out the door until I couldn’t run anymore (the driveway was as far as I got). From then I don’t remember much except going to my grandparents house and crawling onto my dad’s lap crying my eyes out. The next few days are mostly a blur as well. We put together memory boards, we tried to crack the code on Grandpa’s safe to get his papers and such out, family arrived, etc. At the funeral I wore Grandpa’s navy suit (despite his size at death, he used to be a lot tinnier). That navy suit now resides in my hope chest.
A year to the day after Grandpa passed I was asked to give the sermon at church about how God had affected my life. It seemed so surreal that I was going to be giving the sermon at two services in front of the congregation one year after I said “until next time” to my grandpa and where I can still hear him singing to this day. Of course, my sermon was about Grandpa’s death. At that moment it was the one thing that truly stuck out in my mind about God’s affect on my life. I wrote my sermon and didn’t reveal it to anyone until the day of. Family and friends filled the pews as I spilled my heart out. There was something about it that made me feel whole again. Once a year, on January 19th, I read that sermon and think to myself how still to this day his death has affected my life.
Grandma moved a few years after Grandpa died. That was the second saddest day to me. The River Road house had so many memories and I couldn’t quite understand why no one in the family wanted the undertaking. Everyone kept telling me it was time to start new memories. The whole family came to help pack up and move out. Grandma was moving to a smaller, cute house in town. Since the house was smaller there was a lot of going through things and phasing out the old. Everyone had the opportunity to pick what they wanted to take. I took a CD of Disney children’s songs. It was a favorite of mine and Grandpa’s. To this day, I can tell you that I have yet to listen to it, but I know now that my son and I will enjoy these songs together.
When Grandma moved to her house on Westridge I spent almost every Tuesday with her. Mowing the lawn and having lunch. It was then that I started to realize the true meaning of being a Soetenga. Throughout my life I knew that I was part of an extremely special family. Everyone of my aunts, along with my dad, has a special gift of being able to tell a story like no other. Having everyone live out of state meant the times that we did get to spend together were extra special. There of course were the times that we went and visited, but it was when we were all together under the roof of Hank and Candy Soetenga that seemed extra special.
Four years ago Grandma moved again, this time to Iowa. That move made me extra sad (again) because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to have lunch with Grandma whenever I want, but again I knew that when I visited it would be an extra special time.
As I grew up and continued to live my life, I always cherished the moments that I spent with Grandma and Grandpa Soetenga. When Ben and I started dating and became serious I told him that if things were to work out between the two of us (like there was every any doubt) and we were blessed with a son, his name would be Henry after Grandpa Soetenga. The man left this world far too early in my life and I only got to spend 13 years with him. By naming my son Henry it’s a way for me to honor a man that I love so much.
To this day I cannot think or talk about Grandpa without crying. When I finally found out we were having a boy, I knew this was God’s way of helping me make sense of what happened 11 years ago. Having a boy meant naming him Henry and starting/finishing the legacy of the “second” Henry.
Today, as I write this blog, from the living room of Grandma’s in Iowa I can’t help, but think how completely blessed I am to have been brought up Soetenga. As a teenager I thought how great it would be to write a book called “Growing Up Soetenga.” A memoir from those of us who grew up amongst the greatest family around. Maybe someday I’ll actually get around to it. Our family has a gift for storytelling so it would definitely be a best seller.
A few weeks ago I told mom that I wanted to go visit Grandma. It had been awhile since I’d seen her and she had yet to see me pregnant. We planned for this weekend to head to Iowa and hopefully spend some time with my aunts and cousins, whom live here as well. Earlier this week mom told me that we’d be having lunch at Wendy’s (my godmother) and she was trying to get as many of the Soetenga women together as she could. On Thursday mom sent me a text that everyone, but Morgan (she is the eldest of the nine great grandchildren on the Soetenga side) and we had to be to Wendy’s at 11. She started filling my head with thoughts of something “being up” and I couldn’t help, but think that something might really be up if everyone was coming. I had to ask if I was supposed to wear something “pretty” and mom said yes along with bringing my camera.
When we arrived at Aunt Wendy’s this afternoon there were nautical decorations everywhere, nothing had clicked yet. Meghan, Tami, Aunt Claudia, Grandma, Mom, Aunt Wendy, Jourdan (Dirk’s wife) Nikki and her two girls Emma and Gabby were all there. We caught up before having a fantastic lunch of French toast bake, keesh, and mini sandwiches. The sandwiches were a recipe from my Aunt Gayle (who could not be there) and she used to make them when her and Uncle Jack would go sailing. After lunch we had some extra yummy cupcakes. As I was asked to sit at the head of the table, as the guest of honor, and told the decorations were nautical in honor of grandpa’s love of the water, I knew something was up
Once lunch was over it was “story time.” Everyone was asked to bring a story about Grandpa with them today. Aunt Claudia asked if I knew about anything it and I told her that all I knew was what mom had told me (which wasn’t much!!). Aunt Claudia told her story about when she was little and scared of a storm Grandpa took her in his arms and made her look at the storm. Telling her it was just and storm and God created that storm. From that day on Aunt Claudia never had a problem with storms again. Tami told a story about Grandpa taking her fishing and her getting extremely “sea” sick, but they kept fishing anyway. Meghan told a story how her husband wants to get a new tattoo, but he was afraid of what her mom (Aunt Claudia) would think. Meghan assured him that her mom wouldn’t have a problem as she grew up with a tattooed dad (Grandpa had lots of tattoos, including the hulu dancer turned sumo wrestler). Aunt Wendy told us how Grandpa was quite the shopper (now it makes sense where I got my mad shopping skills from).
With each story, I became more and more overwhelmed with the love and memories. Aunt Claudia gave me a picture of grandpa as a young boy for Henry’s nursery along with a picture of Grandpa in a night light. One of his favorite songs to sing was “This Little Light of Mine.” The light was for the first Henry to help light the way of the “second” Henry.
Words cannot begin to express how extremely blessed I felt today, to be amongst the Soetenga women and their love for this little boy growing inside me, Henry. As I finish the last 17 weeks of pregnancy, I know that this little boy will be brought up amongst a family of people that love him more than he’ll ever know. I plan on filling his life with numerous stories of his Great Grandpa Hank and I am so thankful that Grandma Soetenga will get to be apart of her 10th great grandchild’s life. My hope is that Henry will get to have the experiences with both sets of his grandparents that I had with Grandma and Grandpa Soetenga and that he’ll cherish the moments long past his childhood.
Being a Soetenga is something that doesn’t happen everyday (David is the sole Soetenga carrying on the family name) and to be apart of a family like ours is something that I am extremely thankful for. Soetenga may no longer be my last name, it is now part of my middle name, but it will always be who I am. I’ve often said that I have a little bit of each of my aunts inside me and I couldn’t be happier to be blessed with their love and grace. They’re the ones, along with my dad and uncle, who help to carry on the Hank Soetenga tradition. As we bring Henry up, as a Zusan of course, with the drive of his dad, uncles and grandpas, I know that he’ll have a little bit of Soetenga in him as well.
As my day of reflection comes to an end, I’d just like to say to my aunts and cousins, thank you so much for helping to remind me of the grandpa that I love and miss so much. Your divine love and spirit has helped keep the memory alive of the one and only Henry “Hank” Soetenga. For that, we are all forever grateful. Thank you for “sprinkling” me with so much love and reminding me yet again just how lucky I am to be apart of this family. Henry is definitely lucky to have you all in his life.
One last note. For those of you curious as to what Henry’s middle name will be, that is something I definitely am not caving on before he is born. It is as special as his first name and we’d like to share the moment with the person he will share it with first.
Sleep: We definiltely had some uncomfortable days this week. Slept amongst four pillows the other night and it surprisingly did the trick.
Best Moment of the Week: If you took the time to read this blog, I thank you for knowing just exactly what my best moment this week was, even if it was an “odd” week of pregnancy.
Belly Button: Popped out, along with the rest of me.
Looking Forward Too: Touring the hospital this week and seeing where our little guy will be born.