Sunday, 29 September 2013

A tribute to my brother, on his birthday.

My oldest brother had a birthday today. It is a Sunday, and over there it was a beautiful blue day, just like it was the day he was born. We have another brother and had a sister, but they were 8 years younger. Jaap, three years my junior, was the companion of my childhood, the one with who I share both the most memories and a gentle sibling rivalry. I always resented it when a fuss was made over him being a Sunday child, as if the accident of birth was a merit.
By the way, the haircut illustrates nicely why I get a light perm every few months. But, as I say so often, that is another topic. One of these days I have to do a blog on hair. 

Jacobus Johan van der Hout was named after his paternal grandfather. He weighed in at over 9 pounds, and was by all accounts a happy baby who did not cry much but made contented noises in his pretty cradle. More sibling rivalry: the smug mention of this always irked his older sister who was reported to have screamed a lot. Easy for him, born in peace time to a mother who was not a nervous war time wreck! Three weeks after my birth the house we lived in had been confiscated for billeting German soldiers. 

I started writing about our common childhood, but it was too much about me, not Jaap. We'll keep those memories for another time. 

Jaap had much more intitiative than I did. As a little boy, around age 6,  he and a buddy used to ignore parental warnings and play on a wharf in the Westland gracht, a canal a few blocks away from home. The city ended there in those days. This picture came from the Facebook page Nostalgisch Amsterdam.
These expeditions might take place on Sunday morning while he was supposed to be at Sunday school. Smart boy. The pull of the water turned into a life-long love affair with boats. These days Drascombe longboat "Danser" is moored across from the house. Below, Danser in the canal on the way to open water and being enjoyed by a visiting friend.

How little does success in school predict success later in life! Jaap was a dreamer who struggled a bit. To make things worse we had the same teachers, who made remarks about him not being as smart as his big sister. Great psychology, teachers. I had been 'good in school', thanks to the way school back then was structured. I loved learning and had a good memory. Take in and regurgitate, easy peasy and no measure for the ability to make one's way in the world. 

When it came time to pick post-elementary schools Jaap was sent to the easiest possible academic type, where he failed. The best part of this school was the location: close to Amsterdam's famous Stedelijk Museum, a Mecca of modern art. He used to visit it during his lunch hour. The doormen knew him as a frequent visitor. How many 12 year old boys do we know doing that? 

Next stop: vocational school, where he was completely out of place among the rough boys destined for life in a factory or work place. Salvation came from a math teacher who took him under his wing. Jaap went from one technical type school to the next, and ended up first as a draftsman, then as a professional architect and city planner. Not bad for a kid who had trouble learning!

Jaap's work is characterized by a brilliant talent for playfully harmonizing the new and modern with the old and traditional, always with an eye on creating livable space for people. 
Above, part of a project in Zaandam. This city head-hunted him to help revitalize the downtown core. 
On July 7 1972 Jaap married the love of his life, Marielle Beck. They celebrated 4o last year with a smashing party.
They are a fantastic couple. Marielle is the oldest of a tight-knit clan that ended up in the same town. They remained childless, but as godparents, aunt/uncle and honorary grandparents they have enriched the lives of many children and continue to do so. 
They are also the loving rock whenever anyone in the extended family needs care.
The year 2012 was supposed to be the start of retirement bliss. Instead they looked after one sister who was dying of lung cancer, while one on the other side was being treated with a bone marrow transplant. Ever creative, the couple transformed themselves into the CliniClowns for visits to Marielle's sister.
Not only did my kid brother become a successful professional and all-around good human being, he is also a gourmet cook, an active member of community organizations, and plays around in the arts. 
And did I mention that they have friends all over the world, thanks to the years they were part of  folk dance group Het Duivelspaard, and are amazing hosts? 

Bro, it is an honour to be your sister. Good luck and godspeed in your 68th turn around the sun.
Pictures for this blog were partly pilfered from Jaap's FB page.


  1. A lovely tribute to a brother who sounds interesting and someone I would enjoy knowing.

  2. Thanks! We had great parents, that helps.

  3. what a lovely tribute to your brother ....I loved the story as always you are the best story teller....I love your post.....I admire you so much...and how are you doing after all the ya

  4. What accidents? Oh, that, last year, lol. I am better than I have been in years, having a great time. Thanks for asking.


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