“You must have the ‘Q.’ There are only four letters left on the table. I’ve got a U that I can put over here and make “LUNE.” That should give you space to use your Q. If you can get a six-letter word, you’ll hit the double word score and get yourself a nice bunch of points.”
She was demolishing me at Scrabble again. Once she had put the game well out of reach, she switched to the role of coach. It was 1988. Grandma was 89, and I was 29, in grad school. I had stopped by her little apartment in Lansing, Illinois, to see her, as my mom insisted. Grandma was always glad to see me, brewing the obligatory Lipton tea, and serving a few homemade chocolate-chip cookies. Then she got down to business.
“How are you doing? What are you learning at the seminary? How’s my nephew Rob doing there?
After these and many more questions she addressed me with a sly grin.
“Wanna try your luck at Scrabble?”
She knew she would cream me. If there would have been professional Scrabble tournaments at the time, she’d have entered, and won.
“OK, but go easy on me.”
She never did. She had spent a lifetime devouring books, and it showed in her vocabulary. I always wondered how such a smart woman only got through the 8th grade.
“Hardly anyone went on to High School in those days,” she said when I asked. “I would have liked to have gone on to college and been a teacher but couldn’t. I had to help support the family. Can you imagine how wonderful it must be to teach children to read, and then help them understand what they’ve read?”
“I’m sure you’d have made a good teacher, maybe High School English or History.”
“Well, your mom and uncle Don are both teachers, and good ones. I guess they got some of those teaching genes from me.”
“You didn’t get to be a teacher, but you sure have led an interesting life, coming to U.S. as an infant, moving out west, living through the Depression in Chicago, and two World Wars.”
“Interesting? Ha! I would say more like ‘poor and unremarkable.’ No, I’ve done nothing special; I’ve made no name for myself.”
“But Mom told me you use to ride horseback with the Indians out in Montana.”
She sat back in her chair and smiled.
“Well, there might be a few interesting parts. I’ll tell you what I remember.”
Praise for A Name for Herself
“Kent Van Til has a knack for telling a story. This one follows a Dutch immigrant family from the 1890s to the 1990s, as told vicariously by a daughter who lived into her ’90s. The Reckers, like many blue-collar immigrants, were rolling stones, going back and forth between south Chicago suburbs and Wisconsin and Montana. The men ride the rails as hobos, dabble in farming, building Pullman Palace cars—anything to get by. They see Chicago mobsters rob a bank and run booze, all the while trying to live as faithful Dutch Reformed Christians. Grandson Al, a WWII vet, commits suicide, grandson Don marries a Jew, and there are foibles galore. Most important, Van Till gets inside the head and heart of this immigrant family and shows what makes them tick. This is a great read.”
—Robert P. Swierenga, Professor of History Emeritus, Kent State University, and author of Holland, Michigan
About the Author
K. A. Van Til has taught theology at Hope College and ESEPA Seminary in Costa Rica. He has published three previous books: Less than $2.00 a Day: A Christian View of World Poverty and the Free Market (2007), The Moral Disciple: An Introduction to Christian Ethics (2012), and From Cairo to Christ: How One Muslim’s Faith Journey Shows the Way for Others (2017).