Gezina “Sien” Eikens (nee Mensen)
Written by Randy Stafford (son-in-law)
On behalf of the immediate family, I would like to extend our gratitude to each of you for your compassion and support, and for making the effort to be here today, to not only participate in the service, but to also join us in celebrating and reminiscing about Sien.
I also wish to take a moment to thank the many of you here today, and those who could not be attendance, for the expressions of support and compassion you have all afforded Sien and the family, not only this week but the many months leading up to today. I would like to specifically mention the care givers who have rotationally lived with Sien, providing her continuous and increasing levels of care, but just as importantly, compassionate companionship, to each of you, Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I have been asked to say a few words about Gezina, or Sien, as most of us here know her. I seldom used Gezina when I addressed her unless I wanted Sien to appreciate that I was serious about what I was saying. Cindy would say “oh, oh mom, he called you Gezina, you better listen” and together they would mockingly roll their eyes at me – I get no respect! Gezina, I hope you are listening now, because counter to your nature someone else is getting the final word and it is me, although I am certain you will have lots to say and correct me when we next meet.
So – who was Sien Eikens? She was, and is, so many different things to many of us here and not here today. She was a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, grandmother, and neighbour just to name a few of the roles she had in our diverse experiences with her. But to understand who she was in the context of how she related to each of us, it is also important to know her in the context of her 86 plus years she was on this earth!
Sien was the third youngest of 9 children. She was the youngest of 4 girls. As a young girl she lived through, or perhaps more appropriately, survived through the war and a German occupation. She was 11 years old when the war started and 17 when it ended. Think about this, second youngest so not the last – and spoiled (as a youngest child I can say this), but not the biggest or strongest either. She had to speak loud and demandingly I suspect, just to have her then young voice and thoughts heard. These would have been tough and lean times. You had to fight to stay strong as a family and then fight harder in that family to survive as an individual. There would have been a theme of survivalism that would have been entrenched early into Sien’s persona. A strength and skill she would rely upon many times as she went through life. This would have shown up in her ability and unabated practise of speaking up and speaking her mind. It was said of Sien, ‘she is not always seen, but she is always heard’ and many, if not all of us have been on that side of a conversation ripe with honesty as seen and told by Sien.
Sien’s youth, although full of the love of family and community, would have been one of much sacrifice. It is understandable that once married to Henry, they were quick to want to leave the continent to search for something better, even if better was simply the chance for opportunity. I am grateful they chose Canada, but had the fare for sea passage been less expensive they would have gone to Australia. They landed in Quebec in 1951 with less than $68.00 to their name, but rich in a spirit full of wonder and opportunity. Sien and Henry worked hard, share-cropping and saving their money on their way through Quebec and Ontario, going without until they could manage to purchase their own land to farm.
It is odd, but this week many forms that have been required to be completed have all asked for Sien’s occupation. So what do you say, house wife? Farmer’s wife? It all seems inadequate a title as to the role and leadership that Sien had in the Eiken’s business, and as many here can attest, farming is a business. Henry was the visionary and the brawn on the fields. Sien equally importantly was the operational lead. She managed the books and affairs. She contained Henry’s plans so that when they could, they would be executed and executed successfully. I am told that in the kitchen was a sign that Henry had purchased for Sien which read ‘behind every successful man stands a women telling him he is wrong’. Sien was also the brawn of the house, at times having to maintain residences and 3 square meals a day for a labour force of many. One crop season there were 28 to feed daily. You can appreciate where Sien’s frugalness came from – the tough years of going without in Holland, then again as she and Henry built their lives in Canada. Now forgive me this generalization but being Dutch, she was also inherently frugal, and Father Ace, if I many I will borrow an insight you shared this week – what is the difference between a Dutch person and a canoe? ……. A canoe tips! So add to this what Sien learned through her own life and you will see and understand the person we all know and loved. She worked hard for her money. She took very good care of it and was rightfully proud of what she and Henry achieved and after Henry passed - what she continued to achieve. I think it important to also appreciate the empathy she learned during those formative years. Sien almost in contradiction of herself was also very generous and loved to give to those whom she saw as having a need. She did her best to support the community and those less fortunate,
Sien was also a mother and grandmother. She was a true momma bear. She loved her children and grandchildren without limit, but also let them know when they were offside, and trust me they all took turns at being offside – some even excelled at it. Sien’s desire to be a mother can be best illustrated in the fact that immediately upon learning that she was challenged in having children naturally she was most excited to be able to adopt, and of her four children - she of which she was (and I hesitate to use this word knowing them all) blessed, 3 were adopted. Now I know that these four children were to create the loving family she and Henry so wanted in their lives, but they also were a cheap source of labour. So being as wise as they were, they understood that with a few unproductive years of nurturing, they could be put to work and work they all did as a family – for the family.
It is important to me that in speaking of Sien, we all understand that the stubborn, opinionated, thrifty and outspoken Sien, was who she had to be – and who she became – so she could make and enrich her family’s lives in Canada. These characteristics partially through practise and the fact that they were successful continued to be a part of her, but so did the subtle loving, nurturing and generous Sien.
I had the pleasure to know Sien only for 35 years or so, and as much as I saw the kind loving, matriarchal leader of her family and community, I also saw the CFO of the family business, and the strong character we all knew. Over the years I knew her to be opinionated but also if you gave her time she was very tolerant. She spoke with staunch conviction that was often contradicted by her actions. Personally Sien and I often disagreed, it started early in our relationship, we disagreed over who her daughter should date then who she should marry, as well as numerous other life choices and of course social and political convictions, but she always welcomed me and made me feel at home and part of the family. Over time I often would tease her and make a joke at her expense, we had an unspoken agreement. I would not be too harsh with my tongue, and she in turn would never punch me too hard when I chided her. I knew her as a women of strong opinions and convictions, when she made her mind up she would become exceptionally stubborn, in fact we are all familiar with the phrase ‘stubborn and a mule’. Well when the mules speak of stubbornness, they say ‘stubborn as a Gezina’.
As the years went by, Sien and I became fond of one another, she started to believe or simply accepted I was not going away, and she had to work with me. After Henry passed she asked for my thoughts and guidance regarding financial matters. In fact, in time she affectionately called me her “Minister of Finance”. Every year at tax time she would be disappointed that she had to pay taxes. I always told her paying taxes are not a bad thing, but a good thing because it means you made money and had income, but she only saw it as her resources being taken away (there is that canoe again)! I always knew she would never praise or thank me for any assistance – and knew the compliment was in not being fired!
Sien loved her crafts. I think they came from her intrinsic nature to be busy, even in sitting down after a long day she had to keep her hands busy. She quilted as you can see up here on the table. Her production was like a factory. She donated numerous quilts (30+ I think) to the Bowmanville Hospital so they could auction off and raise funds, and the family continues to find many dozen more as we look through the house. In her recent years she stuck to knitting, she specialized in hats for newborns and there was seldom a visit by Cindy and I where we did not return to Toronto with dozens of hats that we were to drop off to the maternity ward at St. Michael’s Hospital.
Sien or rather Gezina was an 86 year old women, and as such she had layers of complexities and personas she used to manage and succeed in the world, but at her core she was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, aunt, sister, neighbour, and community leader.
In closing I would like to again thank those here and those who could not attend, for your kindness, generosity and compassion. As you get caught up in the day to day events and worries of life you sometimes lose your belief in the goodness of humanity, thanks to each of you and especially thank you to Gezina for reminding us of our common goodness.