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The Lodi bus was the oldest bus in the Eastern Christian School Association fleet. We knew our lowly status just from riding that bus. The Association bought a new bus every year, but it never went to Lodi. The new buses went to Wyckoff and Midland Park. Even the Clifton kids had a newer bus than we did. But we lived among the heathen—not in one of the Dutch Calvinist colonies of New Jersey—and worse, among the low-class heathen. Lodi was a Mafia town. We were from “Galilee among the Gentiles,” and we got the oldest bus.

We had an ancient driver too—old Abe Kievit. He was quiet and patient. He drove calmly and deliberately, and he never yelled at us. Maybe his patience came from being “Nederduits,” the Dutch church that denied you any certainty of salva­tion, and he was probably going to hell anyway, so why not take his time.

I got on the Lodi bus the first day of school in 1964 with my older brother and younger sister. We were new. I was entering sixth grade at the Passaic Christian School, which was the runt school of the Eastern Christian School Association. My sister was going to third grade, and my brother to the Junior High, so at Passaic he’d transfer to the Clifton bus to continue on to the Dutch ghetto of Prospect Park, a suburb of Paterson.

My dad was a Reformed Church pastor, and we had moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey. We three were the only Christian School kids in Saddle Brook, so we had to walk a half-mile to another town to meet the bus. Some kids were on already. The elite kids from the better suburbs of Paramus and Fair Lawn sat in the back, and in front of them were the lesser kids from Maywood and Rochelle Park. We three got on and looked out the windows. The next girl to get on wore so much makeup I thought she was a heathen too.

We entered the old mill town of Lodi, its center being demolished for “urban re­new­al.” (The federal money disappeared and nothing new got built.) We drove up a hill to get a group of kids from the dwindling Dutch outpost on the east side, where the First Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church endured each other back to back. We looped through Hasbrouck Heights and then over to the west side of Lodi for the Bruinooges, then through Garfield and Wallington—the rust belt of Bergen County—and into deep Passaic for a little Hungarian girl with braided hair and an exotic smell. Finally we climbed Passaic’s Dutch Hill to the Christian School, where the Clifton bus sat waiting for the junior high kids.

I knew some of the Lodi kids already: Paul, Phil, and Sammy Ten Brink. Their dad was the Christian Reformed pastor. Our parents had been college friends, and we had visited with them that sum­mer. They had moved from South Dakota the year before, and Sammy called his lunch box his “dinner pail.” Paul was my age, tall, good-looking, and outgoing, and I wished I could play the guitar like him, and basketball.

Getting on the bus with the Ten Brinks were Tommy and Glenna Thomasma. Tommy was my age too, and Glenna was a year behind. Their dad was the preacher at the First Reformed Church. Tommy was tall like Paul, athletic too, but blond and broad in build, more inward, and less supremely confident. Right off I liked him. We sat together, or one of us with Paul, and we became a threesome, preacher’s kids, and on weekends I liked to go to Lodi to be with them and away from my older brother.

My Brooklyn childhood had not prepared me for the social patterns of blue-collar Jersey, and that first day of school was full of wonders. We got off the bus to face the Clifton kids and the local kids from Dutch Hill. It was a “changing neighbor­hood.” People of color were moving in and the Christian Reformed churches were moving out. The local kids were tough and scrappy, and they acted like they owned the place. Janet Cooper was quick and fierce. She climbed the monkey bars in front of the school, looked into our classroom window, and shouted, “She has red hair! She has red hair!”

Our new red-haired teacher was a rookie from Grand Rapids—Mrs. Rooze. I don’t know why, but the sixth-grade class of the Passaic Christian School disliked her immediately and decided to take her out. There were ten of us, four girls and six boys, sharing a classroom with the six kids of the fifth grade—our mascots. At recess we played as one. We were all nice kids, all good church kids. We knew our Bibles, we went to catechism, and we all could pray out loud. But together we were as much a gang as a class, and we were mean to her, and we achieved our goal—she quit that June.

I am not proud of this; it was our version of Lord of the Flies. Was it because we were the oldest kids in our school? Or did we somehow embody the Tribe of Dan, just barely part of the sacred subculture? Only three of our ten were top-notch Christian Reformed, the rest of us being merely Reformed or only half Dutch or not Dutch at all. We were the weeds invading the garden, the baptized barbarians destroying Rome. I am sorry, Mrs. Rooze, wherever you are.

In that first week I was introduced to Band. Tommy played the baritone horn, Glenna clarinet, and David Bruinooge trombone. I wanted to play a brass instrument, but I thought my parents expected me to play the clarinet, so I chose what I did not want. I sat with Glenna and we suffered our clarinets. I could play it okay, but I had a lousy embouchure, and I bubbled at the mouth, so Mr. Verstraate called me “Lawrence Welk.” On Band days, Tommy would climb into the bus with his big dented horn (they probably gave the new horns to the kids in Wyckoff and Midland Park), and I was envious. I would ask to hold it. I would play some notes on it and show that I could. I think I loved that horn more than he did.

The Passaic police initiated Safety Patrol, and that became us, the sixth-grade class. We got to wear white canvas shoulder belts with a badge. We took turns being Safety Patrol on the bus, which meant nothing, because the junior high kids ignored us. We got to elect our officers, and I was captain, Tommy lieutenant, and Paul sergeant. But the principal selected the chief, and she chose one of the girls, Judy, who got to wear a yellow belt with a special badge. We figured it was because her mother was a teacher in the school and her father was the preacher at the last Christian Reformed church in Passaic. We boys were mean to Judy for a week.

The ride to school was long, and Mr. Kievit was tolerant. Someone in the back seat started a poker game, which was a sin. We three started playing five-card draw, and even bet pennies, until Paul’s brother Phil ratted on us and we got detentions. No one would sit with Phil. We risked detentions too when we had food-fights with our lunches; I remember my brother throwing tangerine sections down the aisle.

On Friday nights I went to Lodi for Cadets, the Christian Reformed antidote to the Boy Scouts. The Ten Brinks and Tommy and David Bruinooge were in it, plus some kids who did not go to Christian school, and I got to be in the inner circle. Sometimes I went to their church activities, and was introduced to Christian Reformed culture. Their method of catechism was dif­ferent than my dad’s. Their worship was chilly and dry. They had no choir. They used a different version of the Bible, and they called God “Jehovah.” At school we sang from the Psalter Hymnal (the old red one; I’m sure in Wyckoff and Midland Park they had the new blue one). Our favorite was “Let Them Praises Give Jehovah.”

The Thomasma’s church felt more like my dad’s. They used the same version of the Bible and they sang the same kind of hymns. They didn’t call God “Jehovah.” Rev. Thomasma wore a robe like my dad, and their choir did too, like ours. Rev. Thomasma was the only preacher I knew who stepped into the choir-loft to join in the anthem. He was kindly, quiet, and thoughtful, more than Rev. Ten Brink and my dad, who joked around and teased their kids.

The Ten Brink’s parsonage was noisy and fun. I was less often at the Thomasma’s. Their parsonage was handsomer, with a nice porch and big side yard, but it was quieter and just a little sad. Mrs. Thomasma was intelligent, pretty, and good-natured, but she had a debilitating disease and was often in pain. She was proud, though, and fought her weaknesses. She made us chicken-salad sandwiches, and I was surprised that she would make such nice food just for kids.

I loved to be with Tommy. I doubt he knew how much I admired him, especially his forth­rightness and his athletic ability. He wasn’t afraid of things, with a physical courage that I lacked. We both liked science, and he and I once moved our school desks around trying to explain to Mrs. Rooze how the moon always kept the same face toward the earth. We talked about everything, including girls (I had a crush on Judy, the safety patrol chief), and we argued about how sex worked. We talked about who could do less on Sundays: none of us could ride our bikes, and Paul and I couldn’t play ball, but at Tommy’s house we could play catch. My dad told me that Tommy’s dad did not hold to “verbal infallibility.” I was glad that in the summers his family would also go to Terrace Lake, where we Dutch Calvinists went to picnic and swim untainted by the world.

We kept our closeness into junior high in Prospect Park. The ten Passaic School kids were far outnumbered by the kids from the other Eastern Christian schools. Elementary kids are generalists and high school kids are specialists and the sorting out begins in junior high. Tommy and I got put in different homerooms and different class sections. At recess he played basketball, but I was left to join one of the “wallsies” games (the Paterson name for handball). We started reading different books, our interests were diverging, and the filtering of friendships had begun. During basketball season Paul and Tommy would stay after school for practice, but otherwise we were back together on the Lodi bus for the long ride home.

Until the end of eighth grade. Tommy’s father received two “calls,” one to Little Falls and one to Cresskill. The Little Falls church would be close enough to Paterson for Tommy to continue on with us to Eastern Christian High School. But Tommy’s dad decided on Cresskill, which was too far away, so Tommy would go to public high school. Then Paul’s dad took a call to a church in Clifton. Paul could stay on at Eastern Christian, but he and Tommy were no longer neighbors, and our threesome was breaking up.

I went to Paul’s new house in Clifton for an overnight. Twice I visited Tommy in Cresskill, and once I stayed over. It was the summer, and Tommy had been quickly accepted by the locals, especially the Vander Steens, who went to their church. When my dad arrived to pick me up, I was watching Tommy shoot hoops with Bucky Vander Steen, the local basketball star. I think the last time I saw Tommy was the Labor Day picnic at Terrace Lake. A group of us were down at the railroad bridge. The next day we’d all start high school, and I was standing as close as I could to Lisa Reid. My brother found me to tell that our Grandma Meeter had just died, and we had to leave. Tommy and I lost touch and our lives evolved apart.

That January, my dad took a new church in Long Island. My brother and I finished our year at Eastern Christian High by boarding with my aunt, and the next September we went to public school. For the first time in my life I could walk to school, and my best friend was a Jew. My long bus ride was over.

Daniel Meeter

Daniel Meeter is the pastor emeritus of the “Old First'' Reformed Dutch Church of Brooklyn NY. He and Melody have retired to New Paltz NY, where he does pulpit supply, some teaching, childcare of grandchildren, and feeding birds.    


  • Doug says:

    Those are some vivid memories! A well-told story. Thanks.

  • Steve Norden says:

    So lovely, insightful and transparent. Absolutely wonderful, Abunnah.

  • Gloria J McCanna says:

    Thanks for sharing such great childhood memories of places and people! It took me back to my public school bus days with our bus driver Mrs. Ernest, who was so short they tied wooden blocks to the pedals so she could reach them! And as she shifted, we would yell out, “Grind me a pound!”

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Wow, how god is in the details! Thanks for spelling this all out, the delineations & the divisions. What mapping, back then & now. To ponder. I was an English teacher at Eastern Christian from 1970 to 1974 while my husband was teaching at Passaic Christian. We were members of the Richfield CRC where Andy Rienstra was the pastor who facilitated the merger of Lodi CRC & Summer Street CRC with us. Interesting now … to muse about how we can be socialized to focus on lines vv circles. Difference as deficient vv informing. Here’s to always re-forming, that creative impulse.

  • Henry Hess says:

    What a delightful story! Please write more.

  • Henry Baron says:

    The memoir is off to a great start – to be continued?

  • George Goris Vink says:

    A delightful account from a son’s perspective. I’ve encouraged one of our four sons to do a similar reflection in a way only a son of a preacher could do so.

  • Sue Wessels Van Engen says:

    Wonderful memoir. Brings back many memories in vivid pictures. Continue the memoir. When I read this I was back in West Sayville living memories of that Dutch Calvinist upbringing.

    • Daniel Meeter says:

      I could write about summer Sunday mornings in West Sayville, waking down Division after saying hello to your Dad, and calling Good Morning to Walter Griek inspecting his flowers, as the bell was ringing from the First Reformed steeple.

    • Lois Roelofs says:

      I remember the name Wessels from West Sayville! Maybe Brum? I lived in the white parsonage on Atlantic Ave from ages 4-7 when my dad, Dewey Hoitenga, pastored the CRC. We’d lived in Paterson prior when my dad was a chaplain in WWll. I was too young to remember, but my four siblings would talk about those Christian Schools. Thanks, Daniel, for reviving old memories in such detail!

  • Valerie Van Kooten says:

    I’ve always believed that everything I needed to learn in life came from the school bus.

  • Joy De Boer Anema says:

    Daniel, I’m sorry for the long bus rides but I’m thankful you were a student at the junior high and that I had the privilege of being one of your teachers.

  • Roy Heererma says:

    Dan -your memories were inspiring! I was a classmate of your brother and traveled on the Wayne bus from Haledon. We lived in a very diverse non Dutch community mostly Italian and German residents. At the bottom of our street was the Botto house which was the center of the union effort during the strike of the silk
    mill workers in the early 1900’s. It is now a museum.
    The Great Falls area is now a National Park Site and is undergoing some awesome Kingdom witnessing changes. I would love to update you with what we dream of for Paterson in the future.
    Roy Heerema

  • Thomas Huissen says:

    Such an absolute gift to enjoy this morning! Thank you for sharing these memories and glimpses into why some of us are the way we are.

  • Ronald Mulder says:

    I grew up in the Hope Reformed Church of Montevideo, Minnesota where the Thomasma’s pastored our church for awhile. It’s interesting how our community of faith is intertwined with each other.

  • Love your memoir. I remember your father, Marvin, when he was our pastor at the Martin RCA. I wish he had been the pastor for that church again during the last few years. He would have been possibly able to keep that congregation from leaving the RCA, Please keep my wife Linda Kolk in your prayers as she attends the annual Synod again this year.

    • Daniel Meeter says:

      My Dad was conservative, but loving. He had ecumenical friendships, including Catholic priests. He loved the RCA, though often disagreeing, and he felt it had given him so much.

  • Bill Vander Weit says:

    Great story Daniel!
    I believe we were in the same class at Calvin.

  • Ellyn Deneau says:

    Your memories are before me, but I loved reading how life was back then, simpler, and the importance friends and family, , the social separations back then but it didn’t seem important, learning about the Bible and that did seem important, of course as “PK” those lessons were an understood way of life, mine a bit less than yours because I didn’t go to Christian schools. Still I’m surprised how much of those lessons I cherish and remember from our parents