Verdwaald in Ponoka, a Dutch-Canadian Lost in Translation

October 15, 2013
by Tjeerd van Erve

Teach your children well, their parents hell will slowly go by

A book rests on my table, Verdwaald In Ponoka, the accompanying cd has found its way to the player. Memories of an immigrant youth in another world captured in word, image and music. In 1985 the family De Gier decided to challenge their luck and start a new life in Canada, back to farming as the De Giers’ had done for generations back. An adventure that they should’ve started, according to father De Gier near the end of his life. Or at least, so the book sleeve says.


But it is this adventure that gave birth to Verdwaald In Ponoka, a book that reads like a follow up on the famous Dutch real life show Ik Vertrek. A show that follows families that try to start a new life abroad, hopeful and full of dreams when they leave. But to all viewers it’s apparent that the dream is soon to perish when the economic and cultural reality kicks in. In Verdwaald In Ponoka reality did kick in, and hard. Hard enough for the family De Gier to return to the Netherlands, done farming.

Five years, but long enough to give the Rick De Gier a lasting impression for this book and ten songs, almost a quarter of a century later. Ten songs that lay somewhere between Eels, Lou Barlow and Sparklehorse. Americana with a rough edge, preying on warm, sad and loving memories of his father and life in the small village Ponoka.

Lately any detail brings me back to a bright day in Ponoka

Apparently his fathers’ hell is a fond memory for the son, as he opens the record with referring to the prairie village as his home. The World will turn, the sun will rise and everything will be alright he sings in the closure of the opening song ‘Bright Day In Ponoka’, reassuring his late dad. What the book and record makes clear – time for some speculated unfounded and uneducated psychology – is the struggle of Rick De Gier, between his own fond memories of his free youth with his nephews and the father that returned a broken and disillusioned man. Or as he puts it in ‘Borsten’ (my translation): My dad does not want to live here any more, my mom actually does and my sister Marian is not coming back with us as she sets out to study in Vancouver.

That Sucks, Jackee replies to the young Rick De Gier who just brought her that news, right after she told him she liked him.

I can’t wait to get back home, to the place I earned and the girl I know

Jackee, the first girl he loved, or at least fancied, and left behind, as he did his sister Marian – now still living in Canada and responsible for the great photos of the Ponoka area in the book – and the life he had made his own. There is a lot of understanding for his father in the songs and the book, him not being a farmer, him feeling lost no matter where he was, but the nostalgia and white spaces show that young De Gier was on ‘team mom’.

The Careless age, through a haze of sun and snow. I’ve been playing reruns ever since

But lets leave pseudo-psychology and barfly psycho-analyses to the barflies and gossip girls and look to the charm of Verdwaald In Ponoka, which is the talented storytelling it portraits. Rick De Gier pulls you into Ponoka. Life with his nephews, the angry but powerless schoolmaster in front of his dad, the breasts of Trevor’s niece and the collection of videos in his basement, he and Jackee on the swing confessing their pre-adolescent love in pre-adolescent style, they all become all to real to you.

Recognisable and romantically distant, every boy has a Jackee – mine splashed her feet around in the swimming pool of a campsite in Yugoslavia as she said ‘jij bent leuk’ making me feel all warm and gooie, just to take of to another campsite the next day – and everyone has a Trevor, making it easy to replace yourself in this autobiographic recollections. Few of us did so growing up on a farm in Canada, and then moving to Houten (of all places).

And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick
The one you’ll know by

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