By Babs Rodriguez
Photos courtesy of Caroline Crocker
Meta Evenbly recalls a brutal life as an immigrant child during World War II and how Southlake became home
Our morning visit with Meta Evenbly starts off with the Southlake author pouring two cups of coffee and setting out a plate of chocolate-covered windmill cookies. A vase filled with tulips sets the scene of another place and time conjured up by the daughter of a Dutch mother and German father. But it is the 88-year-old’s lilting voice that transforms the experience into time travel, pulling us with her into a past filled with childhood memories both happy and haunting.
These stories are now part of Meta’s memoir, Brave Face: The Inspiring WWII Memoir of a Dutch/German Child, co-authored with her daughter, Caroline Crocker.
A natural storyteller, Meta segues easily from one tale to the next. “They are my stories,” she says. “It is easy to tell them.”
Her daughter also produced a series of YouTube videos that prove Meta, who looks 20 years younger than her age, is a natural in front of the camera. They’re based on the pair’s jaunt through urban landscapes that are the backdrops for her youth.
Meta’s memories traveled with her from the Netherlands to Canada, Des Moines, Houston and, for the past 25 years, her red brick home less than 2 miles away from Southlake Town Square. Her five children were already grown when she moved here from Houston with her husband, Frits Evenbly (a computer software professional). She was underwhelmed by the two-lane roads and the dearth of good grocery stores and a proper coffee shop. Of course, things have improved since she first arrived.
Just after her husband’s passing in 2017, Caroline and Meta conceived the idea of writing a book. Caroline wrote down stories she remembered hearing from her mother, with Meta filling in the gaps. Caroline also did the historical research, which Meta fact-checked for accuracy. During the pandemic, Meta and Caroline sat together for hours, editing the book.
“All my life I told my stories to my children, because I never liked that they really only knew me as ‘Mom.’ I wanted them to know me as a person.”
Like the resourceful survivor she is, Meta jotted down memories on scraps of paper or whatever was at hand, including the backs of notes from her grandchildren.
Her story starts at age 5, when she lived in a second-floor flat in the center of her home village in the Netherlands. She and her family struggled to find food during the war and almost starved to death. They were so weak with hunger the day Allied troops arrived with food that none of them could walk down to the street to collect a chocolate bar.
Some tales are universal and details are cinematic: lessons learned when a flower is stolen and apologies must be made and memories of a German soldier’s shiny boots. Some are horrific, like witnessing a murder when she was 6 years old.
Asked why it was important to publish, she says, “I want my stories to shine light on the effects of war. War continues. Deprivation and intolerance continue to traumatize children. Immigrants are still struggling. I am an immigrant. My father was an immigrant from Germany to the Netherlands; Frits’ parents were born in the Congo. Because of that, in 1967, when Frits and I first attempted to move from Canada to his job in Des Moines, his application was denied because we were classified as Africans.”
She still travels with her children, including a trip to Portugal that followed the first half of her book tour (see Details for upcoming local dates). But she is always happy to come home to Southlake.
“Here, I know my neighbors. If I am lonely, I go to a restaurant or coffee shop and I can always start a conversation with somebody.”