It all began in my sister in law’s family room. Four generations gathered from each side of her family for my niece’s baptism. It was after dinner as we all sat in the living room partaking in our nightcaps when my ears perked up to hear my husband’s grandmother recount a story of when her family immigrated to Canada from Holland. Evidently when they lived overseas, they were an affluent family, but the town they moved to, out West, was nothing like where they lived in the Netherlands. They left a metropolis for dirt roads, wells and no electricity. She continued to reflect on a memory of finding her mother under the stairs, hugging and stroking her vacuum. Her mother mourned her beloved appliance because without any available electricity, her labor saving device was a better paper weight than its designated custodial design. I remember sitting in the lounger across the full living area, finding her anecdotes not only hilarious but noteworthy. I began jotting her words on my phone.
On the long eight hour journey home, I remember picking my husband’s brain asking if any of his siblings or cousins in his very large extended family had taken interest in their grandmother’s story. When did they immigrate to Canada? Why did they immigrate? When and how did she meet her husband? He simply shrugged his shoulders to most of my questions and had very little to offer to satisfy my curiosity. It must have been a combination of interest and my own guilt of missed opportunities to question my own dearly departed grandparents that fuelled my desire to inquire further into her mysterious past.
So you are probably wondering what on earth does this have to do with the posted picture and the title “Work in Progress”? The stars appeared to align because without a prompt, what arrived in the mail? A letter package from my husband’s grandmother, Hennie herself, containing about seven typed pages recounting her memories back when she was a child in Holland. What I quickly learned in the first few paragraphs is that she lived in occupied Holland during World War II. I had always assumed that her family immigrated to Canada before 1939. I was not only astounded by the sheer depth of her memories but was floored that she was describing moments that occurred when she was five years young. She remembers everything like it happened last week. I was mesmerized at her ability to recall dates, names, sights of her hometown and the devastation during the war years. I was moved by the struggles of her family who went from harvesting their own backyard garden to eating propaganda flyers out of pure desperation and starvation. The tales of her neighbours working together to salvage and share what little food they had strengthened my faith in humanity. What struck a deep resonating cord was that even in their dire position, her heroic family placed their own lives at risk in choosing to save as many Jewish children and families as they could muster. Facing a casting cloak of evil and hatred, each day Hennie’s family pushed on, spreading hope while evading capture and essentially death.
I finished her brief yet detailed work with tears in my eyes and the deep urge to learn more. I inquired further and found out that she was working on her memoirs. She had heard through the extensive family grapevine that I was working on completing my first book. Inevitably we both reached out to one another and now, here we are, a book in the making. It will recount how her family overcame the hardships all while saving others in a devastating time full of hatred and the ever looming threat of death. Its a beautiful courageous story, told through the eyes of a child that endured a horrific time in our recent history. It is a story of faith, perseverance, hope, love of family, friends and human kind.
I am proud that I can be the muse that will complete a dream of my ‘adopted’ grandmother. She may not be directly related by blood, only by my marriage, but I know that her family’s blood now runs through my children. My kids now share in her story and her heritage. I am proud and privileged to be the platform for this story. My only hope is that I make my children’s ancestors proud.
Thanks for reading and keep checking back for updates on the progress of the book.