Here is a short piece I wrote for my writing class about my amazing Dutch Granny. The assignment was to describe someone based on their likes and dislikes, rather than what they looked like, etc. On this special day of remembrance, it seemed fitting to share a little of her story with you.
Every night, Granny Koenig took grim satisfaction in throwing Hitler off her third story apartment balcony. He deserved it; he was trying to steal her jewelry box. The wound of living through two world wars in Holland ran deep enough to be embedded in her dreams, and caused to her to wander the house weeping some nights. But in the bold light of day, she gloried in her nocturnal victories. After all, they made good stories, and she enjoyed telling stories to her three Canadian grandchildren who had come to live with her.
She told them of her father, the German Baron whom she despised for abandoning her poor French mother, who had died when Granny was only five, leaving her orphaned and alone. She relished in telling the children about the naughty things she had done in church, such as what exactly she had put in the holy water, for she had no use for God the Father after her own father disappeared.
Granny Koenig loved to sit in her rocking chair and describe her self-made success… how she learned French and English as well as her native Dutch, and was able to be a nanny for a wealthy American family who took her on cruises, decked out in black velvet and diamonds. How she had cherished that velvet…her fingers thrilled at the memory of its softness.
Granny Koenig despised such things as smoking and drinking, which she had never, ever done. The children tried not to smirk at the picture hanging above her rocker, showing their Granny drawing on a huge cigar with delight. You could forgive an old woman some discrepancies when she frequently bought you popsicles from the newsstand flower shop on the corner, and delighted in chasing your little brothers around the apartment, waving her walking stick in mock anger when they put toy bugs on her neck. In any case, anyone brave enough to hide Jewish children in her house during the war, and to still face the Fuhrer every night in her dreams, certainly deserved to be treated with generosity, even we children knew that.
A witch’s children seldom sleep;
they stay up in their rooms
conjuring up mythical lands,
building kingdoms and castles,
or run through the house—
all wide-eyed wildness
once the full moon comes up,
and mirrors itself in their round, blue eyes.
They dance, cackle and fly about the room
until a crash into the wall—or each other—
signals the doom-bell of bedtime.
The later the louder;
the more tired the more terrible,
until their witch-mother’s exasperated hair
shoots out in all directions like flames.
Finally, she has to resort to softly chanting spells
to soothe her tiny witches and warlocks to sleep.
When their dark lashes lay on their cheeks at last,
they almost look like ordinary children,
but the witch grins to herself…
she knows better!
Her hair is askew;
she has the rakish look of a wild one
who has been up with the werewolves,
swaying under the 3 o’clock moon,
chanting spells to lure the world to sleep.
She can often be seen muttering over her pots,
consulting her glowing spell book
and adding one by one to her potion
pinches of hope, dashes of courage, and handfuls of strength.
Her bittersweet sacrifice of love
rises like incense from her steaming cauldron.
She has a healing touch
to soothe the brows of feverish toddlers,
comfort crying babies,
and reassure the young witches in training,
as they begin to see shapes in the darkness around them—
the fears they must face and fight
on their journey to take flight.
But even the life-giving, spell-weaving woman
gets worn down at times,
and caught up in the storm around her,
she shoots lightning from her eyes
and thunder from her terrible mouth
so that all things might cease!
She longs for a moment’s solitude,
to untangle the lightning from her hair;
refill her well with starlight
and the song of flowers
to weave into spells the next day.
In the hush of a deep breath she remembers
that her most important spells do not decorate
life’s struggles in sparkling cobwebs;
rather they reveal to her children the deeper magic
that was around them all along,
and help them draw life from it,
even in the darkest moments before dawn.
She knew it might be bad, but she hadn’t expected it to be this bad. It wasn’t like she had done it violently or without warning. Nevertheless, it had plunged her daughter into the depths of despair.
“I will never eat again!” she declared, lower lip trembling as her eyes began to redden.
“That’s too bad; you’ll get pretty hungry.”
“I won’t open my presents. I won’t come to Easter or Christmas.”
“Really? How sad. That’s a lot to give up.”
“I won’t ever let you help me!” she threw out this statement like a well-aimed spear, sure it would conquer her enemy and bring victory.
“You’re only hurting yourself, babe,” her mother deflected the spear with a shield of serenity. “I’m sorry you’re so sad.”
The girl thrust out her jaw and glowered up at her mother with narrowed eyes.
“I’m not sad, I’m angry!”
“Ok, I’m sorry you’re angry, then. But why don’t you go up to bed, honey? It’s time to sleep.”
“I will never sleep. I will just stand by my bed with my eyes open. I will never shut my eyes again!”
“Oh, really?” the woman sighed. Determination was a great trait. To be sure it had helped her daughter finish the steep, two hour hike up the mountain with her Dad the other day, chattering the whole way up. But when it was bedtime, determination to have one’s own way was a distinct disadvantage in a child of three.
“Sweetie, you can play more Reading Eggs tomorrow. I had to turn it off ‘cause it was 9:30. Now it’s 10:15. You have to sleep.”
“I will never sleep!”
The woman rubbed her head and sighed. You can’t fight crazy. She climbed into bed and nursed her baby to sleep. Eventually, the war-weary toddler climbed in under the blankets and hid. That way no one would see her eyes close.
Thank you to everyone who supported me yesterday, on my Dad’s first anniversary of passing away, whether by a phone call, text, email, food, flowers at the door or even a gift basket brought by my sweet neighbour Lorie. It means a lot to be loved and accompanied by you all!Thank you also for your prayers which carried me through the day with a lot of extra peace and grace. We are truly so tenderly supported!
Last week, I was chatting with my friend Sister Angela as she came to drop off some bread and fruit for us (yup, spoiled again) and she said something helpful about loss. That there’s a saying that when you are missing someone, you should do what they would do…strive to imitate the things you admired about them.
So in my Dad’s memory, because he had such a heart for the poor and oppressed, we are going to make a donation to a family who is fleeing persecution overseas, and needs funds to help keep them at a temporary safe-house until they can get their refugee papers completed to come to Canada.
What grabs my heart is that they are good, hardworking people who are fleeing an unjust government, and that they had to leave almost everything behind, except their two children and a suitcase or two. In this precarious situation, with death threats hanging over them, they are trying to be a loving family and reassure their little children who just want to go back to school or play outside. Right now they can do neither.
But for $35 a day they have room and board for the next few months, and help to bring them food. This already is a miracle, as their previous situation was even worse. My dear friends Monique and Ryan who are fundraising for them are in direct contact with them, as one of their relatives is a student of Ryan’s. He explains much more on video updates on his gofundme site.
Please pray for their safety, as for all the paperwork to go through as soon as possible. if you’d like to hear more of their story, or share it with others, please visit the site below:
“Every day, expect a miracle.” ✨Bob McCandless, my Dad ✨
Here’s another poem about my Dad from this summer, written in early July.
The Simplest Things
It’s been nearly eight months
but the simplest things can still set me off,
like dumping out Suzie’s Spicy Brown Mustard,
which I took out of your fridge after you died
and kept as long as possible
(even long after it expired)
just because I didn’t want to let any piece of you go—
anything that smelled like lunch with you, Dad,
like you visiting,
like you smiling at me from across the table,
and it being the best day ever
because you were there.
We had a simple candy hunt at home—happily three year olds are easily amused. She ran around gathering candy in her Wonder Woman outfit, and joyfully announced to her Dad,
“It never rained candy in our house before!”
Until my October Garden post not long ago, I hadn’t written on my blog for so long. It is not that I stopped writing, but that I stopped sharing. Sorting through my Dad’s belongings this past summer while I cleaned out his apartment, I was at times overwhelmed with memories, longings and regrets. I read over old letters and cards I wrote him as a child. He saved every one in a special folder, “Anna.” Every one since since before I could spell Daddy.
The pain of having lost so much time with him as a child after the divorce, and while living overseas in Holland as a teenager, resurfaced. I didn’t want to talk about it, because I didn’t want to hurt my Mum, but silence is suffocating, at least for me. I need to let things out to let them go.
I did pour that pain into poetry, and as my Dad’s one year of passing approaches on November 9th, I am going to share some with you again.
Since losing a baby 7 years ago in labour, and losing my Dad last year to cancer, I have written a lot of poetry about grief. I wonder if this bothers some people in our “get over it and on with it” society. Am I that weird lady who always writes about death?
At the core of it though, I realize I am ultimately writing about love—because love is what connects us beyond death. Grieving is not being stuck in the past, but honouring the fact that parts of your heart have gone ahead to the future, leaving holes until you are reunited.
All we can hope is that the holes will make our hearts bigger, and let the light shine through from those we love, who are already bathed in heavenly peace. If this is all too cheesy and cliché, that’s just too bad. I am tired of not sharing. So with no more fuss, here is one of my poems from this summer:
1 July, 2021
I am sitting in the living room
folding laundry when I find a sudden sign of you
I inhale your familiar scent
lingering beyond the grave in your soft pillow case
I crumple and hide my face in it
faded and butter-soft from oh so many washing’s
I think of your quiet gentleness
your simplicity, poverty, and deep love of peace
I remember your arms around me
my eyes closed, my face resting against your shirt buttons
I breathe in deeply and the pain swells
my heart bursting with the bittersweet scent of you, Dad
It is October. The garden sags under the weight of the year. Leaves wither and curl. Lupins droop and drag their seed pods on the ground. The Earth exposes her belly as the covering of plants dies away. Yet Winter has not yet wrapped her fingers around the life of this place.
Japanese Lanterns hang every few inches, decorating the decay. Along the fence, clusters of flowers bloom. In the lawn, sprinkled with patches of weeds, dandelions hold up their heads to greet the sunshine. Bees still bumble about the garden, resting on the centre of the blossoms before taking off, legs covered in the fairy dust they will use to romance other blooms into existence.
Just beyond the fence, cars whiz by. When the light turns, they idle in front of the house, their drivers unaware of the seasons turning in the garden, moving round and round, tunnelling through time like earthworms, causing everything near them to grow.
This was a little writing exercise I did for a wonderful creative writing course I’m taking with Jonathan Rogers called Writing with Anne of Green Gables . L.M. Montgomery is so talented at painting a visual scene with her words, but surprisingly, doesn’t rely that heavily on adjectives and adverbs. Rather, she uses really vibrant verbs and specific, concrete nouns. For our class we had to describe what we saw outside, but without using adjectives or adverbs. It’s a fun challenge!
And now, since this is my blog and not homework, here are some pictures of my garden! 🪴