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.
Perhaps motherhood is less about who we are
and more about who we let our children become.
Thanks, Mum, for letting me become me.
Thanks for letting me play in the dirt,
build forts in the woods
and climb trees taller than our house.
Thank you for my brothers–
companions in the world of pretend,
where winter was always coming
and we had to stock our pantry with
meat and potatoes–
pine cones and red chunks of log.
Thanks for giving me my own tiny garden
to grow flowers and cucumbers
and look for fairies in the morning dewdrops.
Thanks for letting me stay up late reading
“The Hobbit” and “Anne of Green Gables,”
and for those quiet chats before bed,
when the hectic bustle of the day was over
and you lay in your long cosy nightgown,
listening to me.
Thanks for taking me travelling
to live overseas,
to speak a new language
and see so many places
beyond our small town in Canada.
(It was awesome, eh?)
Thanks for making those thousands of school lunches
and the unimaginable amounts of laundry,
for letting me play soccer and do drama
and especially for coming to my plays.
Thanks for encouraging me to write, take pictures and chase dreams.
And as I read stories to my own brood of elves and fairies,
build forts and make gardens with them,
I smile at getting to be a kid again,
your happy daughter, still.
“The Happiness Project” author Gretchen Rubin identifies four stages of happiness. According to her research, “the key to happiness is squeezing out as much happiness as possible from a happy event.” “To eke out the most happiness from an experience,” she explains, ” we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.”
Anticipate, savour, express and recall. It is worth asking ourselves how much we do these things. Do we really enjoy our blessings, or do we allow happy moments or pleasant events to slip by without acknowledging them? Rubin feels that the awareness of being happy contributes greatly to our overall level of happiness. This is a good reminder to practice gratitude and to express it. It’s a good way to be happy and to share our joy.
The other night the younger kids fell asleep a little bit early (hallelujah!), so I got to snuggle my 8-year-old while my eldest read us Harry Potter. It was a cosy, relaxing moment and I made sure to really savour it. And then to tell people about it, and write about it…and so to make that simple happiness stretch from moments to days.
One of the beautiful things about childhood is making happy memories, and storing them up in our souls the way a dragon hoards gold…to bring us warmth and glimmer on rainy days. What is your favourite childhood memory? Have you told anyone about it recently? What is your favourite new memory? Recall and express it, and watch your happiness grow.
Here is a poem I wrote last year, before I started my blog. I stumbled upon it and thought I’d share it with you now, as the growing warmth of the sun is hopefully bringing up happy childhood memories of summer in all of us.
I remember sprawling in the grass
in my shorts and t-shirt
making a perfect imprint of myself in the ground
seven years old and utterly at home
as the afternoon sun pulsed red
through my closed eyes
Nothing but the singing of birds
and whisper of butterfly wings in my ears
nothing beyond the moment
Now I’m thirty-two years old
and nine months pregnant
leaning back in my lawn chair
as my toddler snuggles in my lap
and gives me Eskimo kisses
Our resident hummingbird sings heartily
unphased by the vroom and bang
of townhouse construction next door
The faint familiar scent of cut plywood
wafts over the fence to blend with the smell of garden manure
My five year old feeds the chickens
one scrap at a time
and gives me a play by play:
“Rosie ate a piece of lettuce off Chickeny’s back
and the brown chickens are fighting over a tomato.”
“Mmmm…so funny,” I reply sleepily.
That same afternoon sun pulses down
red on my closed eyelids
and out of my mind
too tired for thoughts
begins to float poetry