Family Lines

stories for you

Month: April 2014

Moving on in more ways than one

Cabbagetown, Toronto.

Parliament Street in Cabbagetown, Toronto.

I’ve noticed a lot of people moving this weekend. Young people who look around the age of university students. I’ve seen them put clothing and framed posters into cars or trucks and then go back into condos or houses or apartment to get more. When I graduated from Acadia University in the 90s, I had more schooling to look forward to. I went to Ryerson University to take journalism and got another degree. The spring day I moved out of the apartment I shared with two friends in Cabbagetown was an emotional one. Not to mention expensive.

I had hired a moving company to collect my stuff, then take it and me to a storage unit where the vehicle would be unpacked before returning me to the apartment on Parliament Street. The moving company quoted me an estimate for an hour for two guys and it was reasonable. I didn’t have tons of things — just a few items to leave in Toronto for my sister who was headed to grad school in the area in the fall. Two hundred bucks to complete the job was fair.

I met the moving guys on a late morning and saw only one of them was a “guy.” The other was his six-year-old son. How are they going to move boxes and bedroom furniture from the second storey and get to the storage unit and unpack in only an hour? They would need some help.

I did what I could but it took a long time. The day was, as I remember, an OK one. It wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too cold. Buds were forming on the trees and the sky was overcast. As was my outlook on how the day was going to go.Sign.

There were many other things I had to do to prepare for heading back to Nova Scotia. The big one being spending time with my boyfriend, who would be soon taking off for his home in British Columbia. I wanted this move to go quickly but the packers were moving so slowly, taking breaks and standing around and talking. I mean, the kid shouldn’t have even been there but he was…so get to work!

Two hours later and they were ready to hit the road. I jumped into the cab of the van with them and we drove slowly to the outskirts of TO. There was no choice but to go slow, traffic was bumper-to-bumper and we were forced to crawl down the Don Valley Parkway, an “express” way.

Arriving at the storage unit, we unloaded pretty quickly. But not quick enough to make it under three hours. I was getting anxious as I saw my day creeping by and time flying out the window. Then I saw my money drain out of my not-so-full student bank account.

“Excuse me?” I asked when the mover told me how much I owed him.

The exact amount today escapes me but it was more than what he previously quoted. A lot more. Probably like $400 more. It was not a paid by-the-hour job but somehow it added up to one. Besides, he should be paying me some of that. I did half the work!

I didn’t complain. I didn’t argue. And I don’t know why. Perhaps it was because I was young and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I knew I was being taken advantage of and yet I paid up. Then he had the audacity to drop me and his son at a subway station to get the rest of the long way home. He had another job to do. (The son didn’t come home with me. I also think six is too young to take the subway alone.)

During this ordeal I couldn’t complain to my parents and let them take care of it. I was an adult. I was on my own. Deal with it. This was a first real-world lesson for me. Only a few days out of university and here was reality saying that not everyone is going to be honest or nice or even halfway decent. Although now I know how to stick up for myself.

History is not just in text books

sunset.

Spring sunset

It’s been almost a week since five people were killed in Calgary, each stabbed to death at a party. I have no immediate connection to the victims but I can’t help but think about how their families, and the suspect’s family, are dealing with an immense amount of tears, pain and confusion. It’s a horror I can’t even imagine can be put into words.

Some terrible things can be written down though, perhaps only because of the hindsight of history. I’ve been reading Hanns and Rudolf, The True Story of the German Jew Who Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding. It’s a look into the lives of two men – Hanns Alexander, a German-born Jew who moved to England during the rise of the Nazis, and Rudolf Höss, a German-born man who became the overseer of a horrific concentration camp. The book follows Alexander and Höss from their beginnings as children, to their entry into military service in World War II (one in the British Army, the other as a Nazi official), to Alexander hunting Rudolf, capturing him and making him face justice for what he did – the mass murder of at least 3 million victims.

Three million people died under Höss’ authority. That’s a tremendous amount of souls. The thing that stands out to me in the book is that Höss claims he was just following orders. He did have doubts about what he was doing but didn’t want to appear soft in front of his superiors or subordinates. So he never said a word to help those poor, poor people.

After the war, Höss was eventually captured by Alexander and taken to be a witness at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946. After Höss gave his testimony, he was sent to Poland to be tried for war crimes in that country. It’s here he was encouraged to write his stories. And he did.

In the pages of his memoir he related facts about his youth, his wife and family, his thoughts and deeds at Auschwitz. Throughout it all he claimed to be a normal person – not a wicked one. A man with a heart. Not a monster.

Poland sentenced Höss to death and hanged him on April 16, 1947. His legacy remains as one of death and the ripping apart of families for generations. His stories remain as a reminder to us that anyone can turn against a fellow human.

Alexander, the Nazi hunter, stayed silent about his accomplishments for many years. Until his stories surfaced at his funeral. That’s when his great-nephew decided to pick up a pen and write his uncle’s story. To finally share Alexander’s legacy as a witness to the atrocities with the rest of the world.

History is not just in text books. It’s in our memories. It’s good and it’s bad. With our World War II and Korean War veterans disappearing, there are many more stories to be told. We just need to catch them in time. To let them leave their historical legacies.

“The choices we make about the lives we live determine the kinds of legacies we leave.”
― Tavis Smiley, PBS host

Part with your clothes, not your memories

Garbage bag.

The garbage bag troll ready to eat clothing that I don’t want to give away.

There’s a big black garbage bag sitting in our closet. Actually, it’s not sitting – it’s squatting like a troll at the bottom of the wardrobe. The garbage bag troll has been there for a few weeks and every time I open and close the door, a piece of bag always gets stuck in the hinge. Flapping and waving outside the door every time I go by – reminding me I have to fill it with clothing. My clothing that I don’t want.

It’s not that I don’t want them – it’s that I haven’t worn them in a couple of years and they’re taking up valuable space in the closet I share with my husband. He’s good at getting rid of his old duds and even has room to spare side on his side of the wardrobe. My side is stuffed to the brim because I don’t want to part with anything.

Every t-shirt, pair of trousers and skirt is a story to me. Every lost button and rip and tear is a tale to be told. Every colour and pattern and print is a yarn of days and places gone by. How can I throw out all this material for memoirs?

Take the shirt I bought in Italy circa 10 years ago. I was a bride’s maid at a good friend’s wedding and the day before the big day, we went to the mercato (Italian for market.) There was a stall selling cool shirts for 2 Euros each and I bought three. One I gave to my sister, the other to a friend and the last one I kept for myself. It’s white with a silver dragon on it. Once the dragon stood out proudly on the front, its scales gleaming on the pure snow-coloured material.

When I see this shirt, I don’t just see a shirt. I see a bustling market in a small village. I feel the hot, hot, hot sun. I smell the leather from the shoe booths that line the other side of the street. I hear the lively conversations going on all around me. I can’t take part in them but ignorance is bliss and I can pretend they are only talking about happy things. Because I’m happy in that moment.

Today when I take a closer look at the shirt, I see the dragon is missing bits and pieces of her mythical body. She was once displayed proudly on a white background but it’s now more snow mixed with ash – grey. A sad canvas for a mighty beast.

We have memories to remember things. We don’t need a photograph or a memento or a shirt to be able to recollect specific moments. But it helps. It helps to keep us from forgetting the little things. It helps jog our memories. Alas, all my memories are cumulating into one big pile in the closet. Maybe it’s best I let some go and make room for new ones.

Thank you for the thank yous

Cards.

My wonderful thank you cards.

In January I gave a presentation on memoir writing to some students at Chris Akkerman School. I wondered how the kids would find writing their life stories and worried if they would find it boring.

That wasn’t the case. They had lots to share and many anecdotes to tell me from their relatively short lives so far. A few weeks later I received a large manila envelope with many, many colourful thank you cards, a few questions and, of course, some memoirs.

By Randeep:

Here is my little story.

The second time I went to India with my little sister (who was only three months old then) I met my devil cousin Aman. He was the most naughty boy ever and there is one thing that he did to me, which I will never forget.

He took my aunt’s old stinky perfume and sprayed it on me and called my mom and said I peed in my pants. Now after six years he is coming from India for two to three months for a visit. I wonder what will happen.

**

By Samad:

I didn’t have the chance to share my memoir during your presentation so I’m going to share it with you right now.

When I was in preschool we were going outside to play on a water-thingy that was filled up with air. I wasn’t able to go outside because I didn’t have my towel so I was sad. Everyone was playing outside while I was playing with toys inside with a teacher.

After I looked in my backpack again and I found my towel so my teacher asked me if I wanted to go outside. But guess what I said?

I said I didn’t want to go outside because I wanted to play with toys.

**

Poem by Komal

So beautiful

The best author ever

Oh! Isn’t she wonderful?

Really cool

Really awesome too.

**

By Manveer:

I have a lot of memories. Most of them are funny. One is when it was sports day. Sports day is where you play sports. On that day I wore my pants backwards the whole time.

**

My memoir by Sikhman:

The time I will never forget. It was in the summer when the greatest thing happened to me. We went to Edmonton. It was fun when we went. On the way to Edmonton we went to Sylvan Lake. In Edmonton we went to our hotel room and it was 9 p.m. and we got pizza and went to sleep. I got to sleep on a cool chair. The next day we went to Tim Horton’s for breakfast. Then last but not least, we went to West Edmonton Mall and went to Galaxyland

**

I want to share a memoir. By Komal:

I still remember when my grandfather died. I was looking all over for him and everyone said the same thing, “He’s at work.”

I was only one.

**

My memoir by Shrill:

I have to go to a place and when I go to it we always go in the middle of the night. We’re tired little people and we want to go to sleep.

**

Good luck bad luck penny

I was walking down the street and I found a penny. I thought it was lucky and I took it.

The next thing you know I had mud all over and my back was hurting because I slipped on a banana peel. So I threw the penny away.

Will the bad luck stop?

**

Puppy by Diya:

Once upon a time there was a little puppy. That little puppy’s name was Max. Max was a brave little puppy who went on adventures.

His adventures were awesome. He had some problems solving his problems. Then he went to the shelter. A girl name Lea bought him. Both were happy together.

**

Questions from the classes:

Harleen asked me what my favourite colour is: green.

Do you have a pet? What kind and what is her/his name?

I have a pet cat and her name is Thursday.

Do you have a brother or a sister?

I have two sisters.

Uditi asked me if it’s hard writing non-fiction books.

On one hand, it’s easy to write non-fiction because you’re writing about your life and you know what happened. But on the other hand, you can’t make stuff up like a fiction writer would. So I think it’s harder to write non-fiction.

Sneha wants to know if I have any book ideas for writing.

For non-fiction you could write about what fun things you do in school. You can also interview your parents or grandparents and find out what they used to do at school. You could also ask them to what they remember about being a kid.

For fiction you could write about having a super power. What does having this super power mean? Do you have to rescue everyone?

Some students said they’re keeping diaries (or a journal as Greg from Diary of a Wimpy Kid would call it.)

Harveer:

You have inspired me to keep my own diary. In my diary I could write memoirs of special days. I will also get pages and write a story and then staple the pages together and make a book. My cousin does that. He has about 10 books already.

Tarnpreet asked me:

Did you do any other jobs before you became an author?

Yes, I was a journalist before I became a memoir writer. Being a journalist is good training to becoming an author. As a reporter you learn how to interview people and how to write.

Do you like this job or not?

I love my job as a memoir writer. People have so many cool stories to tell me and I like collecting their tales so other people can read them too.

How many books have you written about yourself?

I wrote one book about myself. It’s about when I lived in the Northwest Territories a few years ago.

How many memoirs have you written?

I’ve written at least five memoirs for other people and hope to write many, many more.

Gurpreet and Aastra asked me if I’m really afraid of squirrels and not bugs or other animals.

Yes, squirrels scare me a lot as you heard in my story. Bugs and other animals don’t really bother me. I did come face-to-snout with a bear once. That was a scary situation.

I received so many compliments and if I ever need a boost I’ll read your thank-you cards over.

 

 

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