It’s a funny thing… some of the most amazing things in life, I find almost impossible to put into words. At least soon after they happen. Given enough time and space, I am usually able to ‘tell the story’ of it, but at the time, it all gets locked away someplace sacred until such a time as my heart finds words to tell it. And that’s my dilemma about some recent events. How do you put into words experiences that are completely exhilarating and as fully unbelievable? But I will try…
I wrote in my previous blog about the notes that have started to trickle in from former neighbours in Mexico, many of whom are referred to in my book, or their families if not their names, specifically; and the notes keep coming in. As a result of those connections a book signing was scheduled at The Central (most amazing restaurant in Aylmer, IMO) on Saturday May 2nd from 11:00am to 2:00pm. But the action and excitement started the previous day…
I drove to Aylmer late afternoon for an interview with Craig Bradford, with the Aylmer Express, who was very kind in his questioning. Not having had the opportunity to read the book in advance, he needed a brief overview of my story, to know where to take the article. With Corinth, a small hamlet about ten minutes from Aylmer, being a significant part of the first half of the book, he was very interested in those years, while establishing family dynamics and context. We parted ways within an hour, with the promise that he would return in the morning to speak with a few people from my past.
My cousin Helen Knelsen and I had agreed we would meet after the interview, and go see her parents, my Uncle Jake and Aunt Anna Peters. They are the sweetest couple, those two, and always had a special place in my heart in childhood and early teens; something many years of separation did not rob from me. I’ve connected with Aunt Anna numerous times in the past few years at my mom’s, and promised one day I would show up at her house. This was the day.
We pulled in the drive and it hit me, “Do they know we’re coming?” I asked. Helen burst out laughing and said she figured I had contacted them. A surprise visit it would be, then, we decided.
Seeing Uncle Jake working in the yard, I jumped out of the car and waved and called out enthusiastically, “Hi Uncle Jake!”
Uncle Jake squinted, “Wha… What?” He paused. “What?… Uncle?” he asked, clearly not recognizing me, and wondering why this stranger called him uncle. Walking toward each other I said, “I’m Peter Harder’s Trudy”.
“What?! No…!!” he said, chuckling, and threw our arms around each other in a warm hug. We wandered to the house and Aunt Anna arrived at the door just at that moment, shocked to see me, and we indulged in a few more hugs. Sitting at their island and chatting, Uncle Jake would walk by every now and then and squeeze my shoulders, still trying to absorb it and struggling to believe it was me. It was delightful!
“I’ve grown up and out,” I said, at one point, laughing. Last time he saw me I was a scrawny teenager, slightly underweight. Well, not anymore, I told him. I’m a mom of five healthy children, which played a role, but being on heart medications did more than seven pregnancies to contribute to weight gain. He kept laughing and telling me I don’t look like Trudy, and I kept giggling, delighted by his antics and lingering shock.
Aunt Anna asked if we had supper. Helen had, but I had not. Not that I was very hungry. Of course, with aunts and moms and grandmas, it will never do to not eat, so she set to work making more tacos. And I’m talking the real deal, not that packaged powder stuff. She seasoned the meat to perfection and served them with the real Mexican tortillas. They were incredible!
We women retreated to the living room, afterwards, relaxing on the couch and chatting. Soon Uncle Jake joined us, but went to a card table in the far corner of the room to work on a jigsaw puzzle, where he could still join in conversation, but keep himself busy. We sat there a long while, listening to stories, telling stories and reminiscing. Their solid faith is such an encouragement, affirmed by their testimony that salvation is only through Jesus, not church or denomination, though they are ‘at home’ in the Old Colony church.
“Your Grandpa Wall was like that,” Uncle Jake said, “and visited many different churches when he traveled away from home.” Aunt Anna jumped in, then, and said Grandpa visited everything from Baptist, to United to Catholic, and always he worshiped God without criticizing the church.”
What a legacy, I thought to myself! No wonder my heart always felt safe with Grandpa Wall, who seemed truly to be a godly man with a kind and tender demeanor, and who always treated Grandma with gentleness, to my memory, even using endearing terms.
Such a stark contrast to Grandma’s father, Great Grandpa Dyck, who was a desperately wicked man, beating up his wife until she developed a permanent growth, and eventually ordering his second son, Peter, to push her to her death, from the metal staircase that led from their upstairs to the ground level. She died a week later and Henry, the oldest son, sat by her bed to support her in her suffering. Aunt Anna pulled out photos of Great Grandpa, and another with Great Grandma standing between her parents, and her then very young Henry. Great Grandma is positioned to show only a side profile, in order to hide a deformity that resulted from her husband constantly punching and beating her. It is utterly heart-wrenching to think this would continue, relatively unchecked.
We ended the evening with a few snapshots and even talked Uncle Jake, who despises all things technological, to take a few shots. (And he did a a great job!)
More hugs all around, and with that we drove off to Helen’s home in St. Thomas, where I spent the night to save on driving the following morning. I crawled in bed a bit before midnight, fulfilled and happy and almost too excited to sleep.
I tried to set the alarm, fearing I’d fall asleep too soundly, with my heart meds. It blared loudly in Spanish, startling me. I quickly shut it off, fearing I’d wake Rick, Helen’s husband, who had to work early in the morning. I set the volume to ‘off’ and tried again. It blared just as loudly. I made a few more adjustments and tried a third time. Again it blared, and I decided to take my chances. What were the odds that I could actually sleep in on a day like that?
I was about to meet an unknown number of people, many of whom had been friends and neighbours in Mexico and whom I had not seen in forty years…
Saturday morning I awoke, bright and early. No alarm. No noise. Just adrenaline, I presume, because my medications generally drop my heart rate and blood pressure so low that it takes more than a little racket, poking or prodding to wake me up.
Helen and I enjoyed a coffee and a heart-to-heart chat, as we tend to do, when we’re together. Some days I can hardly believe that she was one of the ‘older cousins’–though only 4 years older than me–with whom I lost touch in my late preteens, at a time when 4 years is a huge age gap. Now she is one of my best friends, since reconnecting in 2010.
A few minutes after 9:00am I gave Helen a bye hug, and headed for Aylmer, where I was scheduled to meet someone for an hour, prior to the signing. The meeting went well, and before I knew it, we were setting up for the book signing. The Central isn’t just a restaurant. True, their food is delicious. I’ve tried many items in the past months of meeting clients there, in a quiet corner, to talk, or sitting with friends, and I’ve never been disappointed. But the restaurant is about a bigger vision for families and relationships. (And if you keep cell phones away during dinner, you get a discount!) To learn more about the restaurant, visit: The Central, and to learn about their Charity mission, click HERE.
My good friend, and faithful sidekick, Helen Reddekopp arrived bright and early, buzzing about, setting up and organizing the best ‘flow of action’. What would I do without her? And then the action started. People came and went. Names, faces, memories and new introductions blurred together. Some faces offered an instant familiarity, sending my mind back to an undefined time and place, trying to make connections, others a vague niggling of having once known them, and yet others drew a complete blank. And then one couple walked in….
Mrs. Wolfe. The sweet neighbour who always welcomed me into her home, between the ages of 6 and 9, and who offered us a safe place that fateful day when my dad threatened to kill us. Millie walked in, all dressed up, with her husband Charles by her side. Her eyes sparkled and danced. After chatting a while, I gave them a book, signed with much love and a thank you for that day. She accepted it, reminiscing of a time gone by, when life was much harder. “I never thought I’d be in a book,” she said, and explained that she simply did what she could, knowing life was hard, but never realized how much impact it had. “And do you remember I told you that Cheerios were donut seeds?” she asked. “You even planted some, didn’t you?”
The reporter, Craig Bradshaw, came by and asked a lot of questions, trying to get the story from Mrs. Wolfe’s perspective, and how it felt back then, with the threat of death before us. Then he asked Mrs. Wolfe how she feels about me writing about it in a book, and her specifically. Eyes beaming with pride, she looked at me when she answered, “I’m so proud of her. Very proud of her!”
There were many pleasant moments at the book signing, but there is nothing like sitting with a woman who saved my life as a child, and gave my heart a safe place in a chaotic world. I will always have a special place for her, in my memory. A place filled with love and inspiration.
Time moved quickly, and by mid-afternoon, we had packed up and headed to Peter and Mary Froese’s home. They had graciously offered to host an after party, with neighbours and friends. What a delight that was! I met many of the Froese siblings as well as a few of the Hildebrandt family. A gifted lot of story tellers, they shared story after story, of Mexico, and we laughed at the shenanigans of my siblings and their friends, in days gone by.
After the guests left, Mary and Peter pulled out photo albums and shared more current pictures of the neighbourhood where we lived. It helped me place many memories, and stirred up new ones.
It was late when I returned home, at about 12:30am, and my heart was full to the brim, and spilling over, with thankfulness for what God has done, and how He has redeemed and restored my life. Out of the darkness that once was, He has brought blessings beyond what my mind can grasp, and more than words can tell.
As doors continue to open, and requests to travel and speak trickle in, I pray that God will continue to redeem and restore, not only in my life, but even more in lives around me. I pray that the ripples of His grace will spread far beyond anything I will ever know about, and reclaim sons and daughters whose lives have been devastated, so that people will know Jesus is the Healer. He is my reason for reaching out. He not only gave my life back, but He gave me a new and better life filled with hope, knowing He loves me. He offers the same to all.
Jesus loves you.
~ T ~