A Day in Aylmer, Reunited with Friends and Heroes from the Past

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”.

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Uncle Jake and Aunt Anna Peters

 

“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.

© Trudy Harder Metzger
Great Grandpa Dyck
© Trudy Harder Metzger
Great Grandma Dyck–hiding her very bruised face–her young son, Henry, and her parents

 

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!)

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Aunt Anna Peters and Cousin Helen Knelsen
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.

 

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Happy… Day! (A Valentine’s Day Afterthought)

First thing Saturday morning–using the term ‘first thing’ somewhat loosely–my husband kissed me (after brushing his teeth, and me having brushed mine) and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Oh yes… that’s today... I thought. “Happy Day to you too,” I said, laughing. He grinned, knowing I’m torn between the romantic notions of the day, and wanting to boycott the obvious marketing ploy. “Happy our Day”, I added, just to make my point.

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We’re pretty down-to-earth people, Tim and I. Mostly, what you see is what you get. So, if you don’t like what you see, run. Because it isn’t going to be much of a show beyond the obvious. Tim is laid back, yet strong and determined. He’s not overly social, but enjoys time with close friends in a ‘not too big’ a group. He steps out of that box for ministry, and pushes himself to be ‘present’ in bigger crowds, reaching out to hearts that are hurting. He is always a calm and peaceful presence. Being a man of few words, the few he speaks carry weight, and what he says is direct.

I’m outgoing and crazy, sometimes, and love crowds, sometimes. When it comes to speaking, the bigger the crowd, the more energized I am, though I’ve learned to enjoy the smaller groups and not feel suffocated by the ‘nearness’ of the people. The intimacy of it is growing on me. There are also times when I’m somewhat recluse, and prefer alone-ness, and, if the whole truth must be told, I return from most social events, depleted to sheer exhaustion. Like Tim, I speak directly, but haven’t mastered the art of condensing an entire book into a chapter, a chapter into a paragraph and a paragraph into two or three words… or a sentence, to be generous.

Life at home reflects who we are; practical and fairly direct. So, when days like Valentine’s Day roll around, we don’t get too caught in the hype. Sure, we’ll exchange cards at some point, and there might even be some little gift of flowers, chocolate, candy or even boxers and a negligee–in spite of the fact that the latter never gets its value in wear–or some such thing.  We do these things, some years, and other years it’s a card only, and we’re just as happy. (The bigger fuss was a big deal, years ago, but with time Valentine’s Day became more about our family, with little gifts for our children and a special family dinner.

Last year we went all out and decorated something crazy and I thought we’d do it again this year, but, alas, the busyness of life took over. One child is dating and she and her boyfriend pretty much boycott the Hallmark holiday, calling it a silly money-grab. While they’re gracious about others fussing over it, they celebrate their relationship other days and other ways. Another daughter headed out to a friend’s house, one son is in Germany for three months, leaving us with two boys.

That said, this Valentine’s Day, we stayed in our everyday duds, chilling at home and doing things that need doing, like cleaning, writing and tax preparation stuff. (Yay!) And we organized everything for a huge dinner, which we enjoyed at noon Sunday. There was turkey–with cranberry sauce, of course–dressing, corn, squash, and mashed potatoes for first course. And, for dessert, lemon meringue pie, banana cream pie, and my personal favourite, chocolate cream pie–all homemade. (Okay… I cheated on the crust and used Tenderflake.) Dinner was delicious. But more importantly, we were together as a family–minus our son in Germany–and shared love and laughter together.

No matter the day, Valentine’s Day, or how we spend it, I know this, I am loved. While I welcome special dates, from time to time, I would choose the ordinary, every day kind of love that we have, over one day of fuss and 364.5 days of mediocre co-existence, if it had to be one or the other. And I’d rather wake up each morning next to the man who loves me practically and sincerely all year, and indulge in genuine kisses, than to look at the flowers on the table the week after Valentine’s, eating lonely chocolates kisses, having never had his heart.

For those who choose to celebrate the day large, and live that love daily, good on you! The rest of us shouldn’t feel jealous, cheated, or guilty.  It is a wonderful thing to celebrate love and relationship in a way that is meaningful and personal.

For us, one day soon, it will happen… as it does, spontaneously, two or three times a year…  I will look at Tim with pleading eyes, probably somewhere around 9:00pm on a Friday or Saturday night, and the words will pop out, “I’m hungry for mussels.” And he will know exactly what that means. As much as he likes the quiet of home and the comfort of his chair, he will slip into a coat or jacket–if the weather still demands it when it happens–and we’ll drive to Kitchener for a late night date at the Symposium. Or maybe he’ll walk in the door this summer with a handful of gladiolas or some other roadside stand flowers, and I’ll pretend he spent a fortune, and laugh when I remind him that the first time he brought them, he announced with great pride that they were 25¢ a piece. And the moment will be filled with love and memories of days gone by, and I will know, again, that I am loved.

And, who knows? Maybe next Valentine’s Day we’ll leave the kids a few treats and a note saying, “We love you, there’s soup in the pantry–stuff for grilled cheese if you want to go all out–and please don’t lock the door when you go to bed.

Now off to enjoy this new Canadian holiday, Family Day… Tim plans to take our youngest skating, the teens are chilling with friends, and I have more writing, laundry and cleaning to do. In that order of preference…

Love

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

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“Squirrel!”… Life Lessons… And More New Friends

Anyone who has watched the movie “Up”, an animated children’s movie, will have a whole new appreciation for squirrels. And the expression. And then there’s Ice Age, Ice Age 2 and Over the Hedge, all of which portray squirrels as berserk little creatures. And they’re not so far off…

I don’t often see squirrels out in the wide open, when I walk the Mill Race. They’re much too nervous and jumpy. But this week, Tuesday, I came across one, eating the seeds someone had put on a tree stump.  He was immediately startled, upon seeing me.

 

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I dared to take another step. Slowly. Quietly. Instantly his body tensed, prepared to make a dash for it.  I paused. Nervously he started eating again.

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When he looked up and saw how near I was to the stump, which really wasn’t that close at all, he took off like a bullet, jumping from tree branch to tree branch. Suddenly he flew across the path in front of me and into a tree behind me.

There he sat, scolding as if I had come to do some great harm. I talked calmly to him, but he wasn’t about to hear a word I said. His world was just fine before I showed up, and he meant for me to leave again. So I did. But not before I added a large heap of seeds to the dwindling supply.

I met my usual friends. The cardinal seems to be warming up a bit, and overcoming it’s shy nature. While I still can’t get a very good picture, I’m definitely getting closer and better shots. One day… 
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Something I had never seen before, is this little fellow. A baby chipmunk, no bigger than a mouse–in fact, when I zoomed in for the picture I thought it was a mouse–crawled out of a hole in the pathway. And here I thought they were mouse tunnels.

 

 

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Whatever these birds are, they had been flirting quite openly just before this shot, but I missed it. Ah well…

Down by the river a lone goose honked mournfully. The rest of the flock  had somehow left this one behind, and it seemed quite distressed, as it swam about. I had seen the larger flock earlier and wondered if they might return for the stray goose. And to my amazement they did! And when they did, the honking stopped.

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There is something fascinating about the animal kingdom. So much to learn from them. So much I understand and identify with. The goose, feeling lost when separated from its flock. I get that. When I don’t connect with people who care for me, and for whom I care, there is an ‘aloneness’ in my heart.

And the squirrel? I learned something from him too…

When I came through, on my way back to my car, he was on a different stump, much closer to the ground.  For easy escape, I presume. But I didn’t let that detour me. I walked slowly. Only tiny steps at a time, and only a few. And then I stopped, a few feet away. He looked at me, still nervous and ‘at the ready’.

That’s when I talked quietly to it for a little while and watched as he visibly relaxed and kept eating. The tension, that had showed earlier in its fur, gradually went away. While the close up shots didn’t turn out well, I was amazed how differently he responded, and took a few more pictures.

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I remember that feeling of not trusting anyone. It’s a hard way to do life. Always on edge. Looking over the shoulder… wondering if someone is out to get you. That’s how I was for many years.

And then–God bless them–people who cared for me, and had the patience to show it , changed my life. I think about that often, how people helped me and changed my world. It is what my heart longs to give to others.

One would think that a squirrel, like that in the wild, hasn’t any hope of it learning to trust. Much like some people. But with patience I expect he would warm up even more.

And that’s how it is with  people who’ve had their trust broken. None of us are hopeless, or broken beyond healing. With patience, every one of us can be  ‘loved back to wholeness’.

***

Yesterday was no disappointment at the Mill Race either. I had not planned to go, but rather impulsively detoured that way, on my way home from St. Clements Heart & Home. It was just that ‘gut feeling’ that I needed to go. It was especially unusual because it was after 3:00pm and the critters are not really out and about that time of day.

But when I arrived, I found horses and buggies all tied up under the trees. It was gorgeous! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love horses! Always have, since childhood. They are such majestic creatures! And in this community, where there are horses, there are often buggies. And where there are buggies, there are most often people. A short walk later and, sure enough!

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I wasn’t there long before they packed up. I tried not to be too intrusive (thanks to my massive lens) but I fear I may have frightened them away… The Dave Martin Mennonites don’t much take to cameras and having their photos taken. Such a shame… they take nice pictures. And so do their horses.

Well, I had to be going as well, so I took a few parting shots, which turned out, in my opinion, to be the among the best of the day, if not my most favourite. And, having just discovered some of the editing options in my program, I had to play with that, just a little, and experiment.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn Old Order couple went by  in their horse and buggy, and an Old Colony Mennonite family found a quiet spot to go fishing. And I was left with the intrigue of how many ‘kinds’ of Mennonite we are, each with little (or big) differences and cultural traditions. Each with strengths, and each with weaknesses.

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***

It has been a beautiful week. I’ve had more fun than ever, taking pictures and the weather couldn’t be more perfect. On all fronts, today was my favourite day.

Last night I announced to Kordan, who had a PD day today, that he and I would go to the Mill Race together to feed the squirrels, chipmunks and birds, and hopefully get close enough for them to eat out of his hands.

He groaned, followed by a long, whiny, “No-o-o-o-o-o..”

“Oh yes!” I said. “You’re not going to sit at home on technology all day.” And, of course, I explained how much fun it was going to be. He didn’t believe me.

This morning the whining continued, though not as vehemently. Just gentle protests right up until the moment we walked out the door, which we did a bit later than I had intended, because of some business to tend to.

First things first, I surprised him with McDonald’s breakfast. An egg and bacon McMuffin, hashbrowns and hot chocolate. He wanted Root Beer. For breakfast…

“Umm… No!”

At the Mill Race, his first concern was how far we would go. We’d play it by ear, I told him, but our first mission was at the second bench, where the friendliest chipmunk comes to sit on the bench and eat out of our hands. And, earlier in the day, the chickadees also.

If I had any doubt he would be enthralled, those concerns faded quickly. The pictures tell it all, including two other little visitors who joined Kordan with the critters.


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving made new friends, and each having had a turn to feed the chipmunks, we packed up to head back. We made it half way before we met some more friends. This time they were adults. I was proud of Kordan, who waited patiently as we chatted.

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It all started when she noticed I had a camera, “Oh…you have a camera!” she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I smiled, “would you like your picture taken?” I said it playfully, but in a way that, if that was what she hoped for, we could transition without the ‘awkward’.

Somehow we got it sorted out… they had seen a bird’s nest, back a few steps, and she thought maybe I’d want to take pictures of it. But, sure, they’d love to have some photos done. What they didn’t know (but will know when they see this blog) is that I had already taken a shot of them looking up into the tree.

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I followed them to the spot, and was able to capture the nest, with the mama bird’s tail peeking out. I returned, later, and she peeked over at me to investigate the intrusion. I was fairly certain it was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but only when she left the nest for a few minutes was that confirmed.

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 I suggested we go to the Ice Cream Caboose, just across the parking lot. Kordan preferred a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We chatted about the many wonderful pictures, and for some reason I mentioned the excitement of the previous day, of being able to capture three different kinds of Mennonite cultures. The gentleman then asked if I knew how many different ones there are, whether it is three, or six…

I said probably closer to fifty. We talked quite a while about that, and I told them that I had been three different kinds myself, and knew many others.  About the Amish, I recommended they purchase Ira Wagler‘s book, “Growing Up Amish“–a delightful read that offers more than a casual glimpse into a beautiful and fascinating culture.

I took some gorgeous photographs, offered them my blog address–so they could contact me to get copies without my name, (and there’s many more!)–and then we bid them farewell, having made new friends.

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I suggested to Kordan that we visit the Ice Cream Caboose, but he preferred McDonald’s McFlurry. And that is what we did. No healthy lunch food. Just an ice cream McFlurry. I should have known better.

We took the ice cream to go, then drove back to the Dam end of the Mill Race to eat them. When we were all done, and ready to head home, I said we’d need to do this again sometime.  Kordan was quite agreeable.  We’ll go early next time, I said, when all the critters are hungry.

“Sure,” Kordan said, “How about next Wednesday when I am supposed to be in school?”

Haha! Nice try, little man!

“And next time we won’t get the McFlurry,” he said. “It wasn’t that good.”

I didn’t say it… But I’m thinking it will be the Ice Cream Caboose. At least it will be in a wafer cone, and make for some great pictures!

© Trudy Metzger

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