Monday, July 30, 2012

Raspberry Picking with Fred

It is the second last day of July today, and raspberry picking should be long over. However, the cold, damp spring that we endured here in the Fraser Valley delayed the crop, and so this year we will have gorgeous, red raspberries on the bushes into the month of August. Because of the long raspberry season, I thought that I would share this story now. When I read it to my family, my brother Fred immediately responded, “That’s not how it went.” But my sister Lenora said, “That’s exactly what happened.” As for me, I have to invoke the storywriter’s proviso: “This is my story, and every word of it’s true—except for the parts that aren’t.” I hope that you enjoy this story.

If you check the From Oma’s Kitchen blog, there is a wonderful Chocolate Raspberry Mousse recipe in the August 2011 pages. My cousin Selma also assures me that she will put up a good recipe for homemade raspberry jam later on in the fall.

Neil Klassen

Raspberry Picking With Fred

            Three quick knocks on the bedroom door were followed by my father’s voice: “Neil, it’s time to get up. We want to get out to the field while it’s still cool.”
            I groaned, thrashed about in the sheets, and slowly rolled over to squint at the little alarm clock on my night stand. Five-fifty. Oh man—only one week into summer vacation, and I was getting up earlier than ever—to go pick raspberries. What a waste of these beautiful summer days. I dropped my right hand over my eyes to try to block out a little of the bright, early morning summer sun that slanted through the curtains of my bedroom window, and rolled back over to try to get just a little more sleep.
            A minute later, another knock on the door; then it opened a crack. Dad peered into the room and spoke a little sharply, “Come on. You know you need to get up, now do it.” And he was gone.
            I grumpily got up. Almost without looking I pulled on my field clothes—frayed, faded cutoffs, a t-shirt and an old dress shirt over than. Then I slouched out of my bedroom to the kitchen table and slumped into a chair.
            Dad was bouncing about in the kitchen, whistling and making porridge. He turned and quickly plopped a large ladle full of porridge into each of five bowls, which he passed across the table to me and to each of my two brothers and two sisters. Glumly and silently we dumped sugar and milk onto the porridge and, mechanically, began eating.
            Undeterred by our behaviour, Dad continued with his cheerful whistling, stopping only to comment, “It’s a beautiful day out there. Let’s get going and maybe we can be done before the day gets really hot. Come on, eat up and let’s go.”
            We ate. We finished. We brushed our teeth. We grabbed our lunch—a large Tupperware container with sandwiches and cookies—and our jug of lemonade, headed out to the family station wagon, and piled into it.
            As the oldest, I got the front passenger seat. My younger siblings crowded into the back seat, arguing with each other a little, demanding more space. Finally, Rachel came to the front and sat between Dad and me.             
            As Dad drove us to the berry field I stared out the window, not seeing the landscape that passed before my eyes, thinking to myself glumly, “What a rotten way to spend the summer. I’ll probably have to go raspberry picking on my thirteenth birthday. Shoot, what a rotten way to spend the summer.” I felt throughly sorry for myself and angry for the injustices I was being made to suffer.
            We arrived at the berry field and Dad parked the car. Slowly we emerged from the car and followed him into the berry field. We each took a flat off the large stack, making sure that there were twelve clean, empty hallocks in the flat. Particularly, I couldn’t stand it if there were a moldy berry stuck to the bottom of one of the hallocks.
            Dad asked the gum-snapping, cowboy-hatted field boss, “Where do we start this morning?” I didn’t pay attention to the answer but simply followed Dad as he headed into the field to find the rows that had been assigned to us. “Let’s see if we can each get five flats before the day is over, okay?” he enthused.
            We didn’t respond. Five flats was an awful lot, especially since the berries had not yet peaked. We sorted ourselves out into three two-person teams—Dad and our little sister Rachel, Fred and me, Lenora and Berny, and we began to pick. Dad seemed please, because, “It’s just past seven and here we are.”
            The day was still cool when we began, and the dark green leaves on the raspberry canes glistened with dew. For a little while it felt good to be out there before the heat of the day. The first berries that I tasted were sweet and juicy too. But as the morning wore on, the dew found its way into the innumerable small scratches that the tiny thorns on the raspberry canes inflicted on my arms, bared because I’d rolled up my sleeves. The scratches began to swell, itch and then sting. I rolled my sleeves back down and tried to ignore the stinging.
            Dad continued to cheer us on with stories of his idle, misspent summers as a kid: “When I was a boy growing up in Winnipeg, we didn’t have anything worthwhile to do in summer. We’d spend our days bothering the gardener at Kildonan Park. Or we’d hang out with friends, doing nothing in particular. You have it so good. You are actually doing something important by helping to bring in the harvest. Think of it. This farmer would be unable to make a living if you weren’t here, helping to pick these berries.”
            We didn’t get it. “I’d love to spend a summer just hanging out with my friends,” I grumbled quietly to myself, “Sounds great to me.” I settled into a kind of gloomy martyrdom as we slowly progressed down our row.
            Dad reminded us, “Be sure you pick clean. Get well into the bushes, look high and low, and get all of the berries. The ones you leave behind will be dry or moldy by the next time we pick this row.” I thought that the most important reason to pick clean was to avoid having one of the field bosses drop by and embarrass me with a picking demonstration, given loudly enough to advise other pickers about my sloppy habits.
            My brother Fred was picking opposite me that morning. Driven and competitive like Dad, he soon filled his flat. He took the flat out of the stand, glanced across the berry bushes at me and asked, “How many berries do you have?”
            “Ten hallocks, almost eleven,” I answered.
            “I’ve got a full flat,” he announced smugly, and headed down the row to take the berries to the shed, and have his card punched.
            I was a little annoyed. Fred always had to be first. He worked hard at it, I knew. On the other hand, many things came easily for him and he often was first, just because he was good.
            An idea began to form in my brain. I went down the row just a little and peered through the bushed at my sister Lenora and asked her, “Hey! How many berries do you have?”
            “Almost a flat,” she answered.
            “Here,” I said, extending a full hallock of berries toward her, “give my your last empty basket. Don’t tell Fred. Quick, before he gets back.”
            Lenora looked surprised, then flashed me a conspiratorial grin, took the berries and gave me the empty hallock. I took it, went quickly back to my flat of berries, stuck the hallock into the empty spot in my flat, and kept on picking. When Fred got back, Lenora suddenly picked up her flat and headed to the berry shed. I glanced over the bushes at Fred. He looked a little surprised but didn’t say anything, and settled back into picking. In a few minutes I, too, had a full flat and I quickly took it to the berry shed, got my card punched and hurried back to continue picking. It was going to be a fun morning and, with any luck, we’d make Fred crazy.
            The next flat went more quickly. Fred got ahead of me on his side of the row, and so I was able to sneak down the row unnoticed to bring Lenora a couple of hallocks of berries, and so Fred was really startled when she picked up her flat to head toward the shed at the same time as he. He took a look at the berries in her row, convinced that they had to be larger and more plentiful than the berries in his row. They weren’t and he was at a loss to understand how she had caught up to him in this undeclared race. He rushed to the berry shed with his flat of berries, had his card punched, grabbed a flat, hurried back and settled down to some serious picking.
            Dad had an idea of what was going on but, glad we’d found a productive way to amuse ourselves, he didn’t say anything.
            Lenora got back to her berries and also began picking with more intensity than before. This was going to be a good game. I was ready to take my flat to the shed. I almost ran there, dropped off my flat, got my card punched, hurried back, picked a few hallocks and took two of them down the row to give them to Lenora. She took them quickly and silently, and gave me two empties. I hurried back to my flat and picked hard so that when Fred asked me, “How many berries do you have now?” I was able to answer, “Two hallocks—almost.”
            He gloated a little and responded, “I have four full ones.”
            Then he called down the row, “Lenora, how many hallocks do you have?”
            She called back, “Five and a bit.” Fred became visibly agitated. He went down the row and demanded that Lenora show him. When she did, he became even more agitated. He went back to his flat and began picking with increased intensity.
            “This is gonna be better than I thought” I thought to myself, and grinned. A few minutes later I went down the row and silently passed another hallock of berries through the bushes to Lenora. She smiled conspiratorially, took the hallock and gave me the empty, and we both began picking again, silently and with great focus. When she suddenly had a flat to take to the shed, she made a point of calling out to Fred, “How many berries do you have?”
            “Ten hallocks—almost a flat,” he called back.
            “Good for you,” she yelled back, as if to encourage him.
            There was a moment of silence and Fred yelled, “How many do you have?”
            “Just finished my flat.”
            There was a long moment of silence. Then Fred came pounding down the row, demanding to see. When he saw her flat of berries, full and slightly heaped up, he became really upset. “Jeepers!” he exclaimed, and ran back to his flat, to pick with renewed intensity.
            By lunchtime, Fred had four full flats. Lenora had four and a half. Fred insisted on staying in the field just a little longer, saying that he’d eat lunch later. But Dad said, “No, you’re going to have to eat with us now, because when we’re done I am going to lock the rest into the car and that’ll be it.” I think Dad was enjoying this whole thing, too.
            We sat in the shade of one of the big cherry trees in the back yard, along with many of the other pickers, to eat our sandwiches and drink our lemonade. After a cookie or two each, we stretched out for a few minutes to enjoy the shade. Fred didn’t. He finished quickly and headed back to the field. The rest of us followed a few minutes later, and the games began again.
            Another picker in a nearby row tuned his transistor radio to LG73, and we began picking to some of the summer’s top hits: the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” and Chad and Jeremy’s “Summer Sun” played thinly in the background, breaking up now and again.   Dad, who didn’t approve of Rock & Roll, made some disparaging comments about the music, but when we didn’t respond he dropped it, and we all settled into more intense picking. Fred, determined to beat Lenora, was picking very hard, head down and completely focused. I managed several more times to give berries to Lenora, so that she stayed just a few hallocks ahead of Fred, who only got angrier and more determined.
            The afternoon went quite quickly. We had very little conversation, but a lot of secret enjoyment each time Lenora took a flat to the shed just a few minutes before Fred. By mid-afternoon she was more than half a flat ahead of him, and he kept exclaiming, “Jeepers!” The rest of us just grinned, privately, and kept quiet.
            At about four o’clock I took another two hallocks down the row to Lenora and was passing them through the bushes when all of a sudden Fred was there.
            “I knew it!” he exclaimed angrily, “I knew you guys were cheating!”
            I turned around and tried to put on a face of injured and bewildered innocence. “What are you talking about?” I asked, slowly, trying hard to act as though nothing at all was going on.
            “You’ve been giving Lenora your berries, and that’s cheating!” Fred was practically jumping up and down with indignation.
            “What are you talking about?” I was repeating myself.
            “What are you doing right now?” he demanded.
            “Well, I’m giving her a couple of hallocks, yeah, but....” I hoped I wasn’t going to have to lie to him.
            “You’ve been doing that all day, haven’t you?” he asked, accusingly.
            I saw a way out. I could deny the specifics of the charge. “Not all day. I have not been doing this all day. I’ve been picking hard. So has Lenora. So have you.”
            “But you’ve been helping her. You have, haven’t you?”
            The game was up. I suddenly exploded into laughter. “Haw, haw, haw, yeah, I have been, and it was a lot of fun, and it made you crazy, didn’t it? Boy, it sure made you work hard. We really got to you, didn’t we?” I was laughing hard now, and so was Lenora. Fred looked ready to punch me, and I was laughing so hard I couldn’t have defended myself if he’d tried.
            Fortunately, Dad sensed what was going on and came over at once. “Let it be, Fred, it was a good joke, and you’ve picked more today than ever before. It was worth it—you’ve set a new personal best.”
            Fred began to demand to know, “How much did you give Lenora? Here...” and he began to pull full hallocks of berries out of her flat and thrust them at me... “You have to take these back, and we’re gonna figure out how much you gave her, and you have to take them all back. That’s fair.”
            I was laughing and wiping my eyes with the back of my raspberry stained hand, unable to say anything. This was better than I’d ever imagined.
            Dad intervened. “Fred, let it be. It’s okay.”
            “But it’s not fair. I picked more than Lenora, and our cards should show that. Neil cheated when he gave berries to her. He cheated.”
            “If Neil wanted to give his berries away to Lenora, so what? He can do that.”
            “Then he should give me some, too!” Fred demanded.
            I saw my opportunity. “Okay, here are two hallocks for you, Fred.” I pulled them out of my flat and rather grandly offered them to him.
            He looked at me cooly and evenly, and said, “I’d never accept them. I don’t cheat.” And with that, he turned his back on me and walked to his flat. “I pick what I pick, and I get credit for what I pick,” he shot back over his shoulder, and he began again to pick.
            “Do you think he’s really mad at us?” asked Lenora.
            “Yeah, I do,“ I responded, “But so what? We helped him to achieve his personal best. He should be grateful.”
            And in the end, he was. Fred picked eight flats that day. Lenora picked almost nine, but gamely admitted that it was probably closer to seven and a half, when you subtracted my contributions. Me, I did about seven flats—it would have been almost eight if I’d kept all my berries. But I’d had one of the best days of the summer.
For several more summers after this one, my siblings and I continued to pick berries. Eventually, I began to appreciate that this was important work, and that the growers really were grateful for the help that we gave them to bring in the crop. Over the years, I picked raspberries, beans and blueberries.

Unfortunately, most raspberry picking is mechanized now, and I was only once able to take my two sons into a blueberry field for the berry picking experience. However, both of them have worked in various aspects of the food growing/producing industry here in the Fraser Valley: working in a cucumber greenhouse, picking eggs and processing ducks on a duck farm, retailing wonderful produce at the Lepp Farm Market, and latterly working on a chicken farm. They both have an appreciation of the work that goes into food production, and they both are proud of the work that they are able to do.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Hero Dies

Asperen, Holland, 16 May 1569--Four hundred forty-two years ago on this day religious and civil authorities in Holland put to death a man who demonstrated his love for God by willingly saving another man’s life at the cost of his own.

Dirk Willems was born in Asperen, Netherlands. As a young man Dirk joined the Anabaptist movement and was rebaptized upon the confession of his faith. In that time much of the Netherlands was ruled by Spain. The King of Spain had commissioned the Duke of Alva (also known as “the iron duke”) as his vice-regent in the Netherlands. Ordered by the king to eliminate Protestantism—and especially Anabaptism—from these regions, the duke implemented very harsh measures to impose the Spanish Catholic king’s will.

Despite the dangers involved with his choice, Dirk persisted in his Anabaptist convictions. He chose to follow after Jesus. He met regularly for Bible study and prayer with other Anabaptists. He even held prayer meetings in his own home.

Late in the winter of 1569 the civil authorities discovered and arrested Dirk. They threw him into prison in Asperen, where he awaited trial—and almost certain death. As the days in prison passed, Dirk seized upon a sudden opportunity to slip out of prison and escape. As Dirk fled, a ‘thief-catcher’ saw him and gave chase, intent on catching the fugitive and returning him to prison. Dirk ran hard, and tried to escape across a frozen pond. The thief-catcher followed Dirk but because he was heavier than Dirk (and heavily armed) he broke through the ice. He began to thrash about in the cold water and call out for help.

Dirk, who had almost crossed the pond and was about to make good his escape, turned around and saw the man who was in danger of drowning. Hesitating for only a moment, Dirk ran back to the distressed man, extended his hand, pulled him out of the icy water, and dragged him to the shore and out of danger. The thief-catcher offered to let Dirk escape, but one of the city’s burgomasters, who stood among the onlookers at the edge of the water, urgently reminded the thief-catcher of his duty, and ordered that Dirk be arrested and re-imprisoned, this time in a much more secure place.

While in prison, Dirk was tortured by the authorities, who tried to get him to recant his faith. But Dirk stood firm. He was therefore tried, found to be “persisting obstinately in his opinion,” and condemned to be bound to a stake and burned to death.

Thus, on 16 May 1569 this good man was led to a place outside the city limits of Asperen. Here he was bound to a stake; wood was piled about him and set alight. A contrary breeze blew the fire about, so that Dirk Willems bravely suffered a protracted and agonizing death, standing in the fire for a long time and crying out repeatedly, “O my Lord, my God.” The bailiff who was responsible for the execution was so filled with remorse that this good man was caused so much suffering, that he ordered the executioner to “dispatch this man with a quick death.” How this was done is not recorded.

Dirk’s story is both terrible and triumphant. Terrible because it tells of the evil that people willingly commit in the name of God, triumphant because Dirk’s death is, in a way, like Christ’s own—a willing sacrifice made to save another.

The story of Dirk Willems is one that has inspired many generations of Anabaptists, as well as others who believe that each person should have the freedom to follow his or her own conscience. In our own time, when we make dubious heroes of every pop celebrity and sports star—when we glorify what is trivial and trivialize what is glorious—we need to remind ourselves of true heroes. We need to recall people like Dirk Willems who for the love of God willingly gave up their lives to follow after Jesus.


I wrote this story on Monday 16 May 2011, but did not get it posted until today. NK

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Telling Stories at the House of James Bookstore

The evenings of Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2 saw us at the House of James, which was hosting our very first presentation of Telling Stories—The Mennonite Narrative in Letters, Poetry, Short Stories & Film. Several Mennonite writers based here in the Fraser Valley were reading a selection of their writings to what turned out to be a full house.

We were delighted to have musicians Anne Dyck (violin) and Helen Nickel (piano) begin each evening with a selection of wonderful Mennonite hymns and songs. For many of those present that evening, the simple sound of piano and violin on songs like “Wehrlos und Verlassen” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” played like the soundtrack from our own childhoods. And when Anne invited us to sing along while she and Helen played “Gott ist die Liebe,” the whole room swelled with four-part harmony, singing;
Gott ist die Liebe
Lässt mich erlösen
Gott ist die Liebe
Er liebt auch mich….
We were privileged to hear stories and poetry from writers Carol Loewen, Neil Klassen, Alvin Ens, Selma Turner, Robert Martens, Anne Willms, Connie Braun, Louise Price and Mary Steegstra. The readings varied from the introspective to the humorous, to others that were very serious.

Concluding each evening was Ruth Derksen Siemens, whose book Remember Us powerfully presents the terrible suffering of Jasch Regehr and his family. Like many millions of Soviet citizens during the Stalin Era, the Regehr family were (on the flimsiest pretext) forcibly taken from their village and shipped in cattle cars to a labour camp in Stalin’s Gulag. Once there, even the children became slave labourers, doing dangerous work for long hours, under the most horrible conditions. Ruth read from some of the letters in Remember Us which, while they tell of the terrible circumstances these people had to endure, also tell of the great faith that some of them found.

Ruth also presented a short clip from the film Through the Red Gate, which was inspired by the book Remember Us.

All of us who participated in Telling Stories want to express our appreciation to Lando Klassen and the staff of House of James Bookstore for hosting this event so graciously and cheerfully. Because those who attended Telling Stories enjoyed the event so much, a plan is in the works to do this again on October 21 and 22, 2011. Watch this blog for details.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Telling Stories

We are very excited to present Telling Stories—an event that celebrates the Mennonite Narrative in letters, poetry, short stories and film, on April 1 and 2, at the House of James Bookstore.

Of all the many traits that characterize us as humans, one of the most important is our love of good stories—either telling or hearing them. A good story can be a great means for transmitting truth, passing along our culture, celebrating our heroes, or simply passing time together in a congenial way.

Among the Mennonites there has always been an interest in telling and preserving stories. Books like The Martyrs’ Mirror relate the tales of the ordinary men and women who willingly died for their Anabaptist beliefs. Their stories are woven with the great themes of love and loyalty, self-sacrifice and extraordinary courage.

For many of us who grew up during the end of the twentieth century, our grandparents’ stories of sudden and harried flight from the USSR became the backdrop of our own lives. I vividly recall the stories that my grandfather told us. Some were terribly sad, as he told of family and friends who died tragically at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Other stories were full of suspense and adventure, and helped me to see my grandfather as the brave, stalwart young preacher that he’d been. Still other stories that Opa told were very funny, and he recalled them with much laughter and happiness—and since he was not a vain man, he often told these stories on himself.

Telling Stories will feature the works of several Mennonite writers, poets and storytellers from the Fraser Valley. Each evening will vary somewhat from the other, with writers telling different stories in different ways. The published works of the writers will be available for perusing and purchasing. To add to the event, some musicians will present a selection of wonderful songs from the Mennonite past.

This is a free event, open to the public, and you are invited to attend. Come, enjoy some stories, music and a cup of coffee—sorry, Prips will not be served.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Yesterday we paused to say, “Good-bye” to Susanne Willms Thielman. We had anticipated this day for some time, for Auntie Susanne was nearly ninety-seven years old and, although she was always cheerful and enthusiastic about life, her ability to live it had begun to wane noticeably in the last year.

The morning dawned blustery, grey and rainy. I remarked to my cousin Selma, “It’s not going to be very pleasant at the cemetery, is it?” and she responded pleasantly, “Well, I’ve prayed about it, and we may get a sunny break. We’ll see.” And indeed, about half an hour before we were scheduled to gather the clouds parted, the sun shone down, and the air warmed up. By the time that about twenty of us met at the South Poplar Cemetery, the day looked wonderful. Auntie Susanne, who always looked on the bright side of things, would have been delighted.

My cousin, Walter Willms (Susanne’s oldest nephew), led the graveside service. He talked about the sunny, kindly person Auntie Susanne had been, and of our sure hope that she is in the Lord’s very presence right now, and that we will all be together again. Anne, Walter’s wife, led us in singing—

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with Thee,

Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not,

As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Gerry Thielman (Auntie Susanne’s older son), with his son Joseph, had flown from Fredericksburg VA to bring his mother’s ashes to be buried in her parents’ grave here in Abbotsford. Gerry also spoke briefly of how special his mother had been— a kind and cheerful person who had blessed the lives of people wherever she’d been. Gerry brought out the beautiful casket that contained his mother’s ashes and, after showing it to all of us, he gently placed it into the ground over his grandfather’s grave. Then we quickly drove across town to the Garden Park Tower, where another thirty or so friends joined us for a tea that Selma and her sister MarieAnne had prepared. Several people, including Susanne’s youngest brother John, spoke about her. Anne led us in another song, and then we had a good time of eating and visiting.

As I considered the day, I thought to myself that Auntie Susanne really went out on a high note. Despite her age, infirmities and increasing hearing impairment, she refused to complain. Rather she was as she had always been— a person who consistently and cheerfully loved and encouraged the people around her. She had completed her course—and she’d completed her memoir, which she’d seen published as a beautiful book that has been embraced by many readers, who will be blessed by the story that she told. What a great legacy to leave behind.

Yesterday, I had to think also of the legacy that, sooner or later, I will leave behind. Will I have family and friends who will get up on that day and say that I loved and encouraged them? Will my sons say that I was a good dad to them and (I hope) a good grandfather to their children? Will I leave behind a significant piece of work—something that will, in my absence, bless people and cause them to consider their own lives? Will there be those who will say—“He caused me to consider my own need of Jesus”?

I think these are important questions that we need to ask ourselves, and more often than we do.

—Neil Klassen

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Darling Auntie – A Life Well Lived It was just last month, on February 7th, that I lost my Auntie Susanne, a dear friend and a loving mentor who has influenced my life in so many positive ways. I’m going to miss her smile, her laughter and her interest in life. Hers was a life well lived, so there are few regrets—for she was, after all, nearly ninety-seven when she died.

Susanne was born in the Molochna, Ukraine in 1914—the year that WWI started. She was only three and a half years old when the Russian Revolution took place. My father, Susanne’s second brother, was five years older than she.

Susanne grew into her teen years in the USSR and saw how the world changed from prosperity to devastation in a few years. She saw the beginning of the Stalin Era, during which as many as sixty millions Soviet citizens were killed by the Communist regime. In 1929, when Susanne was fifteen years old, her parents seized the opportunity to escape from Russia. They came to Canada with nothing but a small trunk containing her father’s diary pasted to its insides, some family photos and a few necessities.

When the Willms family settled in Abbotsford, Susanne had to work as a house maid in a rich family’s home, and contribute her wages to help pay for her family’s Reiseschuld or travel debt. Later she became a practical nurse. I imagine that her natural cheerfulness did much to improve her patients’ health.

Auntie Susanne married in the early 1950s, when I was fourteen. Together with two of my sisters and two cousins, I was a bridesmaid in her wedding party. We wore full length, pale blue taffeta dresses, which had full net overskirts—very much in style at the time. Her husband, George, was a professor at the University in Atlanta and so she moved there. Susanne gave birth to two sons when she was in her forties—she enjoyed raising her sons very much. I visited her there in Atlanta and remember Gerhard and Hans riding their tricycles up and down the driveway as Auntie Susanne sat in a lawn chair observing and enjoying them.

When Auntie Susanne was in her sixties she, Uncle George and the boys moved to Seattle, where Uncle George taught political science at the University of Washington. Auntie Susanne took a writing course so that she would be able to record the stories of her childhood and youth. I remember her telling these stories to me when we went to visit with her in Seattle, and there was often laughter in her voice as she recalled these events of her life.

Auntie Susanne completed her memoirs during that time and I found much joy in reading them. Because her father had been a writer and a published author, my auntie also had an interest and an inherited flare in the art of writing.

When she came to live in Abbotsford in 2008, I encouraged her to publish her work. I had the pleasure of introducing Auntie Susanne to my editor friend, Phil Sherwood, who helped my auntie to perfect a final version of her manuscript. I created a series of watercolours, which were produced as a set of sepia toned illustrations in the book. In early fall of 2009 my auntie’s dream became a reality when she published and launched her book—Susanne Remembers.

With the book in hand, Auntie Susanne spent several months with us here in the Fraser Valley promoting her book. I recall how much she and I enjoyed the book launch at The Reach, our local museum and art gallery here in Abbotsford, and touring churches and different venues, selling and signing her beautiful book. Despite her considerable hearing difficulties, she always had a smile and a word of interest for the people that she met.

In early spring of 2010 she had the pleasure of seeing her book awarded a prize—the Abbotsford Arts Council named it as the best literary arts achievement of that year. Auntie Susanne just beamed as we went up to receive the prize.

Auntie Susanne returned to Fredericksburg, VA, in late spring of 2010, to live with her son Gerhard, his wife Judy and their six children. She was with them until after Christmas. In January she went into hospital there, suffering from various illnesses. On February 7th she went quietly in the presence of the Lord.

When I consider the woman that I knew, there are so many things that I have been able to learn from my Auntie Susanne. I know that, despite all the dangers, difficulties and hardships she encountered in her youth, she was always cheerful about life and lived with a sense of wonder and delight about the things around her. Her smile and quiet sense of humor touched many lives and we have all benefited by our close proximity to her.

Auntie Susanne will be part of my memories and in my heart forever.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Easy Zwieback

My sister, Marie Anne makes these buns often and serves them with lunch or dinner.

9 cups/2.25 L flour

1 cup/250 ml butter

4 cups/1 L warmed milk

½ cup/125 ml warm water

1 tsp/5 ml sugar

2 Tbsp/30 ml yeast (heaping)

1 Tbsp/15 ml salt (heaping)

1 Tbsp/15 ml lemon juice

1 cup/250 ml flour (for kneading)

With a pastry blender, cut butter into 9 cups/2.25 L flour. Soften yeast in warm water and sugar. (When using Quick Rising Yeast, add directly to flour.) Add salt to warm milk and mix yeast and milk into flour. Combine and let dough rest 15 to 20 minutes. Knead dough until smooth. Let rise to double. Form into balls and place on cookie sheets covered with parchment. Make the second ball small than the first and press down onto the first – press the two together. Let rise to double. Bake in a hot oven at 400ºF/200ºC for 20 minutes.