It's Remembrance Day here in Canada. I generally spend a portion of the day thinking about the soldiers of the past and present and all that they have done so that I can have the life I do. And I had some of that today.
However, today I spent some time remembering the other side of war. The people caught in it and how they survive and get to the other side. The reason is very specific though: Stella.
Stella and Walter were friends of my parents when we lived in Ottawa. Like my Dad's family, they are Polish. As in born in Poland and emigrated to Canada after World War II. Just like my grandparents. I was about Xander's age when I met them. Stella and Walter had no children. I didn't know why then, but I do now. Stella was in a work camp during World War II and she got appendicitis. She would have been in her early 20s. Well, the Nazi doctors didn't just remove her appendix: they messed around with her reproductive system. I am not sure exactly what they did to her, but it doesn't really matter as it boils down to whatever they did ensured she would never have any children.
I remember Walter as laughing and kind. And Stella as warmth itself. She had a little garden and would let me putter there with her. She also took me places in the city. I especially remember going to the wading pool with her. And she made me a beautiful crocheted blanket.
I have trekked that blanket across Canada, through Europe, and over to Asia with me. Although I have to occasionally sew it up in places, that blanket is still on my bed today.
Years ago, Stella and Walter moved to Manitoba and my parents, in their own infinite moving pattern, lost track of them.
As you know, I was in Manitoba last week, for the funeral of the mother of one of my very best friends. While I was there, I spent a day with my parents, who live two hours away. We visited with some old friends, and out of the blue, my father started talking about Stella and Walter and how he'd lost track of them, but he had tried to find them in Selkirk, where he thought they had gone. He never did find them. That was last Wednesday.
My Mom gets the Winnipeg Free Press delivered. She rarely has time to do more than glance at it, so I am not sure why she does. Well, my Dad left for a trip to Honduros (don't ask) on Monday of this week. Tuesday my Mom opened up the Winnipeg paper and flipped it open to the obituaries.
And there was Stella's face.
It's been more than 20 years, but my Mother knew her face in a split second. And then she read the obituary. Walter has already died. Stella lived to 86 years old and died in her own home...in Winnipeg! (If only my father had had the foresight to look in the Winnipeg phone book instead of the one from Selkirk...or ask me, as I would have just done a Canada-wide search on Canada411.com, since their name is not common.) She was surrounded by her godchildren and friends. And she died the Monday before I was in Winnipeg. Two days before.
I remember. Today I remember Stella. Who was a beautiful person, who survived a horrific time.
And I remember that I may be the last generation to have known these people who have survived and gone on to talk about those wars. My grandparents, our friend Henry on the west coast who was in the Polish underground, and Stella and Walter. Their stories live in me, and I have a responsibity to pass them on.
I remember that my Dad spent his career in the military; protecting us all and serving his country.
And I remember the young men and women who are out there today.
But most of all, today I am remembering Stella. An honouring the gentleness of her soul, which taught me what true grace looked like.
And I thank them all.