Sunday, November 16, 2008
Grandma Kadie remembered
Grandma's funeral was yesterday. The church was full. Her family integrated ours into the entire day, honouring the depth of our relationship with her to a degree we did not expect or ask for, which makes us deeply grateful. We were invited to the family only graveside service, to gather with the family before the memorial service and to walk in and also to sit with them in the reserved family seating at the church, and to a family dinner that evening. We were mentioned in the eulogy and included in the slide show.
We knew we were family because of how much we loved her, and how much she cared for us. It was nice to have it recognized by those around us, and by her biological family as well. We had told them repeatedly that we did not want to impose on their family time during Grandma's last days, but that we would like to be there to support her and them whenever they needed it. To have been embraced in return was good to a degree that cannot be expressed in the word 'good.' It was good for my soul.
It seemed fitting that her funeral was in November. The grey weather and scattered leaves matched my feelings perfectly. Grandma's daughter led us in singing several hymns at the graveside service, and her pastor broke down in tears as he spoke about her. She was remarkable.
In this past week as her family gathered around her and as we were allowed to gather with them, I learned so much about Grandma that I never knew. I filled in so many pieces to the story I knew only fragments of before. And everything I learned made me realize how remarkable she was.
She was born in Poland to German parents, the second of thirteen children. Her older brother died as a young child, so she became the 'oldest' in the sense of responsibility and all that being the oldest entails. As a young child she devoted herself to God and became a born again Christian. She was steadfast and strong in her belief, prayed daily, and leaned on God for comfort and guidance all her life. Her life was not easy. She was a woman of great faith and courage. She contracted Rheumatic Fever as a young child and her family and doctors thought she would die of it, but she pulled through. She had heart valve damage from the Rheumatic Fever that lasted all her life. Her mother gave birth to six more children (one set of twins) after Kadie, and all six died of various causes. The next to survive was Martha, five years younger than Kadie (who was called Lodzia, pronounced Lod-ya, by her family...my mother was the one who gave her the short name 'Kadie' when she met Grandma 28 years ago) , Edward, who was eight years younger, and then Bernard, Irwin, and Gertrude (called Trudy). During the war a thirteenth baby was born, but it froze to death during the evacuation of the German people from Poland in 1943.
Grandma's parents were farmers. I remember her telling me stories about her parents' farm, and a white horse she rode around the farm and to town on errands.
She loved all of her siblings and her parents deeply and left school after sixth grade to help care for them and to help on the farm.
When she was seventeen she fell in love with Julius, reportedly a handsome Bible School student who treated her wonderfully and loved her very much. They married, she got pregnant with her daughter Gertrude (also called Trudy), and then Julius was drafted into the army and left before his daughter was born. They were separated for five years.
When Grandma had her daughter, she lived some distance away from her parents' farm, and she and her mother gave birth to daughters within three months of each other, and named them both Gertrude. So my Grandma's daughter and her sister were the same age and both named Trudy! By the time they realized it, both Trudys had been registered, so both remained Trudy.
When the Trudys were three and Grandma was twenty, all Germans were evacuated from Poland with 24 hours notice, in January of the coldest winter in decades. Grandma, not knowing if Julius was dead or alive, or where in Europe he was fighting, packed up her five siblings and her three year old daughter in an open air wagon, hitched their two horses to it, and travelled three weeks in the cold to East Germany. Her father, mother, and grandmother stayed behind because the grandmother was in the hospital with an illness, and her mother Emma was in the hospital giving birth to her thirteenth child, Grandma's youngest sibling. The hospital was later evacuated by coal train, which is where that youngest baby died.
During that three week trip Grandma, who was very shy, begged a soldier for studs for her wagon wheels as the autobahn was covered in a slick sheet of ice. She had to stay alert, and drive the wagon, twenty four hours a day because once a wagon got off the road it was impossible to get back on it. (I'm not sure if this was because of the ice on the road, or the massive caravan of people on the autobahn at the time, or because of the snowdrifts). Once she fell asleep while driving and woke up in the middle of the forest, in the dark, with a wagon full of crying children and two horses galloping in a frenzy. And the reins had fallen off the front of the wagon and were dragging along on the ground between the horses, unreachable.
She prayed, leaped down from the wagon, calmed the horses, and turned them around. They were lost in an unknown forest, somewhere in Europe, in the coldest winter she had ever experienced.
Can you imagine? Alone at twenty, responsible for the lives of six children, with advancing Russian troops at your heels? She was so brave.
Again, she prayed. And started walking. And found the road again, with all its travelling caravan of people fleeing the Russian army.
At twenty I liked to go dancing at clubs. Flirt with boys. Read books and philosophize with my friends late at night while eating junk food. I wasn't trekking through forests, begging for food or studs for my wagon.
She made it to East Germany, where they stayed several years with a family in Brandenburg. During their stay, the Russian army occupied the area and she and her sister Martha and several other young women hid in the attic to keep from being raped by the soldiers. One night they had been revealed by someone and the soldiers came to the house, shouting and searching. The woman who owned the farm (who must have been too old to be appealing to the soldiers) managed to warn Grandma and the women in the attic, and they removed a roof tile, escaped out the hole, jumped from the roof, and hid in a nearby corn field all night.
Grandma's mother Emma, father Wilhelm, and grandmother managed to be reunited with Grandma and her siblings while in Brandenburg. A few weeks later, Grandma's brothers Edward (12 years old) and Bernard (9 or 10) were playing in a nearby field with several neighbour boys and were killed by a grenade.
Having given birth to thirteen children, Emma and Wilhelm now only had four children who were still alive. Grandma Leokadia, Martha, Irwin, and Trudy. So much tragedy.
Julius was captured by the Russian army and placed in a P.O.W. camp, where he was so destituted and hungry that he resorted to eating grass to survive. He escaped from this camp a few months before the end of the war, and was reuinted with Grandma in Brandenburg.
Through all of this, Grandma depended on God's protection and provision, and had an unwavering faith.
Many of us would have been embittered, but she was not.
Julius orchestrated an escape from East Germany as the Berlin wall was being built, and all of Grandma's remaining family, as well as neighbours and friends, evacuated to West Germany, past armed guards in the middle of the night. They had bribed Russian soldiers with what few possessions they had left.
Soon after settling in West Germany it became apparant that the economic situation in Europe was going to take years to stablize. Julius was also cognizent that history had the potential to repeat itself, and that another dictator could be in Germany's near future, so he applied to immigrate to North America.
They applied to both the United States and to Canada, and Canada accepted them first, so that is where they went.
Grandma, Julius, and Trudy immigrated to Canada in 1951. They were extremely poor, Grandma spoke little English, and it was a difficult transition for them. Grandma would say, of immigrating, "In those early years, if I could have walked on water, I would have walked back to Europe, I hated it here that much!"
In 1952, Julius and Grandma sponsored her sister Martha and her husband to immigrate to Canada, and in 1953 they sponsored Emma, Wilhelm, Irwin, and Trudy. So eventually Grandma's entire family were in Vernon with her, and she slowly learned English, so she started to settle in.
In approximately 1955, she had an ectopic pregnancy and had surgery to remove her fallopian tube and one ovary, and was told that other children would be impossible for her.
In 1960, she defied her surgeon by giving birth to a baby boy, named Glen. Her daughter Trudy was 18 when Glen was born, and the entire extended family doted on him. He was the beloved miracle baby. Grandma Kadie was 37.
Glen was an outgoing, articulate, cheerful child who surprised everyone with his intelligence and affable smile. When he was two and a half, he choked on a piece of corn and died. For years after Glen's death, grandma was very sad. She had a picture of him in her bedroom and we Smith kids knew who the little boy in the picture was, but Grandma never talked about him. When Ayden was born I asked her about him, and she told me some details but it was still very difficult for her, so I didn't push. It wasn't until last week that I was able to find out what Glen was like, or even what his name was. I asked her sister Trudy and brother Irwin for details, as well as her daughter Trudy.
A year later, in 1963, Granma's mother Emma also died. In 1970, her beloved husband Julius died of cancer at age 50. Her father Wilhelm died seven years later.
Her daughter Trudy got married and had two daughters, Cindy and Christy. I remember them very well, as they were just a few years older than I, and we often played together. When they were teenagers, both girls babysat us Smith kids.
Cindy had two daughters, Avery and Hayden, who were Grandma Kadie's great granddaughters and the delight of her life. Christy is pregnant with her first baby, and had hoped Grandma could live to meet her third great grandchild, but it wasn't possible.
You heard the story of how we met her in my previous post. I just wanted to flesh out the details of her early life, and show you a small slice of how remarkable she was.
But see, the things she went through were not the final marker of what made her remarkable: it was the fact that she went through all life offered her and remained gentle, loving, giving, open, kind, softhearted, invested in people, and never once holding back love. And steadfast in faith in a loving, just God.
A beautiful woman.
Oh, how we loved her.