The Sound of Music

The recent death of the great actor, Christopher Plummer—may he rest in peace—reminded film-goers all over the world of The Sound of Music. For me, the movie’s up there with Dr. Zhivago as an all-time favourite. I was at the impressionable age of ten and eleven when The Sound of Music played for more than two years at the Kings Theatre in sunny St. James. Movies were not part of my growing up years . . . they were considered too worldly by my church . . . but after a year of begging, I finally got to see this one. The sinful pleasure was worth the long line-up.

Over the years, I’ve re-watched The Sound of Music as a school musical (one daughter got to know and love the songs), as a dress-up, sing-a-long at the old Globe Theatre in downtown Winnipeg, and as a performance at Rainbow Stage . . . where I got to bring a carload of seniors, excited like teenagers at the evening out. I think that’s what I loved so much about the musical . . . it was for all ages. 

I suppose the most powerful Sound of Music experience for me was during the time I waited on tables in the Berchtesgaden area (half an hour from Salzburg) and regularly hiked the hills that the film opens up with. I turned twenty out there during a student work program and spent the afternoon of my birthday walking in Maria’s footsteps, traipsing through alpine meadows and feeling on top of the world. 

Hitler’s mountain wasn’t far away. I could see it when the clouds weren’t hanging too low. Back then, I was still too young, too inexperienced, to have more than a glimmer of understanding about how the war had scarred the world and also my own family. But even then, I was quite aware that evil minds appreciate beauty as much as good minds do. In that perfect landscape, where “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” Nazis nurtured plots of world domination and destruction. If evil can lurk in such beauty, the reverse must be true. Goodness can be found in the ugliest corners of our world. 

I never found any edelweiss on my meanderings, nor the blue alpine flower called enzian—although I often served the Enzian Schnapps made from its roots. I’d like to go back. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just listen to Christopher Plummer singing Edelweiss.  Wait, he didn’t actually sing it, did he? That makes him and the song even more endearing. 

Brotlose Kunst

Canada is a country of immigrants and so on I Read Canadian Day, I think it’s important to ask what we’re reading. I know that I sorely missed my own ‘Canadian’ reflection in the books I read as a child. Now, when I volunteer with immigrants, I recognize that there’s an inevitable lag in reading one’s own story in mainstream literature. After all, many immigrants come here seeking economic improvement and becoming an author is no guarantee of financial stability. Others come to Canada as refugees . . . like my parents did in the 1950s.  Writing memoirs wasn’t on the top of their to-do list either. They had a language to learn and travel debts to pay off. (Yes, refugees coming to Canada had to repay the boat trip.)

Immigrant parents like mine, regarded literature as ‘brotlose kunst’ (bread-less art). It was beyond my family’s comprehension that I would study literature for eight years at university. 

When it comes to reading Canadian there might be a necessary generation gap before telling the stories of the immigrant population that makes up modern Canada. And, the First Nations of this land, robbed of their very identity, have also only just begun to use our book-method of telling stories. I appreciate that I Read Canadian Day is more about the struggling publishing world than it is about the empowerment of readers through stories. Balanced financial books are a prerequisite for a thriving publishing scene. But on this I Read Canadian Day, I want to reach out to those still unpublished, perhaps unwritten or even untold, stories that lurk in our diverse population. 

By the way, this week I’ve been reading Marsha Skrypuch’s book, Don’t Tell the Enemy. It’s about how  Ukrainians were murdered by Germans. Marsha comes from the Ukrainian background, I come from the German background. Here we are, in Canada, on I Read Canadian Day, telling the stories that our extended families handed down to us. I've also recently read two other books telling stories written by children of post-Second World War immigrant Canadians. Michelle Barker's My Long List of Impossible Things and Secrets in the Shadows by fellow Ronsdale author, Heige Boehm. 


This is what Canada has given us . . . on I Read Canadian Day . . . I am grateful for international, intergenerational Canadian stories. 

Book Cover Connection

I shared a book once with my mom and serendipity tingled through me when she recognized a face on its cover. “That’s Sofie!” she’d exclaimed, pointing at the pretty little girl in the middle. “She’s my cousin!”  That was back in 2004.

Sofie and my mom had last seen each other in 1930 when the collectivization process tore their young lives apart. Long story short, the two cousins reconnected through an exchange of letters more than seventy years later. 

Sofie had spent years in Siberian exile and finally made Omsk her home and that’s where she died a couple of years after their reunion. By then the two women had caught up on each other’s amazing lives. 

My mom had me send her a castoff fur coat and in one of the letters that my mom dictated and I wrote, she said, 

 “Tell her I have running water—right here in the house. Write that.” 

 “Mom? Really?” I hesitated. Doesn’t everyone have water?

 “Tell her that,” Mom repeated. “Tell her I have hot and cold water. And tell her that I have a warm bed. Write that down!"

  So I did. 


Now we have a pandemic and we’re grumbling about all the restrictions. And it's cold! Really cold. But hey, we still have hot and cold water. (At least here in the cities . . . First Nations might still struggle for this basic need.) And I’m always grateful for a warm bed. Winters are cold here after all . . . just like in Siberia. Right, Mom? I'm grateful not to be homeless here in Canada.

When those cousins were little girls they had no idea that they’d reconnect through books. Don Miller wrote about the kulak repression in Soviet Ukraine and I wrote a children’s story about a kulak orphan. 

Without those photos, I might never have understood my own family history.             


Flying High

For ten years now, I’ve been privileged to belong to a talented, dynamic and diverse writing group. We’ve been a nest of fledglings, each trying to find our writing wings. Until the pandemic, we’d meet in person at our favourite local bookstore, McNally Robinson on Grant Avenue, here in Winnipeg. Now we meet twice a month via zoom. From fledglings to soaring eagles and everything in between we have supported each other as we practice becoming the writers we want to be. 

And to carry this bird metaphor a bit farther, if I dare, we’re each turning into unique birds with different strengths, interests and directions. While the early bird might get the worm, we’re not all into eating worms and so we don’t judge or compare. We appreciate how fragile and sensitive birds and writers are to the elements of life and watch out for the sly, bad cat of doubt and defeatism that sometimes likes to stalk us. 

Our group fluctuates at eight or nine members—each of us with different backgrounds and writing ambitions. We’ve got a hodgepodge of birds in our nest . . . although we might have all once looked like similar eggs.  We’ve hatched, or are still hatching, into bold blue jays, noisy woodpeckers, chipper chickadees, or even shy sparrows. 

This February, the month celebrating Canadian books, I’d like to celebrate the birds in my local writing nest. They’ve produced dozens of excellent books . . . from nonfiction to middle grade, YA and picture books, The Anitas have flown high. And we’re still flying. Seems like when one’s down, another is just becoming airborne and so we continue to look out for each other. 

During February, this month of hearts, I’d like to share my appreciation to my writing support group. You’ve been there for me through the lows and the highs and I wish every writer the same kind of supporting nest that I’ve been graced to call my writing home.

During I Read Canadian Month, I want to highlight these books by some of my favourite Manitoba authors. Family of Spies, Coop the Great, Lost on the Prairie, Relationships Make the Difference, Enslavement, Hokey Dowa and the Snowflake Girl, Mr. Jacobson’s Window.  And a shout-out also to a former member's YA book, Empty Cup.

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