Faded Memories

On the Vistula Lagoon. . . 
Reading, or should I say—trying to decipher—my mom’s scattered memories . . . faded handwriting stuck between recipes and budget lists, is worth the effort, even when it’s a challenge. For example, in this one little notebook she mentions Graudenz, the town in the former East Prussia used as a collection point before they were shipped further east. Now Graudenz is in northern Poland and called Grudziądz.  It's about 200 kilometers from my bike path which had followed along the Vistula Lagoon . . . the same Lagoon my mom had desperately been trying to reach. 

With a current population of close to one hundred thousand, 
Grudziądz is a fair-sized town, twice the size of Manitoba’s second largest city, Brandon. Like much of Europe, the town was built around a castle and there were many battles between the Poles and Prussians before the Second World War and my mom’s fateful time there. 

It had been made part of Germany in 1871 when Bismarck created the German Empire (also known as the Second Reich) and by the early 20th century, the town was predominantly German-speaking (although many were bilingual). This makes me wonder if it's the same confusion that eastern Ukraine now faces with bilingual citizens, Russian-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking becoming enemies through manipulative politics. 

With the Treaty of Versailles, Graudenz once again became Grudziądz and many Germans left. 

The area interests me, not only because the town was a step along my mother’s journey to the Urals, but because my great-grandparents once lived somewhere in the vicinity. They left for Volhynia back in the 1870s. It’s a time and a people that I’ve not studied and know little about. I just know my grandfather was born to West Prussian farmers in modern-day Ukraine, then Volhynia, in 1875. 

Modern border between
Poland and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast)

Between the First and Second world wars, the town, part of the Polish Empire, prospered as an important business centre. Military training academies also flourished, while animosity between Germans and Poles grew stronger and stronger—especially when the Nazis came to power in the Third Reich. By September 3rd, 1939, the Nazis had showed up with their cruel atrocities. 

A concentration sub-camp, part of the notorious Stutthof camp, was established in the town. Those remaining barracks probably housed my mom back in May, 1945 as she awaited deportation to her forced labour camp in the Soviet Union.  By June, she'd have been stuck on a hot, crowded box car, heading to the Urals. Makes me appreciate the leafy-shade of my peaceful garden even more.

All about Hedgehogs

Three reasons I wanted to learn more about the hedgehog. 

First, I just read an article from The Paris Review about a little boy refugee from Ukraine who could save only his toy hedgehog from his toy menagerie during a recent bombing. 

Second, I received a beautiful handmade ceramic hedgehog on my recent Interlake Artist’s Wave Tour.

Third, I spotted a live hedgehog in the Zelenogradsk (Cranz) bushes during my visit to the Kaliningrad Oblast. 

Three reasons that the cute little critters deserved some more of my attention. Here’s what I learned.

Hedgehogs are . . . 

1. One of the oldest species on earth, found throughout Europe, eastern Russia, Africa and more. They are now considered an endangered species.

2. Considered an omen of good luck by Egyptians who made amulets with hedgehog images. But later, in the middle ages, that omen of good luck changed to being an omen of bad luck. And even witches in disguise.

3. Night creatures who like to hide and dig under bushes. 

4. ‘Hedge’ ‘hogs’. Literally, that means, bush pigs. Moms are called 'sows' and babies are called ‘hoglets.’ Their name, however, is the only pig connection they share. 

5. Though tiny (fit in your hand), they are not rodents and use their pig-like snouts for snuffling in the dirt for their insect diet.  

6. A herd of hedgehogs?  That’s called a prickle! Some call it an ‘array’ but ‘prickle’ is much more fun. 

7. A happy hedgehog might purr!

8. While Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll saw them as evil, Beatrice Potter opened our eyes to their cute and cuddly side in 1905 with The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.  The character was inspired by the author's pet hedgehog.

9. The German word for hedgehog is Igel. And it’s as an Igel that I grew fond of them throughout my youth.

10. The German Grimm Brothers had a tale about a hare and a hedgehog.  It's the drawings in the link that remind me of my childhood readings.  The lesson to be learned is that it’s not  for us to be uppity and to judge a hedgehog for being a hedgehog. 

Maybe we should all just embrace our unique selves and be proud of who we are. Pick your prickle with pride. For all the children refugees in Putin's 'war', let's believe that hedgehogs bring good luck!  Hug your hedgehog tight!

About Setting: The Ural Mountains

Perhaps this tank I photographed in Zhytomyr, Ukraine
was built in Tankograd, aka Chelyabinsk

I haven’t been to the Ural Mountains, but it’s on my wish list. The mountain range forms the border between Europe and Asia. During the Second World War, Stalin moved his major industries more than 1700 kilometers east of Moscow to the mountains, (about the same distance as Winnipeg to the Rockies) in order to protect his war machine factories from the Nazi invasion. Today, we know Tankograd as Chelyabinsk . . . still a major industrial complex.

Not only did the Ural Mountains offer a natural protection from invaders, but the Urals are rich in minerals—especially the coal needed for creating electricity to run the factories. Other minerals mined in the area include gold, diamonds, platinum and copper. 

Canadian Mountains
for a Canadian Goose

But besides war-machine industries, the Ural Mountains are rich in natural beauty . . .a place for adventure tourists. Here’s a quick comparison of the Ural Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.

The Rockies run about 2500 km, north to south. The Urals? About the same, also north to south.

Highest peak in the Urals? Mount Payer at 1472 meters in the far north. Highest peak in the Rockies? Mount Albert at 4400 meters in Colorado.  Highest peak in Europe? Mont Blanc at 4800 meters.

Age difference? The Urals are old! 250-300 million years vs. Rockies at 55-80 million years. That might explain the height difference.

Besides my mom’s unfortunate time as a POW in the Urals, two other events highlight the area for me. One, the Chelyabinsk meteor crash in 2013 and two, the 1959 Dyatlov Pass mystery, which was finally solved and shared in January, 2021. 

For me, the Urals—part of Crow Stone’s setting—must remain a second-hand experience for now. At least I’ve been to the Rockies, to the Alps, and have had a generous dose of cold winters . . . the rest I’ve had to mine from books and my mom’s memories. 


Dressing for the Weather

Clothes, like cars, have become so much more than tools to hide our nakedness or keep us warm. Clothes say a lot about a person and we constantly appraise others, and perhaps ourselves, by what they (we) wear. Even without the influence of advertising, we seem to know who’s well put together, who’s got no taste and who just doesn’t care. Kind of crazy. Animals are much better off with their all-season adaptability. 


Second-hand or vintage clothes are all the rage and my daughters seem to get a real thrill going thrifting and I’ve tagged along a few times. Yes, there are bargains out there, after all, our western world overflows with stuff.

But back at the end of the Second World War, 'stuff ' was valuable. Especially clothes. You wore what you could get. Sewing machines, tailors, department stores, fabric shops, all that infrastructure to support human fashion had been destroyed. That’s what world wars do. 

Soldiers eagerly tore off insignias that labeled them and became ordinary men again. Warm coats or boots stolen off a corpse were treasured finds. And there were a lot of corpses. As the snow melted and that spring of 1945 revealed the hastily buried, it was an ugly mess. But clothes and boots were salvaged for the living. Size, cleanliness, and definitely style, no longer mattered. It was all about survival. 

Matti Blume
Prisoners of war—those unlucky enough to find themselves in the clutches of the Soviets—were at the end of the line when it came proper winter gear. My mom, trudging eastward to the coal mines of the Urals, dressed for survival. She knew what Russian winters were like. 

Officially, prisoner of war garb was called Telogreika. These quilted jackets were stuffed with cotton that would be grown in the Soviet Union in places like Kazakhstan. I know that my mom wore such a jacket because of a memory she shared of a woman being close to a bonfire and the cotton catching fire.  

The Telogreika was warm but not too water-proof. No, they did not supply the prisoners with proper raingear. When I worked as a mail carrier, I couldn’t convince my mom that I had the proper gear for the Manitoba weather and that, in fact, I preferred facing the elements of nature to the artificial lights of an indoor job. 

Dressing for the weather is a luxury that I, growing up in Canada, take for granted. Modern-day “Telogreika” jackets are ubiquitous and every Canadian probably owns one. Today’s quilted jackets are filled with down or polyester and some are waterproof. Looking at images of the refugees in Ukraine, back in March, I noticed that puffer jackets are ubiquitous over there, too.

How we take the comforts of our closets for granted . . . until we’re on the road, fighting for our lives. It's been a fickle spring and I'm never sure what to wear. Peace time problem. 

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