Puzzling Memories

My aunt who inspired 'Marthe' in Crow Stone
Crow Stone was inspired by my mom who died back in 2011 at the age of 92. I’d been collecting her chaotic memories all along, and later put them together into narratives … filling in the missing pieces with background reading and travels … almost like doing a puzzle. As I quoted Kate Morton, last week, I was fulfilling the universal human need to create a narrative.  

A few months after Mom's funeral, I visited her youngest sister who'd been unable to come to the funeral. This aunt lived up in northern BC and passed away the following year.  It was from her that I learned the story about the child she'd fostered during the flight from the Soviet Army in the final months of the war. She claimed that it was this little girl, whom I call ‘Erika’* in the novel, that saved her from my mom’s fate in a POW camp in the Urals. My aunt was 19 in 1945 and looked after little ‘Erika’ until she came to Canada in 1953 after ‘Erika’ had finally reconnected with some of her own family. 

My aunt, date unknown, prob. about 1950

I’d been trying to meet up with ‘Erika’ as I researched the book, to no avail. Imagine my thrill to now finally connect via email. Imagine my surprise to have ‘Erika’ asking me to fill in the details of her early childhood. Imagine my absolute delight to be able to share my book and my research with this woman, now in her early eighties, living in northern Germany. 

from The Guardian, Jan.3, 1947, p.8

I told ‘Erika’ of how much my aunt loved her. My aunt had shared stories about how the surviving East Prussian women and children were forced to work in the newly formed collectives or kolkhozes’.  Those were extremely difficult years. Food was scarce ... hunger and disease was everywhere. But my aunt, smiled with gratitude as she shared, “little ‘Erika’ was our sunshine as she sat amongst the vegetables with us as we worked. She sang to us with her sweet voice and gave us so much happiness.”

To be able to share this memory with the real ‘Erika’ makes me so very happy. Of course, I sent her a copy of Crow Stone. I know it’s not the factual truth … it’s not a memoir. But the magic of story transforms facts into emotional truths that can be just as valid. 

It's making these sort of connections that makes my writing and research efforts seem so worthwhile.

*See Crow Stone, pages 91, 98 and 101 for mention of Erika

welcome sign of collective or kolkhoz in the former USSR
from my own collection

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