In the summer of 1954, my Dad immigrated to Canada.
He was afraid to fly in an airplane (never having done so) and opted to take the boat across the Atlantic, then a train from Montreal to Vancouver.
My mom, who was slightly braver, decided to work a few months longer in their home country Germany, then threw caution to the wind (literally) and got on the plane.
My parents were young, Dad an energetic 21 and mom, just 18. Neither spoke English and neither had a job to go to in their new country.
As children, we heard many stories about this epic journey and how it led to a new life in Canada.
We were not unique in a neighbourhood of immigrants in the 1950s and 60s.
Most of us had immigrant parents and we thrived on their new found sense of security and freedom.
We had all heard various versions of ‘war stories’ depending on which country our parents came from.
During this time, my parents refused to speak about the more horrible side of war and particularly, the difficult challenges they faced personally. It was all a bit of a mystery to us.
I do however, remember having ‘Air Raid’ drills in elementary school.
Each street block had an air raid horn up on a high pole and these would be deployed regularly so students could practice.
It was an eventful day when the Air Raid poles and horns were removed a few years later.
We wondered how we would know if we were ever invaded by a foreign country.
Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Germany with my Dad. There are still a few relatives remaining and he wanted to see them one more time.
It was great to see him reconnect with old friends with whom he had shared so much. I learned more about what it was like for kids during the war.
One poignant story told how delicious a small spoonful of sugar tasted when secretly deposited into the palm of 11-year-old Fred.
He eloquently described how in the face of desperate hunger he slurped the sugar out of his palm, knowing he wasn’t sharing any with his family but being unable to stop himself from gobbling it down.
My Dad’s family owned the local grocery. They received all supplies from which food rations were distributed during the war.
For each ration, my Grandmother set a tiny portion aside and kept it as ‘collateral’ and used it to help her own family to survive. Not honourable, just survival.
It was from this secret stash that my Dad would steal small quantities for his friend. Fred has never forgotten that little act of kindness.
Children of war don’t forget. They may tuck the horrors away. They don’t forget.
We rarely have the privilege of sharing these intimate slices of wartime life.
As difficult as they are to hear, it is still so very important for those doing the telling that we listen and listen well.
When I was due to come back to Canada, Fred told me, “Go back home safely and always be proud of your country — it is the best in the world.” He got that right, I’d say.
As we pay tribute to those that fought in and survived wars, I invite you to join me in appreciating the awesome life we are allowed to live because of them.
The library has many insightful books that may be of interest during Remembrance Week.
Try “In Flanders Fields: 100 Years” and “Canada’s Great War Album” for adults and “What We Remember” for kids.
Sue Kline is the Community Librarian at the Summerland Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.