Saturday, April 18, 2009

No Time for Stories

It is spring in Edmonton after months and months of bitter cold, and the snow has almost entirely disappeared, except for chunks of ice floating down the Saskatchewan River. When we come here for Christmas, Eric, Tara and Maya and I put on layers and layers of warm clothes and take long walks in the snow along the river valley. We have great adventures climbing up the steep ravines and sliding down wherever possible. Such a different experience at this time of year. My parents and I took a walk along the river this afternoon, and it felt wonderful to be bathed in sunlight. It was not particularly beautiful, because the grass was brown and the trees were bare and everything looked dirty and dusty and dull. I was paying attention to the birds and saw magpies and crows and seagulls and chickadees. The beavers had been busy chewing on trees, clearly they had been out and about and working on their dams. My mother cannot walk far, but made an effort to keep up and participate. It won't take long for the grass to turn green and the bushes and trees to grow leaves and the flowers to blossom. I brought my camera with me and found myself looking more intently at the world around me. I found a surprising number of opportunities to photograph, and was delighted to be able to download and show my parents the photos immediately upon returning to the house.

I am trying to convince my parents to have a computer in the house so that they can skype and videochat when we are in Ecuador. They have been resistant to the concept of having a computer for years, but I am convinced that they will enjoy seeing us every day and maintaining close contact. I want Eric to set them up with an easy machine and simple instructions with failsafe steps to ensure that they can manage on their own. It will be easier for me to be so far away if I know I can contact them so effortlessly. I showed them the news and some utube videos as an introduction to the possibilities inherent in owning a computer. My sister Karen will be here in a few weeks and will continue working on them.

My mother is thrilled that I am here for her birthday now that she knows who I am. Our morning was filled with flower deliveries and phonecalls from wellwishers and phonecalls to family members and thank yous. It felt good to be with my parents. My father wants to be with me every minute and teach me something, anything. We drove to the university for lunch and ate at the Faculty Club, a tradition for my parents; we go every time I visit. Dinner was at my mother's favourite restaurant in Edmonton, La Ronde, which revolves around the city once an hour. I have never seen so much meat on the menu, from wild boar to bison to veal, lamb, and several different steak choices, including a 16 ounce serving! I was overwhelmed with all the steak and chose a hemp crepe ( I had never heard of eating hemp) with pheasant and wild mushrooms and wine sauce. It was an appetizer but more than enough. Once home we drank champagne and had birthday cake and celebrated some more.

My mother reminisced about her childhood in Naples. She lived in an apartment on Via Monte Calvario #16, near Via Roma. I remember going with my sister Karen to Naples after my 96 year old grandmother died and looking for the apartment. My mother remembers also living at Piazza della Carita #5. She described spending the nights in the cellar once the Americans began bombing every night at 9, and coming out in the morning thankful to be alive. Once it was St. Nicholas Day and the children were surprised to find gifts from St Nicholas in their rooms when they came up from the air raid shelters in the morning. She did not know until much later that her father had crept up while the children were sleeping in the cellar to distribute the gifts and surprise the chidren. My mother was born in 1933, so I think this happened in 1939, because shortly therafter the family moved to Northern Italy to be safer from the bombs. My father started talking about his time in the war as well, but my mother is uncomfortable when he desribes his experiences, so he did not get far. He talked about being conscripted into the German army in 1943, when he was studying at the Humboldt University in Berlin, of being a private in a panzer division and heading east past the Black Sea near Chechnya almost to Baku. The Germans were not dong well in Asia and at one point his division believed they were taking a train back to France to relieve the German soldiers there, when the train was diverted to Stalingrad to support the failing German army there. Stalingrad fell before his group arrived and they were soon retreating through the Russian countryside. He remembers the Russians being good to the German soldiers. Once he was alone guarding his big gun when a very very old woman came to him with two applesa and wollen socks. He kept the socks for years after that and had them wehn he moved to Canada. My mother remembers the socks too. My mother wondered if the locals were so generous because they thought that if they were kind and good, someone far away would be good to their sons....I wanted to hear more from my father, but my mother objects to talking about the war and it is her birthday so I stopped asking questions. Both my parents have so many stories to share, and I wonder how much time I have with them to hear all the stories.

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