Howard in Toronto
My mother passed away last week. She would have been 94 in October.
She was a strong and pragmatic woman who wasn’t afraid of much. She had to be.
She was a Holocaust survivor, who experienced the worst of Auschwitz and was liberated at the end of the war. At the age of 20, everything she knew was gone and everyone she knew was murdered. There was nothing to return to her home in Czechoslovakia.
She decided, along with a group of other concentration camp survivors to make their way to Palestine. But fate stepped in - she met my father.
It took a lot of persuading on my father’s part – both for him to convince her to marry him and for her to change direction and to come to Canada.
With nowhere to live, they were put up in DP Camps in Italy’s Calabria region. Their lives were on hold and immigration was a slow process.
My father was a tailor and wanted to make my mother’s wedding dress for her. Needless to say, money was close to non-existent. He took two white sleeveless undershirts, cut them apart and then sewed them together to form a white dress for her.
She’d seen first-hand the worst that people can dream up to do to each other and was always self-conscious about the numbers tattooed on her arm. When I was very little, I would ask her about them. She’d dodge by saying it was a phone number that belonged to another place they’d lived at.
English was the last of her at least eight languages. Even decades later, she would talk about how embarrassed she was by how she'd introduced herself at her first job at a jeans factory in Toronto by saying “someone messaged me” that there’s a job here.
As she became more comfortable with English, her natural playfulness pulled her towards creating her own words.
She especially liked “insinuendo.” She felt it was, when the context demanded it, more precise. The first time she’d sprung it on me, I told her it was either insinuation or innuendo she was getting at. She slowed me down and said, “No, let’s think about it. In this case, insinuendo really is the only word that fits here.”
She made a point of adjusting other people’s names. Friends named Brian and Norman became “Bry-In; Bry-Out” and “Norm-In; Norm-Out.”
My brothers and I didn’t have grandparents, aunts and uncles or cousins. My father was the centre of her universe and they worked side by side in their textiles store while learning a new culture and creating new lives while raising us three boys.
She loved to have fun and took great delight in small children. I’m grateful Canada gave her the opportunity to rebuild her life so she could see a new generation, her grandchildren, and get to know them as the individuals they are.