Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Real Uncle

Went to visit my mom yesterday and she was having a very good day. Her mind was sharp and she could remember the past without breaking down.

There are some differences between my novel and her life story. One big one is that it wasn't an uncle who retrieved the survivors from Siberia, but rather a much older half-brother. His name was Erich and he was seventeen years older than my mother. You see, my grandfather's first wife died in childbirth and Erich was that child. I knew Uncle Erich. He'd immigrated to Canada in 1953 with the rest of the surviving extended family. By then he was already in his fifties. Back in '31 Uncle Erich took a train up to Yaya, Siberia and collected his orphaned half-siblings. He then adopted them as his own. His poor wife - my Tante Marthe. They had two toddlers of their own and a baby on the way. Getting four new children must have been very hard. But Uncle Erich had the proper documents and was able to get everyone out of the USSR. Without him, they'd all have stayed Soviet citizens. My grandfather never got his documents together and couldn't leave. But that's another book!

Later, in 1947, after my mom was released from a prisoner of war camp in the Urals because she was too ill to work, it was the same Uncle Erich who smuggled her across the border into West Germany. But that's a whole other story. This Uncle Erich lived to be 93 and died in Kelowna where he had a comfortable home. I'd visited him a few times as a youngster, growing up. To me then he'd been just another old man from the old country. You couldn't tell by looking at him that he'd lived such an adventure-filled life. I just knew he was a retired school janitor and that he made his own wine.

If I could only go back twenty years and mine his mind! Oh, the stories he could tell. But in those days, I didn't have ears that could listen.


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