Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers Day - the bravest woman I know

A bunch of flowers I thought I had bought for myself
taking up half of my room

when in reality, they are for my beloved mammi

a little and immensely courageous woman
in a faded photo on  her wedding day in 1918

Serious and sombre, with no idea what life had in store.

My father, with a distinguished cross for 
years of surgery on the Russian front
after being conscripted out of Medical School.

Naturally, after the war he had no right to practice
without a degree.

They made their living in the twenties and thirties
in whichever way they could.
Father, tuning and restoring pianos, as share farmers 
and running a store in a small town.
This venture did not really prosper
since mother was too open handed to the poorest of the poor.

Later, father joined the police force and became a detective.
Mother meanwhile, had born him 5 children,
losing her firstborn doughtier to dysentery at the age of two.

When the Germans handed Latvia to Russia in the secret 
Ribbentrop plot, my father was arrested and deported to Siberia
and mother became our sole support.

My elder brother was fighting for our country and badly 
wounded in Lithuania, loosing a lung and a number of ribs
but, within weeks, was sent back to the front.

Mother, having studied languages at university,
worked shifts at the international exchange 
at the post office.
Not easy juggling a job and three children
between 4 and 12
and finding sufficient food for her hungry, growing chicks.

In 1944, with the advancing Russian front on the horizon,
she packed up her chicks and what we could carry 
and her trusty, hand cranked sewing machine,
and, after a 2 hour warning, we were on the last train
from certain death under the Russians
 to a Germany besieged  and bombed from all sides.

While the war lasted, we were all separated and put to work,
happily in the same village. I was 7 and was shunted 
from one place to another and had to help wherever I was.

Mother worked as maid to a publisher in his summer house, 
a water mill, with running water under the kitchen. 
Mother had mountains of dishes to do and got 
very bad rheumatism and the hardest thing in my life I 
had to do, was to pick a large bunch of nettles 
and beat her naked back with them.

The surface pain took her mind off the unbearable pain inside.
Finally, she was carted off to hospital 
in the nearest town.

I felt totally bereft.

Not knowing whether papa or my elder brother 
were dead or alive was hard for us all, but mostly mother
for there was a time when she felt with certainty 
that my brother at the front, had been killed.

Fear for all her children was ever present,
not just before the end of the war from the Gestapo
and the bombing
but after it as well, with soldiers of various armies
coming through and two young daughters to keep safe.

Then came the famine, we were in one of the 
French zones
and the French really hated the Germans
and confiscated any food they could find 
and sent it back to France.
There was little enough for the local population
and much less for us who had no contacts on the land.

Mother traded all her silver and linen we had brought 
with us, except for her children's christening silver,
for food. Even so, she got thinner and thinner,
like a horse ready for the glue factory.
Every bit of nourishment she fed to her children
until survival surpassed fear from being sent back 
to Latvia to a certain death
and we finally registered as displaced persons or DP's.
Shunted from camp to camp for two years
until we found a country which would take us.
Only Australia was prepared to take a parent over 45
and a child of school age, but at a price.
My younger brother, 19, and my 16 year old
sister had to come first and sponsor mother and me.

So we came to Australia, where people of working age,
had to work under contract for two years,
wherever they were sent by the government.

My sister was working as nurses' aid in a NSW
country town, my brother as dessert cook 
at an army barracks and I went to school and
had to learn English from scratch.

Not being able to speak English, when travelling on 
public transport, other passengers would sidle away
from us, as though we had the plague if we spoke.

At first we lived in a boarding house, three in one room 
with use of tiny kitchenette and bathroom
while my brother slept under the front steps 
with just a trellis separating him from trawling 
perverts looking for young boys.

Mother, my sister and I all worked in a 'sweat shop'
while they both sewed garments, I was finishing them 
after school and on Saturday mornings.

Every penny was scraped together until, 
with another family we had enough for a deposit on a house.

A few years later, we sold our half and had a 
deposit for our own house.

Oh the joy!
Mother planted apple trees, a birch and a fir tree 
in memory of our homeland.
A grape vine shielding the porch,
berry bushes, roses and vegetables.
Just to get our hands into our own bit of soil!

My mother was a wonderful woman, respected and beloved
by all who knew her and I miss her 
every day although she left us more than a quarter
of a century ago.

There is so much more to mother's story
but that would take a whole book.

My DD gave me this almost black chrysanthemum
that actually smells like one too.
It seems the modern ones have the scent engineered out of them.

How boring the world becomes 
when you do all this genetic modifying.

Linking with TODAY'S FLOWERS


  1. Thank you for sharing such a personal story about the strugglles of your family. You Mum must have been a very strong mother.

  2. A truly beautiful story. Echoed I suspect in many families.
    Thank you.

  3. Maybe you should write the book! Sounds like she deserves it.

  4. three cheers (and a few more) for my Oma.

  5. thank you for sharing you story , a great mom , i understand that India often talk about her mother and the story behind bee proud all of you

  6. Such a beautiful story, thank you for sharing. It is hard for us to imagine such hardship even though my own grandparents and my father suffered through the war in Indonesia. My father always had a soft spot for Australia in his heart because that is where they were evacuated after being freed from prison camp. I wish you would write that book!

  7. india sent me over to read this amazing tale of your wonderful mother. thank you for writing and sharing it here.

  8. Thank you India, wonderful mother, amazing the tale and thank sharing it here.

  9. Oh Arija, what a moving tribute to your mother ... words fail, as my heart's in my throat a bit.

  10. Thank you so much Arija, for telling us this story...

  11. Oh Arija, your story is amazing. I have tears for all you, your dear mother and your family went through and am astounded at the courage your family .. and the love that shines through. If you told the whole story, I would read that book. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

  12. Thanksyou shared this story with us and with me in Europe.

  13. A moving story gracefully written.

  14. Hello Arija, your life story is just amazing. Your mother, you and your family were very strong. A wonderful tribute and post. Thanks for sharing! Happy Tuesday, enjoy your week ahead!

  15. Your mother was an amazing lady Arija, as were you and the rest of your family. Thank you for sharing this story with Today's Flowers. We are the richer for it.


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