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  • Writer's pictureBriar Mitchell

Where The Day Takes Us 01

For most of us, we start our day, go about our business and sometimes we come across people or situations that truly take us by surprise. Unusual, sometimes funny memories, pop back into my head from when I was a very small child and they are pretty wonderful and weird.

One such memory was from when I was still in a crib, and just starting to comprehend words. For some reason, I felt like the word YES was short but that the word NO was really, really long. That still makes me laugh when I think about it.

There was another one though, from when I was about 4 or 5 maybe, when my family and I were still living in Ontario, Canada. The day was sunny and warm, possibly July, and my parents loaded all of us in the car (4 kids at that time) and off we headed to a beautiful lake with small, neatly kept cottages on one side.

We stopped at one of the cottages and headed out back where some people were gathered in a gorgeous, very English looking garden, filled with Hollyhocks and daisies overlooking the water. My mom was an amazing baker and had brought a lovely cake which my dad carried out to the party and set on a table filled with all kinds of delicious looking picnic food.

The cottage and yard looked similar to this.

I remember running madly around the gardens, playing with my siblings and cousins and other children there, then, things got very quiet. We went back to our parents and I sat on the grass, watching two adults help an older woman, all dressed in black, out to a white Adirondack chair.

Her dress came up high around her neck, she wore dreadful, clunky looking orthopedic shoes and her wispy white hair was tied up on the top of her head in a knot. Her black attire looked so out of place in such a colorful garden and on such a sunny day next to a lake that sparkled. Of course, I stared in amazement at her.

I had no idea who she was and was puzzled by how all of the adults were behaving. They watched her cautiously, a few appeared sad and all spoke in hushed tones. Some brought her food and drink, but I don't remember her taking anything. Her skin was papery and incredibly white and her hands were bony things with dark bluish, black veins snaking across the back. She was tiny and so thin.

My mom always carried a large bag for her knitting and things for us. I was sitting right next to her, on the grass, watching this strange spectacle unfolding, and saw her reach into the bag and pull out a small, wrapped gift.

She leaned over and handed the gift to me, tugged me up onto my feet and then gently pushed me towards the woman in black. Immediately, I froze. She terrified me. The bird-like woman in black smiled at me. She seemed kind enough, but her ghastly, thin, ghostlike appearance was like nothing I had ever seen before.

"It's OK," my mom whispered to me, "she won't hurt you. Go ahead."

She gave me a little push and I took the gift over to the woman who graciously accepted it. I heard her speak to me, but, didn't recognize the words. She seemed sweet but truly, the oldest person I had ever seen in my life. After she took the gift, I stood and stared at her. She reached out with her hand to touch my face and, typical of a little child, I jumped back.

Quickly, my mom rushed over and took me by the wrist and gently led me back to her chair. That was all I could recall, but years later, for whatever reason, the memory popped back into my head. I asked my mom who the old woman was.

She did not remember her name, however knew that, her family in Canada had finally been able to locate her in Europe, and bring her to live with them. She was either Polish or German, my mom did not recall, however, she did vividly remember that she had been a survivor of one of the death camps the Nazi Germans ran during World War II.

I'll never forget looking information up in our set of Encyclopedia Britannica about what the death camps were about and was horrified that sweet little woman had actually been in such a place. Looking back, I wish I had been older when I met her, so I could try to get to know her, but that was not to be.

She passed not long after that garden party.

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