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Life

Meeting Ilse

I walk up the front steps of the rooming house. Well it wasn’t exactly a rooming house, more like an old century home that had fallen into disrepair and had been converted into five different units. I had never before been to this part of downtown Hamilton near Cannon Street.

The neighbourhood where I grew up in South East Oakville, with its perfectly landscaped gardens and Lululemon dressed residents, is very different from the scene around me. I look around at the stained pavements, strangely dressed women and men, many with disabilities.  Many of the young people  have brightly coloured hair or heads shaved in unusual ways.

I had not been able to concentrate on my dossiers that day. I am wearing a light business suit having come straight from work. Before knocking on the front door, I pause.  At 37, how will my life change after this meeting? I take a deep breath before taking the next step up to the landing.

The door opens and I’m greeted by a short blonde woman. She looks me up and down, then says, “Please come in Peter”.

All my life I have pictured this scene unfolding. But today I feel like an actor in a movie. This is not my life. I am watching from the outside.

I don’t know whether to hug her or shake her hand. I do neither.

“You are very tall,” she says.

We look at each other. The woman before me is fair skinned, she has a neat figure and shining blue eyes. She has really lovely blue eyes, I notice again. Eyes that are cornflower blue, reserved yet very expressive.

“Ilse, I am so glad to meet you, finally. Thank you for responding to my letters and emails.”

She moves to the sofa, I sit down on the chair beside it. I am surprised that there is actually no awkwardness between us.

“Would you like some tea?”

I accept her offer. She brings out some white and gold teacups on a small pewter tray.

“Tell me about you first,” she says in a soft voice.

“Well, I live in Oakville”, I began.

“I went to a private school there called Appleby College. My dad is a banker, but he and mom split up and he moved back to London, England. Just recently my Mom, her name is Connie, remarried.’

I look at the worn wooden floors and the ten inch baseboards, the high ceilings, imagining what the house would have been like in its heyday. I imagine how Ilse might have looked at 21 when she first met my birth father. I wonder how long she has been living here, only a half-hour drive from where I grew up.

We don’t feel in a rush to fill in the silence.

“How are you, Ilse?” I ask with sincerity.

“I am fine”, she said. “I stopped working at the factory three years ago, when it closed down, it’s been hard to find steady work since. That’s when I moved in here,” as though to explain the Cannon Street address. Despite the humble surroundings, I notice a striking original oil painting above the sofa.

“Tell me about my birth dad Marco. How did you meet him?”

She looks away. “I hope you have forgiven me…. that you are not angry,” she looks back at me cautiously.

“It looks like you have had a good life, better than I could have given you…”

I don’t answer. She is quiet too. She appears to be noticing everything about me, my dark glossy hair, my brown eyes, my high cheekbones, even my long fingers.

After a few seconds, Ilse starts talking again, often glancing into the distance as she tries to recall things that took place almost forty years ago.

“We met in the army. I am an American citizen you see. He was very charming, he could sing very well. We met in the Philippines in Baguio City, where there was an army base. “

She pauses, then continues in a soft voice. “When I knew I was pregnant, it was hard,…we decided to give you up… so you would have a chance for a life”, her voice trembled a bit, “a life we couldn’t give you.”

‘Not with the situation… and the war… an army baby of mixed race….”

I nodded, as if to reassure her. I was old enough now, with a wife and child of my own. I could understand things like this.

Though I consider myself fortunate to have had the parents that raised me, I had always felt there were missing pieces in me that needed to be filled in. But then, most people probably feel that way, even if they are not adopted.

“Marco is Filipino, you are so much taller than him, you take after my father, Jon. He was born in Finland.”

“Ilse, I want you to know that I’ve been in contact with Marco too, it took a while to find him, but I got to speak to him on the phone…”

Her blue eyes open wide, with a sense of anticipation, but she doesn’t want me to perceive it.

“He’s living in California, near L.A.  He works for the post office.”

“Is he married?” she asks.

“I haven’t actually met Marco in person, Ilse, but I know he’s on his own now…he had been living with a woman, but she died a couple of years ago.”

“Do you have any other children?” I ask the blue-eyed stranger sitting in front of me.

This seems to trigger something. She starts to cry softly and shakes her head. I feel strangely relieved, yet sorry for her loneliness.  Seeing her tear up tugs at me. I lean over to give her a hug. She still feels like a stranger though, a total stranger.

I blink and say “You know, my mother– Connie–she really wants to meet you. She’s actually been the one who encouraged me to keep looking.”

Ilse stares straight at me, a range of emotions running through her. She looks sad, then happy, then sad, but over all, she looks more happy than sad.

“I want to show you my wife Erin, and we have a little boy, Seth.” I pull out from my briefcase a picture of the three of us, taken at Christmas.

“How old is Seth?” she asks with obvious excitement. “He’s almost three.” I reply.

Then I take out a small headshot of Marco which he had sent in the mail after our first phone conversation. It was probably taken a while back. He looks mischievous, like someone who knows how to have a good time no matter what life brings.

As I sit there in the small apartment, time seems to have slowed. I feel peaceful.

Ilse looks at the photo.  A smile, like that of a shy young girl, crosses her lips.

Life, Poems

Authenticity

The problem with getting older

Is you get to a place where

you don’t care to be

admired any more,

only valued,

which is more important anyway

–you want to be with those

that see you for who you are

without flinching–

everyone else is

seeing an image

they hope one day to attain

or maybe the picture you have painted

with your smiling photos

on social media

(forgive me if I am cynical or just

more honest

than I used to be)

everyone knows

the paint is chipped

only a few can

see what lies beneath

and know that

it is beautiful

August 26, 2017

 

 

Faith, Life

Things women dream about

 

I had the most vivid dream last night.  When I awoke the emotions were still with me.  Just so you know, I often have dreams about looking for a husband. It is probably the one that comes up most often.  Is this because I didn’t actually get married till thirty-four, and for many years I wondered if I ever would?  Do other women have this dream?

The quest and the wait seem to be embedded in my psyche, and in my dreams, along with the one about my teeth falling out. I have another recurring dream about having a baby that keeps on shrinking;   it isn’t thriving, no matter how hard I try to feed it.

Last night, my dream began with a very dark, handsome man, dressed in a regal gold-embossed costume. I got the impression he was wealthy and powerful. I was in his home which was like one from an old Bollywood movie.  The scent of incense was strong. He looked at me with admiring eyes, “You have such beautiful skin”, he said.

Somehow I knew that this man was in love with me. There was also an older woman in the room, with wrinkled, swarthy skin. I can only presume she was one of his wives. She looked much older, unhappy and disapproving. Or it may have been his mother, though I think it was his wife. I am over sixty now, yet in my dream I was young. I felt beautiful because this man thought I was.

He was not someone I recall having met. A pure figment of my imagination, or a figure transposed from a movie, retained in my subconscious?

I was feeling pleased that he had such eyes for me. Although I can’t remember anything that happened before this moment, it was not the first time he had seen me.

I was the chosen one.

Suddenly I was clothed in a beautiful red sari. My admirer came closer. “I want you to be my wife”, he said, “I have waited long enough, it is time”.  I could smell the exotic perfume in the air, all the stronger as he approached.  We were not alone, there were many people present.

“Are you a Christian?” I asked hoping he would say yes. I don’t remember the exact response, but it contained the word “Allah” as if to say, we are all worshipping the same God, don’t make an issue of it. His character was intense, his eyes magnetic, the scent of incense and spices intoxicating.

Suddenly I felt the need to escape. If I didn’t make a run for it I would somehow be trapped physically or emotionally. I found an escape door and ran out of the house, my heart beating wildly. At the end of an alleyway I ran into my mother, Mavis, who died 18 years ago, and my friend Sherrey, who moved away to California.   I told them what had happened and we all agreed we’d best get out of that place or we would be apprehended somehow. We ran away fast, as if people were chasing us.

I woke up and saw my husband of 26 years asleep beside me. He doesn’t look anything like the man in the dream. He is fair skinned and handsome.   I felt relieved that I had eluded the trap, and that in real life I had found my Prince. I felt slightly disappointed as well, as real life can seem ordinary compared to a dream.   I sat bolt upright and wrote down all the details, for tomorrow I would not remember them.

Hilary Shantz

July 22, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Life, Poems

My neighbour Agatha

When we moved into the neighbourhood a few years ago, we noticed an elderly lady who would spend her days outside sweeping leaves on the street.  Sadly, she is now in a retirement home, due to Altzheimers.  I miss seeing her.

 

My Neighbour Agatha

Too many minutes

In an hour.

I stare out the window.

More dead leaves on the street,

Shall I go and sweep them up?

Every day I clean, I clean

Did you know I worked at Sobey’s

At the deli counter

Corner of Kerr and Speers

Where the Shoppers is now?

Come closer

I tell you something

In Prussia, my father died

When I was a little girl

He wasn’t sick

It was the war, you know.

Otto lost a finger

In a machine

In Germany

Did you notice?

Dig deeper

I show you how

To divide

The hostas properly

With a shovel.

Take as many as you want.

I put the dead leaves

From the street

In my compost pile

Over there

Nobody wants them anyway

That’s why my tomatoes

Are so big

We had a cottage once

Beside a lake, see the photo?

I made a German cake today

Sit with me

I make some tea

What is your name dear?

 

Hilary Shantz

August 2, 2017

 

 

 

Faith, Life, Travels

Everything I need is here

 

 

Canmore, Alberta

We are attending the  wedding of Taylor and Erin in Canmore.

The morning of the wedding  I awoke early and sat outside observing the sun rise above the Rockies.

An insight I gained is that the more connected I am to nature, creation itself, the less I need other things.

 

Everything I need is here 

 

Calming

To the spirit

Is the sight of

Tall Canadian pines

Stretching up

To a cloudless sky

So blue

It doesn’t seem real.

 

The sun rises slowly

Catching one face

Of a gnarled pine tree

Its needled boughs

Growing only on one side,

As though posing

For an artist.

 

Nourishing rays of sunshine

Fall on the smooth bark of

A white birch.

A light breeze

Breaks the stillness

Rustling the silvery leaves

Of poplars.

 

Suddenly a crow cries out

And I am spell-bound.

 

It is morning

In the Rockies.

 

One feels protected somehow

Encircled by contours of stone

And grey rock towers

Marking the outer limits

Of an unchanging landscape.

 

This rough land

Of stone and forest

Drew adventurers

Looking for riches.

Yet, when they came,

They found more

Than gold and pelts.

A comforting place

A sacred space

The companionship

Of elk and bison,

The spiritual grounding

Of earth and sky.

In other words, home.

Gifts of the wild,

Calling to me also,

Calling me

To receive

And breathe in deeply.

 

Everything I need is here.

Hilary Shantz

July 30, 2017